Tuesday, 13 October 2020

The Years of my Pilgrimage

The Right Honourable Sir John Ross, 1st Baronet, was the last Lord Chancellor of Ireland. 

Sir John was a son of the manse; his father was the Very Rev Dr Robert Ross, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

In 1924 he wrote random reminiscences of his pre-eminent legal career in a book called The Years of my Pilgrimage.

My copy was published in 1924 by Edward Arnold & Co, London.

I happened to be rummaging in a charity bookshop at Botanic Avenue, Belfast, in 2019 (located in a unit below the former Arts Theatre), and I came across this fascinating book.

It shall be an antique in several years' time.

Sir John is, as one would expect, an eloquent writer, recounting a number of crimes he sat in judgment upon during his notable career.

He also had the privilege of meeting many important figures, political and patrician, during his time at Westminster, and having been invited to numerous country house parties, in particular at Mount Stewart, County Down, Baronscourt, County Tyrone, Londonderry House, and Hampden House, the latter residence being the London home of the first Duke of Abercorn at the time.

The Duke invited Sir John to Baronscourt in September, 1885.

Sir John, in his reminiscences, remarks that His Grace was

"a remarkable man and his like I have never met again. He was one of the handsomest men of his time and kingly in everything he did. He had been twice Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and was most popular, mainly, it was said, because he regarded the people much as the mud on his boots."

"His seven beautiful daughters had married the greatest nobles in the land, namely the Earl of Lichfield, the Earl of Durham, the Duke of Buccleuch, the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, Marquess of Blandford (afterwards Duke of Marlborough), and the Marquess of Lansdowne."

Of Sir Winston Churchill’s father, Sir John remarked: "It was very sad to witness the rapid decline of Lord Randolph Churchill's great prowess. It is unpleasant to read accounts attributing his deterioration to abuse of stimulants and tobacco. He never appeared robust, and it seemed to me a case where the ardent mind simply burned out the frail body."

Sir John observed that Colonel Edward Saunderson was "one of the greatest humorists and hardest hitters in the House of Commons."

I've no idea how many editions of this book were printed, though it's one of my most precious autobiographical publications.

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