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No 27/Autumn 2002


To John Buchan [poem from Punch, 8 November 1916]

The Lord High Commissioner's tribute to Nisbet of that Ilk (1934), by John Buchan [speech by JB as Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, on the unveiling of a plaque to Alexander Nisbet, a historian of heraldry, in Old Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh]

The Vision Splendid: A synthesis of John Buchan's A Lodge in the Wilderness, by Edwin Lee

John Buchan, Journalist [review of JB's Comments and Characters, 13 November 1940, Punch]

John Buchan and East Africa, by Michael Redley

The Canadian and the Crown: How John Buchan paved the way for Vincent Massey, the first non-British Governor-General, by J William Galbraith

Men Alive [review of JB's Sick Heart River, 9 April 1941, Punch]

The Path of the King and an Indian artist's impression of John Buchan, by John Bridle [dustwrapper art and Outward Bound]

Winter Competition 2002

Book News: The JB Critical Biography; References to JB in Literature, collected by Diana Durden

Notes and Queries:

Correction for D Smith Caustic Thirkell Buchan as spy writer Update on the Transvaal Telegrams Queen Anne's Gate Crocodiles Revived Buchan as political thriller pioneer Buchan's fashion writing


John Buchan and East Africa
Michael Redley

John Buchan only briefly visited East Africa. He went for a few days to Lourenco Marques in Portuguese East Africa early in 1902, during his time as private secretary to the High Commissioner for South Africa, Lord Milner. His imagination was stirred by what he saw. He told a friend in England that it had 'a quaint flavour all of its own which I liked, and the road down is through magnificent subtropical mountain scenery' (JB to St Loe Strachey, 4 April 1902). A novel on imperial themes which he never completed was to have been set partly in Portuguese East Africa. A year later, in 1906, he located his masterly fictional colloquium on imperialism, A Lodge in the Wilderness, on an escarpment in the East Africa Protectorate, which became the Colony, and in 1963 the Republic, of Kenya.

As an editorial writer and book reviewer, Buchan produced more than a dozen pieces on East Africa for The Spectator before the First World War. But that was the high point of his interest. Oddly enough, despite friends who were to be deeply involved with East Africa, he was never to refer to it again in print. There will be a certain amount of guesswork in what follows because facts are scarce. But what was Buchan's connection with East Africa, and why did he fasten on to it in the way he did?

Its origins lay in South Africa. Lord Milner's administration which Buchan joined on his arrival there in October 1901 was dedicated to post-war reconstruction of the country. Milner gave Buchan several areas of the administration of the occupied Boer republics to oversee. However the job which he made particularly his own during his two years in the country was the administration of rural settlement for whites in the conquered territories of the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal.

Buchan was set by Milner to study the local land market, and to draft proposals for the valuation and compulsory appropriation of land. The aim was to develop land settlement schemes quickly, putting in numbers of small farmers attracted for the purpose from Britain or already living locally, before large land companies moved in to hold the land against future profit, delaying indefinitely the resurrection of the rural economy in the conquered Boer republics. He sought out frontiersmen, both Boer and British, to gauge the potential of land for development in different parts of the territory, and visited promising areas, often remote from already established farms, where large-scale schemes could be organised to attract a critical mass of new capital to restart the rural economy. He also wrote articles for anonymous publication in Britain drawing attention to opportunities for land settlement and farming in South Africa, and urged his friends and contacts in the press to whip up support for the Milner policy against its detractors in London (JB to St Loe Strachey, 15 February 1902).

