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Macphail, Andrew 1864-1938

MACPHAIL, Andrew 1864-1938


Born November 24, 1864, in Orwell, Prince Edward Island, Canada; died September 23, 1938; married Georgina Burland, December 19, 1893 (died 1902); children: two. Education: Prince of Wales College, graduated with honors, 1882; McGill University, B.A., 1888, M.D., 1891, L.L.D., 1922


Teacher in country schools, 1882-85; University of Bishop's College, Montreal, pathology professor, 1893-1905; in private medical practice, 1893-1905; Montreal Medical Journal, editor,1903-11; McGill University, professor of history of medicine, 1907-37; Canadian Medical Association Journal, editor,1911-14; University Magazine, Montreal, editor, 1907-20. Military service: Canadian Sixth Field Ambulance Corps, 1914-19, served in World War I; became major.


Knighted, 1918.


Essays in Puritanism, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY), 1905.

The Vine of Simbah: A Relation of the Puritans, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1906.

Essays in Politics, Longmans, Green (New York, NY), 1909.

Essays in Fallacy, Longmans, Green (New York, NY), 1910.

The Land A Play of Character in One Act with Five Scenes, University Magazine (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1914.

(Editor and contributor) The Book of Sorrow, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1916.

(Translator) Louis Hemon, Maria Cahpdelaine, Chapman (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1921.

Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914-1919: The Medical Services, Ministry of National Defence, (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1925.

Three Persons, Murray (London, England), 1929.

The Bible in Scotland, Murray (London, England), 1931.

Sir Gilbert Parker: An Appraisal, Royal Society of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1939.

The Master's Wife, Macphail & Lindsay (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1939.

Contributor to In Flanders Fields and Other Poems, edited by John McCrae, Hodder & Stoughton (New York, NY), 1919.

Contributor to periodical publications, including University Magazine and Canada and Its Provinces.


Andrew Macphail was a Canadian writer, academic, and soldier. His interest and dedication of the cultural heritage and development of his country gave him the impetus to excel in all these areas. Born on Prince Edward Island, his early adulthood was spent as a doctor and professor of medicine after earning his medical degree from McGill University in 1891. His first experiences with writing and editing stemmed from his early medical career when he joined the staff of the Montreal Medical Journal in 1903, continuing to work as editor of the publication and its successor, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, through 1914.

The death of his wife, Georgina Burland, in 1902 after only nine years of marriage prompted Macphail to begin writing books. His first, Essays in Puritanism, was published in 1905, about the same time that he ended his professorship at Bishop's College and his private medical practice. This collection of academic essays considers the work and characters of people like Jonathan Edwards, John Winthrop, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, and John Wesley, and seem more interested in literature and personality than in Puritanism. However, many of the ideas Macphail discusses are puritanical in tone but also highly creative and well thought out. His interpretation of Whitman is almost poetry itself, as he writes, "His ambition was to give an expression of the cosmos … and he spent most of his time in telling how he was going to set about it. He was to do it by a series of glittering images, and he does produce the impression which he sought upon a reader who will give himself unreservedly into his hands, a willing victim to the poet's will."

Macphail's next work also used the idea of Puritanism as a take-off point from which to write. The Vine of Simbah: A Relation of the Puritans, published in 1906, is a romantic novel set in seventeenth-century England, New England, and New France. The plot centers on a beautiful Quaker woman and a captain in Cromwell's army. However, this epic tale introduces the reader to numerous different characters on both continents, including pirates, Indian, Puritans, British soldiers, Jesuits, and others. Although Macphail is generally remembered today more for his essays than his fiction writing, The Vine of Simbah received mostly positive reviews upon its publication. A critic for the New York Times wrote, "The lover of historical romance will be glad to illuminate the years around 1662 by passing through them with Mr. Macphail's well-imagined characters."

