William Drummond of Hawthornden

William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649), from The Scottish Nation, 1862. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

William Drummond (13 December 1585 - 4 December 1649), called "of Hawthornden", was a Scottish poet. He is considered the "first notable poet in Scotland to write deliberately in English."[1]


Drummond was born at Hawthornden Castle, Midlothian. His father, John Drummond, was the first laird of Hawthornden, and his mother was Susannah (Fowler), sister of William Fowler, poet and courtier. Sir Robert Drummond of Carnock, one time Master of Work to the Crown of Scotland, was his grandfather.

Drummond received his early education at the Royal High School of Edinburgh, and graduated in July 1605 as M.A. of the recently founded University of Edinburgh. His father was a gentleman usher at the English court (as he had been at the Scottish court from 1590) and William, in a visit to London in 1606, describes the festivities in connection with the visit of the king of Denmark. Drummond spent two years at Bourges and Paris in the study of law; and, in 1609, he was again in Scotland, where, by the death of his father in the following year, he became laird of Hawthornden at the early age of twenty-four.

The list of books he read up to this time is preserved in his own handwriting.the indicates a strong preference for imaginative literature, and shows that he was keenly interested in contemporary verse. His collection (now in the library of the university of Edinburgh) contains many first editions of the most famous productions of the age. On finding himself his own master, Drummond naturally abandoned law for the muses; "for," says his biographer in 1711, "the delicacy of his wit always run on the pleasantness and usefulness of history, and on the fame and softness of poetry." In 1612 began his correspondence with Sir William Alexander of Menstrie, afterwards Earl of Stirling, which ripened into a lifelong friendship after Drummond's visit to Menstrie in 1614.

Drummond's first publication appeared in 1613, an elegy on the death of Henry, prince of Wales, called Teares on the Death of Meliades (Moeliades, 3rd edit. 1614). The poem shows the influence of Spenser's and Sidney's pastoralism. In the same year he published an anthology of the elegies of Chapman, Wither and others, entitled Mausoleum, or The Choisest Flowres of the Epitaphs. In 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death, appeared Poems: Amorous, funerall, divine, pastorall: in sonnets, songs, sextains, madrigals, being substantially the story of his love for Mary Cunningham of Barns, who was about to become his wife when she died in 1615.

The poems bear marks of a close study of Philip Sidney and of the Italian poets. He sometimes translates directly from the Italian, especially from Giambattista Marini. Forth Feasting: A Panegyricke to the King's Most Excellent Majestie (1617), a poem written in heroic couplets of remarkable facility, celebrates James's visit to Scotland in that year. In 1618 Drummond began a correspondence with Michael Drayton. The two poets continued to write at intervals for thirteen years, the last letter being dated in the year of Drayton's death. The latter had almost been persuaded by his "dear Drummond" to print the later books of Poly-Olbion at Hart's Edinburgh press. In the winter of 1618-1619, Drummond had included Ben Jonson in his circle of literary friends, and at Christmas 1618 was honoured with a visit of a fortnight or more from the dramatist.

The account of their conversations, long supposed to be lost, was discovered in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, by David Laing, and was edited for the Shakespeare Society in 1842 and printed by Gifford & Cunningham. The conversations are full of literary gossip, and embody Jonson's opinion of himself and of his host, whom he frankly told that "his verses were too much of the schooles, and were not after the fancie of the time," and again that he "was too good and simple, and that oft a man's modestie made a fool of his witt." But the publication of what was obviously intended merely for a private journal has given Jonson an undeserved reputation for harsh judgments, and has cast blame on Drummond for blackening his guest's memory.

In 1623 appeared the poet's fourth publication, entitled Flowers of Sion: By William Drummond of Hawthornedenne; to which is adjoyned his Cypresse Grove. From 1625 till 1630 Drummond was probably for the most part engaged in travelling on the Continent. On 29 September 1626 he received a sixteen patents for diverse devices, mainly military. These included Glasses of Archimedes which could set ships afire at sea and an early form of machine gun "in which a number of musket barrels are fastened together in such a manner as to allow one man to take the place of a hundred musketeers in battle.[2] However, there is no evidence that he actually produced any of these devices. In 1627, however, he seems to have been home for a short time, as, in that year, he appears in the entirely new character of the holder of a patent for the construction of military machines, entitled "Litera Magistri Gulielmi Drummond de Fabrica Machinarum Militarium, Anno 1627." The same year, 1627, is the date of Drummond's munificent gift (referred to above) of about 500 volumes to the library of the University of Edinburgh.

