Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drummond, William (1585-1649)

DRUMMOND, WILLIAM (1585–1649) of Hawthornden, poet, was eldest son of John Drummond, first laird of Hawthornden, in the parish of Lasswade, seven miles from Edinburgh. The father, born in 1553, became gentleman-usher to James VI in 1590; was knighted in 1603 when he came to England with James; died in 1610, and was buried at Holyrood. The family was a branch of the Drummonds of Stobhall, whose chief representative became Earl of Perth on 4 March 1604–5. Through Annabella Drummond [q. v.], daughter of Sir John of Stobhall, who married Robert III of Scotland in 1357 and was the mother of James I, the poet claimed relationship with the royal family. His mother, Susannah, was sister of William Fowler, a well-known burgess of Edinburgh, who was private secretary to Queen Anne of Denmark, and accompanied her to England in 1603. William was born at Hawthornden 13 Dec. 1585. He had three younger brothers, James, Alexander, and John, and three sisters, Ann, Jane, and Rebecca. After spending his boyhood at the Edinburgh High School, he proceeded to Edinburgh University; benefited by the tuition of John Ray, the humanity professor, and graduated M.A. in 1605. In 1606 he paid a first visit to London while on his way to the continent to study law. His father was residing with the court at Greenwich as gentleman-usher to the king (Reg. Privy Council of Scotland, ed. Masson, vii. 490). William bought and read the recent books of such writers as Sidney, Lyly, and Shakespeare, and in June, July, and August 1606 described in letters to a Scottish friend the court festivities which celebrated the visit of Queen Anne's father, King Christian of Denmark. In 1607 and 1608 Drummond attended law lectures at Bourges and Paris; studied Du Bartas and Rabelais; read Tasso and Sannazzaro in French translations, and sent home accounts of the pictures in the Paris galleries.

In 1609 he was again in Scotland, and his sister Ann married John Scot, afterwards of Scotstarvet, Fifeshire, his lifelong friend. A year later he revisited London, and on his return home his father's death (1610) made him laird of Hawthornden. Abandoning all notion of practising law, he retired to his estate and read assiduously in almost all languages. His library numbered 552 volumes, including fifty of the latest productions of contemporary English poets. It was only after much reading that Drummond attempted poetic composition, and, following the example of Sir William Alexander [q. v.], he wrote in English rather than in Scotch. A poetic lament on the death of Prince Henry, ‘Tears on the Death of Meliades,’ was his earliest publication (1613), and came from the press of Andro Hart of Edinburgh. At the same time he edited a collection of elegies by Chapman, Rowley, Wither, and others, under the title of ‘Mausoleum, or the Choisest Flowres of the Epitaphs,’ Edinburgh (Andro Hart), 1613.

In 1614 Drummond visited Menstrie, and introduced himself to William Alexander [q. v.], who received him kindly, and was thenceforward one of his regular correspondents. Sir Robert Kerr (afterwards Earl of Ancrum), Sir Robert Aytoun, and Sir David Murray were also friendly with him, and interested him in English and Scottish politics. But Drummond rarely left Hawthornden, and divided his time between poetry and mechanical experiments. About 1614 he fell in love with the daughter of one Cunningham of Barns (near Crail, Fifeshire). A marriage was arranged, but she died in 1615, before it could take place. In 1616 he published a book of poems embodying his love and grief, together with some earlier songs and madrigals. A second edition quickly followed.

In 1617 Drummond celebrated James I's visit to Scotland with a long poetic panegyric entitled ‘Forth Feasting.’ Henceforth London society interested itself in his poetic efforts, and in the summer of 1618 he was cheered by a visit from one Joseph Davis, who brought a flattering message from Michael Drayton, one of Drummond's favourite authors. An amiable correspondence followed. In one letter Drummond suggested that Drayton, who had quarrelled with his London publishers, should publish the last books of the ‘Polyolbion’ with his own publisher, Andro Hart of Edinburgh. In his ‘Epistle on Poets and Poetry’ Drayton speaks highly of ‘my dear Drummond.’ Late in 1618 Drummond made the personal acquaintance of Ben Jonson. Jonson had walked from London to Edinburgh in August, but there is no proof that the expedition was made, as Drummond's early biographers assert, in order to make Drummond's acquaintance. Before Christmas Jonson visited Drummond at Hawthornden, and remained for two or three weeks. Drummond took careful notes of his conversation, which chiefly turned on literary topics, and although they corresponded in effusive terms subsequently, Drummond's private impression of Jonson was not favourable. When leaving Edinburgh in January 1619, Jonson promised Drummond that if he died on the road home, all that he had written while in Scotland should be forwarded to Hawthornden. At the same time Drummond undertook to send to London accounts of Edinburgh, Loch Lomond, and other notable Scottish scenes, for Jonson to incorporate in a projected account of his Scottish tour; but this work was not completed. In 1620 Drummond was seriously ill. Three years later fire and famine devastated Edinburgh, and Drummond in deep depression issued a volume of religious verse (‘Flowers of Zion’), together with a philosophic meditation on death (in prose) entitled ‘The Cypresse Grove.’ A second edition appeared in 1630. Meanwhile Drummond was corresponding with Sir William Alexander about James I's translation of the Psalms, and some of his suggestions were adopted. An extravagantly eulogistic sonnet commemorated James's death in 1625.

