James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce

British academic (1838-1922)

James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce, OM, GCVO, PC, FRS, FBA (10 May 1838 – 22 January 1922) was a British academic, jurist, historian and Liberal politician.

James Bryce



  • Whether the associations of the Imperial name are bad, as Mr. Gladstone thinks, I will not discuss. Splendid and imposing they certainly were, not only in the age of the Antonines, but in the best days of the mediaeval Empire, from Otto the Great to Frederick II. But that splendour they have lost. ... In fact, the title of King is now the less common of the two, and, with such associations as our kingship has, it is far more dignified. There has been a King of the English ever since the ninth or tenth century; no other Monarchy in Europe (except the lands of our Scandinavian kingsfolk and except the Crown of St. Stephen) can boast of anything like an equal antiquity. ... Why endanger the pre-eminence of style of the only European Crown which combines the glories of ancient legitimacy with those of equally ancient constitutional freedom?
    • Letter to The Times (13 March 1876), p. 8, after Queen Victoria was given the title "Empress of India".


  • Liberalism was a plant which did not thrive in stagnant waters, and the waters of London, to their shame be it spoken, were stagnant. Where there was a want of active zeal all the worse and baser instincts which had power in politics told against the Liberal party. (Cheers.) The money power was against the Liberal party, and so was the liquor power.
    • Speech to the London Liberal and Radical Union at St. James's-hall (11 January 1887), quoted in The Times (12 February 1887), p. 7.
  • The educated classes were apt to speak in a patronizing tone of the "masses of the people", and to talk of political education as if it were only needed by those masses, but the fact was that the middle classes needed education, especially on this Irish question, quite as much as the masses. The whole trouble and difficulty of our dealings with Ireland had arisen from our ignorance. ... He confidently believed that the country would arrive at but one conclusion, and that that would be in favour of Home Rule. The work would not be a long one, because two or three years would undoubtedly see the solution of this question in the sense which they desired to see it concluded—a consummation which was so much to be desired not only in the interests of Ireland but also of England, Scotland, and Wales.
    • Speech to the Home Rule Union at the National Liberal Club, London (24 February 1887), quoted in The Times (25 February 1887), p. 4


  • The best justification for the despotic system described is to be found in the administration of British India. That administration is no doubt in some respects imperfect. ... But it is incomparably better than the administration of any subject territory by an alien and distant race of conquerors than has ever been before. It had in particular attained three great objects. It has established perfect internal peace and security through a vast area, much of which is still inhabited by wild tribes; it has secured a perfectly just administration of the law, civil as well as criminal, between all races and castes; and it has imbued the officials with a feeling that their first duty is to do their best for the welfare of the natives and to defend them against the rapacity of European adventurers. These things have been achieved by an efficiently organized Civil Service inspired by high traditions, kept apart from British party politics, and standing quite outside the prejudices, jealousies, and superstitions which sway the native mind. Only through despotic methods could that have been done for India which the English have done.
    • 'British Experience in the Government of Colonies', The Century (New York), 57, 5 (March 1899), pp. 718-728, quoted in The Times (27 February 1899), p. 7.
  • [Bryce] expressed his cordial agreement with what Mr. Washington had said as to the importance of basing the progress of the coloured people of the South upon industrial training. Having made two or three visits to the South he had got an impression of the extreme complexity and difficulty of the problem which Mr. Washington was so nobly striving to solve. It was no wonder that it should be difficult seeing that the whites had such a long start of the coloured people in civilization. He believed that the general sentiment of white people was one of friendliness and a desire to help the negroes. The exercise of political rights and the attainment to equal citizenship must depend upon the quality of the people who exercised those rights, and the best thing the coloured people could do, therefore, was to endeavour to attain material prosperity by making themselves capable of prosecuting these trades and occupations which they began to learn in the days of slavery, and which now, after waiting for 20 years, they had begun to see were necessary to their well-being.
    • Speech at the reception for Booker T. Washington held in Essex Hall, Strand, London (3 July 1899), quoted in The Times (4 July 1899), p. 13.


