Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ross, John Wilson

ROSS, JOHN WILSON (1818–1887), author, born in 1818 at Belmont, St. Vincent, was a son of John Pemberton Ross, solicitor-general and speaker of the House of Assembly of that island, by his wife, only daughter of Alexander Anderson the botanist [q. v.] He was educated in England, at King's College, London. During his early years he lived in British Guiana, where he acted as secretary to the vendue-master of Berbice. On returning to England he engaged in literary work. He edited the second and third series (1860–1863) of the ‘Universal Decorator,’ writing for it memoirs of eminent decorators, and to a similar periodical, entitled ‘Paper and Print,’ contributed a series of lives of French and Flemish printers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1871 an article from his pen, under the title ‘The Doctrine of the Chorizontes’ (i.e. those who ‘separate’ the authorship of the ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’), appeared in the ‘Edinburgh Review.’ Its object was to show that the ‘Odyssey’ was composed at least three centuries later than the ‘Iliad.’

Ross's first separate publication was ‘Ninian,’ a poem in three cantos, published at Edinburgh in 1839. In 1846 he produced a translation of Paul Féval's ‘Les Amours de Paris.’ In 1869 he published anonymously a pamphlet full of curious learning, but defective logical power, called ‘The Biblical Prophecy of the Burning of the World: an Attempt to fix [in 6000 A.D.] the date of the coming Fire that is to destroy us all.’ Ross's chief work, ‘Tacitus and Bracciolini: the Annals forged in the Fifteenth Century’ (1878, 8vo), combines considerable acumen with somewhat defective scholarship. Dedicated to the author's brother, Sir Robert Dalrymple Ross [q. v.], the book endeavours to show that Poggio Bracciolini forged the ‘Annales’ of Tacitus for Cosmo de' Medici on the suggestion of Piero Lamberteschi. The theory is based partly upon the long-noticed contrast in style between the ‘Annals’ and the ‘Histories’ and upon alleged solecisms in the former, but mainly on forced interpretations of somewhat mysterious episodes in the life of Poggio. In a digressional note Ross elaborately defends the Rowleian authorship of the Chatterton poems. Ross, who wrote also much in popular magazines, died at his house in Holborn on 27 May 1887.

[Times, 1 June 1887; Athenæum, 4 June; Men of the Time, 11th ed.; Ross's Works; Allibone's Dict. Engl. Lit. Suppl. ii. 1298; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. Le G. N.