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In Terms Of Reliability, Nicolson Lies Lower Than Frank Harris
on August 15, 2010
Yes, I know that this is saying a lot. Because Frank Harris was notorious for playing fast and loose with the truth. So how dare I, HOW DARE I make such assertions about Harold Nicolson, the "brilliant" diarist whose accounts are so famous and so beloved? I will admit that at first, I was myself taken in by his supple style and his self-deprecating sense of humor. And then of course there was his account of World War II. He hated Hitler, so he has to be wonderful, correct? But then we need to remember that Stalin also hated Hitler. So hating der Fuhrer is not a proof of anyone's personal worth.
But let's get down to the undisputed facts of this situation. If you want to know exactly how truthful Harold Nicolson was, you should read the authoritative two-volume biography by James Lee-Milne. On the very first page of this biography, Lee-Milne reveals that Nicolson couldn't even tell the truth about the events that accompanied his birth. In fact, he was a compulsive teller of made-up tales throughout his life. His friends thought that this was a very endearing trait. And no doubt it was when you're exchanging tall tales in the pubs. However, to pretend that the Nicolson diaries are a valuable source of historical anecdotes is totally preposterous, because you can't trust one single word that Harold says without independent verification.
Again according to Lee-Milne, Harold would often actually believe that his phony recollections were correct. He would recite incredibly detailed accounts of events that occurred when he was still a babe in arms (page 2, Lee-Milne). When he was a little older, he "recalled" seeing fountains and sewers in Tangier, a city which had neither amenity when he visited it. On and on it goes, the endless parade of exaggerations and baloney. And always in the background we can feel the toxic snobbery, not to mention the overt racism with casual use of the N word (quoted by Lee-Milne, but of course censored from the diaries).
The editing of these diaries was totally dishonest from the beginning. They had to be edited line by line, and often word by word, to filter out the nasty bitchiness that Harold seemed to emit toward the entire world. And the worst of this silly old poofter's nasty attitude was directed toward the United States, which he hated even worse than Hitler. According to Harold, everything about the USA and its people was bad. For example, his account of a visit with Charles Lindberg is really poisonous and quite evil in its contempt for a man who was at that time coping with the kidnap and murder of his son, and who in spite of this stress invited Harold to stay in his own home.
Sometimes his outrageous snobbery sneaks past the censor because the "brilliant" phrases are irresistible, especially to an English editor. I can recall one nasty outburst as he records his experiences as a tour guide to a group of American servicemen, who were after all giving their lives at that time to save England. But that made no difference to "little Harold" (which is what his friends often called him). "In they slouched," he says of the American men at arms, "fully conscious of their inferiority in culture, breeding, and intellect." Fully conscious of their inferiority? Is that so, little Harold? Is that really so?
At times his hatred of America and the Americans reaches the point of literal insanity, and as further uncensored excerpts from his famous diary continue to trickle out his attitude is becoming unbearable, at least to people on the Western side of the Atlantic.
Harold was always second-rate, and he knew it, and his astoundingly snobbish wife Vita knew it too. Her nickname for him was "Hadji Baba," which is of course the kind of foreign name that the SUBJECT RACES of the British Empire used. In other words, he was her little N-word! This is the same kind of contempt that made Vita name her dog RAJAH. That's a respected title of nobility in India, but it's just one more casual name for your dirty dog in dear old England where the N-words from the colonies are especially despised.
But Harold was perfectly capable of hiding behind his mask in public. His two-faced hypocrisy was blatant and total. For example, he would say incredibly nasty things about Sinclair Lewis, the famous American author, and then pal around with Lewis for weeks afterward just to shine in his reflected glow (Lee-Milne, page 332). Here's one more example. Harold wrote a biography, as a commission job for money, describing the life of an American diplomat. This man was was a highly cultured person with a pioneering appreciation for the paintings of Frida Kahlo, surely not a philistine of any sort. And yet Harold felt and expressed nothing but contempt for this American, merely because he was an American.
After knowing all this, how can anyone swallow the juicy insider anecdotes that Harold peddles about World War II? No doubt he could be a delighful companion to his fellow Brits, especially when he was retailing his bitchy witticisms about people who weren't in the room. But is little Harold a historian? Someone whose word is to be taken seriously? Someone who can supply valuable and authoritative footnotes to the secret history of the 20th century? Not a chance, folks! Not a chance!