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Significant Scots
William Drummond

William DrummondDRUMMOND, WILLIAM, of Hawthornden, a celebrated poet and historian, was born on the 13th of December, 1585. His father, Sir John Drummond of Hawthornden, was gentleman usher to king James VI., a place which he had only enjoyed a few months before he died. His mother, Susanna Fowler, was daughter to Sir William Fowler, secretary to the queen, a lady much esteemed for her exemplary and virtuous life.

The family of our poet was among the most ancient and noble in Scotland. The first of the name who settled in this country, came from Hungary as admiral of the fleet which conveyed over Margaret, queen of Malcolm Canmore, at the time when sirnames were first known in Scotland. Walter de Drummond, a descendant of the original founder, was secretary, or as it was termed clerk-register, to the great Bruce, and was employed in various political negotiations with England, by that prince. Annabella Drummond, queen of king Robert II. and mother of James I., was a daughter of the house of Stobhall, from which were descended the earls of Perth. The Drummonds of Carnock at this early time became a branch of the house of Stobhall, and from this branch William of Hawthornden was immediately descended.

The poet was well aware, and indeed seems to have been not a little proud of his illustrious descent. In the dedication of his history to John earl of Perth, whom he styles his "very good lord and chief," he takes occasion to expatiate at some length on the fame and honour of their common ancestors, and sums up his eulogium with the following words: - "But the greatest honour of all is (and no subject can have any greater), that the high and mighty prince Charles, king of Great Britain, and the most part of the crowned heads in Europe, are descended of your honourable and ancient family." His consanguinity, remote as that was to James I., who was himself a kindred genius and a poet, was the circumstance, however, which Drummond dwelt most proudly upon; and to the feelings which this gave rise to, we are to attribute his history. He indeed intimates himself, that such was the case, in a manner at once noble and delicate: - "If we believe some schoolmen," says he, "that the souls of the departed have some dark knowledge of the actions done upon earth, which concern their good or evil; what solace then will this bring to James I., that after two hundred years, he hath one of his mother’s name and race, that hath renewed his fame and actions in the world?"

Of the early period of our author’s life few particulars are known. The rudiments of his education he received at the high school of Edinburgh, where we are told, he displayed early signs of that worth and genius, for which at a maturer age he became conspicuous. From thence, in due time, he entered the university of the same city, where, after the usual course of study, he took his degree of master of arts. He was then well versed in the metaphysical learning of the period; but this was not his favourite study, nor was he ever after in his life addicted to it. His first passion, on leaving college, lay in the study of the classical authors of antiquity, and to this early attachment, we have no hesitation in saying, is to be attributed the singular purity and elegance of style to which he attained, and which set him on a level, in that particular, with the most classical of his English contemporaries.

His father, intending him for the profession of the law, he was, at the age of 21 years, sent over into France to prosecute that study. At Bourges, therefore, he applied himself to the civil law under some of the most eminent professors of his age, with diligence and applause; and it is probable, had a serious intention of devoting his after life to that laborious profession. In the year 1610, his father, Sir John, died, and our author returned to his native country, after an absence from it of four years. To his other learning and accomplishments, which there is every reason to suppose were extensive and varied beyond those of most young men of his age in Scotland, he had now added the requisites necessary to begin his course in an active professional life. That he was well fitted for this course of life, is not left to mere conjecture. The learned president Lockhart is known to have declared of him, "that had he followed the practice of the law, he would have made the best figure of any lawyer in his time." The various political papers, which he has left behind him, written, some of them, upon those difficult topics which agitated king and people, during the disturbed period in which he lived, attest the same fact; as displaying, along with the eloquence which was peculiar to their author, the more forensic qualities of a perspicuous arrangement, and a judicious, clear, and masterly management of his argument.

It was to the surprise of those who knew him that our author turned aside from the course, which, though laborious, lay so invitingly open to his approach; and preferred to the attainment of riches and honour, the quiet ease and obscurity of a country gentleman’s life. He was naturally of a melancholy temperament; and it is probably, that like many others, who owe such to an over delicate and refined turn of sentiment, he allowed some vague disgust to influence him in his decision. His father’s death, at the same time, leaving him in easy independency, he had no longer any obstruction to following the bent of his inclination. That decidedly led him to indulge in the luxury of a literary life, certainly the most dignified of all indolencies, when it can be associated with ease and competence. He had a strong desire for retirement, even at this early period of his life, and now, having relinquished all thoughts of appearing in public, he would leave also even the bustle and noise of the world.

No poet, in this state of mind, perhaps, ever enjoyed the possession of a retreat more favoured by nature than is that of Hawthornden – so well fitted to the realization of a poet’s vision of earthly bliss. The place has been long known to every lover of the picturesque, and, associated as it has become, with the poetry and life of its ancient and distinguished possessor, is now a classical spot. Upwards of a hundred years ago, it is pleasing to be made aware that this feeling was not new. The learned and critical Ruddiman, at no time given to be poetical, has yet described Hawthornden as being "a sweet and solitary seat, and very fit and proper for the muses." It was here that our author passed many of the years of his early life, devoted in a great measure to literary and philosophical study, and the cultivation of poetry. We cannot now mark with any degree of precision, the order of his compositions at this period. The first, and only collection published in his lifetime, containing the "Flowers of Sion," with several other poems, and "A Cypress Grove," appeared in Edinburgh in the year 1616; and to this publication, limited as it is, we must ascribe in great part, the literary fame which the author himself enjoyed among his contemporaries.

