James Bryce, jurist, historian and politician, studied classics and law at the University of Glasgow from 1854, then at Trinity College, Oxford, from 1857, and graduated as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 1862. During these years he developed an interest in botany and climbing and subsequently climbed in the Alps, Iceland, the Middle East, the Pyrenees, Hawai, Japan, and elsewhere. While still a student he contributed to Flora of the Island Arran (1859), published by his father. In 1863 he continued his studies in law at Heidelberg, Germany. He was admitted as a barrister in 1867, practised until 1882, and received the degree Doctor of Civil Law in 1870. From 1870 to 1893 he was Regius professor of civil law at the University of Oxford. In 1880 he was elected to the British House of Commons, and in 1892 was appointed a minister in W.E. Gladstone's cabinet. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, an independent thinker and man of action.
In 1895-1896 Bryce travelled in southern Africa. Starting in Cape Town he proceeded via Botswana to Fort Salisbury (Harare) in Mashonaland (Zimbabwe), returning through Mozambique, Natal, the Transvaal, Free State, Lesotho (where he climbed Machache, 2884 m), and the Eastern Cape. He published his Impressions of South Africa (604p) in 1897. The book deals with the political situation in the country, but contains chapters on the geography, vegetation, fauna, history, and industries of South Africa. He collected plants during his visit, including some 25 specimens in Lesotho. Most of his plants are in the herbarium at Kew Gardens. Some confusion arose because some of his specimens were mislabelled. Two plant species, Justicia brycei and Geranium brycei were named after him.
Bryce was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1905, and British Ambassador to Washington from 1907 to 1913. On his return he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Bryce. He was a prolific author who published mainly on history, law, and political science. His books included The holy Roman empire (1866, with numerous later editions), The American commonwealth (1888, 2 vols, with numerous later editions), South America; observations and impressions (1912), and Modern democracies (1921, 2 vols).