1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Drummond

Robert Aris Willmott, in Lives of Sacred Poets (1834) 59-60.



In 1623 appeared the perfect edition of DRUMMOND'S Flowers of Sion, or Spiritual Poems. Drummond, of Hawthornden, is endeared to our remembrance by his loyalty, his learning, and his poetry. The unhappy termination of the life of King Charles, to whom he was devotedly attached, is thought to have hastened his own dissolution. Mr. Gifford has very severely commented upon what he calls Drummond's hypocrisy towards his friend, Ben Jonson; but it should be recollected, that the journal in which the objectionable remarks were entered, was strictly private, and never intended by the author to have seen the light. But if Drummond's opinion of Jonson's character was incorrect, Jonson's estimation of his friend's poetical talents was equally illfounded. If Drummond's verses "smelled" of the "schooles," they were generally the schools of nature. Not one of his contemporaries had a heart more susceptible of her music, or looked out upon her beauty less frequently through the "spectacles of books." His petition to his Lute appears to have been answered, and she often discoursed to him with the sweetness of that pastoral tone when she dwelt with her "green mother, in some shady grove."

The following specimen is not selected for its superior excellence, but on account of its being less frequently quoted than others. It breathes a high and moral dignity, and is remarkable for the ingenuity with which the original metaphor is preserved:—

Of this fair volume which we World do call,
If we the sheets and leaves could turn with care
Of Him who it corrects, and did it frame,
We clear might read the art and wisdom rare;
Find out his power which wildest arts doth tame,
His providence extending every where,
His justice which proud rebels doth not spare,
In every page, no period of the same:
But sillie we, like foolish children, rest
Well pleased with coloured vellum, leaves of gold;
Fair dangling ribbons, leaving what is best,
Of the great Writer's sense ne'er taking hold.
Or if by chance we stay our minds on aught,
It is some picture on the margin wrought.

To some of my readers the pleasant spot where Drummond passed so many happy and innocent days may be known. Hawthornden is situated on the North Esk, about half a mile below Roslyn Castle. The house stands upon the summit of a precipice overhanging the sides of the river, and immediately beneath it are several curious caverns. In a small detached cave Drummond is said to have composed many of his poems. The Cypress Grove is also the title of a very eloquent essay, probably written in the same solitude.