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Rangkronen-Fig. 32.png
His Excellency The Right Honourable
 The Lord Tweedsmuir
 GCMG, GCVO, CH, PC, DCL(hc) MA Oxon, DD(hc) LLD(hc) Tor, LLD(hc) Harv, LLD(hc) Yale, LLD(hc) McGill, LLD(hc) Mont, LLD(hc) Glas, LLD(hc) StAnd

In office
2 November 1935 – 11 February 1940
Monarch George V
Edward VIII
George VI
Prime Minister R. B. Bennett
William Lyon Mackenzie King
Preceded by The Earl of Bessborough
Succeeded by The Earl of Athlone

Born 26 August 1875(1875-08-26)
Perth, Scotland
Died 11 February 1940 (aged 64)
Montreal, Quebec
Spouse(s) Susan Buchan, Baroness Tweedsmuir
Profession Author
Religion Free Church of Scotland, United Free Church of Scotland, Church of Scotland

John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir GCMG GCVO CH PC (26 August 1875 – 11 February 1940) was a Scottish[1] novelist and Unionist politician who, between 1935 and 1940, served as the 15th Governor General of Canada.

After a brief career in law, Buchan simultaneously began writing and his political and diplomatic career, serving as a private secretary to the colonial administrator of various colonies in Southern Africa, and eventually wrote propaganda for the British war effort following the outbreak of the First World War. Once back in civilian life, Buchan was elected the Member of Parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities, but spent most of his time on his writing career. He wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps and other adventure fiction.

On the recommendation of Canadian Prime Minister Richard Bennett, Buchan was appointed by George V, the king of Canada, as the Canadian viceroy, succeeding in that role the Earl of Bessborough.[2] Buchan proved to be enthusiastic about literacy as well as the evolution of Canadian culture. He died in 1940, suffering the consequences of a stroke at Rideau Hall. He received a state funeral in Canada, and his ashes were returned to the UK and interred at Elsfield, Oxfordshire.


Early life and education

Buchan was the first child of John Buchan – a Free Church of Scotland minister – and Helen Jane Buchan. Born in Perth, Buchan was raised in Kirkcaldy, Fife, and spent many summer holidays with his grandparents in Broughton, in the Scottish Borders. There he developed a love of walking, as well as for the local scenery and wildlife, which often featured in his novels; the name of a protagonist in a number of Buchan's books – Sir Edward Leithen – is borrowed from the Leithen Water, a tributary of the River Tweed.

After attending Hutchesons' Grammar School, Buchan was awarded a scholarship at 17 to the University of Glasgow, where he studied classics, wrote poetry and became a published author. With a Junior Hulme scholarship, he moved on in 1895 to study Literae Humaniores (the Oxon term for 'the Classics') at Brasenose College, Oxford.[3] There he befriended a number of individuals, including Hilaire Belloc, Raymond Asquith and Aubrey Herbert. Buchan won both the Stanhope essay prize in 1897 and the Newdigate Prize for poetry the following year,[3] as well as being elected as the president of the Oxford Union, and having six of his works published.[4] It was at around the time of his graduation from Oxford that Buchan had his first portrait painted, done in 1900 by a young Sholto Johnstone Douglas.[5]

Life as an author and politician

John Buchan, circa 1936.

Buchan entered into a career in diplomacy and government after graduating from Oxford, becoming the private secretary to colonial administrator Alfred Milner, who was then the High Commissioner for Southern Africa, the Governor of Cape Colony, and the colonial administrator of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. This posting put Buchan in what came to be known as Milner's Kindergarten, and gave him an acquaintance with a country that would feature prominently in his writing, which, along with entering into a partnership in the Thomas Nelson & Son publishing company, and becoming editor of The Spectator,[6] he resumed upon his return to London. Buchan also read for and was called to the Bar in 1907,[2] though he did not practice as a lawyer,[7] and, on 15 July of the same year, married Susan Charlotte Grosvenor – a cousin of Hugh Grosvenor, Duke of Westminster – and together they had four children, two of whom would spend most of their lives in Canada.[2]

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 tread 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,[8] 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 like David Lloyd George.[9]

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, however, 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, which was a character based on Edmund Ironside, a fellow who had been a friend of Buchan from the latter's days in South Africa. The following year, Buchan published a sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps: Greenmantle, and then enlisted in the British Army, becoming a 2nd lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps, where he wrote speeches and communiqués for Sir Douglas Haig. Recognised for his abilities, Buchan was in 1917 appointed as the Director of Information, under Max Aitken, Baron Beaverbrook[2] – a job Buchan said was "the toughest job I ever took on"[10] – and also assisted Charles Masterman in carrying out one of his early projects: publishing a monthly magazine that detailed the history of the war, with the first edition appearing in February 1915. It was difficult however, 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.[11] This was also published in 24 volumes as Nelson's History of the War from 1915-1919.