Of the poems we shall speak afterwards; but the philosophical discourse which accompanies them, it may be as well to notice in the present place. "A Cypress Grove" was written after the author’s recovery from a severe illness; and the subject, suggested we are told, by the train of his reflections on a bed of sickness, is Death. We have often admired the splendid passages of Jeremy Taylor on this sublimest of all earthly topics, and it is if anything but a more decided praise of these to say, that Drummond at least rivalled them. The style is exalted, and classical as that of the distinguished churchman we have named; the conception, expression, and imagery, scarcely inferior in sublimity and beauty. That laboured display of learning, a fault peculiar to the literary men of their day, attaches in a great measure to both. In this particular, however, Drummond has certainly been more than usually judicious. We could well wish to see this work of our author, in preference to all his others, more popularly known. It is decidedly of a higher cast than his other prose pieces; and the reading of it, would tend, better than any comment, to make these others relished, and their spirit appreciated.

Not long after the publication of his volume, we find Drummond on terms of familiar correspondence with several of the great men of his day. It would be impossible, considering our materials, to be so full on this head as we could have wished. The information can only be gathered from the correspondence which has been published in his works; and the very great imperfection of that, as regards the few individuals which it embraces, plainly indicates that other, and perhaps, great names have been omitted, and that much that may have been curious or important, is lost. Among the names which remain recorded, the principal are Ben Jonson, Michael Drayton, Sir Robert Kerr, afterwards earl of Ancrum, Dr Arthur Johnston, and Sir William Alexander, afterwards earl of Stirling.

For the last mentioned of those, our author seems to have entertained the most perfect esteem and friendship. Alexander was a courtier, rather than a poet, though a man not the less capable of free and generous feelings. Had king James VI. not been a poet, it is to be doubted if Sir William would have had so much devotion to the divine art. His assumed passion for poetry, however, led him to cultivate the society of his ingenious contemporaries, by whom he is mentioned with respect, as much, we may believe, on account of the real excellence of the man, as of the poet. His poems, indeed, though those of an amateur, and now read only by the curious, are some of them, far from being deficient in poetical merit. His correspondence with our author, which extends through many years, is of little interest, referring almost entirely to the transmission of poetical pieces, and to points of minor criticism.

Michael Drayton, in an elogy on the English poets, takes occasion to speak of Drummond with much distinction. In the letters of this pleasing and once popular poet, there is a frank openness of manner, which forms a refreshing contrast to the stiff form and stiffer compliment of the greater part of the ‘familiar epistles,’ as they are termed, which passed between the literary men of that period, not excepting many of those in the correspondence of the poet of Hawthornden. – "My dear noble Drummond," says he, in one of them, "your letters were as welcome to me, as if they had come from my mistress, which I think is one of the fairest and worthiest living. Little did you think how oft that noble friend of yours, Sir William Alexander, and I, have remembered you, before we trafficked in friendship. Love me as much as you can, and so I will you: I can never hear of you too oft, and I will ever mention you with much respect of your deserved worth, &c."- "I thank you, my dear sweet Drummond, for your good opinion of ‘Poly-Olbyon:’ I have done twelve books more; that is, from the eighteenth book, which was Kent, (if you note it) all the east parts, and north to the river Tweed; but it lyeth by me, for the booksellers and I am in terms: they are a company of base knaves, whom I both scorn and kick at," &c. One other passage we shall quote, which, though euphuistic, has yet as much affection as conceit in it:—"I am oft thinking whether this long silence proceeds from you or me, whether (which) I know not; but I would have you take it upon you, and excuse me; and then I would have you lay it upon me, and excuse yourself: but if you will (if you think it our faults, as I do) let us divide, and both, as we may, amend it. My long being in the country this summer, from whence I had no means to send my letter, shall partly speak for me; for, believe me, worthy William, I am more than a fortnight’s friend; where I love, I love for years, which I hope you shall find, &c."

Only two of Drummond’s letters in return to this excellent poet and agreeable friend have been preserved. We shall make a brief extract from one of them, as it seems to refer to the commencement of their friendship, and to be in answer to that we have first quoted of Drayton: - "I must love this year of my life (1618) more dearly than any that forewent it, because in it I was so happy as to be acquainted with such worth. Whatever were Mr Davis’ other designs, methinks some secret prudence directed him to those parts only: for this, I will in love of you surpass as far your countrymen, as you go beyond them in all true worth; and shall strive to be second to none, save your fair and worthy mistress." John Davis had, it would seem, in a visit to Scotland, become acquainted with Drummond, and on his return to London did not fail to manifest the respect and admiration our poet had inspired him with. Drayton communicates as much to his friend in the following brief postscript to one of his letters: - "John Davis is in love with you." He could not have used fewer words.

Sir Robert Ker was, like Sir William Alexander, a courtier and a poet, though unlike him he never came to be distinguished as an author. He is best known to posterity for the singular feat which he performed, by killing in a duel the "giant," Charles Maxwell, who had, with great arrogance and insult, provoked him to the combat. There is a letter from our poet to Sir Robert, on this occasion, in which philosophically, and with much kindness, he thus reprehends his friend’s rashness and temerity: - "It was too much hazarded in a point of honour. Why should true valour have answered fierce barbarity; nobelness, arrogancy; religion, impiety; innocence, malice; - the disparagement being so vast? And had ye then to venture to the hazard of a combat, the exemplar of virtue, and the muses’ sanctuary? The lives of twenty such as his who hath fallen, in honour’s balance would not counterpoise your one. Ye are too good for these times, in which, as in a time of plague, men must once be sick, and that deadly, ere they can be assured of any safety. Would I could persuade you in your sweet walks at home to take the prospect of court-ship-wrecks."

