William of Hawthornden Drummond Essay - Critical Essays

Drummond , William of Hawthornden


William Drummond of Hawthornden 1585-1649

Scottish poet, prose writer, and historian.

Drummond, a contemporary of such literary giants as John Donne, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson, is regarded as one of Scotland's foremost seventeenth-century poets. A Scottish aristocrat, Drummond engaged in the easy life of a gentleman-poet, writing and circulating verses among his friends and publishing his own poetry collections. He was also renowned for building and maintaining a remarkable library of books in various languages. Since many of his verses are loose translations or paraphrases of original English, French, and Italian poems, Drummond has been dismissed by some critics as a derivative artist whose works are unoriginal and conventional. However, Drummond's admirers contend that he possessed a rare talent for translating and recreating the poetry of such artists as Petrarch, Torquato Tasso, and Giambattista Marini into well-crafted and highly original works.

Biographical Information

Drummond was born on December 13, 1585, at Hawthornden, the family estate near Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the son of John Drummond, Gentleman-Usher to the Scottish King James VI, and Susannah Fowler Drummond. Drummond's mother also had royal connections; her brother, poet William Fowler, was the private secretary to Queen Anne. After receiving his early education at Edinburgh High School, Drummond entered the University of Edinburgh in 1600 to study the humanities. Upon graduating from the university in 1605, he went to France to study law. Though he spent two years studying in Bourges and Paris, Drummond never completed his legal education. Instead, he attended many plays and read extensively from works in Latin, Italian, and French. Over the next eight years, Drummond kept a log of all the books that he read; he also began collecting books, which would become the basis for his extensive library. After the death of his father in 1610, Drummond inherited the Hawthornden estate. Though relatively small, it provided enough income for Drummond to support himself and indulge in the life of a gentleman-poet. In 1613, Drummond published his first poem, Teares on the Death of Meliades, a tribute to King James's heir, Prince Henry, who had died the previous year. In 1615, Drummond's mistress of several years, Mary Cunningham, died unexpectedly. After this event, Drummond eschewed writing uplifting love poetry and turned his attention to spiritual and religious concerns. He also began to demonstrate an interest in social and political issues. Drummond's Forth Feasting. A Panegyricke to the Kings Most Excellent Majestie (1617), written from the point of view of a loyal subject, celebrates King James's return visit to his Scottish homeland. The next year, Drummond personally received another distinguished visitor from England—Ben Jonson. During his famous walk from London to Scotland in 1618, Jonson stayed with Drummond at Hawthornden for several weeks. Drummond recorded his discussions with Jonson, which were later published as Notes of Ben Jonson's Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden (1842). Five years later, Drummond published his last major poetry collection entitled Flowres of Sion (1623). During this period, Drummond became increasingly more active in politics, advocating his support for the monarchy in such works as The Entertainment of the High and Mighty Monarch Charles into his Auncient City of Edinburgh (1633) and The History of Scotland, from the Year 1423 until the Year 1542 (1655), which was published several years after his death. Drummond's later years were occupied by domestic activities. In 1632, he married Elizabeth Logan; their union yielded nine children. In part to accommodate his growing family, Drummond devoted a significant amount of time to overseeing some extensive renovations of the Hawthornden estate. His final years were marked by increasing disillusionment with the changing state of religion and politics as Britain edged closer to rebellion and the execution of Charles I. During this time, Drummond wrote and circulated several anonymous poems defending the monarchy and condemning civil unrest. He died on December 4, 1649.

Major Works

Many critics have pointed out that Drummond's first poem, Teares on the Death of Meliades, is a good example of both his imitative style and his skill as an embellisher. Scholars note that although the pastoral style and structure of Meliades demonstrates a clear literary debt to Sir Philip Sidney, Drummond was able to recreate his source material in such a way that he fashioned his own unique perspective on such themes as the pain of loss, grieving, and what might have been. While Sidney has been identified as a principal influence on Drummond, literary scholars have also noted his debt to such poets as Petrarch, Tasso, and Marini. From his translations of these poets, Drummond modeled his sonnets, madrigals, and songs that appeared in Poems (1614?), a collection that focuses on the themes of love, beauty, and other common conceits. In 1616, Drummond published a revised and expanded version of Poems entitled Poems: Amorous, Funerall, Divine, Pastorall, in Sonnets, Song, Sextains, Madrigals. Critics have determined that a marked shift occurred in Drummond's poetic style after the death of his mistress Mary Cunningham, an event that is the focus of the sonnet “In Pious Memorie of The right Worthie and Vertuous Evphemia Kyninghame, Who in the Prime of Her Youth Died the 23. of Iulie, 1616” (1617). Indeed, it has been posited that the poem exhibits a striking shift from passion and joy to bereavement and gravity, a shift that was carried over to Drummond's next work, Forth Feasting. The poem, which begins as a happy panegyric welcoming King James back to his homeland, concludes somberly with the realization that the monarch cannot remain in Scotland. Drummond's last major poetry collection, Flowres of Sion, is considered to be the culmination of the artist's poetic maturation. Scholars have suggested that through the various religious motifs in his sonnets, hymns, and madrigals, Drummond undertook an inherently spiritual investigation of the frailty of human life. The collection contains a prose treatise on death entitled Cypresse Grove and an unfinished allegorical poem on the Apocalypse entitled “The Shadow of Ivdgement.”

