1868 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Drummond

George Macdonald, in England's Antiphon (1868; 1890) 146-48.



William Drummond of Hawthornden, a Scotchman, born in 1585, may almost be looked upon as the harbinger of a fresh outburst of word-music. No doubt all the great poets have now and then broken forth in lyrical jubilation. Ponderous Ben Jonson himself, when he takes to song, will sing in the joy of the very sound; but great men have always so much graver work to do, that they comparatively seldom indulge in this kind of melody. Drummond excels in madrigals, or canzonets — baby-odes or songs — which have more of wing and less of thought than sonnets. Through the greater part of his verse we hear a certain muffled tone of the sweetest, like the music that ever threatens to break out clear from the brook, from the pines, from the rain-shower, — never does break out clear, but remains a suggested, ethereally vanishing tone. His is a "voix voilee," or veiled voice of song. It is true that in the time we are now approaching far more attention was paid not merely to the smoothness but to the melody of verse than any except the great masters had paid before; but some are at the door, who, not being great masters, yet do their inferior part nearly as well as they their higher, uttering a music of marvellous as well as individual sweetness, which no mere musical care could secure, but which springs essentially from music in the thought gathering to itself musical words in melodious division, and thus fashioning for itself a fitting body. The melody of their verse is all their own — as original as the greatest art-forms of the masters.... Drummond excels in nobility of speech, and especially in the fine line and phrase, so justly but disproportionately prized in the present day.