Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ross, John (1719-1792)

ROSS or ROSSE, JOHN (1719–1792), bishop of Exeter, born at Ross in Herefordshire, on 24 or 25 June 1719, was the only son of John Rosse, attorney in that town. So late as 1749 Gray spelt the name as 'Rosse.' He was educated at the grammar school, Hereford, was admitted a pensioner at St. John's College, Cambridge (April 1737), and on the following 22 June became a Somerset scholar of the third foundation at his college. He graduated B.A. 1740-1, M.A. 1744, B.D. 1751, D.D. 1756, and on 10 July 1744 was incorporated at Oxford. From March 1743-4 to 1770 he held a fellowship at St. John's, and down to 1768 he discharged a variety of college duties.

In 1757 Ross was appointed to the preachership at the Rolls (although Hurd was a competitor and received the strong support of Warburton and Charles Yorke), and in the same year became a king's chaplain. Lord Weymouth, who had been one of his private pupils, bestowed upon him in 1760 the valuable benefice of Frome, Somerset, and he retained it until his death; he further received in March 1769 the twelfth canonry in Durham Cathedral. He was consecrated on 25 Jan. 1778 as bishop of Exeter, and held with the bishopric, as was the case with many successive occupants of the see, the archdeaconry of Exeter, a prebendal stall in the cathedral, and the rectory of Shobrooke in Devonshire. He also retained the vicarage of Frome, but resigned the canonry at Durham. Though the see of Exeter was meanly endowed, he had the good fortune to receive 8,000l. for adding two lives on a lease at Cargoll (Polwhele, Biogr. Sketches, iii. 157; cf. Curwen, Journals, pp. 162, 170).

Ross personally examined all candidates for deacon's orders, and was very hospitable; his conversation abounded in pleasant anecdotes and apt literary references.

He disapproved of the introduction of Sunday schools (Polwhele, Reminiscences, i. 138-42), but in a sermon before the House of Lords on 30 Jan. 1779 he advocated an extension of toleration to the dissenters (Hore, Church of England, i. 435-6). John Wesley attended divine service in Exeter Cathedral on Sunday, 18 Aug. 1772, and was much pleased with it. The bishop thereupon asked him to dinner (an invitation which was censured by some), and the guest was delighted with 'the dinner, sufficient but not redundant, plain and good, but not delicate,' and with his host's 'genuine unaffected courtesy' (Journal, iv. 227; Nichols, Lit. Anecd. v. 230-1). Dr. Oliver says of him: 'This learned member of the Royal Society'—he was elected F.R.S. on 23 Feb. 1758—'was as modest as he was learned' (Bishops of Exeter, p. 164). Peter Pindar acknowledged Ross to be 'a man of sense, honest and just,' but sneered at him for pleading poverty when George III visited Exeter, for foisting the king on the hospitality of Dean Buller, and for hoarding his pence for the sake of 'Old Weymouth of Longleat,' his early patron (Wolcot, Works, 1812 edit. i. 264-5/iii. 470-2). For some time before his death his faculties were greatly impaired. He died at the palace, Exeter, on 14 Aug. 1792, and was buried on 18 Aug. in the south aisle of the choir, the place being marked by a flat tombstone and the inscription 'J. R., D.D., 1792.' A tablet in the same aisle bears a longer inscription (cf. Gent. Mag. 1783, p. 428). The bishop, after providing liberally for his servants and giving the greater part of his library to the chapter of Exeter, left his fortune to Miss Eliza Maria Garway, a distant relative; she was stepdaughter of Samuel Collett of Worcester, and afterwards married Sir Nigel Bowyer Gresley of Drakelow, Derbyshire (Betham, Baronetage, i. 97).

When Markland, who was unduly sceptical as a critic, brought out a volume of 'Remarks on the Epistles of Cicero to Brutus,' and added thereto 'a Dissertation upon Four Orations ascribed to Cicero' (which are included in most editions of Cicero), Ross published an ironical 'Dissertation in which the Defence of P. Sulla ascribed to Cicero is clearly proved to be spurious after the manner of Mr. Markland.' Gray described Ross's effort as ingenious, although the irony was 'not quite transparent' (Letters of Gray and Mason, ed. Mitford, p. 204). Ross edited in 1749, with numerous notes, a competent edition of the letters of Cicero 'ad familiares.' He was the author of several single sermons, and revised Polwhele's 'English Orator' (Polwhele, Traditions, i. 158-9). He patronised George Ashby (1724-1808) [q. v.] (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. i. 577, ii. 186-9).

A poor half-length portrait of Ross is in the hall at the palace, Exeter.

[Baker's St. John's College, Cambr. ed. Mayor, i. 306, 308, 330, 337, ii. 706, 715, 726-8; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. xii. 9, 117; Gray's Works, ed. Gosse, iii. 32, 161, 335-8; Nichols's Lit. Illustrations, vi. 689, 759; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. vi. 477, ix. 487; Mrs. Delany's Autobiography, vol. vi. passim; Gent. Mag. 1792, ii. 774, 864; information from Mr. Arthur Burch of Exeter.]

W. P. C.