In the year following the publication of Vine of Simbah, Macphail accepted a job as editor of University Magazine, a position he would hold until 1920. This magazine, which represented the campuses of McGill, the University of Toronto, and Dalhousie College, was well respected in academic circles in Canada. Paul Matthew St. Pierre in the Dictionary of Literary Biography called it "the most influential academic quarterly of the period." In it, academics discuss a range of topics pertinent to Canada during the era leading up to and during World War I. During the war, Macphail took a break from the magazine to serve in the Sixth Field Ambulance Corps. This experience impacted his writing, and his last article for University Magazine was titled "Peace and Its Consequence." In it, he argues against independence for Canada, because he believes the country is better off as a part of the British Empire.

Macphail's work with University Magazine led to the publication of two collections of essays in quick succession: Essays in Politics in 1909 and Essays in Fallacy in 1910. The first deals with issues of Canadian politics, covering such topics as the country's relationship to England and the United States, certain of its laws, its latest election, and commerce. Essays in Fallacy identifies the problematic and fallacious aspects of the American woman, the stance of the suffragette, education, and theology. These essays, though offering moments of insight, are often involved and met with mixed reviews. H.W. Boynton, a critic for the New York Times, wrote, "The writer is a sort of erudite and long-winded Chesterton. Instead of flashing forth a paradox and forgetting it, he labors it carefully, and is never tired of repolishing it. On the other hand, his few and chosen paradoxes are of the fruitful kind, and with all his plainness of speech an old-fashioned amenity hangs about his style which marks him as a follower of the best traditions in literature."

University Magazine ceased publication in 1920. Over a decade since his last book, Macphail wrote two new ones back-to-back. Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War, 1914-1919: The Medical Service, published in 1925, was commissioned by the Canadian General Staff. It is a praiseful account of the history of the medical component of the military during World War I, a subject that as a doctor, writer, and a participant in the war, Macphail was uniquely qualified to consider. Three Persons, published in 1929, is another study of the military, this time through three important war figures: Sir Henry Wilson, Colonel E. M. House, and Colonel T. E. Lawrence. Through his consideration of these men's careers and personalities, Macphail makes profound remarks on the complexities of war. Reviewers of the time praised his unique and interesting writing style. A critic for the New Statesman wrote of Macphail, "He is undoubtedly a master of restrained and effective irony, and writes extremely well, but every now and then he abandons restraint and spoils the whole picture by lapses into unfair and sometimes almost vulgar sarcasm. His book, however, as it stands is certainly very well worth reading and in his final estimate of the 'Three Persons' whom he discusses he does not go so very far wrong."

Macphail also had an interest in poetry, writing some himself and editing a collection called In Flanders Fields, and Other Poems, published in 1919. This collection was written by John McCrae, a fellow physician and war veteran. Macphail contributed a lengthy essay in which he discusses McCrae's background and character as well as his work. Macphail also edited a collection of elegies and laments he gathered gradually after the death of his wife. The Book of Sorrow was published in 1916. Macphail's last written work was his autobiography, titled The Master's Wife. Published posthumously in 1939, it takes a nostalgic look back at his childhood on Prince Edward Island, discussing the influence of his parents and his motivation for writing on the topics he did.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 92: Canadian Writers, 1890-1920, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.

Klinck, Carl, editor, Literary History of Canada, second edition, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976.


Books, May 26, 1929, p 18.

Dial, July 16, 1905; October 16, 1906; November 1, 1910.

Nation, October 21, 1909; September 1, 1910.

New Statesman, February 23, 1929.

New York Times, April 29, 1905; July 7, 1906; August 13, 1910; July 7, 1929, p. 3.

Outlook, April 22, 1905.

Portland Evening Post, July 2, 1929, p. 5.

Queen's Quarterly, winter, 1938; spring, 1947.

Saturday Review of Literature, May 4, 1929.

Speculator, February 25, 1905; September 18, 1909; July 23, 1910; March 2, 1929.

Times Literary Supplement, February 28, 1929, p. 155.*

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