Critical Reception

During his lifetime, Drummond's poetry met with general approbation from a small audience that was generally limited to friends and literary peers. He also earned such prestigious admirers as Sir William Alexander of Menstrie and Michael Drayton. Although it has been debated, some critics believe that John Milton was influenced by Drummond, and claim that Milton's “Nativity Ode” (1629) is imitative of Drummond's poetic style. Conversely, literary scholars have shown evidence that some Scottish contemporaries disdained Drummond's works for being written in English rather than in the Scottish dialect. Modern critics have been divided on Drummond's stature as a poet. Although a number of commentators have dismissed him as imitative and unoriginal, Drummond's supporters have maintained that despite his penchant for borrowing from his sources, Drummond possessed a unique technical acumen that enabled him to deftly recreate his sources into original and transcendent works. This debate has led some modern scholars to undertake a thorough textual analysis of Drummond's manuscripts in an effort to determine how much Drummond borrowed from other writers and how much is his own work. While it is unlikely that Drummond will ever overcome his reputation as an imitative and conventional poet, he has earned at least grudging admiration as a master of translation and verse technique. As French Rowe Fogle has observed: “The appeal of Drummond is not to be explained by mere charm and well-nigh impeccable form. In his best poetry he achieves a purity of diction and an elevation of thought that place him clearly in the first rank of poets of the imitative school.”

Principal Works

Teares on the Death of Meliades (poetry) 1613

Poems 1614?; revised as Poems: Amorous, Funerall, Divine, Pastorall, in Sonnets, Songs, Sextains, Madrigals (poetry) 1616

“In Pious Memorie of The right Worthie and Vertuous Evphemia Kyninghame, Who in the Prime of Her Youth Died the 23. of Iulie, 1616” (poetry) 1617

Forth Feasting. A Panegyricke to the Kings Most Excellent Majestie 1617; revised and republished in The Muses Welcome to the High and Mightie Prince Iames (poetry) 1618

A Midnights Trance: wherein is discoursed of death, the nature of soules, and estate of immortalitie 1619; revised and republished as A Cypresse Grove in Flowers of Sion (poetry) 1623

Flowres of Sion. By William Drummond of Hawthorenedenne. To which is adjoyned his Cypresse Grove (poetry) 1623; revised and enlarged 1630

The Entertainment of the High and Mighty Monarch Charles into his Auncient City of Edinburgh (prose, poetry, songs) 1633

To the Exequies of the Honorable S'. Antonye Alexander. Knight, & c. A Pastorall Elegie (poetry) 1638

The History of Scotland, from the Year 1423 until the Year 1542 (history) 1655

Poems by That most Famous Wit, William Drummond of Hawthornden, edited by Edward Phillips 1656; republished as The most Elegant and Elabovrate Poems Of that Great Court-Wit, Mr William Drummond (poetry) 1659

The Works of William Drummond, Of Hawthornden (poetry, prose, nonfiction) 1711

Notes of Ben Jonson's Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden (nonfiction) 1842

The Political Works of William Drummond of Hawthornden, With ‘A Cypresse Grove’ 2 vols. (poetry) 1913

William Drummond of Hawthornden Poems and Prose (poetry, prose) 1976


Philip Sidney (essay date 1900)

SOURCE: Sidney, Philip. Introduction to Conversations of Ben Jonson with William Drummond of Hawthornden, edited by Philip Sidney, pp. 1-9. London: Gay and Bird, 1900.

[In the following excerpt, Sidney details the circumstances surrounding Drummond's meeting with Ben Jonson, which is recorded in Notes of Ben Jonson's Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden.]

The Conversations of Ben Jonson with his brother poet, William Drummond, Laird of Hawthornden, are of an immense literary and historical value. From the notes recorded by Drummond of these Conversations we derive an insight into the characteristics of the majority of the most illustrious...