There is another letter of Drummond’s to this gentleman which wee need not here notice, but rather pass to the one, for there is only one preserved, from the pen of Sir Robert, as it tends some little to explain the footing in which he stood related to our poet. This, which is dated from "Cambridge, where the court was the week past, about the making of the French match, 16th Dec. 1624," (about four years after the date of that above quoted,) – sets off in the following strain: - "Every wretched creature knows the way to that place where it is most made of, and so do my verses to you, that was so kind to the last, that every thought I think that way hastes to be at you: it is true I get leisure to think few, not that they are cara because rara, but indeed to declare that my employment and ingine concur to make them, like Jacob’s days, few and evil"—"The best is, I care as little for them as their fame; yet if you do not mislike them, it is warrant enough for me to let them live till they get your doom. In this sonnet I have sent you an approbation of your own life, whose character, howsoever I have mist, I have let you see how I love it, and would fain praise it, and, indeed, fainer practice it." The poem thus diffidently introduced, has had a more fortunate fate than was probably contemplated for it by its author. It is entitled "A Sonnet in praise of a Solitary Life;" and we are gratuitously informed at the end, that "the date of this starved rhyme, and the place, was the very bed-chamber where I could not sleep." Sir Robert Kerr was indeed, a character for whom Drummond might well entertain a high respect. In the remarkable adventure above alluded to, and for which he became very famous, he was not only acquitted of all blame by his own friends, but even lord Maxwell, the brother of the gentleman killed, generously protested that they should never quarrel with, nor dislike him on that account.

There is only one letter recorded of Drummond to mark that an intimacy had existed between him and his countryman the celebrated Arthur Johnston, the Latin poet. It is rather a short essay, on the subject of poetry, indeed, than a letter, written, says he, "not to give you any instruction, but to manifest mine obedience to your request." We shall quote a passage or two from this piece, not so much on account of any general excellence, as to show that Drummond, though he tolerated, and in some few instances adopted them, well understood the errors of the English poets of his time, and that he properly appreciated the purer taste displayed in the earlier models:—"It is more praiseworthy," thus it begins, "in noble and excellent things to know something, though little, than in mean and ignoble matters to have a perfect knowledge. Amongst all those rare ornaments of the mind of man, poesy hath had a most eminent place, and been in high esteem, not only at one time, and in one climate, but during all times, and through all those parts of the world, where any ray of humanity and civility hath shined: so that she hath not unworthily deserved the name of the mistress of human life, the height of eloquence, the quintessence of knowledge, the loud trumpet of fame, the language of the gods. There is not anything endureth longer: Homer’s Troy hath outlived many republics, and both the Roman and Grecian monarchies: she subsisteth by herself; and after one demeanour and continuance, her beauty appeareth to all ages. In vain have some men of late (transformers of every thing) consulted upon her reformation, and endeavoured to abstract her to metaphysical ideas and scholastical quiddities, denuding her of her own habits, and those ornaments with which she hath amused the world some thousand years." We might well quote more, or indeed the whole of it, for the essay, if it may be called such, is very short; but we must make this serve. It naturally occurs to notice how much the classical taste of Johnston must have harmonized with that of his contemporary,—and how in the junction of two such minds much mutual benefit must have been communicated. In that language which became him as his own, Johnston has written a few commendatory verses on his friend, which, in the fashion of the time have been regularly prefixed to the collections of Drummond’s poems.

The most remarkable incident which has descended to us, connected with the literary life of our poet, was the visit with which the well-known English dramatist, Ben Jonson, honoured him, in the winter of 1618-19. Upon this, therefore, we would desire to be somewhat particular, and the materials we have for being so, are not so barren as those which refer to other passages. Ben Jonson was a man of much decision, or what, on some occasions, might no doubt be termed obstinacy, of purpose; and to undertake a journey on foot of several hundred miles into a strange country, and at an unfavourable season of the year, to visit a brother poet, whose fame had reached his ears, was characteristic in every way of his constitutional resoluteness, and of that sort of practical sincerity which actuated his conduct indifferently either to friendship or enmity. We mean no disparagement by these last words, to the character of a man acknowledgedly great, as every one will allow Ben Jonson’s to have been; but merely allude to a trait in that character, fully marked in the individual, and which he himself never attempted to disguise. His drinking out the full cup of wine at the communion table, in token of his reconciliation with the church of England, and sincere renunciation of popery, is an anecdote in point; and we need only hint at the animosities, one of them fatal, into which, in an opposite way, the same zealousness of spirit hurried him. There is much occasion to mark this humour throughout the whole substance of the conversations which passed between Drummond and his remarkable visitor.

The curious document which contains these, is in itself but a rough draught, written by Drummond when the matters contained in it were fresh in his recollection, and intended merely, it would seem, as a sort of memorandum for his own use. That its author never intended it should become public is evident, not only from the imperfect and desultory manner in which it is put together, but from the unsophisticated and unguarded freedom of its personal reflections. There is every proof that though it unhappily treats with much and almost unpalliated severity the character and foibles of the English poet, the truth is not, so far as it goes, violated. It is not kindly, nor can it be said to be hostilely written. Inhospitably, we cannot allow it to be, as it certainly never was intended to prove offensive to the feelings of the person whom it describes, or his admirers.

