John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir - Life As An Author and Politician

Life As An Author and Politician

Buchan entered into a career in diplomacy and government after graduating from Oxford, becoming the private secretary to Alfred Milner, who was then the High Commissioner for Southern Africa, Governor of Cape Colony, and colonial administrator of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, putting Buchan in what came to be known as Milner's Kindergarten. He also gained an acquaintance with a country that would feature prominently in his writing, which he resumed upon his return to London, at the same time entering into a partnership in the Thomas Nelson & Son publishing company and becoming editor of The Spectator. Buchan also read for and was called to the bar in 1901, though he did not practice as a lawyer, and on 15 July 1907 married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor— daughter of Norman Grosvenor and a cousin of the Duke of Westminster. Together, Buchan and his wife had four children, Alice, John, William, and Alastair, two of whom would spend most of their lives in Canada.

Buchan wrote Prester John in 1910, the first of his adventure novels set in South Africa, and the following year he suffered from duodenal ulcers, which also inspired one of his characters in later books. At the same time, Buchan ventured into the political arena, and ran as a Unionist candidate in a Scottish Borders constituency; he supported free trade, women's suffrage, national insurance, and curtailing the powers of the House of Lords, though he did also oppose the welfare reforms of the Liberal Party, and what he considered to be the "class hatred" fostered by demagogic Liberals such as David Lloyd George.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Buchan went to write for the British War Propaganda Bureau and worked as a correspondent in France for The Times. He continued to write fiction, and in 1915 published his most famous work, The Thirty-Nine Steps, a spy-thriller set just prior to World War I. The novel featured Buchan's oft used hero, Richard Hannay, whose character was based on Edmund Ironside, a friend of Buchan from his days in South Africa. A sequel, Greenmantle, came the following year. Buchan then enlisted in the British Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps, where he wrote speeches and communiqués for Sir Douglas Haig. Recognised for his abilities, Buchan was appointed as the Director of Information in 1917, under the Lord Beaverbrook— a job that Buchan said was "the toughest job I ever took on"— and also assisted Charles Masterman in publishing a monthly magazine that detailed the history of the war, the first edition appearing in February 1915 (and later published in 24 volumes as Nelson's History of the War). It was difficult, given his close connections to many of Britain's military leaders, for Buchan to be critical of the British Army's conduct during the conflict.

Following the close of the war, Buchan turned his attention to writing on historical subjects, along with his usual thrillers and novels. By the mid-1920s, he was living in Elsfield and had become president of the Scottish Historical Society and a trustee of the National Library of Scotland, and he also maintained ties with various universities. Robert Graves, who lived in nearby Islip, mentioned his being recommended by Buchan for a lecturing position at the newly founded Cairo University and, in a 1927 by-election, Buchan was elected as the Unionist Party Member of Parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities. Politically, he was of the Unionist-Nationalist tradition, believing in Scotland's promotion as a nation within the British Empire. Buchan remarked in a speech to parliament: "I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist. If it could be proved that a Scottish parliament were desirable... Scotsmen should support it." The effects of the Great Depression in Scotland, and the subsequent high emigration from that country, also led Buchan to reflect in the same speech: "We do not want to be like the Greeks, powerful and prosperous wherever we settle, but with a dead Greece behind us," and he found himself profoundly affected by John Morley's Life of Gladstone, which Buchan read in the early months of the Second World War. He believed that Gladstone had taught people to combat materialism, complacency, and authoritarianism; Buchan later wrote to Herbert Fisher, Stair Gillon, and Gilbert Murray that he was "becoming a Gladstonian Liberal."

After the United Free Church of Scotland joined in 1929 with the Church of Scotland, Buchan remained an active elder of St. Columba's Church in London, as well as of the Oxford Presbyterian parish. In 1933 and 1934, Buchan was further appointed as the King George V's Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Beginning in 1930, Buchan aligned himself with Zionism and the related Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group. In recognition of his contributions to literature and education, on 1 January 1932, Buchan was granted the personal gift of the sovereign of induction into the Order of the Companions of Honour.

In 1935, Buchan's literary work was adapted to the cinematic theatre with the completion of Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, starring Robert Donat as Richard Hannay, though with Buchan's story much altered. This came in the same year that Buchan was honoured with appointment to the Order of St. Michael and St. George on 23 May, as well as being elevated to the peerage, when he was entitled by King George V as Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield in the County of Oxford on 1 June. This had been done in preparation for Buchan's appointment as Canada's governor general; when consulted by Canadian prime minister Richard Bennett about the appointment, the Leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition, William Lyon Mackenzie King, had recommended that the King allow Buchan to serve as viceroy as a commoner, but George V insisted that he be represented by a peer.

Buchan's name had been earlier put forward by Mackenzie King to George V as a candidate for the governor generalcy: Buchan and his wife had been guests of Mackenzie King's at his estate, Kingsmere, in 1924, and Mackenzie King, who at that time was prime minister, was impressed with Buchan, stating, "I know no man I would rather have as a friend, a beautiful, noble soul, kindly & generous in thought & word & act, informed as few men in this world have ever been, modest, humble, true, man after God's own heart." One evening in the following year, the Prime Minister mentioned to Governor General the Lord Byng of Vimy that Buchan would be a suitable successor to Byng, with which the Governor General agreed, the two being friends. Word of this reached the British Cabinet, and Buchan was approached, but he was reluctant to take the posting; Byng had been writing to Buchan about the constitutional dispute that took place in June 1926 and spoke disparagingly of Mackenzie King.

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