Following the close of the war, Buchan, along with his usual thrillers and novels, turned his attention to writing on historical subjects. By the mid-1920s, he was living in Elsfield, had become the President of the Scottish Historical Society, a trustee of the National Library of Scotland,[2] and maintained ties with various universities; Robert Graves, who lived in nearby Islip, mentioned his being recommended by Buchan for a lecturing position at the then 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.[N 1] The effects of the Great Depression in Scotland, and the subsequent high emigration from that country, also led Buchan to reflect: "We do not want to be like the Greeks, powerful and prosperous wherever we settle, but with a dead Greece behind us,"[12] 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 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."[13]

After the United Free Church of Scotland joined in 1929 with the Church of Scotland, he 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's Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. However, beginning in 1930, Buchan also aligned himself with Zionism and the related Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group.[14] 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.[15]

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 the story of Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps much altered. This came in the same year that Buchan was, on 23 May, honoured with appointment to the Order of St. Michael and St. George,[16] as well as being elevated to the peerage, when he was on 1 June created by King George V as Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield in the County of Oxford.[17] This had been done in preparation for Buchan's appointment as governor general of Canada; Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King had recommended to the King that he allow Buchan to be viceroy as a commoner, but George V insisted that he be represented by a peer.

Governor generalship

Mackenzie King delivers an address at the installation of Lord Tweedsmuir as Governor General of Canada, November 2, 1935.
Lord Tweedsmuir in Native headdress, 1937 (photo by Yousuf Karsh).

It was announced from the Prime Minister's office on 10 August 1935 that the King had, by commission under the royal sign-manual and signet, approved the recommendation of his Canadian prime minister, Mackenzie King, to appoint Buchan as his representative. Buchan then departed for Canada, and, on 2 November 1935 was sworn in as the country's governor general in a ceremony in the salon rouge of the parliament buildings of Quebec. Buchan was the first viceroy of Canada appointed since the enactment on 11 December 1931 of the Statute of Westminster, and was thus the first to have been decided on solely by the monarch of Canada in his Canadian council.

Though Buchan continued writing during his time as governor general, he also thereafter took his position as viceroy with seriousness, and from the outset made it his goal to travel the length and breadth of Canada, including, for the first time for a governor general,[4] the Arctic regions; he said of his job: "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". Buchan also encouraged a distinct Canadian identity and national unity, despite the ongoing Great Depression and the difficulty it caused for the population.[2] Not all Canadians, however, shared Buchan's views; he raised the ire of imperialists when he said in Montreal in 1937: "a Canadian's first loyalty is not to the British Commonwealth of Nations, but to Canada and Canada's King,"[18] a statement the Montreal Gazette dubbed as "disloyal."[19] At the same time, Buchan was championing an early form of multiculturalism in Canada; from his installation speech onwards, he maintained and recited his idea that ethnic groups "should retain their individuality and each make its contribution to the national character," and "the strongest nations are those that are made up of different racial elements."[20]

The following year proved to be a tumultuous one for the monarchy that Buchan represented. In late January, George V died, and his eldest son, the popular Prince Edward, acceded to the throne as Edward VIII, while Rideau Hall – the royal and viceroyal residence in Ottawa – was decked in black crepe and all formal entertaining was cancelled during the official period of mourning. As the year unfolded, however, it became evident that the new king planned to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson, which caused much discontent throughout the Dominions. Buchan conveyed to Buckingham Palace and British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin Canadians' deep affection for the King, but also the outrage to Canadian religious feelings, both Catholic and Protestant, that would occur if Edward VIII married Simpson.[21] By 11 December, the King had abdicated in favour of his younger brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York, who was thereafter known as George VI. In order for the line of succession for Canada to remain parallel to those of the other Dominions, Buchan, as Governor-in-Council, gave the government's consent to the British legislation that formalised the abdication, and in 1937 formally ratified this when he granted Royal Assent to the Succession to the Throne Act.[22]

In May and June 1939 the new king and his royal consort toured the country from coast to coast, and paid a state visit to the United States as well. The royal tour had been conceived by Buchan before the coronation in 1937; according to the official event historian, Gustave Lanctot, the idea "probably grew out of the knowledge that as his coming Coronation, George VI was to assume the additional title of King of Canada," and Buchan desired to demonstrate with living example – through Canadians seeing "their King performing royal functions, supported by his Canadian ministers" – the fact of Canada's status as an independent kingdom.[23] Buchan put great effort into securing a positive response to the invitation sent to the King in May 1937; after more than a year without a reply, in June 1938 Buchan headed to the United Kingdom for personal holidays, but also to procure a decision on the possible royal tour. From his home near Oxford, Buchan wrote to Mackenzie King: "The important question for me is, of course, the King's visit to Canada." After a period of convalescence at Ruthin Castle, Buchan, in October, sailed back to Canada with a secured commitment that the King and Queen would tour the country. Though he had been a significant contributor to the organisation of the trip, Buchan retired to Rideau Hall for the duration of the King's time in Canada; Buchan expressed the view that while the King of Canada was present, "I cease to exist as Viceroy, and retain only a shadowy legal existence as Governor-General in Council."[23]

Another factor behind the tour, however, was public relations: the presence of the King and Queen, both in Canada and the United States, was calculated to shore up sympathy for Britain in anticipation of hostilities with Nazi Germany. Buchan's experiences during the First World War made him averse to conflict, he tried to help prevent another war in coordination with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mackenzie King. Still, in September, shortly after the British declaration of war, and with the King's consent, Buchan authorised Canada's declaration of war against Germany, and thereafter, as the titular Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian armed forces, issued orders of deployment for Canadian soldiers, airmen, and seamen. These duties would not burden Buchan for long, as, on 6 February 1940, he suffered a severe head injury when he fell during a stroke at Rideau Hall. Two surgeries from Doctor Wilder Penfield of the Montreal Neurological Institute were insufficient to save him. His death on 11 February was eulogized on the radio by Mackenzie King: "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." The Governor General had formed a strong bond with his prime minister, even if it may have been built more on political admiration than personal, while Mackenzie King, despite being wary of Buchan's vices (such as his penchant for titles), appreciated his "sterling rectitude and disinterested purpose."[4]

After lying in state in the Senate chamber on Parliament Hill, the state funeral for Buchan was held at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Ottawa. Buchan's ashes were returned to the UK aboard the cruiser HMS Orion for final burial at Elsfield, his family estate in Oxfordshire.


