William Drummond Analysis

Other literary forms

William Drummond of Hawthornden’s only prose work published during his lifetime was A Midnight’s Trance (1619), a meditation on death. In its revised form, it was appended to Flowres of Sion as A Cypresse Grove. His The History of Scotland from the Year 1423 Until the Year 1542, his longest piece of prose, appeared posthumously in 1655. This volume also included a section of Drummond’s letters, a reprinting of A Cypresse Grove, and “Memorials of State,” a sample of the political pamphlets Drummond had written (but never published) in the two decades preceding his death. The 1711 edition of Drummond’s works remains the most complete collection of the prose; in this edition “Irene: Or, A Remonstrance for Concord, Amity, and Love Amongst His Majesty’s Subjects,” “Skiamachia,” and other political pieces first appeared. Here, too, were first published notes on the famous conversations between Drummond and Ben Jonson.

In 1831, David Laing published Extracts from the Hawthornden Manuscripts, which includes “A Brief Account of the Hawthornden Manuscripts in the Possession of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, with Extracts, Containing Several Unpublished Letters with Poems of William Drummond of Hawthornden” (Transactions of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 5). In the second part of that volume, published in 1832, Laing presented the first complete edition of the Notes by William Drummond, of Conversations with Ben Jonson. Subsequent editions of Drummond’s poetry have included manuscript material, but the prose remains uncollected.


By 1616, William Drummond of Hawthornden was known as the Scottish Petrarch. His first published poem went through three editions within a year, and the 1616 edition of the Poems quickly went into a second impression. John Milton read Drummond with approbation, and Milton’s nephew, Edward Phillips, Drummond’s first editor, in the preface to the 1656 edition of the poetry, called Drummond “a genius the most polite and verdant that ever the Scottish nation produced,” adding “that neither Tasso, nor Guarini, nor any of the most neat and refined can challenge to themselves any advantage above him.” For Charles Lamb, a century and a half later, “The sweetest names, and which carry a perfume in the mention, are, Kit Marlowe, Drayton, Drummond of Hawthornden, and Cowley.”

What Alexander Pope observed of the last of these“sweet” poets, however—“Who now reads Cowley?”—is also applicable to Drummond. Though he was the first Scottish poet to produce a substantial body of poetry in English and though much of that poetry demonstrates technical virtuosity, Drummond does not command many readers today. In large part, this neglect has resulted from his theory of composition. Jonson warned him “that oft a man’s modesty made a fool of his wit.” Drummond’s poetic modesty led him to translate and adapt the works of others instead of applying himself to invention. His poetry, therefore, while skillful, is rarely original, and, as...

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Cummings, Robert. “Drummond’s Forth Feasting: A Panegyric for King James in Scotland.” Seventeenth Century 2, no. 1 (1987): 1-18. Cummings discusses Drummond’s panegyric in relation to its tradition and the situation at the time. This article, though on a rather specialized subject, makes a useful addition to earlier critical approaches that stress the poet’s sonnets and other short lyrics.

Fogle, French Rowe. A Critical Study of William Drummond of Hawthornden. New York: King’s Crown Press of Columbia University, 1952. The most useful book on Drummond for the general reader, this critical account examines the poet’s development with biographical background where necessary. One appendix lists Drummond’s reading and a second describes and excerpts poems in the Hawthornden manuscript. Fogle does not deal with Drummond’s prose works or conversations with Ben Jonson.

Grosse, Edmund. The Jacobean Poets. 1894. Reprint. Charleston, S.C.: BiblioBazaar, 2009. This classic work by Grosse describes the Jacobean poets, including Drummond.

Masson, David. Drummond of Hawthornden. 1873. Reprint. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2008. Masson’s book, though out of date in many respects, is the fullest account of the events of Drummond’s life. It is also one of the more readily available works on...

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