Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Duncan, William (1717-1760)

DUNCAN, WILLIAM (1717–1760), professor of philosophy at Aberdeen, son of William Duncan, an Aberdeen tradesman, by his wife Euphemia Kirkwood, daughter of a wealthy farmer in Haddingtonshire, was born in Aberdeen in 1717. He was sent to the Aberdeen grammar school, and afterwards to Foveran boarding school under George Forbes. When sixteen he entered the Marischal College, and studied Greek under Thomas Blackwell (1701–1757) [q. v.] In 1737 he took his M.A. degree. Having a dislike for the ministry, for which he was intended, he proceeded to London and wrote for the booksellers. His first works were published anonymously. He assisted David Watson with his ‘Works of Horace,’ 2 vols. 1741, 8vo. He published: 1. ‘Cicero's Select Orations,’ in English with the original Latin, London, 17 …, 8vo (a well-known school book often republished. Sir Charles Wentworth issued the English portion only in 1777). 2. ‘The Elements of Logick,’ divided into four books, part of Dodsley's ‘Preceptor,’ London, 1748, 8vo, and often reprinted. 3. ‘The Commentaries of Cæsar, translated into English, to which is prefixed a Dissertation concerning the Roman Art of War,’ illustrated with cuts, London, 1753, fol. Other editions in 1755, 1832, 1833.

Duncan was appointed by the king to be professor of natural and experimental philosophy in the Marischal College, Aberdeen, on 18 May 1752. He did not enter upon his duties until August 1753.

Duncan died unmarried 1 May 1760. He was sociable, but subject to fits of depression caused by sedentary habits. He was an elder of the church session of Aberdeen. He had several sisters and a younger brother, John, a merchant, three times chief magistrate of Aberdeen.

[Duncan's Works; Statistical Account of Scotland, xii. 1191; Biog. Brit. (Kippis) v. 500; Monthly Review, vii. 467–8; Nichols's Lit. Anecd, iii. 268; Bowyer's Miscellaneous Tracts, 1785, has several notes on Duncan's Cæsar.]

J. W.-G.