Several of the incidents of Ben Jonson’s life, as they were communicated by him to Drummond have been given. These we have not occasion to notice; but we cannot pass over, as equally out of place, some of the opinions entertained by that remarkable man of his literary contemporaries. They are for the most part sweeping censures, containing some truth, but oftener much illiberality; pointed, and on one or two occasions coarse,—Jonson being at all times rather given to lose a friend than a jest. Spenser’s stanzas we are told, "pleased him not, nor his matter."—"Samuel Daniel was a good honest man, had no children, and was no poet; that he had wrote the ‘Civil Wars,’ and yet hath not one battle in his whole book." Michael Drayton, "if he had performed what he promised in his Polyolbion, (to write the deeds of all the worthies,) had been excellent."—"Sir John Harrington’s Ariosto, of all translations was the worst. That when Sir John desired him to tell the truth of his epigrams; he answered him, that he loved not the truth, for they were narrations, not epigrams."—"Donne, for not being understood, would perish. He esteemed him the first poet in the world for some things; his verses of Ohadine he had by heart, and that passage of the Calm, that dust and feathers did not stir, all was so quiet." He told Donne that his "Anniversary was profane and full of blasphemies; that if it had been written on the Virgin Mary it had been tolerable." To which Donne answered, "that he described the idea of a woman, and not as she was."—"Owen was a poor pedantic schoolmaster, sweeping his living from the posteriors of little children, and has nothing good in him, his epigrams being bare narrations."- "Sir Walter Raleigh esteemed more fame than conscience: the best wits in England were employed in making his history. He himself had written a piece to him of the Punic war, which he altered and set in his book."—"Francis Beaumont was a good poet, as were Fletcher and Chapman whom he loved."—"He fought several times with Marston. Marston wrote his father-in-law’s preachings, and his father-in-law his comedies, &c." The most, singular of all, to the modern reader, is what follows regarding Shakespeare, who is introduced with fully as little respect as is shown to any of the others mentioned;—He said, "Shakespeare wanted art and sometimes sense; for in one of his plays, he brought a number of men, saying they had suffered shipwreck in Bohemia, where is no sea, near by one hundred miles." Shakespeare, it may be remarked, though two years dead at the time of the conversation, was then but little known out of London, the sphere of his original attraction. The first, and well known folio edition of his plays, which may be said to have first shown forth our great dramatist, to the world, did not appear till 1623, several years after. Drummond merely refers to him as the author of "Venus and Adonis," and the "Rape of Lucrece," pieces as little popularly known now, as his plays were then.

It is to Ben Jonson’s honour, that, when he spared so little the absent poets of his country, he did not altogether pass over the poet of Hawthorndon to his face. Our author’s verses he allowed, "were all good, especially his epitaph on prince Henry; save, that they smelled too much of the schools, and were not after the fancy of the times: for a child, said he, may write after the fashion of the Greek and Latin verses, in running; —yet, that he wished for pleasing the king, that piece of Forth Feasting had been his own."

So little did any intercourse exist two hundred years ago between the then newly united kingdoms of England and Scotland, and in particular, so unknown did the latter kingdom then and long after remain to the sister islanders, that a friendly or curious tour into Scotland, now become a matter of everyday and fashionable occurrence, was by them looked upon as pregnant with every species of novelty and adventure. Necessity or business could alone be considered as an inducement to the prosecution of such a journey, attended with so many supposed risks, and some real inconveniences; and, we can well believe, in the wonder and delight which a devoted and adventurous English angler is said to have experienced, when he began to reflect how, almost unconsciously, the beauty and excellence of its fine rivers had seduced him far into the heart of a peaceful and romantic land till then thought savage and barbarous. Infected we may suppose with similar fee1ings, Ben Jonson contemplated the design of writing "a Fisher or pastoral play," the scene of which was to be the "Lomond lake;" and he likewise formed the intention of turning to poetical account his foot pilgrimage, under the form and title of a "Discovery of Edinburgh"—

"The heart of Scotland, Britain’s other eye."

A letter to our author, upon his return to London, and the answer to it, almost entirely refer to these two schemes.

We are informed, in the first of these, that the laureate of his day returned safely from his long journey, and met "with a most catholic welcome;" that his reports were not unacceptable to his majesty;—"who," says he, "professed (I thank God) some joy to see me, and is pleased to hear of the purpose of my book." The letter concludes thus:—"Salute the beloved Fentons, the Nisbets, the Scots, the Levingstons, and all the honest and honoured names with you; especially Mr James Writh, his wife, your sister, &c." ["No one," says a correspondent, "can read the celebrated Heads of Conversation between Drummond and Ben Jonson, without regretting that the former had not a spice more of Boswell in him, so as to have preserved not only his visitor’s share of the dialogue, but his own also. As it is, we have a meagre outline of Jonson’s opinions, with no intermixture of Drummond’s replies. What an interesting, discourse on the extravagant freaks of imagination may we suppose to have accompanied Jonson’s statement ‘that he had spent a whole night lying looking to his great toe, about which he hath seen Tartars and Turks, Romans and Carthaginians, fight in his imagination!’ Yet it is presented to us in an isolated paragraph, as if the two bards had spent a whole evening together, and that was the only thing that passed between them. Again, we have Jonson making the startling declaration, ‘that he wrote all his verses first in prose, as his master Camden taught him,’ and adding, ‘that verses stood by sense, without either colours accent; ‘and we may be sure these annunciations did not fall upon the ear of Drummond like the sound of a clock striking the hour of midnight: but he tells us nothing to the contrary. Lastly, we know that Drummond had weighed well the subject of astrology, and arrived at very rational conclusions concerning the predictions pretended to be derived from it,—namely, that they were aimed ‘by the sagacity of the astrologer at the blockishness of the consulter;’ we might therefore have expected from him something pertinent in relation to other occult matters: but no; he gives without a word of comment the following story: ‘when the king came to England, about the time the plague was in London, he (Ben Jonson) being in the country at Sir Robert Cotton’s house, with old Camden, he saw in a vision his eldest son, then a young child, and at London, appear unto him, with the mark of a bloody cross on its forehead, as if it had been cut with a sword; at which amazed, he prayed to God, and in the morning came to Mr Camden’s chamber to tell him; who persuaded him it was but an apprehension at which he should not be dejected. In the meantime there come letters from his wife of the death of that boy in the plague. He appeared to him, he said, of a manly shape, and of that growth he shall be at the resurrection.’ Whether Drummond suspected that Ben exercised his invention upon this occasion cannot be discovered; but such is the solution which he applies, in his History of the Five Jameses, to two similar tales current regarding James V.: ‘both seem,’ he says, ‘to have been forged by the men of those times, and may challenge a place in the poetical part of history.’ But though thus provokingly silent concerning his own views of the greater number of the subjects touched upon by his friend, some of the doctrines of the latter seemed to Hawthornden too preposterous to be recorded without some mark of disapprobation. It is amusing to find him expressing his displeasure at the innovations which Jonson did not scruple to make upon the classical model for the composition of pastorals. ‘He bringeth in clowns,’ says Drummond, ‘making mirth and foolish sports, contrary to all other pastorals!’ The decorous Scotsman would no doubt have had him to continue to show off the stiff swain of antiquity, constructed with his pipe in the accustomed mould,—thus precluding the pest not only from the imitation of nature, but even from displaying any ingenuity of art in the contrivance of new characters, just as if we should insist that the sculptor’s skill ought not hereafter to aim at anything beyond multiplying copies of certain groups of figures which the world may for the time have agreed to call classical.

