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Art. 10...JAMES BRYCE.
1. The Holy Roman Empire. 1866. Revised ed., with
new preface, 1904. 2. Transcaucasia and Ararat. 1877. 3. The American Commonwealth. 1888. 3 vols. Revised
and enlarged ed., 1910, 2 vols. 4. Studies in History and Jurisprudence. 2 vols. Clarendon
Press, 1901. 5. Studies in Contemporary Biography. 2 vols. 1903. 6. Impressions of South Africa. 1897. 3rd ed., 1899. 7. South America. 1912. 8. University and Historical Addresses delivered during a
Residence in the United States as Ambassador of Great
Britain. 1913. 9. Essays and Addresses in War Time. 1918. 10. World History (Annual Raleigh Lecture, British
Academy). Milford, 1919. (All published by Messrs Macmillan, unless otherwise stated.)
And other works.
To depart this mortal life full of years and honours, without pain or lingering; to leave to the world a record of strenuous labour accomplished with unbroken success; to fellow-citizens and the world of letters a memorable example, and in the hearts of many friends a more intimate remembrance—this is a reward that even among the best of us is the lot of but few, and, when it befalls, is matter rather for praise and thanksgiving than for sorrow. Thus it was with James Bryce; and we may well say of him as it was said of that noble Roman Metellus Macedonicus : 'Surely here is no death but an auspicious quitting of life' (Vell., 'Paterc.,' I, 11).
It is the present writer's privilege to look back to a friendship of half a century, beginning at a time when Bryce had not yet made his definite choice between a legal and a political career. At that time it would have been a speculative if not an extravagant forecast to guess that he would become Regius Professor of Civil Law at Oxford, a Cabinet Minister, Ambassador to the United States, President of the Alpine Club, and President of the British Academy, and fill all those positions with
distinction. It would be tedious to go through the tale of other honours recorded in the current books of reference. Enough to mention that Bryce was also a member of the Order of Merit, as well as one of the few Englishmen who have received the Prussian Ordre pour le Mérite. Not less tedious would it be to attempt any categorical account of his various activities. The most that can be done in a short compass is to seek out, among the evidences they have left us, those features of character and intellect which give the note of unity to their variety.
If Bryce can be said to have had a predominant motive in life, it was enlightened curiosity, the kind which is desultory but comprehensive, never drops what it has once grasped, and of set purpose will not pursue special branches of knowledge to the point where specialism excludes a wide and equably balanced outlook. After leaving the practice of the law he never ceased to be a sound lawyer; and his work as jurist, politician, and publicist was informed throughout by the historical knowledge and judgment acquired in his earliest studies. As a historian, again, he started with an excellent foundation of classical scholarship, manifest throughout his writings in frequent apposite quotations from Homer and Virgil, of whose quality Mr Frederic Harrison, himself no mean scholar, has opportunely reminded us. Add to this that his general knowledge included competence, amounting in one or two cases to mastery, in the principal European tongues. In one word, Bryce's equipment was that of an accomplished humanist; and as a great humanist he will stand out among his generation in the eyes of posterity.
It is therefore easy to understand why Bryce, like several other scholars who have embarked on a parliamentary career, had neither the determined political ambition nor exactly the kind of ability that leads to commanding positions. Wide knowledge, tolerant sympathy with mankind, and a strong and constant desire to be just to opponents as well as allies, are not the outfit of a thoroughgoing partisan; they do not beget that confident assurance which makes a man an eager and impressive advocate of his own opinions. Bryce was himself convinced that party government is necessary in our constitution; his loyalty as colleague and follower was unbroken (which indeed is a part of political justice); but he could never put political ex. pediency above all. Thus in active politics he attained not to the first three'; the way he chose as suited to his peculiar genius was more excellent. No typical party politician could have been such a publicist or such an ambassador as Bryce became.
The main lines of Bryce's work were marked from the first by his earliest considerable publication, the expanded prize essay which became his classical study of the Holy Roman Empire.
Different circumstances might conceivably have led him in some other direction. One point of his temperament, however, was native, persistent, and irrepressible. He made himself an historian and a jurist; he was born a traveller and explorer, a man determined to view the world for himself and make report, to the utmost of his power, of things he had seen with his own eyes and places he had trodden with his own feet. His active habit of body remained with him to the last; it was want of leisure and not any failure of aptitude that put an end to his mountaineering; and in his old age he could set a pace to many younger pedestrians which they found it hard to keep up with. It is said that in his excursions among the hills of New Hampshire, where he spent one or two of his summer vacations as ambassador, he went near to reducing a British consular officer to complete exhaustion.
