Robert Allen Rutland
hen looking for adventure in postwar Europe during the 1950s, most Fulbright professors sought out museums, theatrical districts, or national landmarks. But when David Herbert Donald, a bespectacled, slightly built scholar, took time off from his duties at the University of North Wales in 1953-—1954, he preferred whizzing about the Welsh countryside, Cornwall, and Devonshire on a noisy used motorcycle. His second book was out, he was a footloose bachelor, and the narrow roads were an irresistible challenge.
With the motorcycle venture out of his system, Donald moved comfortably into American academic life for the next four decades, before finally slowing down a bit after his seventy-fourth birthday and the publication of his biography, Lincoln, in 1995. By then Donald had taught at Smith, Princeton, Oxford, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Harvard; had trained dozens of graduate students; and among many honors had twice won the Pulitzer Prize in Biography.
From his first days as a student at Millsaps College, Donald seemed to have definite ideas about where his future lay. Born on October 1, 1920, on what was once called a plantation in the environs of Goodman, Mississippi, Donald earned his bachelor's degree in the spring of 1941. He read obsessively, admired Thomas Wolfe as a companion soul, and has told friends that he burned the midnight oil repeatedly as he pored over the works of Reinhold Niebuhr to reaffirm his deep roots in Christianity. Some of his college friends headed for the ministry, but Donald looked in another direction. History appealed to him, and the next logical step was graduate training that would prepare him for a career in college teaching.
After a brief stint as a graduate student at the University of Illinois, he transferred to the University of North Carolina, but he was soon back at Illinois, where he became a teaching assistant and graduate student work