Buchan continued to write while governor general of Canada, including an autobiography Memory Hold-the-Door, as well as works on the history and his views of Canada. He and the Baroness Tweedsmuir together established the first proper library at Rideau Hall, and, with his wife's encouragement, Buchan founded the Governor General's Literary Awards, which remain Canada's premier award for literature.[2]

Buchan's 100 works include nearly thirty novels, seven collections of short stories and biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Caesar Augustus, and Oliver Cromwell. Buchan was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his biography of James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, but the most famous of his books were the spy thrillers, and it is for these that he is now best remembered. The "last Buchan" (as Graham Greene entitled his appreciative review) was the 1941 novel Sick Heart River (American title: Mountain Meadow), in which a dying protagonist confronts in the Canadian wilderness the questions of the meaning of life. The insightful quotation "It's a great life, if you don't weaken" is famously attributed to Buchan, as is "No great cause is ever lost or won, The battle must always be renewed, And the creed must always be restated."

Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in British Columbia, now divided into Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park and Tweedsmuir North Provincial Park and Protected Area, was created in 1938 to commemorate Buchan's 1937 visit to the Rainbow Range and other nearby areas by horseback and floatplane. In the foreword to a booklet published to commemorate his visit, he wrote "I have now travelled over most of Canada and have seen many wonderful things, but I have seen nothing more beautiful and more wonderful than the great park which British Columbia has done me the honour to call by my name".[24]

Titles, styles, and honours



Viceregal styles of
John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir
Crest of the Governor-General of Canada.svg
Reference style His Excellency The Right Honourable
Son Excellence le très honorable
Spoken style Your Excellency
Votre Excellence
Alternative style Sir
United Kingdom United Kingdom
  • 25 August 1875 – 1901: Mister John Buchan
  • 1901 – 3 June 1935: John Buchan, Esquire
  • 3 June 1935 – 11 February 1940: The Right Honourable The Lord Tweedsmuir
Canada Canada
  • 2 November 1935 – 11 February 1940: His Excellency The Right Honourable The Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Naval and Air Forces of Canada

Buchan's style and title as governor general of Canada was, in full, and in English: His Excellency The Right Honourable Sir John Buchan, Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield, Companion of the Order of Companions of Honour, Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Naval and Air Forces of Canada, and in French: Son Excellence le très honorable Sir John Buchan, baron Tweedsmuir, compagnon de l'ordre des compagnons d'honneur, chevalier grand-croix du très distingué ordre de Saint-Michel et Saint-George, chevalier grand-croix de l'ordre royal de Victoria, gouverneur général et commandant en chef de la milice et des forces navales et aériennes du Canada. It should be noted that, for Buchan, Commander-in-Chief was strictly a title, and not a position that he held; the actual commander-in-chief (who can also be, and is, called such) is perpetually the monarch of Canada.[25]


Foreign honours

Honorary military appointments

Honorary degrees

Honorific eponyms

Geographic locations

List of principal works



  • Scholar-Gipsies (1896)
  • The African Colony (1903)
  • The Law Relating to the Taxation of Foreign Income (1905)
  • Some Eighteenth Century Byways (1908)
  • Sir Walter Raleigh (1911)
  • What the Home Rule Bill Means (1912)
  • The Marquis of Montrose (1913)
  • Andrew Jameson, Lord Ardwall (1913)
  • Nelson's History Of The War. 24 volumes (1914-1919)
  • Britain's War by Land (1915)
  • The Achievement of France (1915)
  • Ordeal by Marriage (1915)
  • The Future of the War (1916)
  • The Battle of the Somme, First Phase (1916)
  • The Purpose of War (1916)
  • The Battle of Jutland (1916)
  • Poems, Scots and English (1917)
  • The Battle of the Somme, Second Phase (1917)
  • These for Remembrance (1919)
  • The Battle Honours of Scotland 1914-1918 (1919)
  • The History of the South African Forces in France (1920)
  • Francis and Riversdale Grenfell (1920)
  • The Long Road to Victory (1920)
  • A History of the Great War (1922)
  • A Book of Escapes and Hurried Journeys (1922)
  • The Last Secrets (1923)
  • A History of English Literature (1923)
  • Days to Remember (1923)
  • Some Notes on Sir Walter Scott (1924)
  • Lord Minto, a Memoir (1924)
  • The History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers 1678-1918 (1925)
  • The Man and the Book: Sir Walter Scott (1925)
  • Two Ordeals of Democracy (1925)
  • Homilies and Recreations (1926)
  • The Kirk in Scotland (with George Adam Smith) (1930)
  • Montrose and Leadership (1930)
  • Lord Rosebery, 1847-1929 (1930)
  • The Novel and the Fairy Tale (1931)
  • Julius Caesar (1932)
  • Andrew Lang and the Borders (1932)
  • The Massacre of Glencoe (1933)
  • The Margins of Life (1933)
  • Gordon at Khartoum (1934)
  • Oliver Cromwell (1934)
  • The King's Grace (1935)
  • Augustus (1937)
  • The Interpreter's House (1938)
  • Presbyterianism Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1938)
  • Memory Hold-the-Door (also published as Pilgrim's Way) (1940)
  • Comments and Characters (1940)
  • Canadian Occasions (1940)

