Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ross, Alexander (1590-1654)

ROSS, ALEXANDER (1590–1654), miscellaneous writer, was born at Aberdeen in 1590, and seems to have entered King's College, Aberdeen, in 1604 (Fasti Aberdonenses, Spalding Club, 1854, p. 450). In 1641 he said he had studied divinity thirty-six years. About 1616 he succeeded Thomas Parker in the mastership of the free school at Southampton (Wood, Athenae Oxon. ed. Bliss, ii. 241), an appointment which he owed to Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford. By 1622 he had been appointed, through Laud's influence, one of Charles I's chaplains, and in that year appeared 'The First and Second Book of Questions and Answers upon the Book of Genesis, by Alexander Ross of Aberdeen, preacher at St. Mary's, near Southampton, and one of his Majesty's Chaplains.' In the dedication of 'Mel Heliconium' (1642) to William, marquis of Hertford, Ross spoke of that nobleman's grandfather as 'the true Maecenas of my young Muse whilst he lived.' In the same year, in the preface to a sermon, 'God's House made a den of thieves,' preached at Southampton, he said he had spent almost twenty-six years there, diligently and inoffensively, and was now about to depart from them. He was made vicar of Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight, by Charles I, being the last vicar presented before the patronage passed to Queen's College, Oxford (Woodward, History of Hampshire, ii. 360). In 'Pansebeia, or a View of all Religions in the World … together with a discovery of all known Heresies ' (7 June 1653), Ross gave a list of his books, past and to come. He died in 1654 at Bramshill, where he was living with Sir Andrew Henley, and in the neighbouring Eversley church there are two tablets to his memory, one on the chancel wall, and one on the floor over the grave, with a punning inscription by himself, for which he left directions in his will (P. C. C., 93 Alchin), made on 21 Feb. 1653-4. Ross left to the town of Southampton o2L, the interest to go to the schoolmaster. The interest of 50l. was to go to the poor householders of All Saints' parish, Southampton, and 25/. was left to the parish of Carisbrooke for the poor. The senate of Aberdeen University received 200l. for the maintenance of two poor scholars, and 50l. for two poor men in the hospital. Besides small legacies, 100l. was left to each of his brother George's four daughters, and 700l. to his nephew, William Ross, to be laid out on Suffield Farm. The university libraries at Oxford and Cambridge received legacies, and Ross's books were left to his friend Henley, who was an executor and guardian to the nephew, William Ross. Ross wished his sermons and manuscripts to be printed. Echard says he died very rich. In the library at Bramshill the executor is said to have found, mostly between the pages of the books, 1,000l. in gold (Wood, Athenae Oxon. ii. 241).

Among Ross's friends and patrons were Lord Rockingham, the Earl of Thanet, the Earl of Arundel and Surrey, and John Evelyn, who twice mentions the old 'historian and poet ' (Diary, 11 July 1649, 1 Feb. 1652-3). Two of his letters are in Evelyn's ' Correspondence ' (iii. 56-7); and his correspondence with Henry Oxenden [q. v.], in English and Latin, is in the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 28001, 28003, 28009). Portraits of Ross are prefixed to several of his books. One by P. Lombart, taken at the age of sixty-three, is in 'Pansebeia, or a View of all Religions,' 1653; another, a whole length, is in the 'Muses' Interpreter,' 1647; and a third, by J. Goddard, in the 'Continuation of Raleigh's History,' fol. 1652.

Ross wrote many books, mostly very small, in English and Latin. His favourite subjects were theology, history, and philosophy, and he produced a considerable amount of verse. He is now remembered best by Butler's couplet (Hudibras, pt. i. canto ii.):

There was an ancient sage philosopher
That had read Alexander Ross over.

In the preface to the 'History of the World,' Ross said that, from his youth up, he had been 'more conversant among the dead than the living.' Unfortunately for himself, he was wont to pit himself against greater writers, including Sir Thomas Browne, Sir Kenelm Digby, Hobbs, and Dr. Hervey; and he often indulged in scurrility in his arguments. His most ambitious work, 'The History of the World,' the second part, in six books, being a continuation of Sir Walter Raleigh's 'History of the World,' 1652, fol., inevitably invited comparison, not to Ross's advantage, with Raleigh's book.

