Flowres of Sion

William Drummond
Flowres of Sion, 1623
Gifted in 1624
Rare Books Collection Shelfmark: De.4.53

Flowres of Sion contains religious and philosophical poems, and a prose essay on death. Unlike many noblemen of the time Drummond seems to have had no qualms about publishing his poetry, releasing several collections, and some shorter pamphlets and single-sheet works. Many of the books were reprinted, suggesting they reached a reasonably large audience.

This copy of Flowres of Sion, was presented by the author to the University in 1624. It may well mark a strengthening of the relationship between Drummond and the University, which led to the donation of a large part of his library in 1626.

William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649), the son of a minor courtier who followed James I and VI south to London, was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, and the University, graduating in 1605. He studied law in Bourges and Paris, before returning to Scotland, inheriting the family estate in 1610.

Drummond then devoted his time to his estates and his books and poetry, playing only a small part in public life. He was proficient in Latin, Greek, Hebrew and modern languages. He studied French and Italian poetry closely, and was the friend and correspondent of English poets of the age: Michael Drayton; Sir William Alexander, Earl of Stirling; Ben Jonson. His own writing had a significant influence on Scottish literature of the period; since he wrote in English rather than Scots, but published in Scotland and identified as Scottish.

His private book collection was extensive, gathered both from his travels in Europe, in England and Scotland. It is reasonably well recorded, from various lists and catalogues made during his lifetime. With the focus on literature, in half a dozen languages, it was very much the library of the Renaissance poet.

In 1626, evidently after some detailed discussions with the University, he presented 550 items to the library. This was followed by further, smaller, donations over the next ten years. The collection is perhaps the most significant the University has ever received, marking a policy of collecting, and therefore recognising as worthy of study, contemporary vernacular literature. Many academic libraries at the time, rooted in a curriculum still largely medieval, would probably not have accepted this collection. In Edinburgh, it led the way for a teaching and collection strength that persists to this day.

Story by Elizabeth Quarmby Lawrence, Rare Books Librarian