Memory Hold-The-Door is the eleventh book in my John Buchan reading project, Buchan of the Month. You can find out more about the project and my reading list for 2018 here. If you would like to read along with me you will be very welcome – leave a comment on this post or on my original challenge post. Memory Hold-The-Door is also a book on my Nonfiction November 2018 reading list.
What follows is an introduction to the book. It is also an excuse to show a picture of my lovely 1964 edition of the book complete with dust jacket*. I will be posting my review of the book later in the month.
In her biography of John Buchan (created Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield in 1935 upon his appointment as Governor-General of Canada), Janet Adam Smith writes: ‘The end of a job is a time for stocktaking and looking back. Tweedsmuir had been purposefully looking back on his life, for all through 1939 he was at work on his autobiography.’ Andrew Lownie, in his 1995 biography of Buchan, reports he had in fact started writing his autobiography in the spring of 1938, signing a contract for it with Hodder & Stoughton in July of that year.
Buchan told a correspondent the book was ‘not an ordinary autobiography or any attempt to tell the unimportant story of my life; but rather an attempt to pick out certain high lights and expound the impressions made upon me at different stages’. Buchan made a deliberate choice not to write about anyone still alive, including family members.
On 5th February 1940, Buchan told his sister Anna, ‘I have finished my novel [Sick Heart River] and my autobiography’. The following day, Buchan suffered the cerebral thrombosis that ultimately proved fatal and he died on 12th February.
Memory Hold-The-Door was published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton in August 1940 although excerpts first appeared in The Sunday Times in March, April and June of that year. It was published in the US under the title Pilgrim’s Way by Houghton Mifflin on 27th August 1940, with excerpts first appearing in The Atlantic Monthly in May, June and July.
Janet Adam Smith reports that two extracts from Pilgrim’s Way were included in an article on the books President Kennedy liked in the ‘J. F. K. Memorial Issue’ of Look, published on 17th November 1964. The article included a commentary by Mrs. John F. Kennedy: ‘Pilgrim’s Way, the memoirs of John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, he once said was his favourite book. He gave it to me before we were married. The part for which he cared most was a portrait of the brilliant Raymond Asquith…who was killed in action in World War 1. The poignancy of men dying young always moved my husband – possibly because of his brother Joe dying in World War II. I think the first line [‘He disliked emotion, not because he felt lightly but because he felt deeply’] could have been written of John F. Kennedy.’
* The front flap of the dust jacket of my edition of Memory Hold-The-Door contains the following note: ‘It was known throughout his Governor-Generalship of Canada that Lord Tweedsmuir was working quietly at the autobiography which it was his intention to publish immediately on his retirement. One copy of the completed manuscript reached London only a fortnight before his death: the other with his final verbal corrections, was at that moment being re-typed in Ottawa; and it was from this type-script, unaltered, that the book was printed – with the addition of two peculiarly beautiful chapters entitled “Pilgrim’s Rest” which were found among his papers.’ [The two chapters referred to are from a book about fishing Buchan was planning to write at the time of his death.]
Kenneth Hillier & Michael Ross, The First Editions of John Buchan: A Collector’s Illustrated Bibliography – A Complement to Robert G Blanchard (Avonworld, 2008 )
Andrew Lownie, John Buchan: The Presbyterian Cavalier (Constable, 1995)
Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 )