See also


  1. ^ Buchan once remarked: "I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist. If it could be proved that a Scottish parliament were desirable... Scotsmen should support it."[citation needed]


  1. ^ ""Scottish politician, diplomat, author and publisher"". National Archives. Retrieved 1 March 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Governor General > Former Governors General > Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 26 March 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "Queen's University Archives > Exhibits > John Buchan > Oxford, 1895-1899: Scholar Gypsy". Queen's University. Retrieved 30 March 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Hillmer, Norman. "Biography > Governors General of Canada > Buchan, John, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir". in Marsh, James H.. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Foundation of Canada. Retrieved 31 March 2009. 
  5. ^ Lee, Sidney, ed (1950). The Dictionary of National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 113. 
  6. ^ "Queen's University Archives > Exhibits > John Buchan > Home and Family". Queen's University. Retrieved 30 March 2009. 
  7. ^ "John Buchan Society > The Man". The Buchan Society. Retrieved 27 March 2009. 
  8. ^ Parry, J. P. (2002). "From the Thirty-Nine Articles to the Thirty-Nine Steps: reflections on the thought of John Buchan". in Bentley, Michael. Public and Private Doctrine: Essays in British History presented to Maurice Cowling. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 226. 
  9. ^ Parry 2002, p. 227
  10. ^ "Queen's University Archives > Exhibits > John Buchan > World War 1: The Department of Information". Queen's University. Retrieved 30 March 2009. 
  11. ^ Sanders, M. L. (1975). The Historical Journal (London: Carfax Publishing) (18): pp. 119–146. ISSN 0143-9685. 
  12. ^ Hansard, 24 November 1932.
  13. ^ Parry 2002, p. 234
  14. ^ Defries, Harry (2001). Conservative Party Attitudes to Jews, 1900-1950. London: Routledge. pp. 148. ISBN 0714652210. 
  15. ^ London Gazette: no. 33785, p. 12, 29 December 1931. Retrieved on 29 March 2009.
  16. ^ London Gazette: no. 34164, p. 3443, 28 May 1935. Retrieved on 29 March 2009.
  17. ^ London Gazette: no. 34167, p. 3620, 4 June 1935. Retrieved on 26 March 2009.
  18. ^ Smith, Janet Adam (1965). John Buchan: a Biography. Boston: Little Brown and Company. p. 423. 
  19. ^ "Royal Visit". Time (New York: Time Inc.) IXX (17). October 21, 1957. ISSN 0040-781X.,9171,937945,00.html. Retrieved 29 March 2009. 
  20. ^ Saunders, Doug (27 June 2009). "Canada's mistaken identity". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 28 June 2009. 
  21. ^ Hubbard, R.H. (1977). Rideau Hall. Montreal and London: McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 187. ISBN 978-0773503106. 
  22. ^ Tony O'Donohue v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the United Kingdom, 01-CV-217147CM , s. 34 (Ontario Superior Court of Justice 26 June 2006).
  23. ^ a b c d Galbraith, William (1989). "Fiftieth Anniversary of the 1939 Royal Visit". Canadian Parliamentary Review (Ottawa: Commonwealth Parliamentary Association) 12 (3). Retrieved 29 March 2009. 
  24. ^ Ministry of the Environment. "BC Parks > Find a Park > Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park > History". Queen's Printer for British Columbia. Retrieved 27 May 2009. 
  25. ^ Victoria (29 March 1867). Constitution Act, 1867. III.15. Westminster: Queen's Printer. Retrieved 15 January 2009. 
  26. ^ a b c d e "Material relating to John Buchan, first Lord Tweedsmuir (1875-1940)". National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 29 March 2009. 
  27. ^ a b () Honorary Degree Recipients 1850 - 2008. Toronto: University of Toronto. 30 June 2008. p. 8. 31280 v7. 
  28. ^ "Canadian Mountain Encyclopedia > Tweedsmuir Peak". Mountain Equipment Co-op. Retrieved 27 May 2009. 
  29. ^ "John Buchan Centre". John Buchan Society. Retrieved 26 March 2009. 
  30. ^ "Find a Walk > The John Buchan Way (Peebles to Broughton)". Walking Scotland. Retrieved 26 March 2009. 

Further reading

  • Andrew Lownie: John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier (David R. Godine Publisher, 2003) ISBN 1-56792-236-8

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Craik and
George Berry and
Dugald Cowan
Member of Parliament for Combined Scottish Universities
Apr 1927 – Jun 1935
With: George Berry to 1931
Dugald Cowan to 1934
Noel Skelton from 1931
George Alexander Morrison from 1934
Succeeded by
John Graham Kerr and
Noel Skelton and
George Alexander Morrison
Academic offices
Preceded by
J. M. Barrie
Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh
1937 – 1940
Succeeded by
The Marquess of Linlithgow
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
Baron Tweedsmuir
3 June 1935 – 11 February 1940
Succeeded by
John Buchan


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.

John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (1875-08-261940-02-11) was a Scottish novelist, poet, and politician; he was Governor-General of Canada from 1935 to 1940.



