Ross, David (DNB00)

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ROSS, DAVID (1728–1790), actor, the son of a writer to the signet in Edinburgh, who settled in London in 1722 as a solicitor of appeals, was born in London on 1 May 1728. He was educated at Westminster School, and some indiscretion committed there when he was thirteen years old lost him the affection, never regained, of his father, who, in his will, left instructions to Elizabeth Ross to pay her brother annually, on his birthday, the sum of 1s. ‘to put him in mind of his misfortune he had to be born.’ Against this will Ross appealed in 1769, and, after carrying the case to the House of Lords, obtained near 6,000l. How he lived after his father's abandonment is not known. He played Clerimont in the ‘Miser’ at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, on 8 May 1749, and remained there two seasons longer. Engaged with Mossop by Garrick, he made his first appearance at Drury Lane on 3 Oct. 1751 as Young Bevil in the ‘Conscious Lovers.’ The part suited him: ‘His person was pleasing, and his address easy, his manner of speaking natural, his action well adapted to the gravity as well as grace of the character. He was approved by a polite and distinguishing audience, who seemed to congratulate themselves on seeing an actor whom they imagined capable of restoring to the stage the long-lost character of the real fine gentleman’ (Davies, Life of Garrick, i. 195, ed. 1808). He sprang into immediate favour, and is said, with Mossop, to have inspired some jealousy in Garrick [see Mossop, Henry]. Castalio in the ‘Orphan,’ Carlos in the ‘Revenge,’ Shore in ‘Jane Shore,’ Dumont, Lord Townly in the ‘Provoked Husband,’ Altamont in the ‘Fair Penitent,’ Young Knowell in ‘Every Man in his Humour,’ George Barnwell in the ‘London Merchant,’ Palamede in the ‘Comical Lovers,’ Romeo, and Essex in the ‘Unhappy Favourite’ were played in the first season by Ross, who, on 31 March 1752, recited a eulogium of Shakespeare by Dryden, concluding with Milton's ‘Epitaph to the Memory of Shakespeare.’ Buckingham in ‘Henry VIII,’ Banquo, First Spirit in ‘Comus,’ Constant in the ‘Provoked Wife,’ and Charles in the ‘Nonjuror’ were given in the following season. On 10 Oct. 1753 he appeared as Oroonoko, playing subsequently Moneses in ‘Tamerlane’ and Dorimant in the ‘Man of the Mode.’ On 25 Feb. 1754 he was the original Icilius in Crisp's tragedy of ‘Virginia.’ In the season of 1754–5 he added to his repertory Carlos in ‘Love makes a Man,’ Pyrrhus in the ‘Distressed Mother,’ Hippolytus in ‘Phædra and Hippolytus,’ Osman in ‘Zara,’ Macduff, Valentine in ‘Love for Love,’ and Edgar in ‘Lear.’ On 27 Feb. 1756 he was the original Egbert in Dr. Brown's ‘Athelstan.’ He also played Plume in the ‘Recruiting Officer,’ Charles in the ‘Busy Body,’ Juba in ‘Cato,’ Jupiter in ‘Amphitryon,’ Torrismond in the ‘Spanish Friar,’ and Frankly in the ‘Suspicious Husband.’