In 1630 Drummond again began to reside permanently at Hawthornden, and in 1632 he married Elizabeth Logan, by whom he had five sons and four daughters. In 1633 Charles made his coronation-visit to Scotland; and Drummond's pen was employed in writing congratulatory speeches and verses. He was involved in organising the King's triumphal procession through Edinburgh.[3] As Drummond preferred Episcopacy to Presbytery, and was an extremely loyal subject, he supported Charles's general policy, though he protested against the methods employed to enforce it. When John Elphinstone, 2nd Lord Balmerino was put on his trial on the capital charge of retaining in his possession a petition regarded as a libel on the king's government, Drummond in an energetic "Letter" (1635) urged the injustice and folly of the proceedings. About this time a claim by the earl of Menteith to the earldom of Strathearn, which was based on the assertion that Robert III of Scotland, husband of Annabella Drummond, was illegitimate, roused the poet's pride of blood and prompted him to prepare an historical defence of his house.

Partly to please his kinsman the earl of Perth, and partly to satisfy his own curiosity, the poet made researches in the genealogy of the family. This investigation was the real secret of Drummond's interest in Scottish history; and so we find that he now began his History of Scotland during the Reigns of the Five Jameses, a work which did not appear till 1655, and is remarkable only for its good literary style. His next work was called forth by the king's enforced submission to the opposition of his Scottish subjects. It is entitled Irene: or a Remonstrance for Concord, Amity, and Love amongst His Majesty's Subjects (1638), and embodies Drummond's political creed of submission to authority as the only logical refuge from democracy, which he hated. In 1639 Drummond had to sign the Covenant in self-protection, but was uneasy under the burden, as several political squibs by him testify. In 1643 he published ~iaaucLxLa: or a Defence of a Petition tendered to the Lords of the Council of Scotland by certain Noblemen and Gentlemen, a political pamphlet in support of those royalists in Scotland who wished to espouse the king's cause against the English parliament. Its burden is an invective on the intolerance of the then dominant Presbyterian clergy.

His later works may be described briefly as royalist pamphlets, written with more or less caution, as the times required. Drummond took the part of Montrose; and a letter from the Royalist leader in 1646 acknowledged his services. He also wrote a pamphlet, A Vindication of the Hamiltons, supporting the claims of the Duke of Hamilton to lead the Scottish army which was to release Charles I. It is said that Drummond's health received a severe shock when news was brought of the king's execution. He was buried in his parish church of Lasswade.


Drummond's most important works are the Cypresse Grove and the poems. The Cypresse Grove exhibits great wealth of illustration, and an extraordinary command of musical English. It is an essay on the folly of the fear of death. "This globe of the earth," says he, "which seemeth huge to us, in respect of the universe, and compared with that wide pavilion of heaven; is less than little, of no sensible quantity, and but as a point." This is one of Drummond's favourite moods; and he uses constantly in his poems such phrases as "the All," "this great All." Even in such of his poems as may be called more distinctively Christian, this philosophic conception is at work.

A noteworthy feature in Drummond's poetry, as in that of his courtier contemporaries Ayton, Lord Stirling and others, is that it manifests no characteristic Scottish element, but owes its birth and inspiration rather to the English and Italian masters. Drummond was essentially a follower of Spenser, but, amid all his sensuousness, and even in those lines most conspicuously beautiful, there is a dash of melancholy thoughtfulness - a tendency deepened by the death of his first love, Mary Cunningham. Drummond was called "the Scottish Petrarch"; and his sonnets, which are the expression of a genuine passion, stand far above most of the contemporary Petrarcan imitations. A remarkable burlesque poem Polemo Middinia inter Vitarvam et Nebernam (printed anonymously in 1684) has been persistently, and with good reason, ascribed to him. It is a mock-heroic tale, in dog-Latin, of a country feud on the Fife lands of his old friends the Cunninghams.