On 29 Sept. 1626 a draft of a three years' patent was prepared for certain mechanical inventions which Drummond had recently perfected. Sixteen were specified, and most of them were military appliances. The first was described as a cavalry weapon, or box-pistol; among the others were new kinds of pikes and battering-arms, telescopes and burning-glasses, together with instruments for observing the strength of winds, for converting salt water into sweet, and for measuring distances at sea. The patent was finally granted 24 Dec. 1627. In the same year (1627) Drummond presented to Edinburgh University a collection of five hundred books, which are still kept together in a separate room of the university library. A catalogue drawn up by the donor was printed by John Hart, Andro Hart's successor. Drummond was out of Scotland in 1628 and in 1629, but was at home in May 1630, and soon afterwards paid a visit to his dead wife's relations at Barns. In July 1631 Drayton wrote to Drummond renewing their old acquaintanceship, and early in 1632 Drummond, on learning of Drayton's death, expressed deep grief in a letter to Alexander, then Viscount Stirling. In the same year he married, his wife being Elizabeth, sister of James Logan of Monarlothian, and granddaughter of Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig.

Soon after his second marriage Drummond's pride in his ancestry was hurt by a claim put forth by William Graham, earl of Menteith, to the earldom of Strathearn. Menteith's pretensions reflected on the legitimacy of Robert III of Scotland, the husband of Drummond's ancestress Annabella Drummond. The poet opened a correspondence on the subject with the head of his clan, John Drummond, earl of Perth; drew up a genealogy of the family, and sent a tractate in manuscript to Charles I in December 1632, entitled ‘Considerations to the King,’ in which he tried to confute Menteith's claim, and suggested that Menteith should be punished for his presumption. After preparing for his kinsman an essay on ‘Impreses,’ he set to work on a ‘History of Scotland [1424–1542] during the Reigns of the Five Jameses,’ all of whom were direct descendants of Robert III and Annabella Drummond. His brother-in-law, Scot of Scotstarvet, encouraged him in the work, but it was not printed until after Drummond's death. In May 1633 he furnished the speeches and poems for the entertainment which celebrated Charles I's long-delayed coronation at Edinburgh, and in 1638 published the last of his works issued in his lifetime, ‘A Pastorall Elegie’ on the death of Sir Anthony Alexander, son of his friend Alexander, earl of Stirling. In 1638, too, Drummond rebuilt his house at Hawthornden, and stayed with Scot of Scotstarvet while the work was in operation.

