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Significant Scots
William Duncan

DUNCAN, WILLIAM, a learned writer, was born at Aberdeen, in July, 1717. He was the son of William Duncan, a tradesman in that city, and of Euphemia Kirkwood, the daughter of a farmer in Haddingstonshire. He received the rudiments of his education partly at the grammar school of Aberdeen, and partly at a boarding school at Forveran, kept by a Mr George Forbes. In 1733 Mr Duncan entered the Marischal college at Aberdeen, and applied himself particularly to the study of Greek, under Dr Blackwell. At the end of the usual course, he took the degree of M.A. His first design was to become a clergyman; but, after studying divinity for two years, he abandoned the intention, and, removing to London, became a writer for the press. The greater part of his literary career was of that obscure kind which rather supplies the wants of the day, than stores up fame for futurity. Translations from the French were among his mental exertions, and he was much beloved and respected by the other literary men of his day, especially those who were of the same nation with himself, such as George Lewis Scott and Dr Armstrong.

The principal work of Mr Duncan was his translation of select orations of Cicero, which is still a book of standard excellence, and constantly used in our schools. He contributed the department of Logic to "Mr Dodsley’s Modern Preceptor," which appeared in 1748, and was one of the most useful and popular books published during the eighteenth century. In 1752 appeared his last work, the translation of Caesar’s Commentaries, which is decidedly the best in our language. Duncan has in a great measure caught the spirit of the Roman writer, and has preserved his turn of phrase and expression as far as the nature of our language would permit. In this year, Mr Duncan received a royal appointment to a philosophical chair in the Marischal college; and in 1753, commenced lecturing on natural and experimental philosophy. Before leaving London, he had engaged to furnish a bookseller with a new translation of Plutarch; but his health proved inadequate to the task. His constitution had been considerably injured by the sedentary nature of his employment in London, and he was now content to discharge the ordinary duties of his chair. After a blameless life, he died (unmarried) May 1, 1760, in the forty-third year of his age. Mr Duncan cannot so much be said to have possessed genius, as good sense and taste; and his parts were rather solid than shining. His temper was social, his manners easy and agreeable, and his conversation entertaining and often lively. In his instructions as a professor, he was diligent and very accurate. His conduct was irreproachable, and he was regular in his attendance on the various institutions of public worship. Soon after his settlement in the Marischal college, he was admitted an elder in the church session of Aberdeen, and continued to officiate as such till his death.

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