Few and Melancholy are the incidents recorded in the life of Bruce, which was not only short, but passed in obscurity, and in the silent acquisition of knowledge. Lord Craig, however, has noticed him with high eulogies in the 36th number of the Mirror; and Logan, his intimate friend, and himself a poet, was the editor of his small but beautiful remains.
Michael Bruce was born at Kinneswood in Kinross-shire, 1746, of humble, but honest parents, who supported a large family by their industry, and gave this their fifth son, whose constitution was always delicate, a classical education, intending him for the ministry. In 1762 he was sent to the university of Edinburgh, where he spent four years in the closest application to study, amusing himself with the belles-lettres and poetry, to which he had early shewn a marked predilection. Indeed, before he left school, he had composed some elegant pieces of poetry; and at Edinburgh, his acquaintance with Logan, and some other young men of kindred talents, fanned the flame in his breast, and gave a permanent direction to his pursuits.
Pressed, however, by penury, he was obliged to undertake the care of a little school at a place called Gairny Bridge, and afterwards at Forrest Mill, near Alloa, in Clackmannanshire. In the latter situation, the toil and privations he endured operating on a susceptible mind and a weak frame, soon ruined his health, and he fell into a decline. No longer able to discharge the duties of his profession, he returned to his parents, and after lingering some months under his incurable malady, he gave up all hopes of life; but his love of the muses never forsook him, and his resignation and composure were most exemplary. The Elegy written in Spring, in the contemplation of his own approaching dissolution, is one of the most affecting compositions in the English language. He died July 6, 1767, in the 21st year of his age; and as his life was innocent, his end was full of hope.
"If images of nature," says his editor Logan, "that are beautiful and new; if sentiments, warm from the heart, interesting and pathetic; if a style, chaste with ornament, and elegant with simplicity; if these and many other beauties of nature and art are allowed to constitute poetic merit, the following poems will stand high in the judgment of men of taste."
His character may be easily collected from this account of his life. It was truly amiable and respectable. In his manners he was modest, gentle, and mild; in his disposition he was friendly, affectionate, and ingenuous. He united an ardent and enlightened sense of religion with a lively imagination and a feeling heart. Tenderness, in every sense of the word, and piety, equally remote from enthusiasm and superstition, were his peculiar characteristics.
As a poet, he is distinguished by elegance, simplicity, and sweetness, more than sublimity, invention, or enthusiasm. He has more judgment and feeling than genius or imagination. He is an elegant and pleasing, though not a very animated or original writer. His compositions are the production of a tender fancy, a cultivated taste, and a benevolent mind; and are marked by an amiable delicacy and simplicity of sentiment, and a graceful plainness of expression, free from the affectation of an inflated diction, and a profusion of imagery, so common in juvenile productions. His thoughts are often striking, sometimes new, and always just; and his versification, though not exquisitely polished, is commonly easy and harmonious.