The project was to grow in scale and importance over the next two years until Buchan was forced to choose between staying in South Africa to run the Land Department of over a hundred staff which he had built up (of which by December 1902 he was acting head), or returning to the heart of the Empire to pursue, as he hoped, a career in politics or imperial administration. The hazards of establishing new agricultural enterprises before the urban market for their produce had sufficiently recovered, with the prevalence of crop and animal diseases and the uncertainties of rainfall, had been seriously underestimated. Demand for land on the schemes was never as great as Buchan had hoped. Against that unpromising background progress was nevertheless made, with the first of Buchan's settlements starting in the Barberton district of the Transvaal in July 1902 and half a dozen more following on in the next few months (Buchan 1940, 110-11; JB to St Loe Strachey, 10 June 1902). The magnet of politics at the heart of things proved too strong and Buchan returned to another life in Britain, with a hitherto unsuspected talent for business and administration. He said later that there came to him in the rural wilderness of South African a civic and political sense which never left him. But it is also true that he found there the means of earning a living which was to provide for the rest of his life the essential backdrop to his activities as a writer (Buchan 1940, 124; JB to St Loe Strachey, 10 December 1902).

There was, though, a less straightforward aspect of Buchan's work with Milner on land matters which also led directly to his connection with East Africa. The settlement of land in the former Boer republics was a political ploy to establish the imperial connection in a form which would survive the end of direct British rule. Buchan recruited from the refugee camps what he called 'a corps of scouts of my own, mostly Dutchmen', who passed among the Afrikaner farmers as land agents, ostensibly acting solely in the interest of their clients, but in fact buying the land at knockdown prices for resettlement by British immigrants (JB to St Loe Strachey, 12 March 1902 and 25 September). He administered secret funds which allowed land to be bought from impecunious Boer farmers. Land grants under Buchan's control at the margins of the settled farming areas were deliberately used to reward National Scouts, 'loyalists' among the Boer population who had fought on the side of the British, and thus to entrench adherence to the British Empire as part of the fabric of rural life in the former Boer republics. Milner and his staff regarded their mission as winning the race against time to establish British influence as a hedge against the resurgence of Afrikaner power when politics returned with the ending of martial law. Buchan's work on rural settlement was his own direct contribution to achieving this objective. The experience of working 'in the shadows' was to prove compulsive, and Buchan returned to it repeatedly in various capacities throughout his life.

The Vision Splendid
A synthesis of John Buchan's A Lodge in the Wilderness
Edwin Lee


A Lodge in the Wilderness (1906) is a quasi-novel about an imaginary conference arranged by a multi-millionaire, Francis Carey, at a lodge, Musuru, located on the East Kenyan Plateau some 9000 feet above sea level, to discuss Empire. The conference is made up of nine men and nine women, taken from the upper and professional classes. Their views on political and social issues vary but they are all believers in Empire. The guests, drawn from contemporary figures as was conventional, express Buchan's views, and play Devil's Advocate, and reflect the views of Buchan's friends and of others with whom he had discussed the affairs of Empire and from whom he might differ in detail.

The imaginary symposium is held to clarify the minds of the participants and to assess the future as far as Empire is concerned. The name of the book is indicative of this. The wilderness, in Biblical imagery, is the place where someone retires for reflection after a challenging experience. Jesus retired to the wilderness after his baptism and anointing, and the Apostle Paul did the same after his conversion on the Damascus road (Acts 9: 1-9; Galatians 1: 15-17). This latter incident is specifically referred to by the host of the conference as to why he had invited the guests (Buchan 1906 [1916], 26). Their challenging experience, a reflection of Buchan's own, was the overwhelming triumph of the Liberal Party, with its small minority of Liberal Imperialists and its large majority of Little Englanders, at the 1906 election.

This book is in a category of its own; while it could be regarded as one of Buchan's novels it is not, strictly speaking, in that genre. It has some elements of a novel in using characters and aspects of a plot, but it is not a novel in the ordinary usage of the word; it is a fictitious symposium intended, through the utterances of the characters, not only as a defence of the ideals and practical benefits of Empire, but as a means of revivifying the cause. It is also an illuminating expression of Buchan's Christianity.

