Donaldson, John

, an artist and author, was born at Edinburgh in 1737; his father was a glover in rather low circumstances, but of a speculative turn of mind, and much addicted to metaphysical reveries, of which his son unfortunately inherited a double portion, and without his father’s prudence, who never suffered his abstractions to interfere with his business. While a child, young Donaldson was constantly occupied in copying every object before him with chalk on his father’s cutting-board, which, was often covered with his infant delineations. This natural determination of the mind was encouraged by the father, and at the age of twelve or thirteen, his son had acquired some reputation as a drawer of miniature portraits in Indian ink, and was by these efforts enabled to contribute to the support of his parents. At the same time he was much admired for his skilfil imitations of the ancient engravers, which he executed with a pen so correctly, as sometimes to deceive the eye of a connoisseur. After passing several years in Edinburgh, he came to London, and for some time painted portraits in miniature with much success; but unfortunately he now began to fancy that the taste, policy, morals, and religion of mankind were all wrong, and that he was born to set them right. From this time his profession became a secondary object, and whether from jealousy or insanity, he used repeatedly to declare that sir Joshua Reynolds must be a very dull fellow to devote his life to the study of lines and tints. The consequence of all this was that contemptuous neglect of business which soon left him no business to mind. In the mean time he employed his pen in various lucubrations, and published a volume of poems, and an “Essay on the Elements of Beauty,” in both which merit was discoverable. Before he took a disgust at his profession, he made an historical drawing, the “Tent of Darius,” which was honoured with the prize given by the Society of Arts and also painted | two subjects in enamel, the “Death of Dido,” and “Hero and Leander,” both which obtained prizes from the same society, yet no encouragement could induce him to prosecute his art. Among his various pursuits he cultivated chemistry, and discovered a method of preserving not only vegetables of every kind, but the lean of meat, so as to remain uncorrupted during the longest voyages. For this discovery he obtained a patent; but want of money, and perhaps his native indolence, and a total ignorance of the affairs of life, prevented him from deriving any advantage from it. The last twenty years of his life were years of suffering. His eyes and business failing, he was not seldom in want of the most common necessaries. His last illness was occasioned by sleeping in a room which had been lately painted. He was seized with a total debility; and being removed by the care of some friends to a lodging at Islington, where he received every attention that his case required, he expired Oct. 11, 1801, regretted by all who knew him as a man of singular and various endowments, addicted to no vice, and of the utmost moderation, approaching to abstemiousness; but unhappy in a turn of mind too irregular for the business of life, and above the considerations of prudence. Mr. Edwards attributes to him an anonymous pamphlet entitled “Critical Observations and Remarks upon the public buildings of London.1

1 Gent. Mag. 1801. Edwards’s Supplement to Walpole.