Quin, Walter (c.1575–1640), writer and royal tutor, was born into a Dublin merchant family. In 1590 he joined the law faculty of the Jesuit University of Ingolstadt where he moved in recusant circles and where his literary aspirations were noted. That year he contributed Latin verse to a volume in praise of the university chancellor, Martin von Schaumberg, prince-bishop of Eichstätt. The following year he provided a Latin epigram for a volume celebrating the generosity of a benefactor of the university library, Johann Egolf von Knöringen, the fiercely anti-protestant bishop of Augsburg. In 1600 he enrolled for the postgraduate study of theology in St Mary's College at the University of St Andrews. The reason for his move from a catholic to a Calvinist institution can only be guessed at. He was subsequently a member of the Church of England and his writings make very little mention of religious issues.
In 1595 Quin appeared at the court of James VI of Scotland where his poetry made a favourable impression on the king whose succession to the throne of Elizabeth I it supported. His first manuscript collection of poetry, Anagrammata in nomen Jacobi sexti (1595) (Anagrams on the name of James VI), comprises anagrams and sonnets in English, Latin, French and Italian along with a French verse dialogue. Both the multilingualism and the pro-Stuart nature of the collection became hallmarks of Quin's work and are also to be seen in his first printed collection, Sertum poeticum in honorem Jacobi sexti (1600) (A garland of poems in honour of James VI), which returned to the question of the king's succession and celebrated the monarch's escape from the so-called 'Gowrie conspiracy' of 1600. The title page of this work proclaimed that its author was a Dubliner and part of its appeal to James may have lain in an Irishman's support for the king's aspiration for a united kingdom of England, Scotland and Ireland.
As a reward for his politically useful literary work, James appointed Quin as a tutor of his son Prince Henry and Quin moved to London with the prince's household after James was crowned king of England. When Henry died, Quin contributed half of the content to Josuah Sylvester's mourning volume Lachrimae lachrimarum or the distillation of tears shed for the untimely death of the incomparable Prince Panaretus (1612). Unlike Sylvester, Quin did not lose his employment as he was appointed as a tutor to Prince Charles for whom he wrote his most popular work, Corona virtutum (1613) (A crown of virtues). This work – which was reprinted twice in London was also issued in the Netherlands, Germany and France – was in keeping with Quin's educational responsibilities as it was a florilegium of classical writing about the virtues befitting a good ruler along with the biographies of two worthy emperors, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. Corona virtutum reflects the neo-stoicism popular at the time that is to be found elsewhere in Quin's work.
Quin celebrated important moments in Charles's life such as his creation as prince of Wales. His manuscript verse on this occasion was considered by Quin to be too slight to print, so it appeared in his historical poem The memory of the most worthy and renowned Bernard Stuart in 1619. The main part of the text consists of about 1,200 lines of verse recounting the deeds of Bérault Stuart of Aubigny (1452/3–1508), a scion of a Scottish family who was one of the most important French generals in the Italian wars of 1494–1502. Quin pointed out that while Stuart had been largely ignored in Scotland, he was celebrated in continental histories (from which Quin provided substantial prose excerpts in support of the historical accuracy of his poem). The new king's marriage to Henrietta Maria was marked by Quin's In nuptiis principium incomparabilium (1625) (On the marriage of the incomparable prince) which was based on the conceit of the conjoining of the rose of England and the lily of France. The queen also received a presentation manuscript recounting the wit and sagacity of her father, Henri IV: Recueil des reparties, rencontres et autres dits mémorables du roi Henri le grand (1625) (A collection of retorts, bons mots and other memorable sayings of King Henry the Great).
Quin's income as a tutor was supplemented by royal grants. Prince Henry appointed him examiner of the exchequer court at Chester, but most of the business that Quin conducted outside of his pedagogical and literary work was connected with Ireland where he acquired the revenues of the former monastery of St John the Baptist in Waterford and the exclusive licence for the manufacture of tobacco pipes. These affairs were not always successful and a proposal to export 200,000 sheepskins annually from Ireland was rejected by the privy council in 1623. His continued contact with his Irish family is attested by a petition to Charles I for the release of his cousin Peter Quin, a Dublin merchant who had been arrested at Liverpool for the importation of forbidden books.
Most of Quin's extant writing is directly connected with the praise of his patrons, the Stuarts. He did, however, produce verse for fellow writers and for members of the court. Quin's emergence as a writer in Edinburgh is marked by his connection to Scottish poets. In 1601 he wrote an epithalamium for Sir William Alexander of Menstrie, for whose The tragedy of Darius (1603) he provided a commendatory verse. Sir William reciprocated with a poem in praise of Quin's Bernard Stuart. Other Scottish poets who wrote in support of Quin were John Dunbar (c.1585–1626) and Dr Arthur Johnston (c.1597–1641). Along with Ben Jonson, Quin provided a dedicatory verse to the Lessons for 1, 2 and 3 viols (1609) by the court musician Alfonso Ferrabosco II. His position in the writers around Prince Henry can be seen in his participation in the lengthy literary joke that was the collection of laudatory verses prefaced to Thomas Coryate's Crudities (1611). Later, Quin penned commendatory poems for Sir John Stradling's Beati pacifici (1623) and Thomas Herbert's Some years' travels (1683).
Quin is one of the earliest Irish writers of modern English and the beginning of his career with the Stuarts depended in part on this fact. Other Irish writers of his time such as Gerald Fitzgerald, Lord Offaly (1559–80) and Richard Burke, earl of Clanricard (1572–1635) have left a single poem behind them. The volume of Quin's work is matched by that of one of his acquaintances, Richard Stanihurst (qv), but by few if any other contemporary Irish writers. As such, he is one of the major figures of early modern Irish letters, although Scotland and England can lay an equal claim on him. Despite his focus on the Stuarts, his writings were diverse, not only in the languages they employed, but in their subject matter which included political, occasional, dedicatory, historical and neo-stoic material that engaged him in controversies involving Edmund Spenser (qv), the ambassadors of Elizabeth I, the Gowrie conspiracy, and the popularity of Charles I's French bride. An accomplished linguist, Quin was for the most part a competent rather than a brilliant writer. His anagrams, fashionable at the time, strike one as more ingenious than brilliant now and he is unlikely to displace canonical authors he knew such as Jonson and Donne. At the same time his life and work yield insights into the role of a professional writer at the Stuart court, manuscript circulation, literary fashions, and the intersection of literature and politics that secures him a position independent of his particular connection to Ireland.
Quin married (30 August 1612) Ann Leigh, another member of the royal household. They had two daughters, Mary and Lucy, and three sons, James, Walter and John. Walter Quin died in 1640 at which time his address was given as St Martin in the Fields in Middlesex. His royal service was valued enough for his widowed daughter-in-law to draw a pension from the crown after the Restoration.