  • He had said from the first that the war had been a hideous blunder, and he had supported that opinion in the House of Commons. (Cheers.) ... Stop the farm-burning; it had been a great mistake and was against British ideas. (Cheers.) Recognize that they were dealing with men whose bravery and tenacity they could admire, and offer terms to the representatives of the two Republics and to the burghers who were now in arms.
    • Speech in the public baths of Caledonian Road, Islington, London (12 December 1900) against the Boer War, quoted in The Times (13 December 1900), p. 10.
  • ...there had been many changes in the national ideals in this country during the past 50 years. ... liberty, so far as it regarded political power, freedom of opinion, and freedom of action, was rather more in men's minds in the fifties as an essential element in the making of national happiness and well-being than it was in the present day. ... Republicanism was then a thing much talked of in England. It was curious to note how completely that had gone, and the discovery made that the true enemy of liberty and democracy was not a monarchy, but money, and the power that money exerted.
    • Speech to the Economic Students' Union at the School of Economics and Political Science, London (14 December 1900), quoted in The Times (17 December 1900), p. 13.
  • With the old ideal of liberty there was a great and urgent passion for freedom of opinion and freedom of speech. In the present day we cared very much less for freedom of opinion as an element in our national life than we did in those days. But we ought always to be on our guard against giving the smallest encouragement to any attempt of any kind of any dominant party to put down the free expression of anything which was not criminal.
    • Speech to the Economic Students' Union at the School of Economics and Political Science, London (14 December 1900), quoted in The Times (17 December 1900), p. 13.
  • One of the most remarkable changes was the extent to which indifference had come to prevail in matters of religious opinion. With regard to freedom of action, there would have been a stronger objection then than there was now in allowing the great majority of persons engaged in any particular trade to coerce the minority into their wishes. On the question of non-interference, he pointed out that the difficulties of laissez faire were now far more generally recognized than they were 40 or 50 years ago. For one reason or another there was now far less disposition to accept the doctrines of laissez faire than there was then, and they played a much smaller part in the ideal we formed of what was good for a nation.
    • Speech to the Economic Students' Union at the School of Economics and Political Science, London (14 December 1900), quoted in The Times (17 December 1900), p. 13.
  • In those days it was thought that only through the principle of nationality could freedom be established, and here, again, the changes which had happened had made this ideal seem less needed than it was. The principle of nationality was held to make for peace and was quite consistent with cosmopolitanism, which played a leading part in conceptions of what was needed for the happiness of the world. There was rather more in the old ideals of the moral element and less of the material element than there was to-day; there was, too, rather more of a sanguine spirit, and the golden age seemed nearer then it seemed now.
    • Speech to the Economic Students' Union at the School of Economics and Political Science, London (14 December 1900), quoted in The Times (17 December 1900), p. 13.
  • Having condemned the policy of severity which had been adopted with the object of bringing the [Boer] war to a conclusion, he said that it might be doubted whether anything short of the restoration of the independence of the two Republics—subject of course to a measure of British control—would have the effect of inducing the Boers to lay down their arms. The passion for independence was strong; it had been the cherished ideal of those people ever since they quitted Cape Colony and won the country for themselves. Our demand for unconditional surrender was a fatal blunder.
    • Speech to the Women's National Liberal Association Conference, Memorial Hall, London (12 June 1901), quoted in The Times (13 June 1901), p. 12.
  • What was a reasonable offer? In the first place, there ought to be an amnesty. ... The second point in the terms should be a grant of money to rebuild the burned homesteads and restock the devastated farms. ... Nothing would do more to accelerate the return of peace and order than to give the people occupation and a chance of living. Then, it should be part of any reasonable offer to the Boers that there should be a speedy restoration of self-governing institutions.
    • Speech to the Women's National Liberal Association Conference, Memorial Hall, London (12 June 1901), quoted in The Times (13 June 1901), p. 12.
  • The danger which threatened the natives in the future, at any rate in the mining districts, would arise from the desire to obtain a constant and cheap supply of native labour for the mines. It would be the duty of those in authority to guard the native against the oppressive laws which were in force in the Dutch Republics. In conclusion, he protested against a policy of harshness and violence in South Africa. We should try to inculcate forbearance, wisdom, and the generosity into the minds of those who had the government of the country.
    • Speech to the Women's National Liberal Association Conference, Memorial Hall, London (12 June 1901), quoted in The Times (13 June 1901), p. 12.


