Biography and History

Harold George Nicolson was born on November 21, 1886, in Tehran, Persia [Iran], the son of Arthur Nicolson, Baron Carnock, and Catherine (Rowean-Hamilton) Nicolson. He studied at both Wellington College, Berkshire, and Balliol College, Oxford, and then followed his father's example by entering the diplomatic service (1909).

In 1913 Nicolson married the novelist, literary critic, and Bloomsbury group member “Vita” (Victoria) Sackville-West. Together they had two children, Lionel Benedict and Nigel, and maintained an unconventional union until her death in 1962.

Throughout his diplomatic career, Nicolson served at embassies in Madrid, Constantinople, Tehran, and Berlin. In 1919 he participated in the Paris Peace Conference as a member of the British delegation. After resigning from the foreign service (1929), Nicolson wrote about social, political, and literary topics for the Evening Standard (1930-1932), and rehabilitated Sissinghurst Castle, Kent, with Sackville-West (1930). Nicolson then moved into politics by entering Parliament as the National Labour Party's representative from West Leicester (1935-1945).

Nicolson was also a prolific writer, primarily of nonfiction. His first book, Paul Verlaine (1921), was a literary biography of the French poet. Other biographies include the following: Tennyson: Aspects of His Life, Character and Poetry (1923), Byron: The Last Journey, April 1823-April 1824 (1924), Swinburne (1926), Dwight Morrow (1935), Benjamin Constant (1949), and Sainte-Beuve (1957). Nicolson also documented his family history in the works Sir Arthur Nicolson, Bart., First Lord Carnock: A Study in the Old Diplomacy (1930), Helen's Tower (1937) and The Desire to Please: The Story of Hamilton Rowan and the United Irishmen (1943). Nicolson's most popular work was the semi-autobiographical Some People (1927) which combines fact and fiction in a series of sketches of different people. He also wrote essays, such as People and Things: Wireless Talks (1931), Good Behavior: Being a Study of Certain Types of Civility (1955), and The English Sense of Humor, and Other Essays (1956), and a travel diary, Journey to Java (1957). Nicolson combined his diplomatic and political knowledge to write various works on the political climate in Europe during the 1930s to 1940s, and his fiction includes Sweet Waters: A Novel (1921) and Public Faces: A Novel (1932). His son Nigel edited a three-volume collection of Nicolson's personal writings as Diaries and Letters (1966-1968).

Nicolson died on May 1, 1968, at the age of 81.

Source: From the finding aid for C0913

  • Princeton University Library Collection of Raymond Mortimer Materials. 1905-1990 (inclusive), 1925-1970 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0271

    Consists of correspondence, notebooks, drafts and proofs of articles and reviews, photographs, documents, printed ephemera, and other papers of the English literary critic and editor Raymond Mortimer (1895-1980).

  • Clive Bell Correspondence. 1922-1962 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0912

    The Clive Bell Correspondence collection consists of letters received by the English writer and art critic Clive Bell (1881-1964) from Raymond Mortimer, Harold Nicolson, and V. (Victoria) Sackville-West ["Vita"]. Their content reflects both personal and professional matters.

  • Harold Nicolson Papers. 1884-1962 (inclusive), 1925-1961 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0913

    The Harold Nicolson Papers consists of papers of the English diplomat, journalist, and biographer Harold Nicolson (1886-1968). These papers primarily contain correspondence received by Nicolson, but there is also a large series of letters written by Nicolson to Richard Rumbold, as well as a few to others. Also included in the collection are manuscripts and/or working notes for four of Nicolson's published works. Furthermore, there is a small amount of papers of others, chiefly correspondence by and to Nicolson's wife, "Vita" (Victoria) Sackville-West.