James Bruce - Overseer of the Auchinleck Estate
Son of Andrew Bruce (1691-1741), who himself was overseer at Auchinleck until his death in 1741, and Isabel Templeton (1689-?). Andrew and Isabel had at least six children, including Isabell (b. 1731) who took over as housekeeper at Auchinleck (and later on at Boswell's residence in London) from her mother, and also became nurse to James Boswell's own children.1
In 1741, James Bruce married Jean White (1717-1783), with whom he had at least eleven children, nine of whom survived through infancy. Their first-born, Euphemia (1743-1827), was named after Boswell's mother. The other children were Rebecca (1744-1805), Andrew (born and died in 1746), James (1747-1760), Elizabeth (1750-1806), Alexander (1752-1829), John (1754-1795), David (1756-1759), twins Andrew (1759-?) and Jean (1759-?), and James (1761-1788).
- 1. Other siblings of James Bruce were Alexander (b. 1713), Joan (1715-1800), mother of the inventor William Murdoch, Elizabeth (b. 1722), Veronica (b. 1725) and John (b. 1734).
Boswell knew Bruce from early childhood until Bruce's death in August 1790. Bruce was a servant of the Boswell family, but he and James still seem to have had a close and trusting friendship. In 1780 Boswell even burned some of his own letters to Bruce, presumably because of their confessionary nature.1
The two did not talk only of homely matters, agriculture and the Auchinleck estate. Thus, for instance, when Boswell visited the Zwinger Palais in Dresden on October 11, 1764 he wrote in his journal that it "made me think of honest James Bruce with whom I have talked of it so often."
- 1. Boswell wrote in his journal entry for September 1, 1780 that he "[w]alked only down to James Bruce's in the forenoon. Felt there a fit of raving as when in my younger days. Got from him a parcel of my letters to him at the most foolish time of my life; viz., when I was from twenty-one to twenty-three. Was sunk by viewing myself with contempt, though then a genius in my own eyes. Burnt all but one or two of the best.".
The main source for this article is the Correspondence with James Bruce and Andrew Gibb, which includes a lot of further information on the Bruce family not printed here. It also contains numerous very personal letters between Bruce and Boswell, from 1762 until Bruce's death in 1790.