1860 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Drummond

George Gilfillan, in Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 1:296-97.



A man of much finer gifts than Stirling, was the famous Drummond. He was born, December 13, 1585, at Hawthornden, his father's estate, in Mid-Lothian. It is one of the most beautiful spots, along the sides of one of the fairest streams in all Scotland, and well fitted to be the home of genius. He studied civil law for four years in France, but, in 1611, the estate of Hawthornden became his own, and here he fixed his residence, and applied himself to literature. At this time he courted, and was upon the point of marrying, a lady named Cunningham, who died; and the melancholy which preyed on his mind after this event, drove him abroad in search of solace. He visited Italy, Germany, and France; and during his eight years of residence on the Continent, used his time well, conversing with the learned, admiring all that was admirable in the scenery and the life of foreign lands, and collecting rare books and manuscripts. He had, before his departure, published, first, a volume of occasional poems; next, a moral treatise, in prose, entitled, The Cypress Grove; and then another work, in verse, The Flowers of Zion. Returned once more to Scotland, he retired to the seat of his brother-in-law, Sir John Scott of Scotstarvet, and there wrote a History of the Five James's of Scotland, a book abounding in bombast and slavish principles. When he returned to his own lovely Hawthornden, he met a lady named Logan, of the house of Restalrig, whom he fancied to bear a striking resemblance to his dead mistress. On that hint he spake, and she became his wife. He proceeded to repair the house of Hawthornden, and would have spent his days there in great peace, had it not been for the distracted times. His politics were of the Royalist complexion; and the party in power, belonging to the Presbyterians, used every method to annoy him, compelling him, for instance, to furnish his quota of men and arms to support the cause which he opposed. In 1619, Ben Jonson visited him at Hawthornden. The pair were not well assorted. Brawny Ben and dreaming Drummond seem, in the expressive coinage of De Quincey, to have "interdespised;" and is not their feud, with all its circumstances, recorded in the chronicles of the Quarrels of Authors, compiled by the elder Disraeli? The death of a lady sent Drummond travelling over Europe — the death of a King sent him away on a farther and a final journey. His grief for the execution of Charles I. is said to have shortened his days. At all events, in December of the year of the so-called "Martyrdom," (1649,) he breathed his last.

He was a genuine poet as well as a brilliant humorist. His Polemo Middinia, a grotesque mixture of bad Latin and semi-Latinised Scotch, has created, among many generations, inextinguishable laughter. His Wandering Muses; or, The River of Forth Feasting, has some gorgeous descriptions, particularly of Scotland's lakes and rivers, at a time when

She lay, like some unkenn'd of isle,
Ayont New Holland;

but his sonnets are unquestionably his finest productions. They breathe a spirit of genuine poetry. Each one of them is a rose lightly wet with the dew of tenderness, and one or two suggest irresistibly the recollection of our Great Dramatist's sonnets, although we feel that "a less than Shakspeare is here."