A Very Smart Bedint

Frank Kermode

  • Harold Nicolson by Norman Rose
    Cape, 383 pp, £20.00, February 2005, ISBN 0 224 06218 2

Like everybody else, I had read a lot about Harold Nicolson and his amazing marriage, but paid little attention to him as the author of many books, including a biography of his father, Lord Carnock, a bestselling life of King George V, a life of Mrs Charles Lindbergh’s father, some novels and some historical studies. Of these works I had read only one, the pseudo-autobiographical Some People, first published in 1927 (according to the Author’s Note, ‘many of the following sketches are purely imaginary. Such truths as they may contain are only half-truths’). Sixty years on, I had forgotten everything about the book except its incidental allusions to Nicolson’s admired friend Lord Eustace Percy, a minor character, but of special interest to me because at the time he was my boss. I, too, admired this courteous scion of the great Northumberland dukedom, partly because of the divinatory powers that had enabled him to choose me, from a field of candidates all manifestly much better qualified than I, for a job at King’s College, Newcastle, part of the University of Durham, of which he was at that time the rector. He had been a Conservative MP and briefly a young cabinet minister; great things were expected of him, but for one reason or another they didn’t happen. The DNB’s explanation is he was not ‘a good House of Commons man’.

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