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Collection Overview

Nicolson, Harold, 1886-1968.
Harold Nicolson Papers
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1884-1962 (mostly 1925-1961)
2 boxes, 6 items, and 0.83 linear feet
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box 1-2
English French


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.

Collection Description & Creator Information


This collection consists primarily of the correspondence received by Harold Nicolson from friends and colleagues, as well as a large series of letters written by Nicolson to Richard Rumbold, and a few to others (1917-1962). Much of the correspondence is from various British and European statesmen, British and French authors, and other public figures, such as Maurice Baring, Clive Bell, Bernard Berenson, Guy Burgess, Anthony Eden, Earl of Avon, Sir John Gielgud, John Gunther, Francis King, Alan Lascelles, Charles A. Lindbergh, André Maurois, Paul Morand, Raymond Mortimer, Robert Vansittart, and H. G. Wells. There is also a small selection of miscellaneous material, including a menu signed by the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

Also included in the collection are three manuscripts by Nicolson, Benjamin Constant (1949), Journey to Java (1957), and Paul Verlaine (1921), and a set of working notes for Sainte-Beuve (1957). The Sainte-Beuve material is the only existing example of Nicolson's working notes, while the manuscripts are some of only a few to survive (together with Tennyson: Aspects of His Life, Character and Poetry which is on display at Sissinghurt Castle, and Public Faces: A Novel which was sold at auction).

Furthermore, there are a small amount of papers of others, chiefly correspondence by and to Nicolson's wife, "Vita" (Victoria) Sackville-West, with Raymond Mortimer and Richard Rumbold.

All the letters identified in this listing are signed autographed letters unless otherwise indicated (ACS = autograph card signed, TLS = typed letter signed).

Collection Creator Biography:


(Charles) Raymond Mortimer (Bell), 1895-1980, writer, literary art critic, and editor, was born at 62 Albert Gate Mansions, Knightsbridge, London on April 25, 1895. His mother dying young, Mortimer was raised by his aunt and uncle in Redhill, Surrey. At age nine he was sent to Eastbourne Preparatory School, but quickly moved on, in 1909, to Malvern College. He studied history at Balliol College at Oxford in 1913. In 1915, medically rejected from active service, he worked at a hospital for French soldiers in the South of France. In 1918, again medically rejected, he returned to England as a cipher clerk in the Foreign Office. After the war, he did not return to his education at Oxford, but rather chose to engage in a brief and fruitless exploration of religion, briefly joining the Catholic Church. Mortimer soon decided the religious life was not for him and became a self-proclaimed hedonist. With the help of a private income, he enjoyed a life of leisure. He indulged in travel, and in Paris he almost established a second home, quickly becoming friendly with such art and literary figures as Jean Cocteau, Tristan Tzara, and Louis Aragon.

In 1922, in collaboration with Hamish Miles (J. E. Miles, a Balliol friend), he published a novel, The Oxford Circus. His short story "The Lion's Den," which was originally published in the London Mercury, was later included in the 1924 edition of The Best British Short Stories. His works were also published in Vogue, the Nation, and New Statesman. However, Mortimer was primarily known for his work as a critic and reviewer of both literature and the visual arts, and for his close association with a circle of artists and literary figures known as the "Bloomsbury Group."

Mortimer became literary editor for the New Statesman in 1935, retaining the post until 1947, with an interlude in 1940-1941, during which period he was at the Ministry of Information, playing a large part in the liaison with the BBC and the establishment of the Free French Service. In 1948 he went to the Sunday Times, and in 1952 obtained the title of Chief Reviewer, a title he would hold until his death. Unmarried, he shared a Bloomsbury flat, and after 1952 a house in Canonbury, Islington, with the architect Geddes Hyslop. In Dorset he shared a country house with his fellow critics Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor. Mortimer died at his home in Canonbury, Islington, on January 9, 1980.

Nicolson, Harold, 1886-1968.

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.

Collection History


Acquired from the Nicolson family through A. R. A. Hobson in 1983 , the collection was a gift to the Library in January, 2002 , by Viscountess Eccles in honor of Richard M. Ludwig, former professor and head of the Special Collections.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Karla J. Vecchia in 2002. Finding aid written by Karla J. Vecchia in 2002.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Harold Nicolson Papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (mss): Box 1-2

Find More


The manuscripts found in draft form and notes in the collection came to print in the following publications: Benjamin Constant (London: Constable, 1949), Journey to Java (London: Constable, 1957), Paul Verlaine (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; London:Constable & Company, Ltd., 1921) and Sainte-Beuve (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1956).

Subject Terms:
Authors, English -- 20th century -- Correspondence.
Authors, English -- 20th century -- Manuscripts.
Diplomats -- Great Britain -- 20th century -- Correspondence.
Journalists -- England -- 20th century -- Correspondence.
Baring, Maurice, 1874-1945.
Bell, Clive, 1881-1964
Berenson, Bernard, 1865-1959.
Burgess, Guy, 1910-1963
Eden, Anthony, Earl of Avon, 1897-1977
King, Francis, 1923-2011
Mortimer, Raymond, 1895-1980
Rumbold, Richard, 1913-1961
Sackville-West, V. (Victoria), 1892-1962