12 APRIL 1930, Page 20

Sir Arthur Nicolson

-Sir Arthur Nieto'son, Bart., First Lord Carnock. By Harold Nicolson. (Constable. and Co. 21s.) Loan CAnNOCK, SO much better known to the world (so far as it knows its diplomatists who do not advertise) as Sir Arthur Nicolson, wrote some five and thilty years ago to the devoted mother of his small children, " Let us hope one of our boys will take to Letters." One of them has : we .might add, " with a vengeance," for it is the boy who, to follow Letters, has given up his father's own profession in which he was making a career of which the father could be proud. We find elsewhere in this book a reason given why " the energetic civil servant (in the Foreign Office), when relegated to diplomacy, is apt to resign." That is not the whole story. If Mr. Nicolson is lost to diplomacy, we hope that he will not fall before the temptations to write ephemeral stuff that would be unworthy of him. His excellent literary volumes are well known and he found time while a diplomat to write a book, marked by a little egotism and impish naughtiness, which was so amusing and uncommon that it could not be condenined as cheap. Now he has made a success of that most difficult task, a life of his father. He keeps himself modestly in the background ; the few references to " Nicolson's youngest son " are justifiable _and generally amusing. He does, of course, let his own opinions on events and their conduct occasionally appear, but by no means unduly. He has resisted his temptation to smart writing. Perhaps the tale of the representatives at the Algeciras COnference, with its epigram apiece (from the Duke of Ahnadovar, " an Arabian face, flashing Arabian eyes, challenging but emity-retreating when in difficulty behind the barrier of breeding ; becoming grandee," to Mr. Henry White, "so full of charm that there was room for little else"), is a tour de force, only excusable because it is well done. The story centres round Sir Arthur and properly endears him to the reader, as a high-minded public servant, a very .hard worker, sensible rather than brilliant ; happy in most of his work though happier still in his family life ; holding _posts fortunately for himself and for us, where events of real importance were taking place. He was also a remarkably good prophet. Time and again his unofficial letters prove how well he knew how to use his position to form sound premises and to deduce the future course of events, both at home and abroad. His knowledge of the Near East was probably unequalled. In Teheran and St. Petersburg he won the confidence of Persians and Russians to a remarkable degree. These very different peoples recognized his charm and sympathy. He was also posted to Constantinople, Athens and Budapest, and spent some time in Egypt with his brother-in-law, Lord Dufferin : and in Morocco, where he played a most important part, there were close links with Near Eastern politics. If he learnt at Teheran the worst of Russian habits, aims and lack of scruple, at St. Petersburg he learnt to love the people. The love was chiefly based on pity. He pitied " the timid little autocrat." He pitied the few honest ministers in their difficulties at home and their fears abroad. He pitied the still-born Duma because, even if it had been given a chance, he saw that it was composed of men utterly unable at first to help their country, untrained, often illiterate, with no knowledge of what they wanted or how to do anything ; and he pitied the mass of the people only less than he pitied the violently misgoverned subjects of the Sultan of Morocco. This love of Russia was miscon- strued before the War as a political pro-Russian. bias. But he justified the policy that he advocated by reasoning. Re knew how Germany and Austria treated Russia. He saw the really great danger behind Great Britain's unwillingness to commit herself to support anyone on the Continent ; if Russia could not depend on us, she would from fear, nothing else, range herself upon the German side. The humiliation over Bosnia and Herzegovina taught her that she could not rely upon herself, nor, apparently, upon us. From abroad and as Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office Sir Arthur argued thus, and to him more than to any other Englishman it is due that Russia was not intimidated by the

Central Powers in 1914. _ • •

Our readers will have realized that we have here a history of the most important international events of half a century. Mr. Nicolson has sifted a vast amount of material with care and judgment, in which his own training helped him enor- mously. His recent residence in Berlin has helped him too, but perhaps biassed him a little. We do not blame him for parcelling out very widely the responsibility for the. War. It is -obvious from his narrative that if everyone was to blame, yet the greatest responsibility rests upon Germany and Austria. (This does not make us regard the Kriegschuld clause in the Treaty of Versailles as anything but silly and mischievous. Sir Arthur saw in it a mistake that no good diplomat would have made.) We are glad that Mr.. Nicolson can write generously of-Herr von Betlunann Hollweg : we are not convinced when he writes kindly of Herr von Kuhl- mann, an arrant mischief-maker and dissembler. On the whole his judgments are generous and, pleasanty for all the tart phrases that spring from his pen and season the book. His writing is never commonplace whether he is describing a quick-moving comedy such as the escapade of Ayoub Khan in Persia or the tragedy of July, 1914. He leaves us uncertain whether his sub-title, "a study in the Old Diplomacy," is meant to hint at any great change. Diplomacy must be carried on by men, and not by men shouting from the house- tops. We see that to-day, when the cry for " open " diplo- macy has faded away. When Premiers and delegates confer nowadays, the platitudes " issued subsequently to:the press " are proof enough of the need for secrecy at the moment. And the book will certainly not make us ashamed of our " old diplomacy. It was remarkably, honest (which puzzled some other nations). It staved off an infinity of wars for one that it failed to stave off. So long as one nation believed in force, force had to be reckoned with. Since the War co-operation has been steadily replacing competition, and only the Russian Army really threatens force to-day and hamper the League of Nations in Europe. But in Sir Arthur's days German threats of force, openly declared or not, kept Europe back. Conferences, are no new invention since the War. For example, Algeciras, only one among others recorded here, the handicap (now mercifully removed) lay in Germany's clumsy threats of force even there (" nous les icraserons comme des punaises-). No passionate lover of justice ever hated war as its last in- strument more than did Sir Arthur, and we like to think that he was allowed to live to see the menace of war between civilized races receding further and further from them.