1789 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Drummond

Philip Neve, in Cursory Remarks on Ancient English Poets (1789) 44-52



Among all the writers, at the beginning of the last century, who flourished after the death of Shakespeare; there is not one, whom a general reader of the English poetry of that age will regard, with so much, and so deserved attention, as William Drummond. He was born at Hawthornden in Scotland, in 1585, and was the son of Sir John Drummond, who, for ten or twelve years, was usher, and afterwards knight of the black-rod, to James VI.

His family became first distinguished by the marriage of Robert III. whose queen was sister to William Drummond of Carnock, their ancestor; as appeals by the patents of that king and James I.; the one calling him "our brother," the other, "our uncle."

Drummond was educated at Edinburgh, where he took the degree of A M. In 1606, he was sent by his father to study civil law, at Bourges in France; but, having no taste for the profession of a lawyer, he returned to Hawthornden, and there applied himself with great assiduity to classical learning and poetry.

Having proposed to marry a lady, to whom retirement and her own accomplishments had entirely attached him, and who died after the day of marriage was appointed, he again quitted his native country, and resided eight years on the Continent, chiefly at Rome and Paris.

In 1620, he married Margaret Logan, a grand-daughter of Sir Robert Logan, by whom he had several children; the eldest of whom, William, was knighted by Charles II.

He spent very little time in England; though he corresponded frequently with Drayton and Ben Jonson; the latter of whom had so great respect for his abilities, and so ardent a desire to see him, that, at the age of forty-five, he walked to Hawthornden to visit him.

Having been grafted, as it were, on the royal family of Scotland, and upheld by them, he was a steady royalist in the troubles of Charles I.; but does not appear ever to have armed for him. As he hat always been a laborious student, and had applied himself equally to history and politics as to classical learning, his services were better rendered by occasional publications; in which he several times distinguished himself.

His attachment to that king and his cause was so strong, that, when he heard of the sentence being executed on him, he was overwhelmed with grief, and lifted his head no more.

He died in 1649.

In a survey of Drummond's poetry, two considerations must be had, viz. — The nation, of which he was; and the time, when he wrote. Yet will these be found, not offered to extenuate faults; but to encrease admiration. His thoughts are often, nay generally, bold and highly poetical; he follows nature; and his verses are delicately harmonious. As his poems are not easily met with, and have perhaps by many readers never been heard of, a few extracts may be excused.

On the death of Henry Prince of Wales, in 1612, Drummond wrote an elegy, entitled, Tears on the Death of "Moeliades;" a name, which that prince had used in all his challenges of martial sport, as the anagram of "Miles a Deo." In this poem are lines, according to Denham's terms, as strong, as deep, as gentle, and as full, as any of his, or Waller's. The poet laments the fate of the prince, that he died not in some glorious cause of war: "Against the Turk," he says, "thou had'st ended thy life and the Christian war together;"

Or, as brave Bourbon, thou had'st made old Rome,
Queen of the world, thy triumph and thy tombe.

Of the lamentation of the river Forth,

And, as she rush'd her Cyclades among,
She seem'd to plain that heav'n had done her wrong.

Further,

Tagus did court his love with golden streams,
Rhine with her towns, fair Seine with all she claims;
But ah, poor lovers! death did them betray,
And, unsuspected, made their hopes his prey.

And concludes,

The virgins to thy tomb will garlands bear
Of flow'rs, and with each flow'r let fall a tear.
Moeliades sweet courtly nymphs deplore,
From Thule to Hydaspes' pearly shore.

Perhaps there are no lines in Pope, of which the easy flow may be more justly admired, than of those in his third Pastoral,

Not bubbling fountains to the thirsty swain,
Not balmy sleep to lab'rers faint with pain,
Not show'rs to larks, or sunshine to the bee,
Are half so charming as thy sight to me.

When King James, first after his accession to the English throne, returned to Scotland, in 1617, his arrival was celebrated by every effort of poetical congratulation. Upon this occasion, Drummond composed a panegyric, entitled The Wandering Muses, or, The River of Forth Feasting, in which are found four lines, apparently imitated by Pope, in the above passage, and which do not, in point of harmony, fall much short of that imitation. He says,

To virgins, flow'rs; to sunburnt earth, the rain;
To mariners, fair winds amidst the main;
Cool shades to pilgrims, whom hot glances burn,
Are not so pleasing as thy blest return.

Of these two poems of Drummond, it is observable, that the first was written in 1612; the last in 1617. The earliest piece of Waller is that to the King on his navy, in 1625. The piece, in which Sir John Denham's greatest force lies, Cooper's Hill, was not written till 1640. The harmony of Drummond, therefore, at a time when those, who are usually called the first introducers of a smooth and polished versification, had not yet begun to write, is an honor to him, that should never be forgotten. Nor is his excellence half enough praised, or acknowledged.

Drummond and Petrarca had this in common, that each lamented, first the cruelty, and then the loss of his mistress: so that their Sonnets are alike naturally divided into two parts; those before, and those after their several mistresses deaths. It may justly be doubted that, among all the sonneteers in the English language, any one is to be preferred to Drummond. He has shewn, in some of these compositions, nearly the spirit of Petrarca himself. Of each period, one is here inserted.

From part 1st, before the death of Drummond's mistress.

Sonn 4.
Aye me, and am I now the man, whose muse
In happier times was wont to laugh at love,
And those, who suffer'd that blind boy abuse
The noble gifts were giv'n them from above.
What metamorphose strange is this I prove?
My self I scarce now find myself to be:
And think no fable Circe's tyrannie,
And all the tales are told of changed Jove.
Virtue hath taught, with her philosophy,
My mind unto a better course to move;
Reason may chide her full, and oft reprove
Affection's power; but what is that to me,
Who ever think, and never think on ought
But that bright cherubim, which thralls my thought?

From part 2d, after her death.

Sonn. I.
Of mortal glory O soon darkned ray!
O winged joys of man, more swift than wind!
O fond desires, which in our fancies stray!
O traitrous hopes, which do our judgments blind!
Lo, in a flash that light is gone away,
Which dazzle did each eye, delight each mind;
And with that sun, from whence it came, combin'd,
Now makes more radiant heavn's eternal day.
Let beauty now bedew her cheeks with tears;
Let widow'd music only roar and groan:
Poor virtue, get thee wings and mount the sphears,
For dwelling place on earth for thee is none:
Death hath thy temple raz'd, love's empire foil'd,
The world, of honor, worth, and sweetness spoil'd.

The seventh sonnet, of the first part, has much resemblance to Sir Henry Wotton's elegant little poem, on the Queen of Bohemia, "Ye meaner Beauties," &c. Among Drummond's Flowers of Sion, the poem, which begins, "Amidst the azure clear — Of Jordan's sacred streams," eminently distinguishes him, whether he be considered as a philosopher, or a poet.