Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drummond, William (1770?-1828)

DRUMMOND, Sir WILLIAM (1770?–1828), scholar and diplomatist, was a member, and eventually the head, of the Drummonds of Logie-Almond. He may perhaps be identified with the William, son of John Drummond of Perth, who matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, 24 Jan. 1788, aged 18 (Foster, Alumni Oxon. i. 389). He first attracted attention as an author by a learned work entitled ‘A Review of the Governments of Sparta and Athens’ (London, 1795). In 1795 he was returned to parliament in the tory interest for the borough of St. Mawes, and in the following parliament, which lasted from 1796 to 1802, he sat for Lostwithiel. Diplomacy, however, attracted him rather than debate. In 1801 he was sent as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the court of Naples, when he was sworn of the privy council, and in 1803 as ambassador to the Ottoman Porte, when he was honoured with the order of the Crescent, which was confirmed by license in the ‘London Gazette,’ 8 Sept. 1803. As ambassador he does not appear to have played a very active part. ‘I do not know Mr. Drummond,’ wrote Nelson on 16 Jan. 1804, ‘but I am told he is not likely to make the Porte understand the intended purity of our cabinet’ (Nelson Despatches, v. 374). In 1806 he was once more envoy extraordinary to the court of Naples, and embarked in an unsuccessful scheme for securing the regency of Spain to Prince Leopold of Sicily. His diplomatic career came to an end in 1809 (for his appointments consult Haydn's Book of Dignities). In the previous year he had been one of the claimants of the Roxburghe peerage (Roxburghe Peerage: Minutes of Evidence before the Committee of Privilege). Meanwhile he had published ‘Philosophical Sketches on the Principles of Society and Government’ (anonymous) in 1793; ‘The Satires of Persius, translated,’ followed in 1798; and a philosophical treatise entitled ‘Academical Questions’ in 1805. In 1810 he published, in conjunction with Robert Walpole, ‘Herculanesia, or Archæological and Philological Dissertations, containing a manuscript found among the ruins of Herculaneum.’ The first part of a poem in blank verse on ‘Odin’ was published in 1817; in it Odin is identified with Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates. The same hardihood of speculation marks Drummond's most important work—‘Origines, or Remarks on the Origin of several Empires, States, and Cities,’ such as Assyria and Babylon, which was published in four volumes from 1824 to 1829. But perhaps his most daring writing was ‘Œdipus Judaicus,’ printed for private circulation in 1811. It is an attempt to prove that many parts of the Old Testament are allegories, chiefly derived from astronomy (thus Joshua is a type of the sun in the sign of Ram, Jericho the moon in her several quarters), and was accompanied by a very polemical preface, published separately. This curious anticipation of modern theories professed to be written from the standpoint of a theist. It was very severely handled by George D'Oyly [q. v.], who accused Drummond of appropriating the ideas of Charles François Dupuis, and there were several other replies. Some one, probably Drummond himself, criticised his critics under the nom de guerre of ‘Vindex,’ in ‘Letters to the Rev. G. D'Oyly’ (1812). Towards the end of his life Drummond lived chiefly abroad, and he died at Rome on 29 March 1828. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society on 4 April 1799, and a D.C.L. (Oxford) on 3 July 1810.

[Gent. Mag. 1828, ii. 90; for a criticism of Odin see the Eclectic Review, new ser. viii. 77, and for one on the Œdipus Judaicus the Quarterly Review, ix. 329.]

L. C. S.