John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (August 26, 1875 - February 11, 1940), was a Scottish novelist and politician who served as Governor General of Canada.
Born in Perth, Scotland, he was educated at Glasgow University and Brasenose College, Oxford, winning the Newdigate prize for poetry while a student at the latter. Buchan at first entered into a career in law in 1901, but almost immediately moved into politics, becoming private secretary to Alfred Milner, who was high commissioner of South Africa - hence Buchan gained an acquaintance with the country that was to feature prominently in his writing. Buchan married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor, cousin of the Duke of Westminster, on July 15, 1907. Together they had four children, two of whom would spend most of their lives in Canada.
During World War I, he was a correspondent for the Times in France before becoming Director of Information under Lord Beaverbrook in 1917. After the war he began to write on historical subjects, and became president of the Scottish Historical Society. He was twice High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and in 1927 was elected a Member of Parliament. In 1935 he became Governor General of Canada and was created Baron Tweedsmuir. The Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King had wanted him to go to Canada as a commoner, but King George V insisted on being represented by a peer.
Life in Canada
His career as a novelist was by then a thriving one, and he had produced his best-known works, including Prester John (1910), The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), and Greenmantle (1916). He moved on to write biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Caesar Augustus, Oliver Cromwell and James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose. His autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, was also written while he was Governor General. The Thirty-Nine Steps later became famous when Alfred Hitchcock made it into a movie. Lady Tweedsmuir wrote many books and plays under the name of Susan Buchan.
While he pursued his own writing career, he also promoted the development of a distinctly Canadian culture. In 1936, encouraged by Lady Tweedsmuir, he founded the Governor General's Awards for many years Canada's premier literary awards.
Lady Tweedsmuir was active in promoting literacy in Canada. She used Rideau Hall as a distribution centre for 40,000 books, which were sent out to readers in remote areas of the west. Her program was known as the "Lady Tweedsmuir Prairie Library Scheme". Together, Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir established the first proper library at Rideau Hall.
Lord Tweedsmuir took his responsibilities in Canada seriously and tried to make the office of Governor General relevant to the lives of ordinary Canadians. In his own words, "a Governor General is in a unique position for it is his duty to know the whole of Canada and all the various types of her people".
Lord Tweedsmuir travelled throughout Canada, including the Arctic Circle. He took every opportunity to speak to Canadians and to encourage them to develop their own distinct identity. He wanted to build national unity by diminishing the religious and linguistic barriers that divided the country. Lord Tweedsmuir was aware of the suffering experienced by many Canadians due to the Depression and often wrote with compassion about their difficulties.
Lord Tweedsmuir was recognized by Glasgow, St. Andrews, McGill, Toronto and Montreal Universities, all of which conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, and he was made an Honorary Fellow and an Honorary D.C.L. of Oxford.
When His Majesty King George V died in 1936, the front of Rideau Hall was covered in black crepe and Lord Tweedsmuir cancelled all entertaining during the period of mourning. The new heir to the throne, King Edward VIII, soon abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson – creating a crisis for the monarchy. However, when the new King, His Majesty George VI and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth travelled throughout Canada in 1939, the regal visit – the first visit to Canada by a reigning Sovereign – was extremely popular.
Like many people of his time, the experience of the First World War convinced Lord Tweedsmuir of the horrors of armed conflict and he worked with both United States President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King in trying to avert the ever-growing threat of another world war.
While shaving on February 6, 1940, Lord Tweedsmuir had a stroke and injured his head badly in the fall. He received the best possible care – Canada's famous Dr. Wilder Penfield operated twice – but the injury proved fatal. On February 11, just 10 months before his term of office was to expire, Lord Tweedsmuir died. Prime Minister Mackenzie King reflected the loss that all Canadians felt when he read the following words over the radio, "In the passing of His Excellency, the people of Canada have lost one of the greatest and most revered of their Governors General, and a friend who, from the day of his arrival in this country, dedicated his life to their service."
This was the first time a Governor General had died during his term of office since Confederation. After the lying-in-state in the Senate Chamber, a State funeral for Lord Tweedsmuir was held at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. His ashes were returned to England on the warship H.M.S. Orion for final burial at Elsfield, where he had bought the Manor in 1920.
In recent years, Buchan's reputation has been tarnished by the lack of political correctness perceived, with hindsight, in his novels. However, in many other ways, his work stands the test of time, and he is currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity.
Bibliography of Principal Works
1896 Scholar-Gipsies (essays)
1899 Grey Weather (stories and poems)
1899 A Lost Lady of Old Years
1900 The Half-Hearted
1902 The Watcher by the Threshold (stories)
1903 The African Colony
1905 The Law Relating to the Taxation of Foreign Income
1906 A Lodge in the Wilderness
1908 Some Eighteenth Century Byways (essays and articles)
1910 Prester John
1911 Sir Walter Raleigh
1912 The Moon Endureth (stories and poems)
1912 What the Home Rule Bill Means
1913 The Marquis of Montrose
1913 Andrew Jameson, Lord Ardwall
1915 Salute to Adventurers
1915 The Thirty-Nine Steps
1915 Britain's War by Land
1915 The Achievement of France
1915 Ordeal by Marriage
1916 The Future of the War
1916 The Power-House
1916 The Battle of Jutland
1916 The Battle of the Somme, First Phase
1916 The Purpose of War
1917 Poems, Scots and English
1917 The Battle of the Somme, Second Phase
1919 Mr Standfast
1919 These for Remembrance
1919 The Battle Honours of Scotland 1914-1918
1920 The History of the South African Forces in France
1920 Francis and Riversdale Grenfell
1920 The Long Road to Victory
1921 The Path of the King
1921-2 A History of the Great War
1922 A Book of Escapes and Hurried Journeys
1923 The Last Secrets (essays and articles)
1923 A History of English Literature
1923 Days to Remember
1924 Some Notes on Sir Walter Scott
1924 The Three Hostages
1925 The History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers 1678-1918
1925 John Macnab
1925 The Man and the Book
1925 Sir Walter Scott
1925 Two Ordeals of Democracy
1926 The Dancing Floor
1926 Homilies and Recreations (essays and addresses)
1927 Witch Wood
1928 The Runagates Club (stories 1913-28)
1929 The Courts of the Morning
1930 The Kirk in Scotland (with George Adam Smith)
1930 Montrose and Leadership
1930 Castle Gay
1930 Lord Rosebery, 1847-1930
1931 The Blanket of the Dark
1931 The Novel and the Fairy Tale
1932 Sir Walter Scott
1932 The Gap in the Curtain
1932 Julius Caesar
1932 The Magic Walking Stick (for children)
1932 Andrew Lang and the Borders
1933 The Massacre of Glencoe
1933 A Prince of the Captivity
1933 The Margins of Life
1934 The Free Fishers
1934 Gordon at Khartoum
1934 Oliver Cromwell
1935 The King's Grace
1935 The House of the Four Winds
1936 The Island of Sheep
1938 The Interpreter's House
1938 Presbyterianism Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
1940 Memory Hold-the-Door
1940 Comments and Characters
1940 Canadian Occasions
1941 Sick Heart River
1941 The Long Traverse