"Jonson’s unbridled exuberance of fancy, bordering occasionally upon irreverence, appears to have been a flight beyond what was calculated to please the pure mind of the retired and philosophic Drummond; and his friend’s visit probably opened to him a view of the jealousies of the poetical tribe, when assembled in one place, and all struggling for pre-eminence, which made him still more content with his own seclusion. The frankness with which Jonson criticised the verses of Drummond, telling him ‘that they were all good, especially his epitaph on prince Henry, save that they smelled too much of the schools, and were not after the fancy of the times,—or that a child might write after the fashion of the Greek and Latin verses in running,’—may have piqued the author a little; and Ben’s boisterous and jovial character may also have been offensive to the sedate and contemplative solitary of Hawthornden. It is farther to be remembered, that Drummond employed a severity in judging, the edge of which, a little more intercourse with the world might have blunted. But with all these allowances, the character he has drawn of his visitor is probably very little if at all overcharged. ‘Ben Jonson,’ says he, ‘was a great lover and praiser of himself, a contemner and scorner of others, given rather to lose a friend than a jest; jealous of every word and action of those about him, especially after drink, which is one of the elements in which he lived; a dissembler of the great parts which reign in him; a bragger of some good that he wanted; thinketh nothing well done but what either he himself or some of his friends hath said or done; he is passionately kind and angry, careless either to gain or keep; vindictive, but, if he be well answered, at himself; interprets best sayings and deeds often to the worst. He was for any religion, as being versed in both; oppressed with fancy, which hath overmastered his reason,—a general disease in many poets. His inventions are smooth and easy; but above all he excelleth in a translation. When his play of The Silent Woman was first acted, there were found verses after on the stage against him; concluding that that play was well named The Silent Woman because there was never one man to say Plaudite to it.

"Drummond has been much blamed by some for leaving behind him those notes of the conversation, and remarks on the character, of ‘his worthy friend Master Benjamin Jonson;’ as if all the while that he entertained his guests, he had been upon the watch for matter which might afterwards be reported to his prejudice. Drummond was no doubt entirely innocent of any such treacherous design; but being cut off from intercourse with men of genius, and yet having a great liking to such society, the opportunity of hearing, from the mouth of one of the most eminent wits of his time, a rapid sketch of whatever was interesting in the literary world, seemed too high an advantage not to be improved to the utmost; and Drummond wrote down notes of what passed, that he might recur to them when he could no longer enjoy the conversation of his visitor. If there happen to be some things which Jonson’s biographers could wish had not been recorded against him, we cannot join them in their regret. It is certainly a pity that great men are not immaculate; but it is no pity that such faults as they are chargeable with are made known. If we were to choose, we would have the courses most frequented by our ships all clear of rocks and sands; but not being able to get things to our mind in this respect, the only resource is to mark them out as faithfully and conspicuously as possible, that those who sail the same way in future, may know to keep clear of these dangerous places. We trust the time is now nearly past for the biographer thinking it his duty to preserve an unvarying whiteness in the character he undertakes to draw. Cromwell’s injunction to his painter ought to serve as a canon to all historians and writers of memoirs6: ‘I desire, Mr Lely,’ said the gruff protector, ‘that you will paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts, and every thing as you see me: otherwise, I will never pay you a farthing.’

"But all this, it may be said, is nothing to the breach of private confidence: Drummond was not Jonson’s biographer; and there was no occasion for his setting down aught to his prejudice, of what passed in the course of social converse, and was not expected by his guest ever to be repeated. To this it may be answered, that probably Jonson cared very little whether his conversation was repeated or not. His opinions must have been expressed with equal freedom to many others besides Drummond; for he was not a man to carry them about with him, locked up with difficulty in his own breast, till he came down to Scotland, and then think he had got them safely buried in a hole,—like that foolish servant of Midas, who could not rest till he had dug a pit, whispered into it the portentous fact that his master had the ears of an ass, and then retired, thinking his secret closed up under the earth with which he had filled the pit again. If, then, Jonson did not care whether what he said was repeated or not, there was no breach of confidence towards him as an individual; and as for what is said of such disclosures having the effect to put a stop to all freedom of intercourse among literary men, since no one can be sure but that his friend is a note-taker, and will exhibit his private conversations, why, every one must take care for himself not to utter any thing upon these occasions derogatory to his own character, or which he would be ashamed to avow openly. This is a restraint, indeed, but it is one of a most salutary kind; for it cannot be contended that the enjoyments of society—or at least what ought to be its enjoyments—are abridged by the exclusion of such talk as people would afterwards have the world believe they took no part in. It is true, that in this way a man has no safeguard against a malicious or ignorant representation of his words; because such things do not usually come abroad till after the death of those persons to whom they refer. But there is no help for it; every one must just oppose uprightness of conduct and purity of conversation, to slanders present and posthumous. Voltaire furnished the world with at least one safe maxim, when he said, ‘the only way to oblige people to speak well of us, is to deserve it.’"]