Critical introductionEdit

by Thomas Humphry Ward

Drummond is a literary and even learned poet. With Alexander, he deliberately preferred to write English, as it was spoken in England, rather than his native Scotch. His wealth and his leisure enabled him to surround himself with books; he was familiar with both ancient and modern literature. An interesting gift of his to the newly founded University of Edinburgh has preserved for us a selection of the very volumes that he read; English poetry and prose, including works of Bacon and Selden, of Drayton and Donne, of Ben Jonson and Shakespeare; Latin, French, Italian volumes in great numbers. Moreover, among the excerpta from his papers which Mr. Laing printed we find exact lists of the books that he read from period to period, the year’s task sometimes extending to forty or fifty separate writers, some of them of the dimensions of Knox’s History of the Reformation, and Sidney’s Arcadia, and Lyly’s Euphues, and Rabelais, and Amadis de Gaule. Like every other cultivated man of his day, he had read Marini; and his copy of Montaigne is extant.

His favourite forms of verse are the sonnet, of the Shakespearian rather than the true Italian type, and a short song or madrigal, combining the six-syllabled and the ten-syllabled lines in a very happy way; but he also uses other metres, such as the heroic couplet, and now and then ventures upon a difficult foreign experiment, as in his two Sextains and his one attempt in terza rima. The matter of his verse is described by himself on the title-page of his first miscellaneous volume of Poems — ‘Amorous, Funerall, Divine, Pastorall’ — the Pastoral being of little account, and the Funeral neither better nor worse than the average of their class. What are really interesting in the poetry that he published during his life are the sonnets and songs directly inspired by Mary Cunningham — sonnets and songs that ring true, and contrast with the cold conventionality of such poems as the Aurora of Drummond’s friend Lord Stirling — and the grave Flowers of Sion. Among the posthumous poems also are some that are noticeable; one or two genuine cries of anguish at what the author thought to be the evil of the times, and a few hymns (such as the "hymns for the week," following the order of the days of Creation) fit to rank with many of those that have become classical.

Good as are some of the love-sonnets and madrigals, Drummond is best where he is most serious. His deepest interests are metaphysical and religious; he is for ever taking refuge from the ills of the present in meditations on Death, Eternity, the Christian Doctrine. The Universe, ‘this All’ as he calls it,—that conception of the earth with its concentric spheres which belonged to the older astronomy,—is an idea on which he dwells in almost monotonous fashion. The finest of all his writings, the prose tract called The Cypresse Grove, is a discourse upon Death, reminding us, as Mr. Masson well says, of the best work of Sir Thomas Browne; the most striking of his poems are certainly those where, as in the sonnet ‘For the Baptist,’ he presents in his own rich language the severer portions of the Christian history, or the inexhaustible theme of the shortness and the mystery of life.

What saves him from becoming wearisome is partly the nobility of his verse at its best, its stateliness and sonorous music; partly his evident sincerity, and his emancipation, speaking generally, from the evil influences that were creeping in to corrupt English poetry at that time. His conceits, where he indulges in them, are bad indeed; the sun to him is

  ‘Goldsmith of all the stars, with silver bright
Who moon enamels, Apelles of the flowers’;

the waves that toss the boat that holds his love have their ready explanation:—

  ‘And yet huge waves arise; the cause is this,
That ocean strives with Forth the boat to kiss.’

But these are the accidents of his poetry, and his theory and practice are better learnt from such words as those he sent at an uncertain date to Dr. Arthur Johnston, a writer of Latin verse well known in his day. "Poesy," he says, "subsisteth by herself, and after one demeanour and continuance her beauty appeareth to all ages. In vain have some men of late, transformers of everything, 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. Poesy is not a thing that is yet in the finding and search, or which may be otherwise found out." Such is the mature view of Drummond; the view of a man who has read the best that the poets of all ages have made, has enjoyed it, has assimilated it, and will not allow himself to be drawn away from the main current by the fashion of the day. It is difficult to withhold admiration from a poet who in the first half of the seventeenth century had studied Marini and yet kept himself for the most part free from conceits; and, if we turn from his poetry to his life, it is difficult to withhold sympathy from a man whose private happiness was ruined by a fatal blow, and whose public hopes were wasted in witnessing the steady upward progress of a cause which he regarded with abhorrence.[4]


9 of his poems ("Invocation", "Madrigal", "Spring Bereaved 1", "Spring Bereaved 2", "Spring Bereaved 3", "Her Passing", "Inexorable", "Change should breed Change", and "Saint John Baptist") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[5]


