North American Scholar

ROSS, James

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1744-05-18
  • Born City: New Oxford (Chester Co.)
  • Born State/Country: PA
  • Parents: William R. & wife.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1827-07-06
  • Death City: Philadelphia
  • Death State/Country: PA
  • Married: Catharine Irvine.
  • Education:

    Study at Princeton, 1766; A.M. (ad eundem), 1818; M.A. Coll. Philadelphia (later U. Pennsylvania), 1755.

  • Professional Experience:

    Tchr. & princ. Ross' class, sch. (Philadelphia), 1755-76; instr. Coll. Philadelphia, 1775-80; princ. gramm. sch. Carlisle, PA, 1780-4; prof. Gk. & Lat. & librarian Dickinson Coll., 1784-92; princ. Franklin Acad. (Chambersburg, PA), 1792-1802; princ. Franklin (later Franklin & Marshall) Coll., 1802-9; writing & private tutoring, Philadelphia, 1809-27.

  • Publications:

    Selectae e Profanis Scriptoribus Historiae (Philadelphia, 1787); A Practical New Vocabulary, Latin and English (Chambersburg, PA, 1789); A Latin Grammar, eds. I-X (Chambersburg & Philadelphia, 1796-1845); Catechismus Westmonasteriensis (Philadelphia, 1807); Davys's Exempla (Philadelphia, 1809); Erasmi Colloquia Famil-iaria, (Philadelphia, 1810); Selectae e Veteri Testamento . . . Historiae (Philadelphia, 1812); Fabulae Aesopi (Philadelphia, 1814); Graecae Gram-maticae Westmonasteriensis Institutio Compendaria (Philadelphia, 1813; 2d ed., 1817); Corderii Colloquia (Philadelphia, 1818); Onomasia Philadel-phiensis (Philadelphia, 1822); Victoria Neo-Americana (Philadelphia, 1822).

  • Notes:

    James Ross was one of the outstanding teachers of Latin in the Revolutionary period and the author of a Latin grammar standard in the early days of the Republic.After attending Princeton (there is no firm evidence that he graduated) and teaching in Philadelphia before and during the Revolutionary War, he moved 100 miles inland to Carlisle, PA, to become principal of the grammar school there, leaving to become the first professor of languages at the new Dickinson College, one of a staff of four. Together with the president and professor of theology, Charles Nisbet, he established Dickinson as a pillar of Scottish classical liberal arts, quite ignoring the more practical curriculum proposed by Benjamin Rush for his frontier brainchild.Within eight years, however, the college had already become too established for this rather restless and even lonely soul and he established a "classical school" in 1794 in Chambersburg, some 30 miles down the valley. There he developed his celebrated Latin Grammar, inspired by Eton's, and destined to run into some ten editions, including, a half generation after the author's death and a half century after its first edition, reprints with just a hint of the new German philology. The Grammar featured popular mnemonics: "Feminines seldom found in the singular" arranged in Sapphics for memorization (and singing?); hexameter verses of (for example) common gender nouns, aptotes and masculines in io; and numerous rules in Ross's own English rhymed couplets.Ross required spoken Latin of all his advanced students and wrote his Greek Grammar in Latin. To develop good Latin conversationalists, he provided his students with new editions of the Colloquies of Erasmus and of Calvin's teacher, Cordier. These supplemented his edition of Davys's Exempla. From the first he fed the student's love of good narrative, with his Selectae e Profanis Scriptoribus Historiae, his Old Testament stories, and his Latin Aesop. For building a neo-Latin vocabulary he provided his Onomasia Philadelphiensis and his Victoria Neo-Americana. Ross' own odes in honor of Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans (1815, addressed to President Jefferson) and of Lafayette's return visit in 1824-25 were celebrated in their day. His funeral ode to Charles Nisbet (1804) is as good as most modern elegiacs. Ross produced a considerable folklore. His linguistic ability was never matched by mathematical skills; it was said to be an effort for him to count out the right change at the market. Philadelphia Presbyterians were used to seeing him in the gallery of First Church with his array of Hebrew and Greek texts, following the Sabbath readings in the original.

  • Sources:

    J. S. F. Historical Magazine 6 (1982) 261; J. S. Futhey & G. Cope, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1881) 716-7; NatCAB 5:106; Charles Coleman Sellers, Dickinson College: A History (Middletown, 1973) 43-46, etc.; Princeton U. Archives.

  • Author: Philip N. Lockhart