ALL of Mr. Buchan’s novels that I can recall begin in a scene of repose and rise rapidly into activity and violence. John Macnab starts even lower. The protagonists, who are three successful men of affairs, — an ex-attorney general, a cabinet minister, and the chairman of a bank, — are introduced to the reader in London in an extreme state of boredom. In this respect a proper reader of this book, the reader to whom this book should be most welcome, comes to the first page under no handicap. And just as the story tells how these three were cured, so may the reader count on physic for his own distemper.
Mr. Buchan says that his heroes were afflicted with tœdium vitœ. He misses the technical word, which is ‘accidie,’ As Chaucer’s parson describes it: ‘Accidie makyth hym hevy, thoghtful and wrawful . . . for he loveth no bisynesse at al. ... It forsteweth and forsluggeth and destroyeth al goodes temporales by reccheleesnesse.’ An ancient complaint, but Mr. Buchan offers an unusual remedy.
They determine to dispel their vapors by emulating the exploits of a hero of an anecdote which they hear when they meet, in the first chapter, at their club In London. After inviting themselves to the anecdotist’s lodge in Scotland, they address each of his three neighbors with a letter announcing that one John Macnab will poach a stag or a salmon, as the case may be, from his preserves on a certain day. That done, they go secretly to their friend’s lodge and distribute the three enterprises among them by lot. From then on, the accidie, both of the reader and of the three John Macnabs, burns off like a summer fog.
So much for the benefit of those who have not yet read the book. For those who have — and only they constitute a properly appreciative public for a reviewer — let us review the book.
The reader shares the troubles and the efforts and the excitements of the hero, the triple-headed John Macnab. That is true romance, and what if it be merry and light? It is none the less romance. We too walk into the gunroom and hang our creel on the familiar hook, or stand our gun in the proper corner. We too shout for dry socks or hot drinks. We lean over John Macnab’s shoulder and study the Ordnance Map. On hands and knees we creep behind his hobnailed shoes in the long stalk; and, at his elbow, we scan the surface of the salmon pool. We applaud Archie in his admiration for ‘yonder girl that fords the burn,’ and we have complete confidence in Benjie, the indispensable boy. In fact, we are the friends and companions of them all.
And what more do we want? Yes, one thing. We want to know Jim Tarras, the hero of the anecdote. There are enough readers whose accidie is serious enough to warrant an indefinite increase of the dose.CHARLES P. CURTIS, JR.