We can pay our debts to the past by putting the future in debt to ourselves.
  • The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.
    • Montrose and Leadership (1930), p 24; republished in Men and Deeds (1977)
  • To live for a time close to great minds is the best kind of education.
    • Pilgrim's Way: An Essay in Recollection (1940), p. 26
  • He disliked emotion, not because he felt lightly, but because he felt deeply.
    • Pilgrim's Way: An Essay in Recollection (1940), p. 58
  • There may be Peace without Joy, and Joy without Peace, but the two combined make Happiness.
    • Pilgrim's Way: An Essay in Recollection (1940), p. 117
  • The true definition of a snob is one who craves for what separates men rather than for what unites them.
    • Pilgrim's Way: An Essay in Recollection (1940), p. 241
  • We can pay our debts to the past by putting the future in debt to ourselves.
    • Address to the people of Canada on the coronation of George VI (12 May 1937)
  • Public life is regarded as the crown of a career, and to young men it is the worthiest ambition. Politics is still the greatest and the most honorable adventure.
    • Pilgrim’s Way (1940)

Prester John (1910)

  • Time, they say, must the best of us capture,
    And travel and battle and gems and gold
    No more can kindle the ancient rapture,
    For even the youngest of hearts grows old.
    • Dedication
What part should I play in the great purification? Most likely that of the Biblical scapegoat.
  • I mind as if it were yesterday my first sight of the man. Little I knew at the time how big the moment was with destiny, or how often that face seen in the fitful moonlight would haunt my sleep and disturb my waking hours.
    • First lines
  • Perfect love casteth out fear, the Bible says; but, to speak it reverently, so does perfect hate.
  • The vows we take in the holy place bind us till we are purged of them at Inanda's Kraal. Till then no blood must be shed and no flesh eaten. It was the fashion of our forefathers.
  • Last night I had looked into the heart of darkness, and the sight had terrified me. What part should I play in the great purification? Most likely that of the Biblical scapegoat.

Space (1912)

A story in The Moon Endureth
For all we know, to a greater intelligence than ours the top of Mont Blanc may be as crowded as Piccadilly Circus...
  • Supposing you knew — not by sight or by instinct, but by sheer intellectual knowledge, as I know the truth of a mathematical proposition — that what we call empty space was full, crammed. Not with lumps of what we call matter like hills and houses, but with things as real — as real to the mind.
  • How if Space is really full of things we cannot see and as yet do not know? How if all animals and some savages have a cell in their brain or a nerve which responds to the invisible world? How if all Space be full of these landmarks, not material in our sense, but quite real? A dog barks at nothing, a wild beast makes an aimless circuit. Why? Perhaps because Space is made up of corridors and alleys, ways to travel and things to shun? For all we know, to a greater intelligence than ours the top of Mont Blanc may be as crowded as Piccadilly Circus.
  • I am bound to say that it took me a long time to understand what he meant. He began by saying that everybody thought of Space as an 'empty homogeneous medium.' 'Never mind at present what the ultimate constituents of that medium are. We take it as a finished product, and we think of it as mere extension, something without any quality at all. That is the view of civilised man. You will find all the philosophers taking it for granted. Yes, but every living thing does not take that view.
I wondered whether the scientific modern brain could not get to the stage of realising that Space is not an empty homogeneous medium, but full of intricate differences, intelligible and real, though not with our common reality.
  • I wondered whether the scientific modern brain could not get to the stage of realising that Space is not an empty homogeneous medium, but full of intricate differences, intelligible and real, though not with our common reality.
  • I mused upon the ironic fate which had compelled a mathematical genius to make his sole confidant of a philistine lawyer, and induced that lawyer to repeat it confusedly to an ignoramus at twilight on a Scotch hill.
  • This crowded world of Space was perfectly real to him. How he had got to it I do not know. Perhaps his mind, dwelling constantly on the problem, had unsealed some atrophied cell and restored the old instinct. Anyhow, he was living his daily life with a foot in each world.
  • I gathered from Hollond that he was always conscious of corridors and halls and alleys in Space, shifting, but shifting according to inexorable laws. I never could get quite clear as to what this consciousness was like. When I asked he used to look puzzled and worried and helpless.
He would listen, he said, to a great man talking, with one eye on the cat on the rug, thinking to himself how much more the cat knew than the man.
  • Remember his mind and no other part of him lived in his new world. He said it gave him an odd sense of detachment to sit in a room among people, and to know that nothing there but himself had any relation at all to the infinite strange world of Space that flowed around them. He would listen, he said, to a great man talking, with one eye on the cat on the rug, thinking to himself how much more the cat knew than the man.
Space a domain of endless corridors and Presences moving in them! The world was not quite the same as an hour ago. It was the hour, as the French say, "between dog and wolf," when the mind is disposed to marvels.
  • He never went mad in your sense. My dear fellow, you're very much wrong if you think there was anything pathological about him — then. The man was brilliantly sane. His mind was as keen as a keen sword. I couldn't understand him, but I could judge of his sanity right enough.
  • 'There's a queer performance going on in the other world,' he said. 'It's unbelievable. I never dreamed of such a thing. I — I don't quite know how to put it, and I don't know how to explain it, but — but I am becoming aware that there are other beings — other minds — moving in Space besides mine.'
  • Of course he could only describe his impressions very lamely, for they were purely of the mind, and he had no material peg to hang them on, so that I could realise them. But the gist of it was that he had been gradually becoming conscious of what he called 'Presences' in his world. They had no effect on Space — did not leave footprints in its corridors, for instance — but they affected his mind. There was some mysterious contact established between him and them. I asked him if the affection was unpleasant and he said 'No, not exactly.' But I could see a hint of fear in his eyes.
  • I dropped all my own views of sense and nonsense. I told him that, taking all that he had told me as fact, the Presences might be either ordinary minds traversing Space in sleep; or minds such as his which had independently captured the sense of Space's quality; or, finally, the spirits of just men made perfect, behaving as psychical researchers think they do. It was a ridiculous task to set a prosaic man, and I wasn't quite serious.
  • 'Think,' I told him, 'what may be waiting for you. You may discover the meaning of Spirit. You may open up a new world, as rich as the old one, but imperishable. You may prove to mankind their immortality and deliver them for ever from the fear of death. Why, man, you are picking at the lock of all the world's mysteries.'
  • Leithen's story had bored and puzzled me at the start, but now it had somehow gripped my fancy. Space a domain of endless corridors and Presences moving in them! The world was not quite the same as an hour ago. It was the hour, as the French say, "between dog and wolf," when the mind is disposed to marvels.
  • Oh, I agree he went mad in the end. It is the only explanation. Something must have snapped in that fine brain, and he saw the little bit more which we call madness. Thank God, you and I are prosaic fellows...