The Canadian and the Crown
How John Buchan paved the way for Vincent Massey, the first non-British governor general
J William Galbraith

Fifty years ago this month, Vincent Massey, the first Canadian-born governor-general, moved into Rideau Hall. His appointment is generally considered to be the transition to Canadianising the office of the governor-general. It was, however, really only the achievement of a transition that seriously began 67 years ago, with the last governor-general before the Second World War. Mr Massey, as a well-known anglophile, was a compromise for those who doubted or mistrusted the Canadianisation of this tradition-bound office. He also happened to be close to the Liberals and had been chairman of the Liberal party during the 1930s. As governor-general, Mr Massey looked to one of his predecessors as a model, a man he had known since the 1920s. He wrote that he 'greatly admired' Lord Tweedsmuir's work as governor-general and 'learnt much from it'.

Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsefield was John Buchan, member of the British Parliament, novelist, historian and publisher, when he was appointed governor-general of Canada in March 1935. The appointment of plain Mr Buchan sparked a nationwide debate about who should be governor-general. Canadians were used to lords, if not members of the Royal Family itself. The break with tradition was a difficult one. Some said that if a commoner was to be governor, a Canadian could be just as good as any commoner from the 'old country'. It was ground prepared by the 1931 Statute of Westminster that gave the Dominions such as Canada equal status with Britain within the Empire, or Commonwealth, as it was also being called then. On the day of the announcement, the Senate debated who should be filling the position of governor-general itself. Seventy-year-old Raoul Dandurand, Liberal leader in the Senate, picked up the 1931 statute theme, pointing out that a Canadian being nominated as governor-general would be in keeping with Canada's new status 'of absolute equality'. His colleague, Rodolphe Lemieux, remarked that the idea of having 'a full-blooded Canadian as governor-general' was one that had been in the public mind for some time already. They were expressing an opinion heard in French-Canada and by pacifists in the rest of the country that a Canadian-born governor would be less likely to involve Canada in a European conflict, which was becoming more and more a distinct possibility. The senators were quick to note, however, that these views in no way detracted from the qualities of the highly respected popular novelist himself.

Similar views were reflected in some Quebec newspapers and voiced by individuals from Ontario through the Prairies to British Columbia, as well as by chapters of a nationalist group called the Native Sons of Canada. Others were content to reflect on t he significance of Mr Buchan's appointment. The Globe in Toronto suggested: 'Canadians will have reason to count themselves fortunate if the unadorned name of John Buchan is added to the list of Canadian governor-general'. 'Fortunate' because he was a self-made man of many talents and accomplishments, not someone appointed simply because of a title. This was a view that Mackenzie King, then leader of the opposition and who knew Mr Buchan, shared but did not voice at that time. He publicly noted only that he regarded the appointment 'an excellent one'. But the unadorned name was not to remain so for long. Two months after the appointment, King George V granted Mr Buchan a barony. This action assuaged somewhat the still very strong imperialist current in the Dominion. Many were now left disappointed, first that a peer had not been appointed, still others that it was not plain John Buchan who would be governor-general. His arrival in November 1935, shortly after Mackenzie King's Liberals were elected into power once again, provoked widespread debate. In the end, however, the vast majority welcomed this unique governor-general.

Tweedsmuir brought less formality to Rideau Hall. His approach to the job was to see as much of Canada as possible, drawing Canadians' attention to other parts of their country and, in particular, the North, all with a view to minimising the regionalism he witnessed. His speeches, written himself and generally delivered without notes, inspired his many and varied audiences. He promoted a strong sovereign Canada because he believed that the Commonwealth could not be strong if its component parts were not. This was also a strategic question, as war clouds gathered over Europe. John Buchan's appointment, then his work as governor-general Lord Tweedsmuir, acted as catalysts to Canadianising the Crown. Vincent Massey carried on that work. But contrary to many contemporary Canadianisers, the Crown was central to both Lord Tweedsmuir's and Mr Massey's vision for Canada. If Mr Massey was the most British of our Canadian governors-general, Lord Tweedsmuir was the most Canadian of our British governors. These two individuals constitute the transition to the Canadianisation of the post; albeit a transition interrupted by the war, during which ties to Britain and the Empire were practically and emotionally strengthened. The transition was completed in a wonderfully symbolic way, with Mr Massey using Lord Tweedsmuir's Windsor uniform that had been sent over by Lady Tweedsmuir. Mr Massey was very similar in stature to Lady Tweedsmuir's late husband, who had died while still in office, in February 1940, after a fall in which he struck his head. As we reflect on 50 years of Canadian governors-general, we should focus on the Tweedsmuir-Massey transition and on their approach and vision for inspiration to strengthen our distinctiveness, while still knowing properly where in the world we belong.

