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William Buchan.

Toronto, GriffinHouse, c1982.
272pp, cloth, $22.95.
ISBN 0-88760-108-1.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Sister Mechtilde.

Volume 12 Number 1
1984 January

This is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary man. It is in no sense a formal biography. Instead, William Buchan has written a memoir, a personal recollection of his father as he knew him.

There is a biography, John Buchan by Janet Adam Smith, published in 1965, and an autobiography, Memory Hold-the-Door, written in 1939, when John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, was Governor General of Canada. William Buchan quotes quite extensively from both books.

The memoir presents the Buchan family through three generations. In tracing the family roots in considerable detail, the author helps the reader to understand the historical and intellectual background into which JB (author's abbreviation) was born at Perth in 1875, the eldest son of a Scottish minister of the Free Church.

After Glasgow University, a bursary to Oxford necessitated JB's move to England, where he met and married Susan Grovesnor in 1907. The family purchased Elsfield Manor in 1919. It is from this vantage point that their son William drew his recollections.

An orderly, intellectual atmosphere prevailed in the Buchan household. The family enjoyed a comfortable style of living. The upbringing of the children was disciplined but not restrictive. The spacious surroundings of Elsfield and the Elsfield gardens filled the children with awe and fascination. Inside the manor house, there were shelves upon shelves of books. The family's favourite pastime was reading aloud and playing games based on historical characters.

JB himself grew up with a strong sense of history and a love of writing. His first publication appeared in 1894, an edited collection of essays by Francis, Lord Bacon, his last in 1941, the novel Sick Head River, considered his best book. JB was a successful writer. He wrote novels, historical works, and biographies. The Thirty-Nine Steps, an adventure story, is well-known by the general reader. "My father's hands were made for writing," says his son. "He had little skill for anything else, especially mechanical... but he was a good shot and an excellent fisherman."

JB's life encompassed much more in addition to writing. He was a man of remarkable achievements: writer, lawyer, politician, soldier, scholar, and, finally,' Governor General of Canada. The man who was JB comes through strongly in the memoir. He mingled with the great and counted them among his friends, but he never "lost the common touch." He handled public office with dignity and wisdom. He lived by his beliefs: "courage, truth, loyalty, courtesy, honour and compassion." He was a kind and gentle man.

It is obvious that the author admired his father. He writes of him as "a lovable, fascinating, mysterious man," yet there are no overtones of hero-worship. The author does not dodge criticism and is not afraid to point out shortcomings.

The book is very interesting and very readable; the style elegant. There is a chronology of John Buchan's life and works, a select bibliography, and an index. This reviewer would recommend the book for advanced readers who like biography and history, and particularly for those who enjoy good writing. It is rewarding reading for anyone who wants to know better the man who was John Buchan, 1st Lord Tweedsmuir of Elsfield, Governor-General of Canada 1935-1941.

Sister Mechtilde Byblow, Sacred Heart H. S., Yorkton, SK.
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