1787 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Drummond

Henry Headley, in Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry (1787) 1:xliv-v.



William Drummond, the son of Sir John Drummond, Gentleman-officer to James IV. I should think myself highly unpardonable were I to suffer any of those illiberal and envious prejudices that canker many minds, and are too often indulged against a great sister-kingdom, to prevent me from enriching my collection with some flowers from the other side of the Tweed. This gentleman, as a Scotchman, may not perhaps, strictly speaking, belong to my plan. To the scholar and the wit he added every elegant attainment; after forming his taste at the university of Edinburgh, he enlarged his views by travelling, and a cultivation of the modern languages. At first he appears to have studied the law, but soon relinquished it for more congenial pursuits. To a heart thus eminently the seat of the Graces, Love soon found its way; we find him accordingly smitten with a lady named Cunningham, of an old and honourable family: but death put a stop to his happiness; she was hastily snatched from him immediately after consenting to give him her hand. This circumstance, to a mind like his, previously exposed by nature to the anguish of the finer feelings, and by a habit of retirement to reflections of a serious and abstracted cast, must have had no small share in tincturing his compositions with that interesting and tender melancholy that takes every feeling reader with an irresistible charm. From the particular commendation Phillips has noticed him with, it is not improbable that he retailed the opinions of his uncle Milton, as many of Drummond's combinations, and some of his phraseology is to be traced in Milton. Phillips adds, that he was "utterly disregarded and laid aside in his time." Ben Jonson so much admired him, that he undertook a journey from London on foot into Scotland, and spent some time with him. Some of their conversation is preserved. Drayton thus mentions him:

And my dear Drummond, to whom much I owe
For his much love, and proud I was to know,
His poesy, for which two worthy men,
I Menstry still shall love, and Hawthornden.
Of Poets and Poesy.

Without ostentatious praise (which is always to be suspected), it is but truth to observe, that many of his sonnets, those more especially which are divested of Italian conceits, resemble the best Greek epigrams in their best taste, in that exquisite delicacy of sentiment, and simplicity of expression, for which our language has no single term, but which is known to all classical readers by the word [Greek characters]. It is in vain we lament the fate of many of our poets, who have undeservedly fallen victims to a premature oblivion, when the finished productions of this man are little known, and still less read. [Greek characters]. According to the ingenious and able Mr. Pinkerton, he was born in 1585, and died, aged 64, in 1649. Anc. Scot. Poems, vol. I. p. 123.