The Diaries of W.L. Mackenzie King (Part I)…

The Right Honourable W.L. Mackenzie King, Prime Minister of Canada, inspecting a guard of honour from Le Régiment de la Chaudière at the 1st Canadian Infantry Division’s Sports Day, Redhill, England, 1 July 1941.

Peregrine Acland appears about a dozen times in the diary of William Lyon Mackenzie King between December 1916 and June of 1949.  King was Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister from December 29, 1921 to June 28, 1926; from September 25, 1926 to August 7, 1930; and from October 23, 1935 to November 15, 1948.

To understand the connection between the PM and the soldier-author, it is necessary to spend a moment on the biography of Peregrine’s father, Frederick A. Acland.  Born in 1861 (the Globe and Mail reports he was in his “90th year” in 1950), in Bridgewater, England, Acland père worked in the English newspaper business before coming to Canada in 1883 to work at the Toronto Globe.  In 1885 he went to the United States to work on newspapers in several major American cities (Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Cincinnati), before returning to the Globe as “city editor” in 1887. While at this post, Acland hired W.L. Mackenzie King as a reporter.

In 1890 he became news editor at the Globe and occupied that post until 1907.  It was then that King, who was Deputy Minister for Labour, convinced Acland to leave the Globe to become secretary to the Department, with the understanding that he would succeed King when he resigned to run for political office the following year.  Acland served as Deputy Minister for Labour for fifteen years, primarily under the governments of the Conservative Robert Borden, who was PM from 1911 until he retired in 1920.

On June 24th, 1921, F.A. Acland was appointed to the post of King’s Printer during the last months of Arthur Meighen’s first term as PM.  Acland retired in the spring of 1933 at age 72.

W.L. Mackenzie King was a prolific diarist, and a fully searchable online edition is available through Library and Archives Canada, here.

Peregrine Acland first appears in the diaries on December 21st, 1916:

Dictated cables to Violet Markham from whom I rec’d a letter today -and also to Peregrine Acland who is dangerously ill in the hospital in London.

It was announced in the Toronto Globe of December 16th, 1916 (p.10) that F.A. Acland and his wife had sailed for England to visit Peregrine in hospital.  Mrs. Elizabeth Adair Acland stayed in England until May of 1917, when she accompanied her son home.

Tuesday, February 20th 1917:

Spent tonight with Acland at his house, where he told me of his visit to England and of Peregrine’s miraculous escapes and recovering.  He is much disheartened with the manner in which the present Minister of Labour manages the Department, making use of it only as a means of distributing patronage & appointments among friends.

The Minister referred to is Thomas Wilson Crothers, for those keen on Canadian political gossip from the ‘teens.  The next several references to Peregrine Acland in the diaries occur in 1929, when King was PM, and reading All Else is Folly while traveling from Vancouver to Ottawa.

Sunday, November 17th, 1929.

En route to Calgary…. I spent part of the morning reading Peregerine [sic] Acland’s book “All Else is Folly” which I began last night and which I find extremely interesting reading, a true picture of the horrible life lived by those who love fighting in time of peace and of many who have to go to the front in times of war.  It reveals the ultra-fashionable society woman in an amazingly true fashion with her material & materialistic standards & immoralities.  It is a great novel.

Tuesday, November 19th, 1929.

Calgary en route to Regina.  The morning papers were just aboard the train before I went to bed last night.  I did not hasten to get up this morning, but spent much of the time in bed, reading papers, Peregrine Acland’s book & resting….

It should be noted that in the following day’s entry, King upbraids himself for a lackluster performance at a political function in Regina, a result he attributes to being tired and a lack of discipline, which saw him up late into the evening reading All Else is Folly.

Thursday, November 21st, 1929.

Winnipeg.  The speaking end of the western tour is concluded and fortunately I was able to redeem myself a little in the speech before the Canadian Club at the Royal Alexandra here at Winnipeg tonight.  All day I have felt badly over last night’s relative failure –a great opportunity lost.  I read till 3 a.m. from Peregrine Acland’s “All Else is Folly.”

Friday, November 22nd, 1929.

I slept part of the afternoon & part of time read Peregrine Acland’s “All Else is Folly” an exceedingly able novel, -a true story, true to life and I doubt not in many of its parts (the nobler parts) to his own life….I read till after 3 [in the morning].

Saturday, November 23rd, 1929.

En route to Ottawa….  Spent the morning reading in bed, newspapers & finishing Peregrine Acland’s “All Else is Folly” I confess as I concluded it I felt deeply moved.  I felt he had written a really great book, and that there was something very profound in what he says of men fighting because they have not learned how to love, –the true love.  The pathos in the book is the search for love, for sympathy, for rest, which these poor men made as they returned from France to England & fell into the thraldom of the female harpies round about.  It is the same thesis, in novel form of the profounder analysis of Pasteur & his laws of blood & of death & of Peace, Work & Health.


To provide some context to the final line in King’s entry: on November 14th, 1888, the Pasteur institute was inaugurated, and the great scientist closed his oration with the following words:

“Two opposing laws seem to me now in contest. The one, a law of blood and death, opening out each day new modes of destruction, forces nations to be always ready for the battle. The other, a law of peace, work and health, whose only aim is to deliver man from the calamities which beset him. The one seeks violent conquests, the other the relief of mankind. The one places a single life above all victories, the other sacrifices hundreds of thousands of lives to the ambition of a single individual. The law of which we are the instruments strives even through the carnage to cure the wounds due to the law of war. Treatment by our antiseptic methods may preserve the lives of thousands of soldiers. Which of these two laws will prevail, God only knows. But of this we may be sure, that science, in obeying the law of humanity, will always labor to enlarge the frontiers of life.”


W.L. Mackenzie King’s copy of All Else is Folly is in the National Library of Canada; the Amicus record is here.  Not only was it a signed presentation copy, but it was the American edition!

There are more references to Peregrine Acland in the King diaries, but after 1929 there is a long break until the fall of 1942.  I will include those entries in part II.

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