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L. E. Kastner (essay date 1913)

SOURCE: Kastner, L. E. Introduction to The Poetical Works of William Drummond of Hawthornden, With ‘A Cypresse Grove,’ edited by L. E. Kastner, pp. xv-xliv. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1913.

[In the following excerpt, Kastner provides an overview of Drummond's life and works, discussing the poet's literary influences, his modest critical following, and the derivative nature of his verses.]

To the most unobservant reader of Drummond's poetry it is at once evident that his verse is wholly exotic. It shares that character with the poetry of his Scottish contemporaries and immediate predecessors. It is no exaggeration to say that the poetry produced in...

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Ruth C. Wallerstein (essay date December 1933)

SOURCE: Wallerstein, Ruth C. “The Style of Drummond of Hawthornden in its Relation to his Translations.” PMLA 48, no. 4 (December 1933): 1090-107.

[In the following essay, Wallerstein analyzes Drummond's translations of Petrarch, Tasso, Marino, and others, focusing on the style of his translations and how these authors influenced Drummond's own writing.]

William Drummond of Hawthornden is as much a translator as an original poet. This Mr. Kastner has shown in detail in the copious notes to his edition of the poet and in several special articles.1 He translated and adapted from a large number of Italian and French poets, as well as some Spanish and some...

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French Rowe Fogle (essay date 1952)

SOURCE: Fogle, French Rowe. “The General View.” In A Critical Study of William Drummond of Hawthornden, pp. 167-77. New York: King's Crown Press, 1952.

[In the following essay, Fogle traces Drummond's poetic development from his early interest in the work of the Renaissance love poets to his mature religious and social verse.]

Drummond is generally regarded as a “professional” poet, that is, a poet who spent his life writing poetry. This impression comes partly from the fact that we know little else about him except that he did write poetry, and partly from the fact that the bulk of his poetry is considerable and we therefore assume that it must have taken him...

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Ronald D. S. Jack (essay date July 1968)

SOURCE: Jack, Ronald D. S. “Drummond of Hawthornden: The Major Scottish Sources.” Studies in Scottish Literature 6, no. 1 (July 1968): 36-46.

[In the following essay, Jack discusses Drummond's literary debt to such Scottish poets as William Fowler and William Alexander.]

L. E. Kastner in his valuable edition of Drummond's poetry commits himself to the view, that “a full third of Drummond's compositions are translations, and betray in no uncertain manner the imitative temper of his Muse.”1 With an impeccable knowledge of French, Italian and Spanish to back him up, Kastner then produces an impressive number of models in these languages and adds to them...

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Robert H. MacDonald (essay date July-October 1969)

SOURCE: MacDonald, Robert H. “Amendments to L. E. Kastner's Edition of Drummond's Poems.” Studies in Scottish Literature 7, nos. 1 & 2 (July-October 1969): 102-22.

[In the following essay, MacDonald takes issue with L. E. Kastner's 1913 edition of Drummond's poetry, identifying manuscript poems that were not included in the collection and verses that were wrongly attributed to Drummond.]

Introducing a selection of the unpublished poems of Drummond of Hawthornden, David Laing states the case for the responsible Victorian editor, a case for eclectic publication, selective, careful and moral.

The fair fame of many a Poet has...

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Robert H. MacDonald (essay date April-June 1971)

SOURCE: MacDonald, Robert H. “A Disputed Maxim of State in Forth Feasting (1619).” Journal of the History of Ideas 32, no. 2 (April-June 1971): 295-98.

[In the essay below, MacDonald analyzes Drummond's ideas of kingship and politics, and compares the poet's beliefs to the popular opinions of his day.]

Among the holograph manuscripts of the Scottish poet William Drummond of Hawthornden is a rough draft of a letter probably intended for his friend at court, Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling.1 It consists of a defense of a line in Drummond's own poem Forth Feasting, a piece written to celebrate the return to Scotland in 1619 of King...

(The entire section is 2333 words.)

Thomas I. Rae (essay date April 1975)

SOURCE: Rae, Thomas I. “The Historical Writing of Drummond of Hawthornden.” The Scottish Historical Review 54, no. 157 (April 1975): 22-62.

[In the following essay, Rae analyzes The History of the Five Jameses, examining the circumstances of its publication, Drummond's sources, and what the work reveals the author's political attitudes.]