We now come to a circumstance in the life of our poet which was destined, in its consequences, to interrupt the quiet course in which his existence had hitherto flowed, and to exercise over his mind and future happiness a deep and lasting influence. This was the attachment which he formed for a young and beautiful lady, daughter to Cunninghame of Barnes, an ancient and honourable family. His affection was returned by his mistress; the marriage day appointed, and preparations in progress for the happy solemnization, when the young lady was seized suddenly with a fever, of which she died. His grief on this event he has expressed in many of those sonnets, which have given to him the title of this country’s Petrarch; and it has well been said, that with more passion and sincerity he celebrated his dead mistress, than others use to praise their living ones.

The melancholy temperament of Drummond, we have before said, was one reason of his secluding himself from the world, and the ease and relief of mind which he sought, he had probably found, in his mode of life; but the rude shock which he now received rendered solitude irksome and baneful to him. To divert the train of his reflections, he resolved once more to go abroad, and in time, distance, and novelty, lose recollection of the happiness which had deluded him in his own country. He spent eight years in prosecution of this design, during which he travelled through the whole of Germany, France, and Italy; Rome and Paris being the two places in which he principally resided. He was at pains in cultivating the society of learned foreigners; and bestowed some attention in forming a collection of the best ancient Greek and Latin authors, and the works of the esteemed modern writers of Spain, France, and Italy. He afterwards made a donation of many of these to the college of Edinburgh, and it formed, at the time, one of the most curious and valuable collections in that great library. The catalogue, printed in the year 1627, is furnished with a Latin preface from the pen of our author, upon "the advantage and honour of libraries."

After an absence of eight years, Drummond returned to his native country, which he found already breaking out into those political and religious dissentions, which so unhappily marked, and so tragically completed the reign of Charles I. It does not appear that he took any hand whatever in these differences till a much more advanced period of his life. It would seem rather that other and quieter designs possessed his mind, as he is said about this time to have composed his history, during a stay which he made in the house of his brother-in-law, Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet. The history of the reigns of the five Jameses, as a piece of composition, is no mean acquirement to the literature of this country; and for purity of style and elegance of expression, it was not surpassed by any Scottish author of the age. In an historical point of view, the spirit of the work varies materially from that of preceding authors, who had written on the same period, and especially from Buchanan, though in a different way. It is certainly as free from bias and prejudice as any of these can be said to be, and on some occasions better informed. The speeches invented for some of the leading characters, after the fashion of the great Roman historian, and his imitators, are altogether excellent, and, properly discarded as they are from modern history, add much grace and beauty to the work. In short, as an old editor has expressed himself; "If we consider but the language, how florid and ornate it is, consider the order, and the prudent conduct of the story, we will rank the author in the number of the best writers, and compare him even with Thuanus himself." This work was not published till some years after Drummond’s decease.

We have no reason to believe that at this time he had relinquished the cultivation of poetry; but can arrive at no certainty regarding the order of his compositions. Our author seems throughout his life, if we except the collection, which he made of his early poems, to have entertained little concern or anxiety for the preservation of his literary labours. Many of his poems were only printed during his lifetime, upon loose sheets; and it was not till 1650, six years after his death, that Sir John Scot caused them to be collected and published in one volume. An edition of this collection was published at London in 1659, with the following highly encomiastic title:—"The most elegant and elaborate Poems of that great court wit, Mr William Drummond; whose labours both in verse and prose, being heretofore so precious to prince Henry and to king Charles, shall live and flourish in all ages, whiles there are men to read them, or art and judgement to approve them." Some there were of his pieces which remained in manuscript, till incorporated in the folio edition of his works in 1711. The most popular of those detached productions, printed in Drummond’s lifetime, was a macaronic poem entitled "Polemo-Middinia, or the Battle of the Dunghill." This was meant as a satire upon some of the author’s contemporaries; and contains much humour in a style of composition which had not before been attempted in this country. It long retained its popularity in the city of Edinburgh, where it was almost yearly reprinted; and it was published at Oxford in 1691, with Latin notes and a preface by bishop Gibson.

He had carefully studied the mathematics, and in the mechanical part of that science effected considerable improvements. These consisted principally in the restoring and perfecting some of the warlike machines of the ancients, and in the invention of several new instruments for sea and land service, in peace and war. The names of the machines in English, Greek, and Latin, and their descriptions and uses, may be found detailed in a patent granted to our author by king Charles I., in the year 1626, for the sole making, vending, and exporting of the same. This document has been published in the collection of Drummond’s works, and is worthy of notice, as illustrating that useful science, though then a neglected object of pursuit, was not overlooked by our author in the midst of more intellectual studies. Perhaps we might even be warranted in saying farther, that the attention which he thus bestowed on the existing wants and deficiencies of his country, indicated more clearly than any other fact, that his mind had progressed beyond the genius of the ago in which his existence had been cast.

Drummond lived till his forty-fifth year a bachelor, a circumstance which may in great part be ascribed to the unfortunate issue of his first love. He had, however, accidently become acquainted with Elizabeth Logan, granddaughter to Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig, in whom he either found, or fancied he had found, a resemblance to his first mistress; and this impression, so interesting to his feelings, revived once more in his bosom those tender affections which had so long lain dormant. He became united, to this lady in the year 1630. By his marriage he had several children. William, the eldest son, lived till an advanced age, was knighted by Charles II., and came to be the only representative of the knighted baronets formerly of Carnock, of whom in the beginning of this article we have made mention. We learn little more of the private life of our author after this period; but that he lived retiredly at his house of Hawthornden, which he repaired; an inscription to this effect, bearing date 1638, is still extant upon the building.