The Power-House (1916)

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Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.
  • I once played the chief part in a rather exciting business without ever once budging from London. And the joke of it was that the man who went out to look for adventure only saw a bit of the game, and I who sat in my chambers saw it all and pulled the strings. 'They also serve who only stand and wait,' you know.
    • Preface
  • I must get off for a bit or I'll bonnet Joggleberry or get up and propose a national monument to Guy Fawkes or something silly.
    • Ch. 1 "Beginning of the Wild-Goose Chase"
You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass...
  • He was a bad acquaintance for a placid, sedentary soul like me, for though he could work like a Trojan when the fit took him, he was never at the same job very long. In the same week he would harass an Under-Secretary about horses for the Army, write voluminously to the press about a gun he had invented for potting aeroplanes, give a fancy-dress ball which he forgot to attend, and get into the semi-final of the racquets championship. I waited daily to see him start a new religion.
    • Ch. 1 "Beginning of the Wild-Goose Chase"
  • You don't know old Charles as I know him. He's got into a queer set, and there's no knowing what mischief he's up to. He's perfectly capable of starting a revolution in Armenia or somewhere merely to see how it feels like to be a revolutionary. That's the damned thing about the artistic temperament.
    • Ch. 1 "Beginning of the Wild-Goose Chase"
  • To be watchful, I decided, was my business. And I could not get rid of the feeling that I might soon have cause for all my vigilance.
    • Ch. 1 "Beginning of the Wild-Goose Chase"
  • Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.
    • Ch. 2 "I First Hear Of Mr Andrew Lumley"
  • You think that a wall as solid as the earth separates civilization from barbarism. I tell you the division is a thread, a sheet of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn.
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
  • Civilisation is a conspiracy. What value would your police be if every criminal could find a sanctuary across the Channel, or your law courts, if no other tribunal recognised their decisions? Modern life is the silent compact of comfortable folk to keep up pretences. And it will succeed till the day comes when there is another compact to strip them bare
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
  • Civilisation needs more than the law to hold it together. You see, all mankind are not equally willing to accept as divine justice what is called human law.
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
  • When all is said, we are ruled by the amateurs and the second-rate. The methods of our departments would bring any private firm to bankruptcy. The methods of Parliament — pardon me — would disgrace any board of directors. Our rulers pretend to buy expert knowledge, but they never pay the price for it that a business man would pay, and if they get it they have not the courage to use it. Where is the inducement for a man of genius to sell his brains to our insipid governors?
    And yet knowledge is the only power — now as ever. A little mechanical device will wreck your navies. A new chemical combination will upset every rule of war. It is the same with our commerce. One or two minute changes might sink Britain to the level of Ecuador, or give China the key of the world's wealth. And yet we never dream that these things are possible. We think our castles of sand are the ramparts of the universe.
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
  • I read now and then in the papers that some eminent scientist had made a great discovery. He reads a paper before some Academy of Science, and there are leading articles on it, and his photograph adorns the magazines. That kind of man is not the danger. He is a bit of the machine, a party to the compact. It is the men who stand outside it that are to be reckoned with, the artists in discovery who will never use their knowledge till they can use it with full effect.
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
  • You may hear people say that submarines have done away with the battleship, and that aircraft have annulled the mastery of the sea. That is what our pessimists say. But do you imagine that the clumsy submarine or the fragile aeroplane is really the last word of science?
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
I cannot pry into motives. I only know of the existence of great extra-social intelligences. Let us say that they distrust the machine...
  • You see only the productions of second-rate folk who are in a hurry to get wealth and fame. The true knowledge, the deadly knowledge, is still kept secret. But, believe me, my friend, it is there.
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
  • I cannot pry into motives. I only know of the existence of great extra-social intelligences. Let us say that they distrust the machine. They may be idealists and desire to make a new world, or they may simply be artists, loving for its own sake the pursuit of truth. If I were to hazard a guess, I should say that it took both types to bring about results, for the second find the knowledge and the first the will to use it.
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
  • If those extra-social brains are so potent, why after all do they effect so little? A dull police-officer, with the machine behind him, can afford to laugh at most experiments in anarchy.
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
I felt myself in the presence of something enormously big, as if a small barbarian was desecrating the colossal Zeus of Pheidias with a coal hammer...
  • Civilisation knows how to use such powers as it has, while the immense potentiality of the unlicensed is dissipated in vapour. Civilisation wins because it is a world-wide league; its enemies fail because they are parochial. But supposing ... supposing anarchy learned from civilisation and became international. Oh, I don't mean the bands of advertising donkeys who call themselves International Unions of Workers and suchlike rubbish. I mean if the real brain-stuff of the world were internationalised. Suppose that the links in the cordon of civilisation were neutralised by other links in a far more potent chain. The earth is seething with incoherent power and unorganised intelligence.
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
  • "It would scarcely be destruction," he replied gently. "Let us call it iconoclasm, the swallowing of formulas, which has always had its full retinue of idealists. And you do not want a Napoleon. All that is needed is direction, which could be given by men of far lower gifts than a Bonaparte. In a word, you want a Power-House, and then the age of miracles will begin."
    • Ch. 3 "Tells of a Midsummer Night"
  • I was a peaceful sedentary man, a lover of a quiet life, with no appetite for perils and commotions. But I was beginning to realise that I was very obstinate.
    • Ch. 4 "I Follow The Trail Of The Super-Butler"
  • I am not courageous. To be brave means that you have conquered fear, but I have never had any fear to conquer. Believe me, Mr Leithen, I am quite impervious to threats. You come to me to-night and hold a pistol to my head. You offer me two alternatives, both of which mean failure. But how do you know that I regard them as failure? I have had what they call a good run for my money. No man since Napoleon has tasted such power. I may be willing to end it. Age creeps on and power may grow burdensome. I have always sat loose from common ambitions and common affections. For all you know I may regard you as a benefactor.
    • Ch. 8 "The Power-House"
  • I felt myself in the presence of something enormously big, as if a small barbarian was desecrating the colossal Zeus of Pheidias with a coal hammer. But I also felt it inhuman, and I hated it, and I clung to that hatred.
    "You fear nothing and you believe nothing," I said. "Man, you should never have been allowed to live."
    • Ch. 8 "The Power-House"
  • I am a sceptic about most things... but, believe me, I have my own worship. I venerate the intellect of man. I believe in its undreamed-of possibilities, when it grows free like an oak in the forest and is not dwarfed in a flower-pot. From that allegiance I have never wavered. That is the God I have never forsworn.
    • Ch. 8 "The Power-House"

