(reprinted in the ‘Belfast Newsletter,’ 16 Nov. 1821). He had a good deal to do with the establishment of the Lancasterian school, with which was connected a protestant but otherwise undenominational Sunday school. To provide common ground for intellectual pursuits among men of all parties, he had founded (23 Oct. 1801) the Literary Society, a centre of culture in the days when Belfast took to itself the title of the Ulster Athens.
Bruce eschewed personal controversy. He had always owned himself a unitarian, in the broad sense attached to the term at its first introduction into English literature by Firmin and Emlyn; when used in the restricted sense of the modern Socinians, such as Lindsey and Belsham, he sensitively repudiated all connection with that school (see his letter in Mon. Rep. 1813, pp. 515–17). Finding his position ‘misrepresented by the violence of party zeal,’ Bruce, in 1824, issued his volume on the Bible and christian doctrine. The book marks an era. Unitarianism in Ireland had long been a floating opinion; it now became the badge of a party. In the preface (dated 17 March) Bruce claimed that his views were ‘making extensive though silent progress through the general synod of Ulster.’ This was accepted by trinitarians as a gage of battle; the general synod at Moneymore, on 2 July, agreed to an overture giving ‘a public contradiction to said assertion.’ Bruce joined the seceders of 1829 in the formation of the Unitarian Society for the Diffusion of Christian Knowledge (9 April 1831), though he would have preferred as its designation the colourless name, ‘A Tract Society.’ By 1834 he had retired from public duty, and was suffering from a decay of sight, which ended in blindness. In November 1836 he removed to Dublin with his daughter Maria. Here he died on 27 Feb. 1841. He married, on 25 Jan. 1788, Susanna Hutton (died 22 Feb. 1819, aged 56), and had twelve children, of whom six survived him. Several portraits of Bruce exist; the earliest is in a large picture (1804) by Robinson, containing portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Bruce and others, now in the council-room of the Belfast chamber of commerce; a three-quarter length, by Thompson, is in the Linenhall Library, Belfast, and has been engraved in mezzotint (1819) by Hodgetts; a fine painting of head and bust is in the possession of a grandson, James Bruce, D.L., of Thorndale; an engraving by Adcock from a miniature by Hawksett was executed for the ‘Christian Moderator,’ 1827. He published: 1. ‘The Christian Soldier,’ 1803, 12mo, a sermon. 2. ‘Literary Essays on the Influence of Political Revolutions on the Progress of Religion and Learning; and on the Advantages of Classical Education,’ Belfast, 1811, 4to, 2nd edition 1818, 4to (originally published in the ‘Transactions of the Belfast Literary Society,’ 1809 and 1811). 3. ‘A Treatise on the Being and Attributes of God; with an Appendix on the Immateriality of the Soul,’ Belfast, 1818, 8vo (begun in 1808, and finished November 1813). 4. ‘Sermons on the Study of the Bible, and on the Doctrines of Christianity,’ Belfast, 1824, 2nd edition 1826, 8vo (not till the second edition did he rank his doctrines as ‘anti-trinitarian;’ his Arianism is evidently of a transitional type; in later life he was anxious to have it known that he had not altered his views, and on 27 Sept. 1839 he signed a paper stating that ‘the sentiments, principles, and opinions’ contained in this volume of sermons ‘coincide exactly with those which I entertain’). 5. ‘The State of Society in the Age of Homer,’ Belfast, 1827, 8vo. 6. ‘Brief Notes on the Gospels and Acts,’ Belfast, 1835, 12mo. 7. ‘A Paraphrase, with Brief Notes on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans,’ Belfast, 1836, 12mo. 8. ‘A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles and Apocalypse,’ Liverpool, 1836, 12mo. 9. ‘A Brief Commentary on the New Testament,’ Belfast, 1836, 12mo. Besides these he contributed papers, scientific and historical, &c., to the ‘Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy,’ ‘Belfast Literary Society,’ ‘Dublin University Magazine,’ and other periodicals. Among these articles may be noticed a series of twenty-three historical papers on the ‘Progress of Nonsubscription to Creeds,’ contributed to the ‘Christian Moderator,’ 1826–8; these are of value as giving extracts from original documents. His ‘Memoir of James VI,’ in ‘Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy,’ 1828, gives copies of original letters, and information respecting his ancestor, Rev. Robert Bruce of Kinnaird.
[Armstrong's Appendix to Ordination Service, James Martineau, 1829, pp. 75–7, 89; Porter's Funeral Sermon, The Christian's Hope in Death, 1841; Bible Christian, 1831, pp. 47, 239, 289, 1834, p. 389, 1841, pp. 111 sq.; Chr. Reformer, 1821, pp. 218 sq., 1859, p. 318; Reid's Hist. Presb. Ch. in Ireland (Killen), 1867, iii. 389, 444 sq.; Witherow's Hist. and Lit. Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland, 2nd ser. 1880, pp. 187 sq.; Benn's Hist. of Belfast, 1877, p. 453, vol. ii. 1880, pp. 48, 172; Belf. Newsletter, 26 Feb. 1819; Minutes of Gen. Synod, 1824, p. 31; Irish Unit. Mag. 1847, p. 357; Disciple (Belf.), 1883, pp. 84, 93 seq.; C. Porter's Seven Bruces, in Northern Whig, 20 May 1885; manuscript extracts from Minutes of Gen. Synod, 1780; manuscript Minutes of Antrim Presbytery, First Presb. Ch., Belfast, and Unit. Soc. Belfast; tombstones at Holywood.]