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James Bryce


James Bryce (1838-1922), was a British jurist, historian and politician, He was the son of James Bryce (LL.D. of Glasgow, who had a school in Belfast for many years), and was born at Belfast on May 10 1838. After going through the high school and university courses at Glasgow, he went to Trinity College, Oxford, and in 1862 was elected a fellow of Oriel. He went to the bar and practised in London for a few years, but he was soon called back to Oxford as regius professor of civil law (1870-1893). His reputation as a historian had been made as early as 1864 by his work on the Holy Roman Empire. He was an ardent Liberal in politics, and in 1880 he was elected to parliament for the Tower Hamlets constituency.of London; in 1885 he was returned for South Aberdeen, where he was re-elected on succeeding occasions.

His intellectual distinction and political industry made him a valuable member of the Liberal party. In 1886 he was made under secretary for foreign affairs; in 1892 he joined the cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; in 1894 he was President of the Board of Trade, and acted as chairman of the royal commission on secondary education; and in Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's cabinet in 1905 he was made chief secretary for Ireland; but in February 1907 he was appointed British ambassador at Washington, D.C (until 1913) and took leave of party politics, his last political act being a speech outlining what was then the government scheme for university reform in Dublina scheme which was promptly discarded by his successor Augustine Birrell.

As an author, Bryce was already well known in America. His work The American Commonwealth (1888) was the first in which the institutions of the United States had been thoroughly discussed from the point of view of a historian and a constitutional lawyer, and it at once became a classic. His Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901) and Studies in Contemporary Biography (1903) were republications of essays, and in 1897, after a visit to South Africa, he published a volume of Impressions of that country, which had considerable weight in Liberal circles when the Boer War was being discussed.

Meanwhile his academic honours from home and foreign universities multiplied, and he became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1894. In earlier life he was a notable mountain-climber, ascending Mount Ararat in 1876, and publishing a volume on Transcaucasia and Ararat in 1877; in 1899-1901 he was president of the Alpine Club. He was ennobled in 1914, becoming 1st Viscount Bryce.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Lord Bryce was appointed by Herbert Asquith to report on alleged German atrocities in Belgium. The report was published in 1915, and was damning of German behaviour; Lord Bryce's reputation in America was important in influencing American opinion toward Germany before their entry into the war.

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Updated from The Encyclopedia Britannica 1911