In the political turmoil that preceded the civil wars in Scotland Drummond played as small a part as possible. Although a conservative he resented the persecution of Lord Balmerino, who had openly protested against Charles I's ecclesiastical policy (Letter to Robert Kerr, Earl of Ancrum, 2 March 1635). He amused himself by privately distributing political squibs among his intimate friends, and there he handled all parties with equal severity. An appeal for peace addressed to king, priests, and people, entitled ‘Irene, or a Remonstrance for Concord, Amity and Love,’ had a wide circulation in manuscript in 1638. The rise of the covenanters in arms was a heavy blow, but the importunity of his neighbours, the Earl of Lothian of Newbattle Abbey and Porteous the parson of Lasswade, seems to have led him to sign the covenant, although he was no friend to the cause. Similarly he was compelled to contribute to the support of the army raised in 1639 to invade England, but in his manuscript tracts he earnestly dissuaded his countrymen from venturing on active hostilities (cf. The Magical Mirror, or a Declaration upon the Rising of the Noblemen, Barons, Gentlemen, Burgesses in Arms, 1 April 1639; Queries of State; The Idea; and Load Star). In ‘A Speech to the Noblemen,’ &c., dated 2 May 1639, he emphatically warned them that civil war could only end in a military dictatorship. In ‘Considerations to the Parliament,’ dated September 1639, he sarcastically recommended fifty-eight new laws, one of which was to allow the provost of Edinburgh to pray in the cathedral to the accompaniment of pistol-shots instead of the organ, and another to authorise schoolboys to expel their masters every seventh year and choose their own teachers. During the first outbreak (the first bishops' war) the Marquis of Douglas invited Drummond to stay with him, and took his advice about a projected publication of a family history. The Earl of Perth entreated the poet to visit him during the second outbreak in 1640, but Drummond declined to leave home in both instances, and was entrusted in the second war with some slight military duties, which he performed with great reluctance. In February 1639–40 he lost his friend Stirling, and among the Drummond papers are notes for a poem to his memory, which was to be entitled ‘Alphander,’ but there is no further trace of it. When Charles I came to Scotland at the end of the war in 1641, Drummond wrote a ‘Speech for Edinburgh to the King,’ in which he plainly declared himself opposed to the covenanters, and later in 1642, when Scotland was distracted by the conflicting appeals of Charles I and his parliament, Drummond circulated a tract entitled ‘Skiamachia,’ in which he defended the royalists for petitioning the privy council in the king's favour. He protested against the solemn league and covenant in ‘Remoras for the National League between Scotland and England’ in 1643. But he apparently signed the new covenant soon afterwards, and compounded with his conscience by composing severely sarcastic verses on the presbyterians and their English allies. The circulation of these pieces in manuscript was wide enough to give Drummond a bad reputation, and he was more than once summoned before ‘the circular tables’ (i.e. covenanting committees) to account for his conduct. He defended himself by elaborate arguments in favour of the liberty of opinion and the press, and the charges were not pressed. In 1643 Drummond helped to secure the election of an ex-bishop, James Fairly, to the vacant parish of Lasswade.

Drummond strongly sympathised with Montrose. On 28 Aug. 1645 Montrose—at the head of the royalist army—issued orders that Drummond was not to be molested by his men, and that the Hawthornden property was to be specially protected. Drummond wrote to Montrose offering to place his ‘Irene’ at his disposal, and Montrose replied by inviting Drummond to bring the paper to him at Bothwell. After Montrose's defeat, and just before his escape to Norway in 1646, he addressed (19 Aug.) a letter of thanks to Drummond for his ‘good affection’ and ‘all his friendly favours.’ In ‘Objections against the Scots answered’ (1646) Drummond supported a proposal to negotiate with Charles I. When in 1648 the Scots resolved to resort again to arms in the king's behalf, Drummond vehemently pleaded for the appointment of the royalist Duke of Hamilton as leader of the Scottish army, and wrote a ‘Vindication of the Hamiltons’ in reply to a pamphlet which affected to deprecate the appointment from a royalist point of view. The execution of the king is said to have hastened Drummond's death. The poetry he wrote in his late years chiefly consisted of sonnets on the death of friends, or religious verses. All indicated a settled gloom. In April 1649 he was revising his genealogy of the Drummond family. On 4 Dec. following he died at Hawthornden, and was buried in the church of Lasswade. Colonel George Lauder wrote a very pathetic poem on his death, entitled ‘Damon.’ All his brothers and sisters except James died before him. By his second marriage Drummond had nine children—five sons and four daughters—but only two sons and a daughter survived him. The daughter Elizabeth married Dr. Henderson, an Edinburgh physician. The younger son Robert died in 1607. The heir, William, was knighted by Charles II; inherited land at Carnock from another branch of the family, and died in 1713. Sir William's granddaughter, Mary Barbara, whose second husband, Bishop William Abernethy, took the surname of Drummond [see Drummond, William Abernethy], succeeded to the Hawthornden property, and was the last lineal descendant of the poet. She died in 1789.

