Poor Harold

C.H. Sisson

  • Harold Nicolson: A Biography. Vo. II: 1930-1968 by James Lees-Milne
    Chatto, 403 pp, £15.00, October 1981, ISBN 0 7011 2602 7

In 1930, Harold Nicolson gave a series of broadcasts on ‘The New Spirit in Modern Literature’. The pamphlet which the BBC published to accompany the series gave me my first sight of the work of T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and I believe James Joyce, though I learn from the volume before me that Sir John Reith, reigning at the BBC, forbade Nicolson to mention Ulysses, then banned. Little encounters of that kind were to be expected in those days, and Nicolson seems not to have attempted to reason with the great man on this occasion. Such high matters were outside my sphere. For me, the speaker was one of those benign and knowledgeable spirits sent by an élitist BBC to enlighten such provincials as I. I know now that Nicolson would have been pleased with me as a listener for I learn from James Lees-Milne that, though ‘uneasy and unsympathetic towards the uneducated classes, he nevertheless wanted them to have the opportunities of becoming as educated as he was himself.’ That was generous of him, I suppose one must say, even if not altogether reassuring as to his attitude to himself and to the world at large.

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