Bruce, James

, a celebrated modern traveller, descended of an ancient and honourable family, was the son of David Bruce, esq. of Kinnaird, by Marion Graham, daughter of James Graham, esq. of Airth, dean of the faculty of advocates, and judge of the high court of admiralty in Scotland. He was born at the family residence of Kinnaird, in the county of Stirling, Dec. 14, 1730. Of his first years few particulars are recorded of much consequence, except that his temper, contrary to the character which it afterwards assumed, was gentle and quiet; but as he advanced in life, became bold, hasty, and impetuous, accompanied, however, with a manly openness, that shewed the usual concomitant, a warm and generous heart. It having been determined to give him an English education, he was sent to London to the house of William Hamilton, esq. a barrister, and his uncle, with whom he remained for some time, and in 1742 he was placed at Harrow school, where he made great proficiency in classical learning. After leaving Harrow in May 1746, he lived about a year in the academy of a Mr. Gordon till April 1747, where he prosecuted his classical education, and studied French, arithmetic, and geometry. In May of that year he returned to Scotland in order to commence a course of study at the university of Edinburgh, preparatory to his following the profession of the law; but it does not appear that he made much progress, or indeed had much inclination for this study, and the precarious state of his health at this time rendered much study of any kind dangerous. His own expectations of success in the law became gradually abated, and various other circumstances determined him to relinquish it for ever.

In this uncertainty of mind, India offered to his ardent imagination a prospect of a more flattering nature. As he was considerably above the age at which persons are enrolled as writers in the service of the East India company, his friends advised him to petition the court of directors for the liberty of settling as a free trader under its | patronage; and accordingly he left Scotland in July 1753 with a view to prosecute this design; but he was prevented from carrying it into execution by forming a connection with an amiable young lady, Miss Allan, daughter of a wine-merchant in London, whom he married in Feb. 1754. But though this year did not end with the prosperity with which it began, this accidental settlement in London changed hiss destination in life. It detained him in Europe till his mind was formed, his knowledge matured, and an opportunity presented itself of visiting the east with honour and advantage. In his own opinion, it prevented him from suffering the cruel imprisonment at Calcutta in 1756, which proved fatal to many of the company’s servants. He now entered into partnership in the wine-business, which, as well as his marriage, was approved of by his father; but his prospects in this new situation were soon clouded. A few months after their marriage, Mrs. Bruce exhibited evident symptoms of consumption, and being recommended to try the mild climate of the south of France, expired at Paris in October.

By this melancholy event, Mr. Bruce lost the principal tie that connected him with business, and although he did not think it prudent to relinquish a flourishing trade with-? out some equivalent object, relaxed his personal efforts very considerably, and added to his stock of languages, the Spanish and Portuguese. He also improved his skill in drawing, under a master of the name of Bonneau, recommended to him by Mr. (afterwards sir) Robert Strange. Before this time he had chiefly cultivated that part of drawing which relates to the science of fortification, in hopes that he might, on some emergency, find it of use in military service. But views of a more extensive kind now induced him to study drawing in general, and to obtain a correct taste in painting, so as to be able to visit with advantage those countries which possess the finest specimens of skill and genius in that department of the arts. This notice of Mr. Bruce' s application to the study of drawing we have given in the words of his biographer, because it was long and confidently reported by those who wished to lessen Mr. Bruce’s reputation, that he was totally and incorrigibly ignorant of the art.

