Vice-Regal Page-Turner

by Mark Steyn

Andrew, I read William Galbraith’s book on John Buchan on a visit to Calgary last month, and have had it on my nightstand dipping into it back and forth ever since. It is a very fine work, indeed.

In recent years, I have come to prefer Buchan’s non-fiction to his thrillers – the autobiographical Memory Hold-the-Door is one of my very favorite books (and apparently JFK’s, too). It is very unusual for a man to have had such a busy life – Britain’s Director of Intelligence during World War One, Canada’s Governor General at the beginning of World War Two – and yet to have such a wide range of other interests. Galbraith’s book is very strong on both Buchan’s love of the land (especially the wild north) and his thoughtfulness. It seems somewhat amazing, from the perspective of 2013, that America’s radio networks would broadcast live the Canadian viceroy’s speech upon the coronation of King George VI, but less so when you consider that Buchan was more or less incapable of being dull.   

You call him an “Anglosphere pioneer”, but, during his installation as Canada’s Governor General in Quebec City, he responded to the Premier and the Mayor in “excellent French”, fluent and conversational and without notes. Like the best imperialists, he was a genuine multiculturalist – that’s to say, he was curious and informed about other cultures, as opposed to just feeling warm and fluffy about them – and he wore his vast knowledge very lightly, unlike certain poseur “citizens of the world” who rule us today.  

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