  • Poems. Edinburgh: Andro Hart, 1604, 1614;
    • revised as Poems: Amorous, funerall, Diuine, Pastorall, in Sonnets, Songs, Sextains, Madrigals. Edinburgh: Andro Hart, 1616.[6]

*Teares on the Death of Meliades. Edinburgh: Printed by Andro Hart, 1613.[6]

  • In Pious Memorie of The Right Worthie and Vertuous Evphemia Kyninghame: Who in the prime of Her youth died the 23. Of Iulie, 1616 [half sheet]. Edinburgh: Andro Hart, 1617. w
  • Forth Feasting: A panegyrick to the Kings most excellent majestie. Edinburgh: Andro Hart, 1617
    • revised and published in The Mvses Welcome to the High and Mightie Prince James. Edinburgh: Printed by Thomas Finlason, 1618.[6]
  • A Midnights Traunce: Wherein Is Discoursed of Death, the Nature of Soules, and Estate of Immortalitie. London: G. Purslow for J. Budge, 1619.[6]
    • revised as "A Cypresse Grove" in Flowres of Sion, 1623.
  • Flowres of Sion: To which is adjoyned his Cypresse Grove. Edinburgh?: [heirs of Andro Hart]?, 1623;[6]
    • revised and enlarged, Edinburgh: heirs of Andro Hart, 1630.[6]
  • The Entertainment of the High and Mighty Monarch Charles King of Great Britaine, France, and Ireland, into His Auncient and Royall City of Edinburgh, the Fifteeth of Iune, 1633. Edinburgh:Iohn Wreittoun, 1633.[6]
  • To the Exequies of the Honovrable, Sr. Antonye Alexander, Knight, etc. A Pastorall Elegie. Edinburgh: George Anderson, 1638.[6]
  • Polemo-Medinia Inter Vitarvam et Nebernam. Edinburgh?, 1645?
    • republished as Polemo-Middinia. Carmen Macaronicum. Autore Gulielmo Drummundo, Scoto-Britanno. Oxford: E Theatro Sheldoniano, 1691.[6]
  • Poems by That most Famous Wit, William Drvmmond of Hawthornden. London: W.H., 1656
    • (edited by Edward Phillips). London: Richard Tomlins, 1656
    • also published as The most Elegant and Elabourate Poems Of that Great Court-Wit, Mr William Drummond. London: Printed for William Rands, 1659.
  • The Poems of William Drummond of Hawthornden. London: J. Jeffrey, 1790.
  • The Poems of William Drummond of Hawthornden (edited by Wm. C. Ward). (2 volumes), London: Routledge / New York: utton, 1894. wVolume I, Volume II


Collected editionsEdit

  • The Works of William Drummond of Hawthornden (edited by Bishop John Sage & Thomas Ruddiman). Edinburgh: James Watson, 1711.
  • The Poetical Works: With 'A Cypresse Grove (edited by L.E. Kastner). (2 volumes), Edinburgh & London: Scottish Text Society / William Blackwood, 1913. Volume I, Volume II
  • Poems and Prose (edited by Robert H. MacDonald) (includes the "Memorialls"). Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 6. Edinburgh & London: Scottish Academic Press, 1976.


  • Mavsolevm; or, The Choicest Flowres of the Epitaphs, Written on the Death of the Neuer-too-much Lamented Prince Henrie (includes 2 sonnets and an epitaph by Drummond), Edinburgh: Printed by Andro Hart, 1613.[6]
"Redeem Time Past" by William Drummond (read by Tom O'Bedlam)00:59

"Redeem Time Past" by William Drummond (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. William Drummond, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, Jan. 29, 2016.
  2. The Social History of the Machine Gun, by John Ellis, Croom Helm, London 1975, p11
  3. Restoring the Temple of Vision by Marsha Keith Schuchard, Brill 2002
  4. from Thomas Humphry Ward, "Critical Introduction: William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585–1649)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Jan. 29, 2016.
  5. Alphabetical list of authors: Daniel, Samuel to Hyde, Douglas. Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 16, 2012.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 William Drummond of Hawthornden 1585-1649, Poetry Foundation, Web, Sep. 7, 2012
  7. Search results = au:William Drummond of Hawthornden, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 29, 2016.

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