The eldest son of John Drummond and Susannah Fowler, William Drummond was born on December 13, 1585, at Hawthornden, some seven miles southeast of Edinburgh. In 1590, Drummond’s father was appointed gentleman-usher to King James VI; about this time, too, his uncle, William Fowler, became private secretary to Queen Anne. Drummond thus grew up in a court dedicated to literary pursuits. James VI was a poet, and William Fowler translated Petrarch’s Trionfi (1470; Tryumphs, 1565; also known as Triumphs, 1962) and composed original verses as well. Such surroundings must have stimulated Drummond’s own literary inclinations.
After taking a degree from the University of Edinburgh in July, 1605, Drummond set out for France to study law at Bourges. During the next four years, Drummond maintained a list of his readings: Of the numerous volumes he read, only one concerns jurisprudence—the Institutiones (533; Justinian’s Institutes, 1915) of Justinian. Other volumes deal in part with religion. Although Drummond was hardly a prejudiced sectarian, his poetry reflects a deep religiosity. Most of Drummond’s reading at this time was, however, secular; during his years abroad, he familiarized himself with the major works of the Renaissance, both English and Continental, which later served as the models for his own writings.
By the time he returned to Scotland in late 1608, he was intimately acquainted with the best of Spanish, French, Italian, and English literatures. These he not only read but also acquired: An inventory of his library in 1611 includes more than five hundred titles. This inventory suggests again that Drummond’s interest in the law was less than overwhelming, for only twenty-four of those books deal with that field.
Fortunately for Drummond, he was not obliged to rely on the law for a living. On August 21, 1610, “about Noone,” according to Drummond’s “Memorials,” his father died, leaving him laird of Hawthornden. Here Drummond remained for the rest of his life, reading and writing “farre from the madding Worldlings hoarse Discords” (Sonnet 43, part 1, Poems).
The death of Prince Henry in November, 1612, inspired Drummond’s first published work, Teares, on the Death of Moeliades. Shortly afterward, perhaps as early as the next year, another volume appeared, consisting of a sonnet sequence in two parts. In the first section, Drummond speaks conventionally of the pains of love, and in the second, he mourns his mistress’s death. Although both Dante and Petrarch had written of their dead mistresses, no one in English had yet done so. Drummond boasted that he was “The First in the Isle that did celebrate a mistress dead.”
Life seems to have imitated art in this case. Drummond apparently had fallen in love with a Miss Cunningham in 1614 and had become engaged to her. Shortly before their marriage—but after the completion of most of the sonnets in Poems—Miss Cunningham died. Except for his abandonment of love poetry for religious verse, Drummond’s writings do not reflect this personal tragedy, but he remained unmarried until 1632, and the woman he did marry—Elizabeth Logan—attracted him in part because she reminded him of his first love.
When the former James VI of Scotland, then James I of England, returned to his native land after a fourteen-year absence, Drummond welcomed him with the effusive encomium Forth Feasting, in which he imagines the river’s rejoicing to receive its monarch. In general, the poem pleased the king, though his courtiers, and even James,...
(The entire section is 1490 words.)