Donaldson, Walter (DNB00)

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DONALDSON, WALTER (fl. 1620), philosophical writer, a native of Aberdeen, was born about 1575. His father, Alexander Donaldson, is described as an esquire; his mother was Elizabeth, the daughter of David L'Amy of Dunkenny. In his youth, as he himself tells us in the preface to his ‘Synopsis Œconomica,’ he formed part of the retinue of David Cunningham, bishop of Aberdeen, and Sir Peter Young, grand almoner of Scotland, when they were sent as ambassadors by James VI to the court of Denmark, and to some of the princes of Germany. This was probably in 1594, when the embassy was despatched to announce the birth of the king's eldest son Henry, whose premature death Donaldson afterwards commemorated. He returned to Scotland, but after a short stay repaired again to the continent to study in the university of Heidelberg, where the elder Godefroi was giving his famous lectures on civil law. It was here that he probably took the degree of LL.D. While residing at this university he read a synopsis of ethics to some private pupils, one of whom, Werner Becker of Riga, published it without his knowledge under the title of ‘Synopsis Moralis Philosophiæ, III. libris,’ 8vo, ex officina Paltheniorum [Frankfort], 1604. Elsewhere Donaldson mentions that the book, thus surreptitiously published, had passed through several editions in Great Britain as well as in Germany. He also complains that the learned Keckerman had not scrupled to copy from its pages, and he adduces an amusing instance of the plagiarism (preface to Synopsis Œconomica, edit. 1620). It is not clear, however, to which of Keckerman's works he alludes. From Germany Donaldson removed to France upon being appointed principal of the Protestant College of Sedan. Here, in addition to his duties as principal, he lectured on such varied subjects as moral and natural philosophy and Greek. In this seminary he was associated with two of his learned countrymen; one of whom, John Smith, taught philosophy, while the other, the celebrated Andrew Melville, filled one of the chairs of divinity (M'Crie, Life of Melville, ii. 420). It was here that Donaldson compiled another useful work for students, a systematic arrangement in Greek and Latin of passages selected from Diogenes Laertius, entitled ‘Synopsis Locorum Communium, in qua Philosophiæ Ortus, Progressus, etc., ex Diogene Laërtio digeruntur,’ 8vo, Frankfort, 1612. As he states in the preface, the plan of the book, which extends to nearly seven hundred pages, had been suggested to him by Denys Godefroi, his teacher at Heidelberg. Another edition was issued with the title of ‘Electa Laërtiana: in quibus e Vitis Philosophorum Diogenis Laërtii totius Philosophiæ Ortus, Progressus, variæque de singulis Sententiæ, in locos communes methodice digeruntur,’ 8vo, Frankfort-on-Maine, 1625. The following year, 1613, he published ‘Lacrymæ tumulo nunquam satis laudati herois Henrici-Friderici Stuarti, Walliæ Principis, a Gualt. Donaldsono ubertim affusæ,’ 12mo, Sedan, 1613, an oration recited in the college hall by a young student named Thomas Dehayons on 8 Feb. 1613.

After a stay of sixteen years at Sedan, Donaldson was invited to open a protestant seminary at Charenton, near Paris, but the attempt awakened the jealousy of the Roman catholic section of the community and ended in a lawsuit. During its progress Donaldson found occupation in writing, his ‘Synopsis Œconomica,’ 8vo, Paris, 1620, which he dedicated to Charles, prince of Wales. It was reprinted at Rostock in 1624, and again at Frankfort in 1625. Bayle (Dictionnaire, 8vo, Paris, 1820, v. 559–61) considered it a book well worth reading. When or where Donaldson died is now unknown. In the attested pedigree preserved in the library of the College of Advocates he is described as having lived ‘apud Ruppellam in Gallia;’ but it is far more likely that after his disappointment at Charenton he resumed his post at Sedan, and there passed the remainder of his life. By his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of John Goffan, Goffin, or Hoffan, of Mostancells (?), near Sedan, he left several children, one of whom, Alexander, became a physician. A letter from his widow to Sir John Scott, who had interested himself in behalf of the family, is dated at Sedan on 15 April 1630 (manuscript in Advocates' Library).

[Dr. D. Irving's Lives of Scottish Writers, i. 303–5; Anderson's Scottish Nation, ii. 41; Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen (Thomson), i. 452; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Bayle's Dictionary (Des Maizeaux), 2nd edit. ii. 685–6.]

G. G.