Drummond has left behind him many political papers, written between the years 1632 and 1646, in which, if he has not approved himself a judicious supporter of king Charles, and his contested rights and authority, he has only failed in a cause which could not then be supported, and which has never since been approved. That all his former feelings and habits should have inclined him to the side of monarchy, in the great struggle which had then commenced for popular rights, was natural, and to be expected; still it is evident enough, that his strong inclination for peace, and philanthropic desire of averting the impending miseries of civil war, actuated him in his interference, as powerfully as did any spirit of partisanship even in the cause of royalty itself. At a time when the grand principles of constitutional freedom were unknown or undefined, and when no wisdom could foresee the event to which new and uncertain lights regarding civil and religious government might lead, the temporizing with old established forms and customs, though it might seem to retard the spirit of improvement so busily at work, might be called humane, if it was not indeed expedient. It was not till very near the end of that century that the universal sense of the nation was prepared for a decisive and bloodless revolution.

"Irena, or a remonstrance for concord among his majesty’s subjects," is the first of these political tracts; and the picture which it draws of civil strifes and disorders, and of men given to change, is set forth with much eloquence and persuasive force. Though the doctrine of obedience is enforced throughout, it is neither dogmatically nor offensively insisted upon. This, and other papers of a similar tendency, Drummond wrote in the years 1638-9; "but finding," as he informs us in one of his letters, "his majesty’s authority so fearly eclipsed, and the stream of rebellion swelled to that height, that honest men, without danger dared hardly speak, less publish their conceptions in write, the papers were suppressed."

We shall only notice one other of these compositions on account of some passages contained in it, which have been adduced as evidence of the political foresight and sagacity of the writer. It is entitled "An address to the noblemen, barons, gentlemen, &c., who have leagued themselves for the defence of religion and the liberties of Scotland," and is dated 2d May, 1639, ten years previous to the trial and execution of the king, to which, and to events following, it has prophetic reference: "During these miseries," says he, "of which the troublers of the state shall make their profit, there will arise (perhaps) one, who will name himself PROTECTOR of the’ liberty of the kingdom: he shall surcharge the people with greater miseries than ever before they did suffer: he shall be protector of the church, himself being without soul or conscience, without letters or great knowledge, under the shadow of piety and zeal shall commit a thousand impieties; and in end shall essay to make himself king; and under pretext of reformation, bring in all confusion."—"Then shall the poor people suffer for all these follie: then shall they see, to their own charger, what it is to pull the sceptre from their sovereign, the sword from the lawful magistrate, whom God hath set over them, and that it is a fearful matter for subjects to degraduate their king. This progress is no new divining, being approved by the histories of all times." The general truth of this vaticination is amazing.

It was a saying of Drummond, "That it was good to admire great hills, but to live in the plains;" and, as in the earlier part of life he had resisted the temptations of courtly or professional celebrity, which birth and talent put alike in his way, so afterwards, he as carefully eschewed the more easily attained, though more perilous distinctions of political faction. His heart lay more towards private than public virtues; and his political writings, it is probable, were intended by their author as much for the instruction and satisfaction of a few intimate friends, as to serve (which they never did) the more important ends for which they were ostensibly written. He was a cavalier, and his principles, early prejudices, and inclinations, led him to espouse the royal cause; but his patriotism and good sense informed him correctly how far his support should be extended. His prudential forbearance was indeed sometimes put to the test; but though reputed a malignant, and more than once summoned before the circular tables at Edinburgh for satirical verses, discourses, and conversations, it does not appear that he ever seriously compromised his safety or property.

The sarcasms and lampoons of the cavalier came to be the most effective weapons they could employ against their adversaries, as they were those for the use of which it was most difficult to call them to account. Drummond, though free from the licentiousness which marked his party in their lives and conversations, could not fail of being infected somewhat with their prevailing humours. One piece of his wit in this way has been preserved. Being obliged to furnish men to the parliamentary army, it so happened, that, his estate lying in three different shires, he had not occasion to send one entire man from any of the parts of it. Upon his quota, therefore, of fractions as they might be called, he composed the following lines addressed to his majesty:

"Of all these forces raised against the king,
‘Tis my strange hap not one whole man to bring:
From diverse parishes, yet diverse men,
But all in halves and quarters;- great king, then,
In halves and quarters if they come ‘gainst thee,
In halves and quarters send them back to me."

The year 1649, in its commencement, witnessed the tragical end of Charles I., that first great and ominous eclipse of the Stuart dynasty. On the 4th December of the same year, Drummond died, wanting only nine days to the completion of his sixty-fourth year. His body had long been weakened by disease induced by sedentary and studious habits, and the shock which the king’s fate gave him is said to have affected his remaining health and spirits. His body was interred in the family aisle in Lasswade church, in the neighbourhood of the house of Hawthornden.

In respect of his virtues and accomplishments, Drummond is entitled to rank high among his contemporaries, not in Scotland only, but in the most civilized nations of that day in Europe. Endowed with parts naturally excellent, and fitted for almost every species of improvement, his philosophic temperament and habits, and peculiar incidents of his life, tended to develope these in a manner advantageous as it was original. His early education imbued his mind deeply with the genius and classical taste of ancient Greece and Rome, perfection in which studies then formed the almost exclusive standard of literary excellence. A long residence in the more polished countries of the continent familiarized his mind with those great works of modern enlightenment, the knowledge of which had as yet made but obscure progress in Britain. He not only read the works of Italian, French, and Spanish authors, but spoke these different languages with ease and fluency. He occasionally visited London, and was upon familiar terms, as we have seen, with the men of genius of his own and the sister kingdom. He added to his other high and varied acquirements, accomplishments of a lighter kind, well fitted to enhance these others in general society, and to add grace to a character whose worth, dignity, and intelligence have alone gone down to posterity. "He was not much taken up (his old biographer informs us) with the ordinary amusements of dancing, singing, playing, &c. though he had as much of them as a well-bred gentleman should have; and when his spirits were too much bended by severe studies, he unbended them by playing on his lute." One of his sonnets may be considered as an apostrophe, and it is one of singular beauty, to this his favourite instrument: it adds to the effect of the address to know, that it was not vainly spoken.

