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It is well known that Ben Jonson was so great an admirer of the genius of Drummond, that he travelled on foot from London to Hawthornden*, to pay him a visit of friendship and respect. During Ben Jonson's stay with Drummond, the latter appears to have occasionally taken down memoranda of the heads of conversations on literary subjects, and to have accompanied them with remarks
the character of his guest. About half a century after Drummond's death they found their way into print, but there is no evidence to show that he contemplated their publication. Ben Jonson's host naturally felt so great an interest in his guest, that we ought not to be surprised that he should have entered in his private diary these reports of his conversations and notices of his character. Some of the latter may be rather severe, but no one questions their truth, not even Gifford himself, though he so madly accuses Drummond of a desire to blast the memory of his friend. Jonson's manners were rough, dogmatical, and unamiable ; but Drummond's were precisely the reverset. Mr. Gifford assertion that Drummond " inveigled" Jonson into his house with the detestable motive he has attributed to him. As a writer in Blackwood's Magazine has well observed, if this had been Drummond's object he would have painted Ben Jonson in colours far more hideous, and would have published his calumnies either in Jonson's life-time, towards the close of which he was comparatively imbecile and feeble and not in a condition for a literary warfare, or after his death ;-for Drummond survived him nearly twelve years. I cannot conceive any reasonable cause for a hostile or malignant feeling in Drummond towards Jonson. The latter's pedestrian pilgrimage from London to Edinburgh, then regarded as a formidable undertaking, was as high a compliment as one poet could well pay to another; and while there is abundant evidence of a reciprocity of kind and cordial sentiment between these distinguished men, there is nothing that can be construed into the slightest indication of an opposite feeling, except Drummond's character of Jonson, which (though drawn with that freedom which almost of itself implies that it was not intended for publication, and those vivid and minute touches that a close intimacy with his subject and a subtle observation would naturally inspire), exhibits nothing like jealousy or falsehood, and betrays no motive that is inconsistent with the reputation for integrity and honour which Drummond is acknowledged to have enjoyed in his life-time, and that nobility of mind which may still be traced in the works which have so long survived him. It is strange that Drummond's notes upon the character of a celebrated contemporary should be so harshly censured by a modern critic, at a time when a similar practice is so generally tolerated, when the minutest actions and the most trivial observations of men of eminence are so commonly recorded by their literary associates, -and when the private history and the personal peculiarities not only of the dead but of the living,
* The poet's residence, “ Hawthornden House,” was about seven miles from Edinburgh.
7“ He was a tender father, a kind husband, and one who would not willingly give offence; a man of pleasing habits, alluring conversation, and strict piety. In addition, he was a methodical man, somewhat given to sallies of wit and humorous sayings. Kept books in which he noted down the verses of other men as well as his own: had his letters too in order; and preserved whatever struck him as clever in the remarks of his companions or correspondents, or pleased him in the compositions of his own pen.”—P. Cunningham's Life of Drummond.
Is it at all strange that such a man and with such habits should have recorded the conversations of so celebrated a person as Ben Jonson? Would it not have been more strange if he had omitted to do so ? Yet, Mr. Gifford can only attribute such an act to personal hatred : He calls Drummond an accomplished artificer of fraud," and characterizes his conduct as the “ blackest perfidy,”
are to be met with in every periodical that is adapted to the public taste*.
It is said that Ben Jonson wrote a poem descriptive of his journey to Scotland, which was inadvertently burned with other papers at his death. Perhaps this accident is unfortunate for the memory of Drummond, and the poem might have included much interesting and valuable evidence as to the manner in which these two eminent contemporaries met and parted.
With respect to the character of Drummond's poetry, the critics are at variance. Phillips, the nephew of Milton, who is supposed to have often echoed the sentiments of his immortal relative, speaks of Drummond's sonnets in the following terms.
