Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Week 7 - D for May Drummond

George Drummond Provost of Edinburgh
May Drummond was born about 1710 in Edinburgh. She came from an eminent family, her eldest brother George (1687-1766) being lord provost of Edinburgh six times and another brother, Alexander, consul in Aleppo. In 1731, when she was only 21, her curiosity led her to attend Yearly Meeting in Edinburgh with her society friends. Here May was convinced by the travelling minister Thomas Story. Her family were very much against her choice but she persevered and was soon recognised as a minister. She began to travel extensively in the ministry in Scotland and then, about 1735, moved to England where she created a stir among the general public.

May Drummond aged about 25

May was a tall handsome woman who spoke very eloquently and drew large crowds, on much the same scale as John Wesley, from all social classes. She was even granted an audience by Queen Caroline, which increased her fame. She was particularly appealing to young women, for whom she held special, often very emotional, meetings. A poem by ‘a young lady’ published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1735 gives some idea of her impact:-

          “No more O Spain! thy saint Teresa boast, 
           There's one out shines her on the British coast...                                                     
           Too long indeed, our sex has been deny’d,
           And ridiculed by mens’ malignant pride...
           That woman had no soul was their pretence,
           And woman’s spelling past for woman’s sense
           ’Til you, most generous heroine, stood forth,
           And shew’d your sex’s aptitude and worth...”

May travelled widely in England and visited Ireland in 1738 and again in 1753. Some Friends, however, distrusted her eloquence and popularity, fearing that she was in danger of acting for her own glory rather than God’s.

May Drummond
William Cookworthy (1705-1780) of Plymouth met her in 1744 and was kinder in his estimation of her. Writing to a friend he said that she was “one of a surprising genius, her apprehension being quick, lively, penetrating...a great connoisseur of the human heart in all its emotions, passions and foibles, her own open, generous, tender and humane..’Tis a strange phenomenon our young folks take a particular liking to her....I had forgotten her person which seems contrived to enforce and embellish truth, not excite desire. Her face and gesture are aimed at the mind.” He approved the religious content of her speech but was critical of her style, “rather too learned; her epithets rather swell too much. There is something too in the management and tone of her voice when she exerts it, a little too theatrical.” “But”, he adds, “I really believe all this to be owing to her education and not to any affectation or want of simplicity.”

May continued to travel but gradually more doubts were raised about her ministry. Her habit of often mentioning her noble relations and acquaintances made Friends uneasy and there was a feeling that she demanded too much attention for herself. In the late 1750s May Drummond returned to Scotland, but she was not welcomed in her own country. Edinburgh Quakers felt that she spoke in Meeting too often and refused to accept their discipline. Rumours circulated that May, having fallen upon hard times financially, had stooped to pilfering food from the houses of Friends she visited. It was also insinuated that she had become a drunkard. Eventually, in 1764, she was officially requested not to preach and her certificate as a minister was withdrawn.

May Drummond returned to England and continued to travel, becoming a shadow of her former self. Friends treated her kindly but could not acknowledge her ministry. In May 1772 she was in London, but later that year she made her way back to Edinburgh where she died aged 62. Her family forgave her sufficiently to allow her to be buried in the family vault. Her story was seen among Quakers as a fall from grace and a dreadful warning about the perils of popularity and spiritual pride, but only the impressions of others, some of them very partial and prejudiced, remain for history to assess.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks Gill, an interesting, but sad case, though we should remember that there are many examples of Friends who weren't popular or approved of by other Friends in their own time.