The Path of the King (1921)

The spark once transmitted may smoulder for generations under ashes, but the appointed time will come, and it will flare up to warm the world.
  • We look for romance in the well-cultivated garden-plots, and when it springs out of virgin soil we are surprised, though any fool might know it was the natural place for it.
  • The things we call aristocracies and reigning houses are the last places to look for masterful men. They began strongly, but they have been too long in possession. They have been cosseted and comforted and the devil has gone out of their blood. Don't imagine that I undervalue descent. It is not for nothing that a great man leaves posterity. But who is more likely to inherit the fire — the elder son with his flesh-pots or the younger son with his fortune to find?
  • We none of us know our ancestors beyond a little way. We all of us may have kings' blood in our veins.
Sons and daughters blunder and sin and perish, but the race goes on, for there is a fierce stuff of life in it.
  • The spark once transmitted may smoulder for generations under ashes, but the appointed time will come, and it will flare up to warm the world. God never allows waste. And we fools rub our eyes and wonder, when we see genius come out of the gutter. It didn't begin there. We tell ourselves that Shakespeare was the son of a woolpedlar, and Napoleon of a farmer, and Luther of a peasant, and we hold up our hands at the marvel. But who knows what kings and prophets they had in their ancestry!
  • Generations follow, oblivious of the high beginnings, but there is that in the stock which is fated to endure. The sons and daughters blunder and sin and perish, but the race goes on, for there is a fierce stuff of life in it. It sinks and rises again and blossoms at haphazard into virtue or vice, since the ordinary moral laws do not concern its mission. Some rags of greatness always cling to it, the dumb faith that sometime and somehow that blood drawn from kings it never knew will be royal again. Though nature is wasteful of material things, there is no waste of spirit. And then after long years there comes, unheralded and unlooked-for, the day of the Appointed Time...
  • Every wife is like Mary the Blessed and may bear a saviour of mankind. The road is long, but the ways of Heaven are sure.
  • The promise had not failed her. . . . She had won everything from life, for she had given the world a master. Words seemed to speak themselves in her ear . . . "Bethink you of the blessedness. Every wife is like the Mother of God and has the hope of bearing a saviour of mankind."
  • Truth's like a dollar-piece, it's got two sides, and both are wanted to make it good currency.
  • The law and the constitution are like a child's pants. They've got to be made wider and longer as the child grows so as to fit him. If they're kept too tight, he'll burst them; and if you're in a hurry and make them too big all at once, they'll trip him up.
  • If the Lord sends us war, we have got to face it like men, but God forbid we should manufacture war, and use it as an escape from our domestic difficulties. You can't expect a blessing on that.
  • Most true points are fine points. There never was a dispute between mortals where both sides hadn't a bit of right.
  • They want to hurry things quicker than the Almighty means them to go. I don't altogether blame them either, for I'm mortally impatient myself. But it s no good thinking that saying a thing should be so will make it so. We're not the Creator of this universe. You've got to judge results according to your instruments.
The world has become a laboratory where immature and feverish minds experiment with unknown forces. Once again problems cannot be comfortably limited, for science has brought the nations into an uneasy bondage to each other.

