Ross, Alexander (1699-1784) (DNB00)
ROSS, ALEXANDER (1699–1784), Scottish poet, born on 13 April 1699 in the parish of Kincardine O'Neil, Aberdeenshire, was the son of a farmer, Andrew Ross. After four years' study at the parochial school under Peter Reid, Ross obtained a bursary at Marischal College in November 1714, and in 1718 he graduated M.A. For some time afterwards he was tutor to the family of Sir William Forbes of Craigievar and Fintray, who promised him his help if he went into the church. Ross did not, however, feel himself worthy of the office of a clergyman, and on leaving Sir William Forbes's family he taught in the schools at Aboyne and Laurencekirk. In 1726 he married Jane, daughter of Charles Catanach, a farmer in the parish of Logie-Coldstone. Though a Roman catholic, she allowed all her children to be brought up as protestants.
In 1732, by the help of Alexander Garden of Troup, Ross obtained the position of schoolmaster at Lochlee, Angus, where he spent the remainder of his life. His income did not exceed 20l. a year, but he had also a glebe. Besides being schoolmaster, he was session-clerk, precentor, and notary public; and, in spite of difficulties of which he complains, he made many interesting notes of parish incidents in the Lochlee registers (Jervise, Land of the Lindsays, 1882, p. 76).
Throughout his life Ross was fond of writing verse for his own amusement; and at length he placed in the hands of Dr. Beattie, whose father he had known at Laurencekirk, a number of manuscripts, of some of which copies had been widely circulated, chiefly on religious subjects. Beattie, who compares him to Sir Richard Blackmore for voluminousness, describes him as ‘a good-humoured, social, happy old man, modest without clownishness, and lively without petulance’ (Forbes, Life of Beattie, i. 119). The poems which Beattie recommended for publication were ‘The Fortunate Shepherdess,’ a pastoral tale in three cantos, and a few songs, including ‘The Rock and the wee Pickle Tow’ and ‘Woo'd and married and a',’ and these appeared at Aberdeen in 1768, by subscription. Ross obtained about 20l. profit from the book, a much larger sum than he had hoped for. Beattie contributed to the volume some verses to Ross in the Scottish dialect, and wrote a letter in the ‘Aberdeen Journal’ to draw notice to the book.
Ten years passed before a second edition of ‘The Fortunate Shepherdess’ was called for. Ross carefully revised the poem; and while it was going through the press Beattie sent the author an invitation from the Duke and Duchess of Gordon to visit them at Gordon Castle. The poet, now eighty years old, accepted the invitation, and dedicated his new edition to the duchess, who gave him, at the conclusion of his visit, a pocket-book containing fifteen guineas. The Earl of Northesk, the Earl of Panmure, and other distinguished persons visited Ross when in the neighbourhood. His wife died on 5 May 1779, aged 77. Ross, tended by his second daughter, a widow, lived till 20 May 1784. He was buried at Lochlee on 26 May. Two sons had died young; four daughters survived him.
Burns wrote, ‘Our true brother Ross of Lochlee was a wild warlock,’ one of the ‘suns of the morning;’ and he said that he would not for anything that ‘The Fortunate Shepherdess’ should be lost. Dr. Blacklock and John Pinkerton were loud in their praise, and the poem was for many years, and indeed is still, very popular in the north of Scotland. The Buchan dialect in which it is written will repel readers of the south; and the text of most editions, including that edited in 1812 by Ross's grandson—the Rev. Alexander Thomson of Lenthrathan—is very corrupt. The poem abounds in weak lines, and the plot is not very happy. But though the whole is very inferior to its model—Allan Ramsay's ‘Gentle Shepherd’—it contains pleasant descriptions of country life and scenery. The best edition is that of 1866, entitled ‘Helenore,’ with introductory matter by John Longmuir, LL.D. There are several chapbook versions of Ross's work; the Dundee edition of 1812 was the eighth in number.
Ross left several manuscript volumes of verse, several of which seem to be of merit. They include ‘The Fortunate Shepherd, or the Orphan,’ in heroic couplets; ‘A Dream, in imitation of the Cherry and Slae,’ 1753; ‘Religious Dialogues,’ 1754; a translation of Andrew Ramsey's ‘Creation;’ ‘The Shaver,’ a dramatic piece; and a prose ‘Dialogue of the Right of Government among the Scots.’[Lives in Longmuir's edition, 1866, and Thomson's, 1812; Chambers's Biogr. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Campbell's ‘Introduction to the History of Poetry in Scotland,’ pp. 272–284; Jervise's Epitaphs and Inscriptions in the North-East of Scotland, i. 127, 281, 289.]