In 1655 there was printed in London a volume of Drummond's prose works. The editor was a ‘Mr. Hall of Gray's Inn,’ and some copies contain a dedication to Scot of Scotstarvet, signed by Drummond's eldest son, William. The title ran: ‘The History of Scotland from the year 1423 until the year 1524: containing the Lives and Reigns of James the I, the II, the III, the IV, the V. With several Memorials of State during the Reigns of James VI and Charles I.’ Only ‘The Cypresse-Grove’—the prose meditation on death—first issued in 1623, had been published before, but the ‘Memorials of State’ did not include Drummond's emphatically royalist tracts, like the ‘Irene’ and the ‘Skiamachia,’ some of which were destroyed by Drummond's relatives. A second posthumous volume, ‘Poems by that most famous Wit, William Drummond,’ was issued by the same London publisher in 1656. All that had been already published was here reprinted, together with some sixty new sonnets, madrigals, and elegies. Edward Phillips, Milton's nephew, edited this collection, and spoke extravagantly of Drummond's genius. An epigram by Arthur Johnston and an English poem by Archbishop Spottiswoode are among the commendatory verses. A few copies contain a dedication to Scot of Scotstarvet. This edition of Drummond's poems was reissued in 1659. In 1683 there was issued anonymously at Edinburgh a macaronic or dog-Latin poem in hexameters, entitled ‘Polemo-Middinia inter Vitarvam et Nebernam’—a farcical account of a quarrel between the tenants of Scot of Scotstarvet and those of his neighbour, Cunningham of Barns. This was reprinted at Oxford in 1691 and edited by Edmund Gibson, afterwards bishop of London, together with James V's ‘Christ's Kirk on the Green,’ and in this volume Drummond was positively declared to be the author. The facts that no mention of such a work is found in the Hawthornden MSS. and that Drummond never claimed it in his lifetime make its authorship doubtful. But when in 1711 Bishop Sage and Ruddiman prepared the chief collected edition of Drummond's works in both verse and prose, this piece was included and its authenticity distinctly asserted in the prefatory memoir. The folio of 1711 includes all Drummond's extant prose tracts and many of his letters, together with all the previously printed poems and some additional verse hitherto unprinted. Among the latter are some vesper hymns, translated from Latin, which had already appeared without an author's name in the Roman catholic primer first printed at St. Omer by John Heigham in 1619, and republished in the primer of 1632. That a sturdy protestant like Drummond should have contributed to a Roman catholic service-book looks at a first glance so improbable that the authenticity of these hymns has been questioned. Internal evidence, however, favours their attribution to Drummond. The editor of the 1632 primer distinctly states, too, that they ‘are a new translation done by one of the most skilfull in English Poetrie,’ and it is quite possible that Drummond made the translation on one of his early visits to the continent (Orby Shipley, Annus Sanctus, pref., 1884; Athenæum, 1885, i. 376). Reissues of Drummond's poems appeared in 1832 (by the Maitland Club), in 1833 (by Peter Cunningham), and in 1857 (by W. D. Turnbull). These editions include many poems from the Drummond MSS. These three editions include many poems, recovered from the Drummond MSS.

In 1782 Dr. Abernethy Drummond, the husband of the poet's last lineal descendant, presented a mass of his manuscripts to the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. In 1827 David Laing carefully arranged these papers in fifteen volumes and published extracts from them in the ‘Archæologia Scotica,’ iv. 57–110, 224–70. Besides transcripts of his poems and tracts, the manuscripts contain Drummond's notes of his conversations with Ben Jonson, lists of the books he read from 1606 to 1614, and many more letters than those published in the folio of 1711. A reprint of the ‘Conversations with Jonson’ was issued by the Shakespeare Society in 1842.

A portrait by Gaywood, prefixed to the 1655 volume, was re-engraved for the 1711 edition and for Masson's ‘Life’ (1873).

Drummond is a learned poet, and is at his best in his sonnets. Italian influence is always perceptible, and his indebtedness to Guarini is very pronounced. Yet sonnets like those on ‘Sleep’ and the ‘Nightingale’ possess enough natural grace and feeling to give them immortality, and borrowed conceits are often so cleverly handled by Drummond that he deserves more praise than their inventor. His madrigals show a rare command of difficult metres, but are less sprightly than could be wished. The elegy on Prince Henry, which has been compared with ‘Lycidas,’ is solemnly pathetic. Drummond anticipated Milton in using the metre of the ‘Hymn of the Nativity.’ The prose of ‘The Cypresse-Grove’ is majestic and suggests Sir Thomas Browne, but the historical and political tracts are not noticeable for their style. Drummond's political epigrams and satires are dull and often pointless.

[The Life of Drummond by Professor Masson (1873) is an elaborate monograph on the poet's literary and political position and influence. See also Archæologia Scotica, iv.; memoirs prefixed to the 1711 edition of Drummond's Works, and to the 1894 edition of the Poems; Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica.]

S. L. L.