1902 Encyclopedia > James Bruce

James Bruce
Scottish traveller and travel writer

JAMES BRUCE, a celebrated African traveller, was born at Kinnaird House, Stirlingshire, on the 14th December 1730. He was educated at Harrow, and at first turned his attention to the bar. After his marriage, however, he entered into business as a wine-merchant, but soon gave up any active share in the concern. His wife had died within a year of their marriage, and Bruce, after acquiring a knowledge of the Spanish and Portuguese languages, travelled on the Continent for some time, returning to England in 1758. He then made a proposal to the English Government that they should make a descent upon Spain at Ferrol, assuring them from his own observation that the coast was without defence at that place. His suggestions were not adopted ; but Lord Halifax, to whom he had been introduced, and who had consulted him about the exploration of the Nile, appointed him soon afterwards to the consulship at Algiers. He arrived at that place in March 1762, and after spending a year in the study of Arabic and other Oriental languages, set out through Tunis, Tripoli, and the North of Africa. He then visited Rhodes and Cyprus, and explored great part of Syria and Palestine, making very careful drawings of Palmyra and Baalbec. These drawings were afterwards presented to the king and placed in the royal library at Kew. It was not till June 1768 that Bruce arrived at Alexandria, and prepared to start on his great exploring expedition. From Cairo he sailed up the river as far as Syene ; he then struck across the desert to Kosseir, and reached Jidda in May 1769. He remained for some time in Arabia, set sail from Loheia on the 3d September, and on the 19th arrived at Massowah. There he was detained for some time; but at last, on the 15th February 1770, he made his way to Gondar, the capital of Abyssinia. He gained great favour with the Abyssinian king, and remained with him till October, when he set off up the Bahr-el-Azrek, which he looked upon as the main branch of the Nile. On the 14th November he reached the sources of the Bahr-el-Azrek, and proudly imagined himself to have solved the great geographical problem. Slowly and with great difficulty he made his way back through the deserts of Nubia. On the 29th November 1772 he reached Assouan on the Nile. Thence he returned into the heart of the desert to recover his baggage, which had been abandoned in consequence of the death of all his camels. In January 1773 he arrived at Cairo. On his way home to England he spent some time at Paris, where he was warmly received by Buffon and other eminent men of science. The celebrated Travels did not appear till 1790, when they were published in five large quarto volumes, profusely illustrated. The work was received with favour on account of its freshness and interest, but with almost universal incredulity. The Travels were looked upon as veritable travellers' tales, not entitled to any respect as authentic narrative. Succeeding investigations, however, have thoroughly dispelled these suspicions, and reinstated the book in popular estimation. Bruce died in 1794, in consequence of a fall down the staircase of his own house. A second edition of his work, on which he was engaged at the time of his death, was published in 1804.

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