He would have ascended Ararat, or done something like it, whether he had written The Holy Roman Empire' or not. It was the art of an accomplished scholar that enabled him to look down from that legendary summit not merely on a prospect of wild mountains but on the historic pageant of Roman dominion in Asia ; the climb itself came, one may say, by nature, and a very good climb it was. Although the ascent was not new, the earlier ones had not formed any mountaineering tradition or habit; on the contrary, Bryce found an unshaken belief that the resting-place of the Ark was inviolable, and apparently left it unshaken still.* Thus the expedition had for practical purposes
* Transcaucasia and Ararat,' c. 7 ad fin. When the archimandrite of Etchmiadzin was informed, in Bryce's presence, of the ascent, 'The
the charms and the troubles of novelty. When the problems of approach and transport were solved and the final ascent began, Bryce was the only member of the party, so-called guides included, who was in condition to persevere to the end ; and it was more than an ordinary test of mountaineering competence to accomplish this day's work alone, with the view of the route mostly obscured by cloud.
Twenty-five years later Bryce was President of the Alpine Club; and if any one seeks further witness of the esteem in which his fellows in that craft held him, it stands in British Columbia, where a peak of no extraordinary height but quite respectable difficulty * was named after him by Mr Norman Collie, himself President & score of years later. There have been mountainclimbers by necessity, who traversed perilous heights because there was no other way to their journey's end. Bryce was none of these. He uttered the feeling of a true mountaineer in his farewell Presidential address to the Club, from which I quote a few sentences : they will serve better as an example of his usual style than any. thing that could be torn (almost unavoidably to the detriment of the sense) from a more learned context.
• The pleasure of mountaineering is compounded of many elements. There is the strenuous putting forth of one's physical powers, with the consciousness of vital energy which the exertion of those powers evokes. There is also the exertion of skill; and how much skill does not the climber need who has to judge of the condition of the snow, of the character and structure of the rocks, of the prospects of the weather, of the capacities of each member of the party, of the comparative merits of various possible routes ? There is the sense of danger, which, although a sensible man will not allow it to become unduly prominent, does seem to thrill the nerves and to stimulate all one's forces to their highest point of efficiency. There is the sense of companionship, and the sympathy which arises from and strengthens the feeling of reciprocal reliance—a feeling unlike that rivalry which is the note of most of our games, and one which touches deeper springs of emotion. And, finally, there is the delight of
venerable man smiled sweetly. “No," he replied, “ that cannot be. No one has ever been there. It is impossible.”!
Alpine Journal,' XXI, 464, first ascent by the Rev. James Outram.
getting close to Nature, to Nature in those of her aspects which have been and can be least spoiled by the intrusive hand of man.
To many of us this circumambient wildness and solitude, this sense of coming back to the primal simplicity of the earth, before man had spread himself out over it and had begun to efface its original character, is one of the keenest joys and most entrancing charms of the high mountains. . . . No future generation will find any pleasure more pure or more intense than that which we, in this our short and fleeting span of life, have drawn from the days and nights we have spent among the mountains, with the silence of the snowfields around us and the waterfalls faintly calling from the valleys beneath, in the solemn presence of Nature.'*
When Bryce made his journey through Russia to Armenia, and embodied in his account whole chapters which proved him an accomplished traveller and topographer as well as a ripe historical scholar, The Holy
· Roman Empire' was already in a fourth edition. It is well to remember to what an insular world of letters that book was addressed more than half a century ago. Mediæval studies in England were still an obscure speciality. Historians ignored law, while lawyers were content to take their history at second-hand from superficial compilations. Even among the more scholarly sort, Blackstone and Hallam were accepted as ultimate authorities; and apocryphal legends with no better voucher than Coke passed as good evidence for anything earlier than the 14th century.
Work full of gross blunders and fictions, which has not yet wholly ceased to mislead uncritical readers, was produced almost without protest by writers at the head of the legal profession; and lawyers who had mastered the elements of Roman law and knew how to cite its authorities were hard to find outside Doctors' Commons.
Bryce never applied himself directly to the history of English law, but indirectly he did much to dispel the darkness by restoring contact between English and Continental learning. English, I say purposely; the Scottish universities maintained their own tradition, fostored by long alliance of Scottish with French culture, and it was sound as far as it went. At a later stage, in
Alpine Journal,' XXI, 8-11.