Monday 26 August 2019

John Buchan's 144th birthday

Today is John Buchan's 144th birthday.

I was once invited to attend and give a talk to a conference of historians in Belgrade on the them 1915. Unfortunately I was not able to do so but had I done so I would have delivered
a talk on Greenmantle based on this.

Sir John Betjeman, as he then wasn't, mentions him in The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel (1937).

He sipped at a weak hock and seltzer

As he gazed at the London skies

Through the Nottingham lace of the curtains

Or was it his bees-winged eyes?

To the right and before him Pont Street

Did tower in her new built red,

As hard as the morning gaslight

That shone on his unmade bed,

“I want some more hock in my seltzer,

And Robbie, please give me your hand —

Is this the end or beginning?How can I understand?

“So you’ve brought me the latest Yellow Book:

And Buchan has got in it now:

Approval of what is approved of

Is as false as a well-kept vow.

Buchan wrote very good spare prose and wrote with great love. The Gorbals Diehard books are in some ways the best after The 39 Steps and Prester John. And Greenmantle, the best book to take with you if you go to Constantinople even though I am sure Buchan never got there, which contains not just the troupe of characters I think of as family but the dazzling Hilda Von Einem.

‘…'Germany's simplicity is that of the neurotic, not the primitive. It is megalomania and egotism and the pride of the man in the Bible that waxed fat and kicked. But the results are the same. She wants to destroy and simplify; but it isn't the simplicity of the ascetic, which is of the spirit, but the simplicity of the madman that grinds down all the contrivances of civilization to a featureless monotony. The prophet wants to save the souls of his people; Germany wants to rule the inanimate corpse of the world. But you can get the same language to cover both. And so you have the partnership of St Francis and Messalina. Dick, did you ever hear of a thing called the Superman?'

'There was a time when the papers were full of nothing else,' I answered. 'I gather it was invented by a sportsman called Nietzsche.'

'Maybe,' said Sandy. 'Old Nietzsche has been blamed for a great deal of rubbish he would have died rather than acknowledge. But it's a craze of the new, fatted Germany. It's a fancy type which could never really exist, any more than the Economic Man of the politicians. Mankind has a sense of humour which stops short of the final absurdity. There never has been, and there never could be a real Superman ... But there might be a Superwoman.'…’ 

I just discovered first that Joseph Conrad loathed John Buchan and thought he had plagiarised Kipling and also that Buchan later may have plagiarised Conrad's great novel Victory. Here is the story.

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