The following volume was in the main written in 1917, when its author was a Professor at McGill University in Montreal. Lord Strathcona had recently died, and Professor Macnaughton had the advantage not only of being able to read the newly published lives by Mr. Beckles Willson, and Mr. W. T. R. Preston, but also of his own long acquaintance with Lord Strathcona, and his Montreal entourage. Nor was it a small advantage that he himself had been born and had spent his earlier years in the same county of Scotland as Donald Alexander Smith, and that he was a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, of which he sings the praises in his opening chapter. In his historical researches he was assisted by Mrs. Logie Macdonnell, now Dean of Women and Lecturer in English history in the University of Manitoba.
The manuscript, as eventually delivered to the then publishers of the series, was too long and at times too controversial. It lay for some years neglected, till, in 1925, it came into the hands of the present editor. I had not read far before I perceived that I had in my hands the makings of a very striking, and indeed great, if at times, unconventional, biography. Professor Macnaughton with great generosity gave me carte blanche to deal with the manuscript as I wished, and with the assistance in the five first chapters of Mr. T. G. Marquis I have regretfully hacked into the living flesh, and produced the volume which follows. In the chapter dealing with the financing of the C. P. R., I have been most courteously assisted in verifying the references by Mr. H. A. Innis, Lecturer in Political Economy in the University of Toronto, author of the standard History of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
In thus dealing with Professor Macnaughton's manuscript, I have at times been driven by considerations both of space and of prudence to excise comments upon life and character, Canadian and otherwise, which I would fain have dared to publish; but these excisions I have endeavoured to reduce to the minimum; in a few instances, I have compressed long paragraphs into my own briefer, if less vivid language; but these cases are few, and in no case have I altered the author's meaning.
The result is a book which in my opinion is one of the outstanding volumes of this series. At least, if it is not so, the fault is my own, and not that of the author. Surely no one can question that again and again Professor Macnaughton goes with pungent phrase to the heart of a truth or of a falsehood, that he touches nothing out of which he does not strike fire, that there is a spirit in his heart and a vocabulary at the end of his tongue which raises his volume far above all annalistic dry-as-dusts, or even mere lucid chroniclers, that in his Life of Lord Strathcona he reveals the essential character of the man, as has not been done before, that he neither extenuates nor sets down aught in malice, and that in doing so he casts a new and piercing light upon more than one period in the history of Canada. Professor Macnaughton is nothing if not outspoken, and I have once and again ventured to expunge some of the more Carlylean of his paragraphs and his phrases. But enough remains to give the book more than a touch of piquancy, and indeed of controversy, and for the opinions expressed he is responsible, not I. Friends of the late Sir John Schultz will agree neither with the account of that stormy petrel of Manitoban politics; nor with the disparaging references to Ontario Orangemen. God fulfils Himself in many ways; the Orangemen certainly, and perhaps even the earth-born Titan Schultz, helped to fulfil God's purpose of bringing the West into the Canadian Federation. Many other opinions in the book, such as the eulogy passed upon the financing of the C. P. R., and the author's touching belief in the superlative honesty of paying dividends out of capital, may not go unquestioned. But of its essential sincerity and fearlessness; and what is more, of its essential insight and right-headedness, there can be no doubt.
When I first knew Professor Macnaughton, it was my privilege to sit under him as a student in Classics at Queen's University, and to have him illumine for me as no other has ever done the wisdom of Æschylus, the Greek Preacher of Righteousness, and of Thucydides, the most statesmanlike of historians. Thence he went to McGill, and thence after many years to the University of Toronto. As his friend, Professor Stephen Leacock said of him, he circulated among the Canadian Universities as current coin of the realm of knowledge. He is now enjoying a well-earned rest in Italy, by the blue Mediterranean or the still bluer waters that lap the Sirmio of his loved Catullus. My one regret is that he is not here to assist me in passing these proofs for the press; my chief hope is that he will not feel that I have shown an excess of prudence in my eliminations.