Augustus (1937)

  • History does not repeat itself except with variations, and it is idle to look for exact parallels, but we can trace a resemblance between the conditions of his time and those of to-day. Once again the crust of civilization has worn thin, and beneath can be heard the muttering of primeval fires. Once again many accepted principles of government have been overthrown, and the world has become a laboratory where immature and feverish minds experiment with unknown forces. Once again problems cannot be comfortably limited, for science has brought the nations into an uneasy bondage to each other. In the actual business of administration there is no question of today which Augustus had not to face and answer.
  • If his "magna imago" could return to earth, he would be puzzled at some of our experiments in empire, and might well complain that the imperfections of his work were taken as its virtues, and that so many truths had gone silently out of mind. He had prided himself on having given the world peace, and he would be amazed by the loud praise of war as a natural and wholesome concomitant of a nation's life. Wars he had fought from an anxious desire to safeguard his people, as the shepherd builds the defences of his sheepfold; but he hated the thing, because he knew well the deadly "disordering," which the Greek historian noted as the consequence of the most triumphant campaign. He would marvel, too, at the current talk of racial purity, the exaltation of one breed of men as the chosen favourites of the gods. That would seem to him not only a defiance of the new Christian creed, but of the Stoicism which he had sincerely professed.
  • The Augustan constitution remains one of the major products of the human intelligence. It was a whole into which the parts fitted smoothly, but both whole and parts were elastic and capable of swift adaptation to unforeseen conditions. It was elaborate, but that was necessary, both because of its origin and its purpose.
  • Any large-scale organization must lose some of the merits of its rudimentary beginnings. Quantity will have a coarsening effect on quality.
If it be not genius to re-make and re-direct the world by a courageous realism and supreme powers of character and mind, then the word has no meaning in human speech.
  • There is no merit in an empire as such. Extension in space does not necessarily mean spiritual advancement. The small community is easier to govern, and, it may well be, more pleasant to live in. If its opportunities are limited its perils are also circumscribed. But the alternatives which confronted him were empire or anarchy.
  • The Athenian empire lasted for fifty years at the most, and the stupendous creation of Alexander the Great for less. What has been the fate of succeeding imperialisms? That of Spain endured on the grand scale for little more than a century; that of Napoleon for a decade; the British Empire is less than two centuries old, and in its present form is a thing of yesterday. In the brief span of recorded history empires have had a shorter life than many monarchies, theocracies, and even republics. The Augustan alone reached a venerable age. In the coming of Christianity it had to face the greatest of all historic convulsions, but such was its potency that it weathered the storm and influenced profoundly the organization of the Christian church.
  • The true achievement of Augustus is that he saved the world from disintegration. Without him Rome must have lost her conquests one by one, and seen them relapse into barbarism or degenerate into petty satrapies. The wild peoples of the East and North would have ante-dated their invasions by centuries.
  • It is due to him that the Roman concepts of public duty and service are still a living force among us. Historians have denied him the name of genius which they grant readily to Alexander and Julius and Napoleon; but if it be not genius to re-make and re-direct the world by a courageous realism and supreme powers of character and mind, then the word has no meaning in human speech.

Canadian Occasions (1940)

To-day we have fewer dogmas, but I think that we have stronger principles.
  • The world was arrogant and self-satisfied, but behind all this confidence there was an uneasy sense of impending disaster. The old creeds, both religious and political, were largely in the process of dissolution, but we did not realise the fact, and therefore did not look for new foundations.
    • "A University's Bequest to Youth" Speech in Toronto (10 October 1936)
  • We had our pride shattered, and without humility there can be no humanity.
    • "A University's Bequest to Youth" (10 October 1936)
  • A great storm destroys much that is precious, but it may also clear the air and blow down trees which might have been obscuring the view and making our life stuffy, and reveal in our estate possibilities of development that we had not thought of.
    • "A University's Bequest to Youth" (10 October 1936)
  • To-day we have fewer dogmas, but I think that we have stronger principles. By a dogma I mean a deduction from facts which is only valid under certain conditions, and which becomes untrue if those conditions change. By a principle I mean something that is an eternal and universal truth.
    • "A University's Bequest to Youth" (10 October 1936)
  • Our sufferings have taught us that no nation is sufficient unto itself, and that our prosperity depends in the long run, not upon the failure of our neighbors but their successes.
    • "A University's Bequest to Youth" (10 October 1936)
  • I have heard an atheist defined as a man who had no invisible means of support.
    • Speaking to the Law Society of Upper Canada, (21 February 1936); published in Canadian Occasions (1940), p. 201.
    • Buchan's source for this definition remains unknown. The witticism was repeated by Harry Emerson Fosdick in his On Being a Real Person (1943), ch. 1, with due acknowledgement to Buchan, and was again used by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in Look magazine (December 14, 1955). The credit for this line is therefore often wrongly given to Fosdick or to Sheen. Credit has also been given to the conductor Walter Damrosch (1862-1950).


  • He who would valiant be against all disaster;
    Let him in constancy
    Follow the Master.
    There's no discouragement
    Shall make him once relent;
    His first avowed intent
    To be a pilgrim.
    • This has appeared on the internet attributed to Buchan, but is actually John Bunyan, as quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations (2001) by Martin H. Manser

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