Of the private life and manners of the poet of Hawthornden, we only know enough to make us regret the imperfection of his biography. Though he passed the greater part of his life as a retired country gentleman, his existence never could be, at any time, obscure or insignificant. He was related to many persons of distinguished rank and intimate with others. Congeniality, however, of mind and pursuits, alone led him to cultivate the society of men of exalted station; and, such is the nature of human excellence and dignity, the poet and man of literature, in this case, conferred lustre upon the peer and the favourite of a court. He was not a courtier, and he was, as he has himself expressed it, even "careless and negligent about fame and reputation." His philosophy was practical, not assumed; and we cannot fail to be impressed with its pure and noble spirit in the tenor of his life, no less than in the tone of many of his writings.

His natural disposition certainly bordered upon the grave and contemplative; but it was free from the reproach of morbid sentimentality or sourness of mind. "Contrary to this," says his old biographer, whom on such points there is satisfaction in quoting, "his humour was very jovial and cheerful among his friends and comrades, with whom he sometimes took a bottle, only ad hilaritatem, according to the example of the best ancient and modern poets, for the raising his spirits, which were much flagged with constant reading and meditating; but he never went to excess, or committed anything against the rules of religion and good manners. He was very smart and witty in his sayings and repartees, and had a most excellent talent in extemporary versifying, above the most part of his contemporaries." The instances given of our author’s pleasantry in this way are any thing but well chosen, and their authenticity may be questioned. We may continue the quotation, and present the following, not certainly for its merit, but for the pleasure of the association which it gives rise to, and as the only remaining trait which a scanty biography has left us to notice. "Being at London, it is very creditably reported of him (though by some ascribed to others) that he peeped into the room where Sir William Alexander, Sir Robert Kerr, Michael Drayton, and Ben Jonson, these famous poets, were sitting. They desired Bo-peep, as they called him, to come in, which he did. They fell a rhyming about paying the reckoning; and all owned their verses were not comparable to his, which are still remembered by the curious:—

I, Bo-peep,
See you four sheep,
And each of you his fleece.
The reckoning is five shilling;
If each of you be willing
It’s fifteen pence a piece.’"

We have already alluded to several of Drummond’s productions,—his "Cypress Grove," his history, and his "Irena,"—and must now briefly refer to those on which his fame as a poet is founded. They consist principally of sonnets of an amatory and religious cast; a poem of some length entitled "The river of Forth feasting;" and "Tears on the death of Maeliades," anagrammatically Miles a Deo, the name assumed in challenges of martial sport by Henry, prince of Wales, eldest son of king James VI. This last piece was written so early as 1612. As a panegyric it is turgid and overcharged; but it has been referred to by more than one critic as displaying much beauty of versification.

The sonnet, about this time introduced into our literature, must be supposed to owe somewhat of the favour it received to the elegant and discriminating taste of Drummond. He had a perfect knowledge of Italian poetry, and professed much admiration for that of Petrarch, to whom he more nearly approaches in his beauties and his faults, than we believe any other English writer of sonnets. This, however, refers more particularly to his early muse, to those pieces written before his own better taste had dared use an unshackled freedom. We shall give two specimens, which we think altogether excellent, of what we consider Drummond’s matured style in this composition. The first is one of six sonnets entitled "Urania, or Spiritual Poems;" and the second (already transiently alluded to) is a sonnet addressed by the poet to his lute. The first, perhaps, refers to what Drummond considered the political unhappiness or degradation of his country; though, in truth, it may be made answerable to the state of humanity at all times; the second, to the well known catastrophe of his first love, and accordingly it has its place among the sonnets professedly written on that topic.

What hapless hap had I for to be born
In these unhappy times, and dying days
Of this now doting world, when good decays;—
Love’s quite extinct and Virtue’s held a scorn!
When such are only priz’d, by wretched ways,
Who with a golden fleece can them adorn;
When avarice and lust are counted praise,
Why was not I born in that golden age,
When gold was not yet known? and those black arts
By which base worldlings vilely play their parts,
With horrid acts staining earth’s stately stage?
To have been then, O Heaven, ‘t had been my bliss,
But bless me now, and take me soon from this.

My lute, be as thou wert when thou did grow
With thy green mother in some shady grove,
When immelodious winds but made thee move,
And birds their ramage did on thee bestow.
Since that dear voice which did thy sounds approve,
Which wont in such harmonious strains to flow,
Is reft from earth to tune the spheres above,
What art thou but a harbinger of woe?
Thy pleasing notes be pleasing notes no more,
But orphan’s wailings to their fainting ear,
Each stroke a sigh, each sound draws forth a tear,
For which be silent as in woods before:
Or if that any hand to touch thee deign,
Like widowed turtle still her loss complain.

The "Forth Feasting" is a poem of some ingenuity in its contrivance, designed to compliment king James VI., on the visit with which that monarch favoured his native land in 1617. Of the many effusions which that joyous event called forth, this, we believe, has alone kept its ground in public estimation; and, indeed, as a performance professedly panegyrical, and possessing little adventitious claim from the merit of its object, it is no ordinary praise to say that it has done so. It attracted, lord Woodhouselee has remarked, "the envy as well as the praise of Ben Jonson, is superior in harmony of numbers to any of the compositions of the contemporary poets of England, and in its subject one of the most elegant panegyrics ever addressed by a poet to a prince."

Drummond of Hawthornden
Story of his Life and Writings by David Masson, M.A., LL.D. (1873)

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