Ross's works not already described were: 1. 'Rerum Judaicarum Memorabilium libri tres,' 1617-19, 12mo. 2. 'Tonsor ad cutem rasam,' 1627, 8vo. 3. 'Three Decades of Divine Meditations, whereof each one containeth three parts, (1) History, (2) an Allegory, (3) a Prayer. With a commendation of the private Country Life,' 1630, 12mo. 4. 'Rerum Judaicarum Memorabilium libri quatuor,' 1632, 4to. 5. 'Commentum de Terrsa Motu Circulari,' 1634, 4to. 6. 'Virgilius Evangelizans ' (Christ's history in Virgil's words), 1634, 8vo; Lauder accused Milton of plagiarising from this book. 7. 'Poemata' (in Johnston's 'Deliciae Poetarum Scotorum'), 1637, 12mo. 8. 'Mel Heliconium, or Poetical Honey gathered out of the Weeds of Parnassus; with Meditations in Verse,' 1642, 12mo. 9. 'The Philosophical Touchstone, or Observations upon Sir Kenelm Digby's Discourses,' 27 June 1645, 4to. 10. 'Medicus Medicatus,' 1645, 12mo. 11. 'A Centurie of Divine Meditations upon Predestination and its Adjuncts,' 1646, 12mo. 12. 'The Picture of the Conscience drawn to the Life,' 20 Oct. 1646, 12mo. 13. 'Colloquia Plautina Viginti,' 1646, 12mo. 14. 'The New Planet no Planet,' 1646-7, 4to. 15. 'Gnomologicon Poeticum,' 1647, 12mo. 16. 'Mystagogus Poeticus, or the Muses' Interpreter,' 1647, 8vo. 17. 'Isagoge Grammatica,' 1648, 12mo. 18. 'The Alcoran of Mahomet translated (from the French version of André du Ryer, 1649) ... [at end] A needful Caveat or Admonition,' by Ross, 1649, 4to. 19. Wollebius's Abridgment of Christian Divinity, translated by Ross, and enlarged, 1650, 8vo. 20. 'Morellus's Enchiridion duplex. Hoc ab A. Rossseo . . . concinnatum,' &c., 1650, 8vo. 21. 'The Marrow of History, or an Epitome of Sir Walter Raleigh,' 1650, 12mo. 22. 'Arcana Microcosmi, or the hid Secrets of Man's Body; with a Refutation of Dr. Browne's Vulgar Errors,' 3 June 1651, 12mo; enlarged edit., with replies to Hervey, Bacon, &c., 31 May, 1652, 8vo. 23. 'Leviathan drawn out with a Hook,' 26 Jan. 1653, 12mo. 24. 'Animadversions on Sir Walter Raleigh's "History,"' (1653), 12mo. 25. 'Pansebeia, or a View of all Religions in the World . . . together with a Discovery of all known Heresies,' 7 June 1653; often reprinted. 26. 'Huish's Florilegium Phrasicon, or a Survey of the Latin Tongue,' enlarged by Ross, 1659, 8vo. 27. 'Virgilius Triumphans,' Rotterdam, 1661, 12mo, with dedication to Charles II by Ross's brother, George Ross. The exact dates of publication are often given in the copies in the British Museum.

The author is sometimes confused with Alexander Ross, D.D. (d. 1639), an episcopal minister at Aberdeen.

[Authorities cited; James Bruce's Lives of Eminent Men of Aberdeen, 1841, pp. 225-51; Lowndes's Bibl. Man.; Granger's Biogr. Hist.; Park's Censura Literaria, vol. iv.; Thomson's Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. viii. 344, x. 112.]

G. A. A.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.239
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
251 i 41 Ross, Alexander (1590-1654): for (1590 read (1591
42-43 for in 1590 read on 1 Jan. 1590-1 (Sloane MS. 955, f. 192)
252 i 18 for Hobbs and Dr. Hervey read Hobbes and Dr. Harvey
ii 10 for Hervey read Dr. William Harvey