A version of this article was originally published in February 2002 in the Ottawa Citizen.

The Path of the King and an Indian artist's impression of John Buchan
John Bridle

In the early months of 1920 John Buchan moved to Elsfield to begin a sustained period of writing for the next fifteen years or so. During the war he had lost friends, had been shaken by their deaths and also needed to try to recover his health from the effects of intense working during that period. A consequence as Buchan declares in Memory Hold-the-Door (1940, p206) was a 'desire to recover the sense of continuity, which had brought me to Elsfield', and which 'prompted my first serious piece of fiction, The Path of the King'. He had been developing its theme 'the notion that no man knows his ancestry, and that kingly blood may lie dormant for centuries until the appointed time' over many years. Commercially it was one of his least successful but was the start of several exciting historic adventures which gave him immense satisfaction to create as well as contributing to a steady income from writing.

Some of Buchan's stories were pre-published in serial form and that process was followed for The Path of the King, this time in the monthly magazine Outward Bound during 1920 and 1921 as described in Andrew Lownie's biography of Buchan (p176). Outward Bound's editor Basil Mathews no doubt saw in Buchan, following his three enormously successful Hannay stories, an important 'name' with which to launch the new publication. The episodic nature of the story would have also suited serialisation very well. From Buchan's standpoint a significant reason in choosing Outward Bound may have been the magazine's intention, set out in the second issue, to 'seek a real understanding of other races and nations, and help to discover a way through these great international and inter-racial problems with which men and women are faced'. The magazine's aims included development of the broad theme of Empire and its peoples, a concept important to Buchan from early days and developed in A Lodge in the Wilderness in 1906. It is probable that his wife also was sympathetic to the new magazine, since there is an article in the sixth issue by Susan Buchan entitled 'Touchstone'. This explores her thoughts following a trip to Paris when she encountered on the Boulogne train a woman returning from the battlefields having located her son's grave. The piece is well-written and evocative of the awfulness of the war and its aftermath. Susan Buchan explored the idea that 'once at least in each of our lives reality tears through'. The article contained a reference to the pilgrim Mr Standfast.

In the light of Buchan's work with Lord Milner in South Africa it is interesting to find in the magazine's eleventh issue an exclusive interview with 'Lord Milner: Imperialist and Socialist'. Of note also I think, in view of the final chapter of The Path of the King, is an article by John Drinkwater entitled 'Lincoln: The World Emancipator'. From all of this I conclude that Buchan had a strong preference for Outward Bound, as opposed to other popular magazines or periodicals of the day, in which to serialise this particular book.

Janet Adam Smith, who knew the house and JB and his family in it, wrote so well that I can't do better than quote at some length, especially as what she wrote is apposite to what I want to go on to say.

To me a significant aspect of pre-publication in Outward Bound was the inclusion of two very different representations of the author. At the start of the first installment is a photograph of Buchan in uniform probably taken four years earlier. The second, on the facing page of the fifth installment, is a sketch of Buchan by Mukul C Dey, the Indian artist. One can speculate that the sketch was, as the installments progressed, an attempt to present to Outward Bound readers a less 'establishment' image of Buchan to contrast with the military photograph at the beginning.

Following serialisation the story was published in 1921 by Hodder and Stoughton at 8/6d. This was one shilling and sixpence more than his previous major adventure Mr Standfast in 1919. The higher price of The Path of the King was no doubt an attempt by Hodder to capitalise on the success of the Hannay stories. In the event the historical fantasy did not attract the same wide readership as the thrillers. The publisher reacted quickly and in 1922 Huntingtower, the next adventure, was retailed at 7/6d. This price continued unchanged up to and including in 1936 The Island of Sheep.

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