On 3 Oct. 1757 he made, in his favourite character of Essex, his first appearance at Covent Garden. Here he remained until 1767, playing leading parts in tragedy and comedy, the most conspicuous being Othello, Diocles in the ‘Prophetess,’ Hamlet, Archer in the ‘Beaux' Stratagem,’ Alexander, Leonatus, Macheath, Sir Charles Easy in the ‘Careless Husband,’ Norval, Tancred in ‘Tancred and Sigismunda,’ Ford in ‘Merry Wives of Windsor,’ Don Felix in the ‘Wonder,’ Jaffier in ‘Venice Preserved,’ Macbeth, Tamerlane, Prince of Wales in the ‘Second Part of King Henry IV,’ King John, Lord Hardy in the ‘Funeral,’ Oakly in the ‘Jealous Wife,’ Bertram in ‘All's well that ends well,’ Loveless in ‘Love's Last Shift,’ Worthy in the ‘Relapse,’ Lear, Fainall in the ‘Way of the World,’ Mark Antony in ‘Julius Cæsar,’ Comus, Horatio in the ‘Fair Penitent,’ Cato, and Antonio in the ‘Merchant of Venice.’ Few original parts were assigned him at Covent Garden. The principal were Sifroy in Dodsley's ‘Cleona’ on 2 Dec. 1758, Lord Belmont in the ‘Double Mistake’ of Mrs. Griffith on 9 Jan. 1766, and Don Henriquez in Hull's ‘Perplexities,’ altered from the ‘Adventures of Five Hours’ of Sir Samuel Tuke, on 31 Jan. 1767. At the end of the season of 1766–7 he left Covent Garden for Edinburgh. In 1767, after popular tumult and violent opposition, a patent was obtained for a theatre at Edinburgh. Ross solicited the post of patentee and manager, and, although he was personally unknown in Edinburgh, the theatre was made over to him in the autumn of 1767. He is said to have paid a rental of 400l. a year. A strong and influential opposition to Ross as ‘an improper person’ originated, and led to a paper warfare, in which Ross, on account of his heaviness, was derided as Mr. Opium. He nevertheless opened the ‘old’ theatre in the Canongate on 9 Dec. 1767, playing Essex in the ‘Earl of Essex,’ which is noteworthy as being the first play legally performed in Scotland. Ross also recited a prologue by James Boswell, and he played the leading business through what, though it began unhappily, proved a prosperous season. Two years later, on 9 Dec. 1769, he opened, with the ‘Conscious Lovers,’ a new theatre at Edinburgh. He had succeeded, in spite of innumerable difficulties (including an indignant protest from Whitefield, part of whose former preaching ground was covered by the new edifice), in raising the building by subscription, but seems to have had inadequate capital to work it. At the close of a disastrous season he let it to Samuel Foote [q. v.], and returned to London. At the time of his death the ‘Scots Magazine’ described him as still holding the titular office of ‘Master of the Revels for Scotland’ (Notes and Queries, 8th ser. vols. viii. and ix. passim).

On 10 Oct. 1770 Ross reappeared at Covent Garden as Essex, this being announced as his first appearance for four years, and resumed at once his old characters. After a season or two, during which he was seen as Sciolto and Alcanor in ‘Mahomet,’ his name became infrequent on the bill. After the season of 1777–8 he had the misfortune to break his leg, and he did not reappear on the stage. He was for some years in extreme poverty. An unknown friend, subsequently discovered to be Admiral Samuel Barrington [q. v.], made him an annual present of 60l., which was continued until his death. He died in London on 14 Sept. 1790, and was buried three days later in St. James's, Piccadilly, James Boswell being chief mourner. He is said, at the instance of Lord Sp[ence]r, to have married, with an allowance of 200l. a year, the celebrated Fanny Murray, who ‘had been debauched’ by Lord Spencer's father.

He was a good actor, his great success being ‘in tragic characters of the mixed passions.’ He was, in his youth, a fashionable exponent of lovers in genteel comedy, but forfeited those characters through indolence and love of pleasure. His best parts seem to have been Castalio, Essex, Young Knowell, and George Barnwell. During many successive years he received on his benefit ten guineas as a tribute from one who had been saved from ruin by his performance of the last-named character. He was said to be the last pupil of Quin, whose Falstaffian qualities he perpetuated. Churchill, referring to the indolent habits of Ross, writes:

    Ross (a misfortune which we often meet)
    Was fast asleep at dear Statira's feet.

His extravagance kept him in constant trouble. He was a good story-teller and boon companion, and made many influential friends in Scotland and in England.

A portrait of Ross, as Hamlet, by Zoffany, and one by an unknown painter, as Kitely, are in the Mathews collection in the Garrick Club. One, by Roberts, as Essex, has been engraved.

[Genest's Account of the English Stage; J. C. Dibdin's Edinburgh Stage; Dibdin's History of the English Stage; Davies's Life of Garrick and Dramatic Miscellanies; Life of Garrick, by present writer, 1894; Georgian Era; Theatrical Review; Theatrical Biography, 1772; Gent. Mag. September 1790; Garrick Correspondence; Bernard's Retrospections of the Stage.]

J. K.