Saturday, April 24, 2010

Harold Nicolson

I've been ripping through the 1930 - 1939 diaries and letters of British diplomat, author, journalist, and politician Harold Nicolson. The best volume, which covers the war years, awaits but this one has been interesting in its own right.

Nicolson was so well-connected that he casually mentions encounters with Somerset Maugham, Charlies Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh, and Winston Churchill and long meetings with Stanley Baldwin and Lloyd George. He is also honest enough not to hide his flaws. He often comes across as unlikeable, weak, prejudiced, and naive and yet good qualities also emerge.

Some excerpts:

31st December, 1931: Of all my years this has been the most unfortunate. Everything has gone wrong. I have lost not only my fortune but much of my reputation. I incurred enmities: the enmity of Beaverbrook; the enmity of the B.B.C. and the Athenaeum Club; the enmity of several stuffies. I left the Evening Standard, I failed in my Election, I failed over Action. I have been inexpedient throughout. My connexion with Tom Mosley has done me harm. I am thought trashy and a little mad. I have been reckless and arrogant. I have been silly. I must recapture my reputation. I must be cautious and more serious. I must not try to do so much, and must endeavor to do what I do with greater skill and application. I must avoid the superficial.

In spite of all this - what fun life is!

21th July, 1937: My speech on Monday [in the House of Commons] seems to have gone better than I supposed. Many people have come to congratulate me upon it. It is extraordinary how these things seem to affect temperature. If one makes a good speech, even the policeman at the door seems to salute with greater deference. After a failure, it is as if the very pigeons avoided one's eye.

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