His concern in the winotrade gave him an opportunity of travelling over a considerable part of Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, but hearing of his father’s death in | 1758, he returned to England, and in 1761 withdrew entirely from the wine-trade. He now, from his observation while in Spain, suggested to the prime minister, Mr. Pitt, afterwards lord Chatham, the practicability of a successful expedition against Ferrol, in Galicia, where the Spaniards had a considerable harbour, and generally stationed a part of their navy; but various circumstances, of which perhaps Mr. Pitt’s resignation was the principal, prevented this enterprise from being attempted. Disappointed in this, he resolved to return to his native country, and pass his time as a private gentleman, cultivating his paternal estate. One of the new ministers, however, lord Halifax, diverted him from this design, and suggested Africa to him as a proper field for enterprize and discovery; and that he might go under the protection of a public character, it was proposed to send him as consul to Algiers. Bruce acceded to these proposals, and left England in the end of June 1762. He passed through France and Italy, and carried with him from the latter country an artist to assist him in his drawings. For his subsequent adventures, his travels into Abyssinia, and his discovery of the sources of the Nile, &c. we must refer to his published travels. He returned to his native country in 1773, and in 1776, he married a daughter of Thomas Dundas of Fingask, esq. by whom he had three children, two of whom, a son and daughter, are still living. After he settled at Kinnaird, his time was chiefly spent in managing his estate, in preparing his travels for the press, and other literary occupations; and he was preparing a second edition of his Travels, when death prevented the execution of/ his design. On Saturday, April 26, 1794, having entertained some company at Kinnaird, as he was going down stairs about eight o’clock in the evening, to hand a lady into a carriage, his foot slipt, and he fell from a considerable height. He was taken up in a state of insensibility, and expired early next morning. Mr. Bruce’s figure was above the common size; his limbs athletic, but well proportioned; his complexion sanguine; his countenance manly and good-tempered; and his manners easy and polite. The whole outward man was such as to announce a character well calculated to contend with the many difficulties and trying occasions, which so extraordinary a journey could not but have thrown in his way. His internal characters, the features of his understanding and disposition, seem in a great measure to have | corresponded with these outward lineaments. As a country gentleman, though not without a tincture of haughtiness, he exhibited the elegance of a man of fashion, and the hospitality of a Briton. His personal accomplishments fitted him, in a superior manner, for the undertakings in which he engaged. His constitution was robust, and he had inured himself to every kind of fatigue and exercise. In mental accomplishments he equalled, if not surpassed, the generality of travellers. His memory was excellent, and his understanding vigorous and well cultivated. He understood French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, the two first of which he spoke and wrote with facility. Besides Greek and Latin, which he read well, though not critically, he knew the Hebrew, Chaldee, and Syriac; and, in the latter part of his life, compared several portions of the scriptures in those related dialects. He read and spoke with ease, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Amharic. Necessity made him acquainted with these last, and impressed them deeply on his mind. He had applied, during the greatest part of his life, to the study of astronomy, and other practical branches of mathematical learning.

The most defective part of his character, his biographer informs us, arose from his constitutional temper, which disposed him to be suspicious, and hasty in taking offence. His enmities therefore were sometimes capricious, though, in general, well-founded. His love of ancestry, and practice of telling his own exploits, though magnified into vices by the weakest of his enemies, scarcely deserve notice as imperfections, though they certainly were prominent features. They contributed, however, in a great measure, to excite those animosities and that incredulity which for many years prevailed respecting the veracity of his narrative.

His “Travels,” after many years of eager expectation on the part of the public, were published in 1790, at London, in 5 vols. 4to, under the title “Travels to discover the Source of the Nile, in the years 1768 1773.” Thereception they met with was exceeding -flattering, yet numerous attacks were made on the author’s character and veracity in the periodical journals, to which it is unnecessary now to refer .*


The late Dr. Lort formed a considerable collection of Memoranda, correspondence, scraps from the Journals and Newspapers, &c. for and against Bruce, which are now in the possession of the editor of this work, in consequence of a purchase at Mr. Gough’s sale.

It seems agreed that the general credit of the | work has survived. We cannot perhaps quote a higher authority than that of Dr. Vincent, who observes that “Bruce may have offended from the warmth of his temper; he may have been misled by aspiring to knowledge and science which he had not sufficiently examined; but his work throughout bears internal marks of veracity, in all instances where he was not deceived himself; and his observations were the best which a man, furnished with such instruments, and struggling for his life, could obtain.1

Life of Bruce by Alexander Murray, F. A. S. E. 4to, 1808, a work of great interest and impartiality.