William Drummond

William Drummond was born in 1584 into an ancient Scottish family, at Hawthornden Castle, south of Edinburgh. Drummond’s uncle, the poet William Fowler, was secretary to Queen Anne.

James VI, who wrote poetry himself, presided over a flourishing Scots literary culture at his court. He, Fowler, and other court poets formed a group called the ‘Castalian Band’. Drummond read their poetry, and through them was introduced to the great tradition of European love poetry. As a poet, he saw himself as part of this tradition, but he was also a keen reader of English verse. His own poetry was written in English rather than Scots, although he had it published in Edinburgh.

Drummond could well have attended performances of Shakespeare’s plays during his visits to England in 1606 and 1610. He certainly bought and read them, and two of his quartos, annotated in his own hand, survive today. He became friends with other English authors, including Shakespeare’s friend Ben Jonson, who visited him at Hawthornden in 1618-19.

Drummond had a substantial library for a 17th-century Scottish gentleman – he owned over 1400 books. In 1627 he made the first of several gifts of books to the Library of the University of Edinburgh, where he had been educated himself. Playbooks at this time were not considered to be serious literature – Sir Thomas Bodley banned them from his library in Oxford in 1612.

It is thanks to the library which accepted Drummond’s gift, playbooks included, that the Shakespeare quartos which he owned survive today.


William Drummond

'Books have that strange Quality, that being of the frailest and tenderest Matter, they out-last Brass, Iron and Marble'[from 'Bibliotheca Edinburgena Lectori' (Edinburgh Library to the Reader)]

'Wits, howsoever pregnant and great, without Books, are but as valiant Soldiers without Arms, and Artizans destitute of Tools.'

'What availeth the Writing of Books, if they be not preserved?'

'Libraries are as Forrests, in which not only tall Cedars and Oaks are to be found, but Bushes too and dwarfish Shrubs, and as in Apothecaries Shops all sorts of Drugs are permitted to be, so may all sorts of Books be in a Library.'

'In sundry Parts of the Earth there were but Seven Wonders dispersed, in one Noble Library many more worthy of greater Admiration, and of greater Excellency, are together to be found.'[From On Libraries]

‘The Authors I have seen (saith he) on the Subject of Love, are the Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyat, (whom, because of their Antiquity, I will not match with our better Times), Sidney, Daniel, Drayton and Spenser. ... The last we have are Sir William Alexander and Shakespear, who have lately published their Works. ... The best and most exquisite Poet of this Subject, by Consent of the whole Senate of Poets, is Petrarch.’[From Drummond’s Character of Several Authors]


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