John Buchan Biography & Facts
John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (; 26 August 1875 – 11 February 1940) was a Scottish novelist, historian, and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada, the 15th since Canadian Confederation.
After a brief legal career, Buchan simultaneously began his writing career and his political and diplomatic careers, serving as a private secretary to the administrator of various colonies in southern Africa. He eventually wrote propaganda for the British war effort during the First World War. He was elected Member of Parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities in 1927, but he spent most of his time on his writing career, notably writing The Thirty-Nine Steps and other adventure fiction.
In 1935, King George V, on the advice of Prime Minister R. B. Bennett, appointed Buchan to replace the Earl of Bessborough as Governor General of Canada, for which purpose Buchan was raised to the peerage. He occupied the post until his death in 1940.
Buchan was enthusiastic about literacy and the development of Canadian culture, and he received a state funeral in Canada before his ashes were returned to the United Kingdom.
Modern critics have commented on the racist and anti-semitic attitudes displayed by some fictional characters in his books.
Early life and education
Buchan was born at today's 18–20 York Place, a double villa now named after him, in Perth, Scotland. He was the first child of John Buchan – a Free Church of Scotland minister – and Helen Jane Buchan. He was brought up in Kirkcaldy, Fife, and spent many summer holidays with his maternal grandparents in Broughton in the Scottish Borders. There he developed a love for walking and for the local scenery and wildlife, both of which are often featured in his novels. The protagonist in several of his books is Sir Edward Leithen, whose name is borrowed from the Leithen Water, a tributary of the River Tweed.
Buchan attended Hutchesons' Boys' Grammar School in Glasgow, and was awarded a scholarship to the University of Glasgow at age 17, where he studied classics as a student of James Caddell and wrote poetry, and became a published author. He moved on to study Literae Humaniores (the Classics) at Brasenose College, Oxford, with a junior William Hulme scholarship in 1895, where his friends included Hilaire Belloc, Raymond Asquith, and Aubrey Herbert. Buchan won the Stanhope essay prize in 1897 and the Newdigate Prize for poetry the following year; he also was elected as the president of the Oxford Union and had six of his works published.Buchan had his first portrait painted in 1900 by a young Sholto Johnstone Douglas at around the time of his graduation from Oxford.
Life as an author and politician
Buchan entered into a career in diplomacy and government after graduating from Oxford, becoming in 1901 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 River Colony, 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 the same year, though he did not practise 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.
In 1910, Buchan wrote Prester John, the first of his adventure novels, set in South Africa, and the following year he suffered from duodenal ulcers, a condition that later afflicted one of his fictional characters. At the same time, Buchan ventured into the political arena, and was adopted as Unionist candidate in March 1911 for the Borders seat of Peebles and Selkirk; he supported free trade, women's suffrage, national insurance, and curtailing the powers of the House of Lords, while opposing the welfare reforms of the Liberal Party, and what he considered the class hatred fostered by Liberal politicians 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 the First World War. 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. In June 1916 Buchan was sent out to the Western Front to be attached to the British Army's General Headquarters Intelligence Section, to assist with drafting official communiques for the press. On arrival he received a field-commission as a second lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps.Recognised for his abilities, Buchan was appointed as the Director of Information in 1917, under Lord Beaverbrook—which Buchan said was "the toughest job I ever took on"—and also assisted Charles Masterman in publishing a monthly magazine detailing 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 for him, given his close connections to many of Britain's military leaders, to be critical of the British Army's conduct during the conflict. At Beaverbrook's request, Buchan met with journalist and neo-Jacobite Herbert Vivian and admitted to Vivian that he was a Jacobite sympathiser.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. 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." The effects of the Great Depression in Scotland, and the subsequent high emigration from that country, also led him 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". He found himself profoundly affected by John Morley's Life of Gladstone, which Buchan read in the early months of the Second World War..... Discover the John Buchan popular books. Find the top 100 most popular John Buchan books.