On January 25, 1879, Wallace Bruce spoke on Sir Walter Scott at Legg Hall, receiving mixed reviews. On one hand, it was said that he treated the subject manner “in a masterly manner” but another critic wrote, “Mr. Bruce is an orator of high order, but his lecture on Friday evening was delivered in too rapid a manner and in too loud a tone. Still, the lecture will take rank with the best we have had in the course so far.”
Bruce was back for the next lecture season, in December of 1879, speaking on Robert Burns. Fascinated by Scottish history and poetry from an early age, Bruce graduated from Yale in 1867 and then earned a degree in law. But after a walking tour of Scotland, he returned to America set on a new career, not in law but in lecturing.
He wrote, “On my first trip to Scotland I made loving pilgrimages to the shrines of Robert Burns and Walter Scott. Returning to America, I voiced my love for these great Scottish writers in almost every town and city from New York to San Francisco.”
Bruce also wrote his own poetry, as well as books on history and literature, and penned a series of travel guides as “Thursty McQuill.” But his dream job came in 1889: President Benjamin Harrison appointed Bruce to serve as U.S. Consul to Edinburgh.
Bruce was able to immerse himself in Scotland once more, and to create a memorial that would outlast his poetry. At the American Consulate, he heard of a Scots woman who was applying for a widow’s pension; her husband had served in the Union Army before returning to his homeland. When he died, his body was interred in a pauper’s grave. Bruce asked the Edinburgh Town Council to provide a plot for Scots who had served in the U.S. Civil War and then began to campaign among American friends for funds to build a memorial. His efforts were successful, thanks in part to Andrew Carnegie, one of several Scottish-Americans who supported the project. The memorial features bronze figures of Abraham Lincoln and a freed slave, and the names of the Scottish soldiers who fought in the war.
Bruce returned to America with his family in 1893 and continued writing and lecturing. He spoke again in Skaneateles in December of 1899, and continued to be active until dying of a stroke in 1914.