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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
James Bryce (1838–1922)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
JAMES BRYCE was born at Belfast, Ireland, of Scotch and Irish parents. He studied at the University of Glasgow and later at Oxford, where he graduated with high honors in 1862, and where after some years of legal practice he was appointed Regius Professor of Civil Law in 1870. He had already established a high reputation as an original and accurate historical scholar by his prize essay on the ‘Holy Roman Empire’ (1864), which passed through many editions, was translated into German, French, and Italian, and remains to-day a standard work and the best-known work on the subject, Edward A. Freeman said on the appearance of the work that it had raised the author at once to the rank of a great historian. It has done more than any other treatise to clarify the vague notions of historians as to the significance of the imperial idea in the Middle Ages, and its importance as a factor in German and Italian politics; and it is safe to say that there is scarcely a recent history of the period that does not show traces of its influence. The scope of this work being juristic and philosophical, it does not admit of much historical narrative, and the style is lucid but not brilliant. It is not in fact as a historian that Mr. Bryce is best known, but rather as a jurist, a politician, and a student of institutions.  1
  The most striking characteristic of the man is his versatility; a quality which in his case has not been accompanied by its usual defects, for his achievements in one field seem to have made him no less conscientious in others, while they have given him that breadth of view which is more essential than any special training to the critic of men and affairs. For the ten years that followed his Oxford appointment he contributed frequently to the magazines on geographical, social, and political topics. His vacations he spent in travel and in mountain climbing, of which he gave an interesting narrative in ‘Transcaucasia and Ararat’ (1877). In 1880 he entered active politics, and was elected to Parliament in the Liberal interest. He has continued steadfast in his support of the Liberal party and of Mr. Gladstone, whose Home Rule policy he has heartily seconded. In 1886 he became Gladstone’s Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and in 1894 was appointed President of the Board of Trade. He was Ambassador to the United States from 1907 to 1912, and in this capacity rendered valuable services, which were recognized by his elevation to the peerage in 1914. He made numerous addresses on public questions and published many books on political, geographical, and historical subjects. Both before and after the beginning of the War his influence was directed to mitigating national animosities and especially to enabling Great Britain and the United States to understand each other.  2
  The work by which he is best known in this country, the ‘American Commonwealth’ (1888), is the fruit of his observations during three visits to the United States, and of many years of study. It is generally conceded to be the best critical analysis of American institutions ever made by a foreign author. Inferior in point of style to de Tocqueville’s ‘Democracy in America,’ it far surpasses that book in amplitude, breadth of view, acuteness of observation, and minuteness of information; besides being half a century later in date, and therefore able to set down accomplished facts where the earlier observer could only make forecasts. His extensive knowledge of foreign countries, by divesting him of insular prejudice, fitted him to handle his theme with impartiality, and his experience in the practical workings of British institutions gave him an insight into the practical defects and benefits of ours. That he has a keen eye for defects is obvious, but his tone is invariably sympathetic.  3
 
 
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