“ To say that these poems are the effects of a genius the most polite and verdant that ever the Scottish nation produced, although it be a re
* There never was a period in which eminent literary men were half so public as they are now. No sooner is the breath out of the body of a man of letters, than all his domestic circumstances are as regularly published as his works. Even his female relatives are sometimes severely criticised. Mr. Coleridge's minutest private actions, and all his personal habits and infirmities, are detailed and criticised in newspapers and magazines with quite as much freedom as matters connected more immediately with his public character. His host, Mr. Gilman, does not hesitate to publish to all the world the most confidential communications of his guest and friend. Even in their lives are literary men denied the usual privacies and sanctities of the domestic circle. All their friends and visitors are spies and reporters, and the frank conversations that other men are permitted by the usages of respectable society to indulge in, without the slightest danger of publicity, are esteemed fair game by every literary speculator who is desirous of publishing a book or gaining a few guineas by a gossiping and attractive article in a monthly magazine. Whether this system be strictly honorable or fair I shall not stop to inquire. That the public is a gainer there can be little doubt, and perhaps there is no lover of literary history who has not deeply regretted the personal obscurity of our earlier English writers. Shakespeare, the greatest of all our authors, is known only by his works, and they are for the most part necessarily of a nature so little egotistical that they afford us but few and faint glimpses of his character as a man. The bare mention of his immortal name by a contemporary writer, is regarded with eager interest; but how unspeakably precious would be the discovery of a Boswellian biography of William Shakespeare !
commendation not to be rejected, (for it is well known that that country hath afforded many rare and admirable wits,) yet it is not the highest that can be given him; for should I affirm that neither Tasso nor Guarini, nor any of the most neat and refined spirits of Italy, nor even the choicest of our English poets, can challenge to themselves any advantages above him, it could not be judged any attribute superior to what he deserves.”
But these sentiments are evidently the original and exclusive property of Phillips himself; for it is not to be credited that Milton, however he may have recognised the real merits of Drummond, would have sanctioned such extravagant commendation. Thomas Campbell is very indignant at the comparison of Drummond with Tasso ; though Mr. Pinkerton, the “ modern writer” to whom he alludes in his “ Specimens of the British Poets,” is scarcely less laudatory than Phillips. If any poems," observes Mr. Pinkerton, possess a very high degree of that exquisite Doric delicacy which we so much admire in Comus, &c., those of Drummond do. Milton may often be traced in him; and he had certainly read and admired him. And if he had not read Drummond, perhaps we should never have seen the delicacies of Comus, Lycidas, Il Penseroso, and L'Allegro." “ Perhaps," says Campbell, “ is an excellent leading-string for weak assertions ;" and he insists upon it that only one or two epithets of Drummond may be recognized in Milton. Campbell seems to be almost as ill-disposed towards poor Drummond as Gifford himself, though from a very different cause.
Gifford's anger is an editorial weakness. He regards every attack upon the poet whom he has undertaken to illustrate, as a personal concern of
He confounds himself with his author. Campbell, I suspect, is influenced by two circumstances,-first, his aversion to Drummond's Tory politics; and secondly, a want of respect for the poet's favourite form of composition—the sonnet. He sneers at Drummond's grief for the death of Charles the First, and describes his “ Lives of the James's of Scotland” as a work abounding in false eloquence and slavish principles. I am not disposed to say a word in favour of Drummond's politics, which have nothing whatever to do with his poetical genius ; nor to defend his historical work, which indeed I never read: but it is a curious fact worth noticing, that though now utterly forgotten, it had once its enthusiastic admirers. Horace Walpole describes Drummond as one of the best modern historians, and no mean imitator of Livy."
There are certainly passages in Drummond's poetry, the style and tone of which seem to have suggested some of the poetry of Milton, who, though he did not perhaps rate Drummond so highly as some have done, appears to have read him with attention and delight. There is an Italian air in much of the poetry of Drummond that would naturally be pleasing to an Italian scholar like Milton. Dr. Symmons, in speaking of the poet of Hawthornden as the earliest writer of the true Sonnet, observes that he was “the peculiar object of Milton's applause and imitation.” The author of Paradise Lost, however, in no instance condescended to become an imitator in which he did not immeasurably excel his models. His feeling for the beautiful and the true was so generous and ardent, that he would recognize merit even in less worthy pages than those of Drummond; but he invested the thoughts of others with the light of his own master-spirit, and gave them a glory which belonged originally to himself. Drummond has not been imitated by Milton alone. The comparative obscurity into which he has fallen, and the undeniable. beauty of his productions, have tempted many modern authors to rifle his poetic treasures. Pope has not only stolen his thoughts, but imitated his versification. In his Eloisa to Abelard is the following line :
“ The crime was common, common be the pain.” This is a very close imitation of the first line of one of Drummond's sonnets :
“ The grief was common, common were the cries.”