1851 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Drummond

Robert Pearse Gillies, in Memoirs of a Literary Veteran (1851) 2:7-10.



In the capacity either of sonnetteer or bibliographer, it would have been impossible for any one to look otherwise than with profound respect on the writings and character of our Scottish Petrarch, Drummond of Hawthornden. He was indeed an especial object of admiration and imitation both of mine, and of my friend Dr. Black. As in the folio edition of Drummond's works it is recorded, that he presented or bequeathed all his library and manuscripts to the Edinburgh College, the question very naturally occurred to me, what had since become of those treasures? Did the college now [ca. 1808] acknowledge possession of them? Had they been conserved separately as befitted the respect due to such a donor?

No sooner did this thought occur to me than I ran to cross-question the sub-librarian, believing firmly that so important a purpose as the resuscitation of Drummond's books and papers would at once be understood and appreciated. But alas, the worthy official was quite unprepared for my queries, never having heard the like before. All he could do was to have recourse to the catalogue, and, if I recollect right, all that he found entered there under the name of Drummond, were two early editions of the poet's works....

The result was an appointment for a meeting next day at the College, whither I was cheerfully accompanied by Mr. Thomson, and where Dr. Duncan and Professor Leslie were waiting to receive us. The former was quite aware of the fact that in "days of lang syne" the poet's books had been arranged separately in a repertory still known to the initiated as Drummond's press, and which, being above a doorway, was accessible only by the step-ladder. Professor Leslie, as a member of the senatus academicus, was the first to mount the steps and try his fortune; but finding nothing to interest him, soon gave in. Each of us rummaged in turn, but with one solitary exception, the rarities specified in Drummond's catalogue were sought for in vain. I was the fortunate discoverer of this unique article, namely a MS. of Scottish poems collected in the sixteenth century, by Sir. W. Maitland, of Ledington, which Mr. Thomson immediately applied himself to decipher.... It seems possible enough that from that date to the present hour, the subject of Drummond and his bequest has never been debated within the college walls.