  • The United States are deemed all the world over to be pre-eminently the land of equality. This was the first feature which struck Europeans when they began, after the peace of 1815 had left them time to look beyond the Atlantic, to feel curious about the phenomena of a new society. This was the great theme of Tocqueville's description, and the starting-point of his speculations; this has been the most constant boast of the Americans themselves, who have believed their liberty more complete than that of any other people, because equality has been more fully blended with it.
    • The American Commonwealth: Volume II (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1910), p. 810.
  • In how many and which of these senses of the word does equality exist in the United States? Not as regards material conditions. Till about the middle of last century there were no great fortunes in America, few large fortunes, no poverty. Now there is some poverty (though only in a few places can it be called pauperism), many large fortunes, and a greater number of gigantic fortunes than in any other country of the world.
    • The American Commonwealth: Volume II (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1910), pp. 810–811.
  • [Bryce] thought she [Russia] was becoming a menace to Europe with her vast and rapidly increasing population and her also rapidly increasing prosperity. The Duma was no check on the ambitions of the official class. Germany, he thought, was right to arm and she would need every man.
    • Quoted by C. P. Scott in his diary (30 June 1914), in Trevor Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911-1928 (London: Collins, 1970), p. 88.


  • What do you think of J. M. Keynes's book? ... The condemnation of the work of the Conference as a whole is none too severe. I remember few cases in history where negotiators might have done so much good, and have done so much evil.
    • Letter to C. P. Scott (20 January 1920), quoted in Trevor Wilson (ed.), The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911-1928 (London: Collins, 1970), p. 380
  • I venture to hope that...the Government will approach the question with a desire to deal in the most liberal manner they can with Ireland, and to give her, if need be, more than justice requires, in order that we may bring about peace. That would be good policy in the long run.
  • When repeated experiments have failed, when every policy that has been proposed as a remedy for the ills of Ireland has been tried in succession and found wanting, is it not time to try some other experiment? I think the only experiment that can be tried is to make the Irish people masters of their own fortunes. Throw responsibility upon them, make them feel that it is to their interest to preserve law and order. Make them feel that the laws they are to obey are laws made by themselves, and that if they adopt a policy it will not be reversed by people sitting at Westminster, who have not that intimate knowledge of Irish conditions and wishes which can be possessed only by those who live in the midst of the people.
    • Speech in the House of Lords (15 December 1921).

Quotes about BryceEdit

  • No one in our time has contributed more largely to create and foster this temper between the two great kindred peoples than our distinguished Ambassador, now once more at home among us, Mr. Bryce.
    • H. H. Asquith (1913) on Bryce's role as Ambassador to the United States, quoted in The Times (23 January 1922), p. 12.
  • In February, 1907...he was appointed...Ambassador to the United States. ... It must be said that before that time his influence on American sentiment towards Great Britain had not been fortunate. ... His opinions on English politics were, for that time, of an extremely advanced, almost Republican type; and while this attitude of mind naturally commended him all the more to the sympathy of patriotic Americans, his language and views undoubtedly encouraged hostility to British monarchical and aristocratic institutions. Whatever harm he may have done, however, was nobly set off by his services as Ambassador.
    • The Times (23 February 1922), p. 12.
  • Few men have had so long and so honourable a record of intellectual productivity. Nor have many men, certainly few of his generation, had more friends or been held in such high esteem by large circles in almost every country in the world. He spoke the principal European languages with ease; and to those who met him he appeared to have been everywhere, known everybody, and read everything.
    • The Times (23 February 1922), p. 12.
  • Although the work of a visitor, the reputation of The American Commonwealth has stood very high in the United States. It has been continually quoted as a standard authority by contemporary American historians, and was used as a text-book throughout the country for over thirty years. It is much better known there than in England. When Edward Lawrence Godkin of the New York Nation was asked by an English member of parliament whether he had ever heard of a book called The American Commonwealth he answered ‘You bet’.
    • E. I. Carlyle, 'Bryce, James, Viscount Bryce (1838–1922)', in J. R. H. Weaver (ed.), The Dictionary of National Biography, 1922–1930 (Oxford University Press, 1937), p. 131.
  • As ambassador at Washington, an office which he filled from February 1907 until April 1913, Bryce was particularly successful in gaining the approval of the American people and in becoming an American institution. Whenever he attended the Old Presbyterian church at Washington he was as a matter of course ushered into Abraham Lincoln's pew. ‘Old man Bryce is all right’ was the reputed verdict of a miner in Nevada, and this popular sentiment gave him power in that great democracy which does not allow itself to be governed by the opinions of its politicians.
    • E. I. Carlyle, 'Bryce, James, Viscount Bryce (1838–1922)', in J. R. H. Weaver (ed.), The Dictionary of National Biography, 1922–1930 (Oxford University Press, 1937), p. 133.
  • The amiable Bryce steadily exerts what influence he has here on behalf of the Pacifist crowd, who are really the tepid enemies of the Allies.

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