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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction

By William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585–1649)

IT seems to be the mission of many writers to illuminate contemporary literature and so to light the way for future students, rather than to make any vital contribution to the achievement of their time. Such writers reflect the culture of their own day and represent its ideals; and although their creative work may be slight, their loss to literature would be serious. Among these lesser men stands that sincere poet, Drummond of Hawthornden. In Scotland under the Stuarts, when the vital energy of the land was concentrated upon politics and theology, native literature was reduced to a mere reflection of the pre-Spenserian classicism of England. Into this waste of correct mediocrity entered the poetry of William Drummond, an avowed and enthusiastic follower of the Elizabethan school, a finished scholar, one of the typical Scottish gentlemen who were then making Scottish history. Courtier and trifler though he was, however, he showed himself so true a poet of nature that his felicities of phrase seem to anticipate the sensuous realism of Keats and his successors.

William Drummond, born in 1585, was a cadet of the historic house which in 1357 gave in marriage to King Robert III. the beautiful Annabella Drummond, who was destined to become the ancestress of the royal Stuarts of Scotland and England. In his own day the family, whose head was the Earl of Perth, was powerful in Scottish affairs, and the history of the clan Drummond would be largely a history of the events which led to the Protectorate. Throughout the storm and stress that preceded the civil war Drummond was a loyalist, though at one time he appeared to be identified with the Covenanters. His literary influence, which was considerable, was always thrown on the side of the King, while the term “Drummondism” was a popular synonym for the conservative policy. Throughout the struggle, however, Drummond seems to have been forced into activity by circumstances rather than by choice. He had the instincts of a recluse and a scholar. He delighted in the society of literary men, and he was much engrossed in philosophical speculations.

In spite of the difficulties of distance, he managed to keep abreast of the thought of literary London, the London of Drayton and Webster, of Beaumont, Fletcher, Massinger, and Ford. His chief satisfaction was to know that his own work was not unacceptable to this brilliant group, and one of the great pleasures of his life was a visit from Ben Jonson, who, making a walking tour to Scotland, found at Hawthornden that congenial hospitality in which his soul delighted. Of this famous visit, as of other important events, Drummond kept a record, in which he set down his guest’s behavior, opinions, and confidential sayings. Warmly as he admired Jonson’s genius, he found his personality oppressive, and intrusted his criticisms to his diary. When this was published, more than a century later, the gentle Scot was accused of bad taste, breach of confidence, and disloyalty to friendship. But his defense lies in the fact that the book was meant for no eyes but his own, and that the intimacy and candor of its revelations were intended to preserve his recollections of a memorable experience.

If his environment was not entirely favorable to literary excellences, it is yet very likely that Drummond developed the full measure of his gift. He expressed the spirit of the more imaginative generation which succeeded a hard and fettered predecessor, and it is for this that literature owes him its peculiar debt.

His career began in his twenty-ninth year with the publication of an elegy on the death of Henry, Prince of Wales, eldest son of James I. This poem, under the title ‘Tears on the Death of Mœliades,’ appeared in 1613, and reached a third edition within a twelvemonth. Its two hundred lines show the finished versification of the scholar, with much poetic grace. It was a product of the Spenserian school, and emphasized the fact that the representative literature of the land had abandoned the Scottish dialect for English forms. Drummond’s second volume of poems commemorated the death of his wife and his love of her. It is in this work that the ultimate mood of the poet appears. Much beauty of form, a delightful sensitiveness to nature, a luxuriance of color, and a finely tempered thoughtfulness pervade the poems. His next production, celebrating the visit of James I. to his native land, was entitled ‘Forth Feasting,’ and represented the Forth and all its borders as rejoicing in the presence of their King. To the reader of to-day the panegyric sounds fulsome and the poetry stilted, and the once famous book has now merely an archaic interest.

Drummond’s reputation is based upon the ‘Poems,’ and upon the Jeremy Taylor–like ‘Cypress Grove,’ published in 1623 in connection with the religious verses called ‘Flowers of Sion.’ ‘Cypress Grove’ is an essay on death, akin in spirit to the religious temper of the Middle Ages, and in philosophic breadth to the diviner mood of Plato. Only a mind of a high order would have conceived so beautiful and lofty a meditation on the Final Mystery. This brief essay marks the utmost reach of Drummond’s mind, and shows the strength of that serene spirituality, which could thus hold its way undisturbed by the sectarian bitterness that fixed a great gulf between England and Scotland. ‘The History of the Five Jameses,’ which Drummond was ten years in compiling and which was not published until six years after his death, added nothing to his reputation. It lacked alike the diligent minuteness of the chronicler and the broader view of the historian. Many minor papers on the state of religion and politics, chief of which is the political tract ‘Irene,’ show Drummond’s aggressive interest in contemporary affairs. It is not generally known that this gentle scholar was also an inventor of military engines. In 1626 Charles I. engaged him to produce sixteen machines and “not a few inventions besides.” The biographers have remained curiously ignorant of this phase of his activity, but the State papers show that the King named him “our faithful subject, William Drummond of Hawthornden.” He died in 1649, his death being hastened, it was said, by his passion of grief over the martyrdom of King Charles.