William Drummond of Hawthornden is a figure well-known to the student of Scottish literature for his poetry, and to the scholar and bibliographer for his gift of books in 1627 to the then recently-founded library of Edinburgh University. He is less well-known as a writer of history, a pursuit he turned to in his later years;...

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Robert H. MacDonald (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: MacDonald, Robert H. Introduction to William Drummond of Hawthornden: Poems and Prose, edited by Robert H. MacDonald, pp. ix-xxvi. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1976.

[In the following excerpt, MacDonald surveys Drummond's life and literary career, arguing that although he is often considered an “unfashionable” poet, Drummond is still worth studying.]

Drummond of Hawthornden, it could be argued, was the best poet Scotland produced between Douglas and Ramsay. Certainly he ranks higher than any other Scot of the seventeenth century, and looking south, he holds his own as one of the superior craftsmen of his age. Yet his work has been much neglected, and...

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Sibyl Lutz Severance (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: Severance, Sibyl Lutz. “‘Some Other Figure’: The Vision of Change in Flowres of Sion, 1623.” Spenser Studies 2 (1981): 217-28.

[In the following essay, Severance explores Drummond's Flowres of Sion, focusing on its structure and religious symbolism.]

William Drummond's vision of change shapes his poetic sequence, Flowres of Sion (1623). The first sonnet insistently defines his theme:

All onely constant is in constant Change,
What done is, is undone, and when undone,
Into some other figure doth it range,
Thus rolles the restlesse World beneath the Moone.(1)

This sonnet also proffers the solution for...

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H. Neville Davies (essay date May 1985)

SOURCE: Davies, H. Neville. “Milton's Nativity Ode and Drummond's ‘An Hymne of the Ascension.’” Scottish Literary Journal 12, no. 1 (May 1985): 5-23.

[In the following essay, Davies contends that Drummond's “An Hymne of the Ascension” influenced Milton's “On the Morning of Christ's Nativity.”]

Perhaps it is doubt about precedence that has inhibited consideration of how Drummond of Hawthornden's ‘An Hymne of the Ascension’ and Milton's ‘On the Morning of Christ's Nativity’ are related. The neglect is unfortunate because the similarities between the two poems—or two hymns, the greater part of Milton's poem being designated ‘Hymn’—are such...

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David W. Atkinson (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: Atkinson, David W. “The Religious Voices of Drummond of Hawthornden.” Studies in Scottish Literature 21 (1986): 197-209.

[In the following essay, Atkinson asserts that Drummond's poetry and prose writings reveal an insightful mind searching for answers to the complex and controversial religious issues of his day.]

For a long time, critics viewed William Drummond as a first-class translater but a second-class poet, as one who carried the Renaissance ideal of imitation too far, producing poetry, as well as prose, which was little more than English renderings of European originals.1 More recent critics, however, have found that Drummond is more than...

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Robert Cummings (essay date January 1987)

SOURCE: Cummings, Robert. “Drummond's Forth Feasting: A Panegyric for King James in Scotland.” The Seventeenth Century 2, no. 1 (January 1987): 1-18.

[In the following essay, Cummings examines Drummond's Forth Feasting as an example of the panegyric verse form. The critic maintains that Drummond innovatively modified the “ethical obligations” of the panegyric form in order to address his philosophical ideas about the monarchy.]

‘His censure of my verses was that they were all good … save that they smelled too much of the schools, and were not after the Fancie of the tyme … yett that he wished, to please the King, that piece of...

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David Reid (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: Reid, David. “Royalty and Self-Absorption in Drummond's Poetry.” Studies in Scottish Literature 22 (1987): 115-31.

[In the following essay, Reid contends that Drummond's Spenserian poetic style contradicts his political ideas, particularly his royalist sympathies.]

One of the ideas Christopher Hill throws off in Milton and the English Revolution is that Milton was brought up on a tradition of political dissent in poetry.1 He suggests that Milton's headmaster, Alexander Gill, saw to it that the boys of St. Paul's formed their taste in English poetry on Spenser and the Spenserians, Drayton, Giles and Phineas Fletcher, Browne and Wither. The...

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Further Reading


Laing, David. “A Brief Account of the Hawthornden Manuscripts in the Possession of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; with Extracts, Containing Several Unpublished Letters and Poems of William Drummond of Hawthornden.” Archaeologia Scotica 4 (1831-32): 57-116, 241-70.

Presents a summary and analysis of Drummond's manuscripts given to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.


MacDonald, R. H. “Drummond of Hawthornden, Miss Euphemia Kyninghame, and the Poems.Modern Language Review 60, no. 4 (October 1965): 494-99.

Considers the role of Euphemia...

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