Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Drummond, William Hamilton
DRUMMOND, WILLIAM HAMILTON, D.D. (1778–1865), poet and controversialist, eldest son of William Drummond, surgeon, R.N., by his wife Rose (Hare), was born at Larne, co. Antrim, in August 1778. His father, paid off in 1783, died of fever soon after entering on a practice at Ballyclare, co. Antrim. His mother, left without resources, removed to Belfast with her three children, and went into business. Drummond, after receiving an education at the Belfast Academy, under James Crombie, D.D. [q. v.], and William Bruce, D.D. (1757–1841) [q. v.], was placed in a manufacturing house in England. Harsh usage turned the thoughts of the sensitive boy from the prospects of commercial life, and at the age of sixteen he entered Glasgow College (November 1794) to study for the ministry. Straitened means interrupted his course, and left him without a degree, but he acquired considerable classical culture, and as a very young student began to publish poetry, in which the influence of the revolutionary ideas of the period culminating in 1798 is apparent. Leaving Glasgow in 1798 he became tutor in a family at Ravensdale, co. Louth, pursuing his studies under the direction of the Armagh presbytery, with which he connected himself on the ground of its exacting a high standard of proficiency from candidates for the ministry. In 1799, returning to Belfast, he was transferred to the Antrim presbytery, and licensed on 9 April 1800. He at once received calls from First Holywood and Second Belfast, and accepting the latter was ordained on 26 Aug. 1800, the presiding minister being William Bryson [q. v.] He became popular, especially as a preacher of charity sermons, and dealt little in topics of controversy. On his marriage he opened a boarding-school at Mount Collyer, and lectured on natural philosophy, having among his pupils Thomas Romney Robinson, the astronomer. He was one of the first members of the Belfast Literary Society (founded 23 Oct. 1801), and contributed to its transactions several of his poems. Bishop Percy of Dromore sought his acquaintance, and obtained for him the degree of D.D. from Marischal College, Aberdeen (29 Jan. 1810). In 1815 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the chair of logic and belles-lettres in the Belfast Academical Institution, and on 15 Oct. in that year he was called to Strand Street, Dublin, as colleague to James Armstrong, D.D. [q. v.] Installed on 25 Dec., he entered on the chief charge of his long life. He was soon elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy, contributed frequently to its Transactions, held for many years the office of its librarian, and took a scholarly interest in Celtic literature. His poetical pieces, versified from ancient Irish sources, are graceful paraphrases rather than close translations. Most of his writings show traces of very wide reading. His house was crammed with the heterogeneous results of an insatiable habit of book-collecting.
Some years after his settlement in Dublin Drummond came out as a polemic, exhibiting in this capacity a degree of sharpness and vivacity which seemed a rather remarkable outcome of his gentle and genial temperament. In two instances (in 1827 and 1828) he took advantage of discussions between disputants of the Roman catholic and established churches as occasions for bringing forward arguments for unitarian views; and in the controversies thus provoked he was always ready with a reply. His essay on ‘The Doctrine of the Trinity’ is the best specimen of his polemics. His ‘Life of Servetus’ is a continuous onslaught on what he supposed to be unamiable tendencies of Calvinism.
Drummond's tastes were simple, and in harmony with the thorough kindliness of his disposition. A character singularly sweet and pure was enlivened by a bright vein of humour. His fine countenance dignified a short stature. He was very near-sighted, and without an ear for music. In old age he suffered from attacks of apoplexy, under which his powers of recollection were gradually extinguished. He died at Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin, on 16 Oct. 1865, and was buried at Harold's Cross cemetery, near Dublin, on 20 Oct. He married, first, Barbara, daughter of David Tomb of Belfast, and had several children, of whom William Bruce Drummond and two daughters survived him; and secondly, Catherine (d. 22 April 1879), daughter of Robert Blackley of Dublin, by whom he left issue Robert Blackley Drummond, minister of St. Mark's, Edinburgh; James Drummond, LL.D., principal of Manchester New College, London, and a daughter; another daughter by the second marriage died before him.
Drummond as a poet is natural, pleasing and melodious, rich in pathos, and full of enthusiasm. He is at his best in his very vigorous hymns, the use of which has not been limited to his own denomination.
The following is a full list of his poems:
- ‘Juvenile Poems: By a Student of the University of Glasgow’ , 8vo.
- ‘Hibernia. A Poem. Part the First,’ Belfast, 1797, 8vo (apparently all published).
- ‘The Man of Age,’ Belfast, 1797, 8vo (‘of age’ means ‘aged’); 2nd edition, in which ‘some things are suppressed,’ Glasgow, 1798, 8vo (to this edition is added an ode on the death of Robert Burns).
- ‘The Battle of Trafalgar; a Poem in two books,’ 1806, 12mo (contributed to Belfast Literary Society, 3 March).
- ‘The First Book of T. Lucretius Carus on the Nature of Things. Translated into English verse,’ Edinb., 1808, 16mo (Belfast Literary Society, 7 March).
- ‘The Giant's Causeway,’ Belfast, 1811, 8vo (three books, with two maps and five plates; Belfast Literary Society, 2 March 1807).
- ‘An Elegiac Ballad on the Funeral of the Princess Charlotte,’ Dublin, 1817, 8vo (anon.).
- ‘Who are the Happy,’ &c., Dublin, 1818, 8vo (appended are other poems and thirty-three hymns).
- ‘Clontarf,’ Dublin, 1822, 18mo (anon.).
- ‘Bruce's Invasion of Ireland,’ Dublin, 1826, 16mo.
- ‘The Pleasures of Benevolence,’ 1835, 12mo.
- ‘Ancient Irish Minstrelsy,’ Dublin, 1852, large 12mo (eight of the pieces in this volume had already appeared in vol. ii. of Hardiman's ‘Irish Minstrelsy,’ 1831). Of his many controversial works, including several separate sermons, it may suffice to mention
- ‘The Doctrine of the Trinity,’ 1827, 8vo; 2nd edition, 1827, 8vo; 3rd edition, 1831, 8vo (reprinted also in America).
- ‘Unitarian Christianity the Religion of the Gospel,’ 1828, 8vo.
- ‘Unitarianism no feeble and conceited Heresy,’ 1829, 8vo (addressed to Archbishop Magee, in reply to a publication by a layman, P. Dixon Hardy, commended by Magee).
- ‘Original Sin,’ 1832, 8vo.
- ‘An Explanation and Defence of the Principles of Protestant Dissent,’ 1842, 8vo (in reference to proceedings taken against unitarian trustees by Duncan Chisholm, alias George Matthews).
Apart from polemics were
- ‘Humanity to Animals,’ 1830, 8vo.
- ‘An Essay on the Rights of Animals,’ 1838, 12mo.
His biographical publications are
- ‘Funeral Sermon for James Armstrong, D.D.,’ Dublin, 1840, 12mo.
- ‘Autobiography of Archibald Hamilton Rowan, with additions,’ &c., Dublin, 1840, 12mo.
- ‘The Life of Michael Servetus,’ &c., 1848, 12mo.
Besides papers in the ‘Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy,’ may be mentioned his academy prize essay,
- ‘The Poems of Ossian,’ Dublin, 1830, 4to (defends Macpherson's authorship).
- ‘Sermons,’ 1867, 8vo (with memoir and two portraits).
[Memoir by J. S. Porter, prefixed to posthumous sermons, 1867; Armstrong's Appendix to Martineau's Ordination Service, 1829, p. 77; Unitarian Herald, 27 Oct. 1865, p. 345 (biog. notice, by J. S. Porter); MS. records of Antrim presbytery; private information.]