By HAROLD NICOLSON
WHEN I was a child I was once invited to the birthday party of the late King Boris of Bulgaria. My recollection of the occasion is precise only in bits. I can recall the appearance and manner of his mother. She was a very French princess and, although in no way a beautiful woman, she possessed great nervous charm. When she turned her haggard face rapidly from left to right the diamond pendants which She wore as ear-rings swung like the glass drops of chandeliers. She spoke very rapidly and in an apprehensive voice. His father I remember also.. He was not at that date as portentously portly as he became in later years. A sinister man he seemed, with great silver epaulettes above his green Bulgarian uniform, with the stars of many orders strewn across his breast, with gloved hands resting heavily upon the hilt of a cavalry sword, with eyes that shifted under angular brows. I can remember vaguely that we were given a huge tea in a large dining-room, and I recall the white cotton gloves of Balkan footmen handing us sugared buns and walnuts dipped in toffee. Of Prince Boris-him- self, who was then two years old, I can remember nothing at all. But I carried back from that party a little bonbonniere made of moss-green plush and tied with ribbons. Glued upon the plush surface of this object was a photograph of the little prince, his white frock stiff around his little legs, his hair carefully curled and arranged. His appearance was almost identical with that of his successor, King Simeon H.
* * * * Forty years passed before I met Boris again. The hair which, in my photograph, had been arranged so luxuriantly around his baby cheeks, had almost entirely disappeared. I was faced with a bald man with a long thin nose : this nose, which' his flatterers assured him was Bourbon, was in fact pure Coburg ; yet it did not suggest the fox-like scheming of his father Ferdinand: it suggested only immense curiosity. Owing to the fact that we had last met at his birthday party, to' the fact that I remembered the adored mother who had died when he was young, or to the fact, perhaps, that it was a relief for him to talk frankly to a visiting Englishman, he kept me there in his study for a whole morning. Without in any way casting disloyal reflections upon his father, he spoke in detail about the unhappiness of his own childhood. He told me how, in 1918, when his father had suddenly bolted, leaving to him an unpopular and menaced throne, he had found in Stambuliisky, the peasant dictator of Bulgaria; a man who had shown him almost parental affection. When Stambuliisky had been murdered another period of isolation and danger had opened for him during the rough- handed rule of Tzankov. He was surrounded by enemies and intriguers on every hand. The Sobranye was little more than a hornets' nest of politicians intriguing for place and power ; the army, still smarting under two disastrous defeats, was not imbued either with patience or sagacity ; the refugees from Macedonia had retained their comitadji mentality, and assassination lurked at every corner.
* * * * He told me how again and again, when the sound of loud voices reached him from the hall below, he had imagined that the hotir had come, and expected the door of his study to burst open upon an inrush of regicides. He told me how, in the early hours of one morning, he had been roused by the tinkle of the house telephone beside his bed. The captain of the guard reported that armed men were approaching the palace, and urged him to escape at once. He rose, donned the tweed shooting-suit which he had bought at Aberdeen (he was amused by this coincidence) and reached the garden where he had parked his little car. Away he drove through a back exit and out to his shooting:-box in the mountains. As the dawn rose on the Bulgarian uplands he waited there, with his shot- gun in his hand, watching the white road which led to Sofia. The early sunlight showed the dust of four large cars dashing out from the capital. Was it death? Was it abdication? He walked slowly down the hill to meet them. They saluted as they stepped out of their cars. They handed him a paper. It was a decree, appointing a new Government, which he was obliged to sign. " Did your hand tremble? " I asked him. " Yes," he said. * * * *
" But you see," he added, smiling, " by that time. I did not feel that I was really alone. During all .those years- when I was ignored and excluded I had spent my time getting to know and love the peasants. Stambuliisky had taught me that they were the real Bulgaria and that they would understand. They were always on my side. They are on my side today." I believed at the time, and I believe today, that in all he told me he was being perfectly sincere. He did not adopt the accustomed royal manner, which is a blend of extreme garrulity on trivial matters and a blank-faced reticence on all important affairs. Nor was the impression he conveyed in any sense a Balkan impression ; he did not seek to impose upon me his intimate acquaintance with the life and literature of Western Europe. In talking to him one felt that one was talking to a French- man of wide culture and deep intelligence—a normalien, an inspecteur des finances. He spoke as a man who through years of difficulty and danger had acquired self-confidence ; as a man whom destiny had obliged to' deal with many wicked men and many sinister matters ; but as a man who had passed through this ordeal without becoming cynical, who retained much faith in the simpler virtues of human beings, and who could find unending interest and
pleasure in the mysteries of Nature and the devices of science. * * * *
He spoke at length and frankly about the international situation. He explained to me how disturbing it was for him to observe how month by month Germany was &tending her economic strangle- hold over Bulgaria, and how much he regretted that Fiance and England did not realise with sufficient clarity how, little strand by little strand, the great cobweb of German economic exploitation was spreading throughqut South-Eastern Europe. He told me how he himself had striven hard to further the policy of the Balkan entente and to improve Bulgaria's relations with Yugoslavia, Rumania and Greece. This was no easy policy to impose upon his country. The army, the Macedonians and many of the politicians were still imbued with Chauvinist conceptions, and .would brand him as un- patriotic were he openly to renounce all claim to Bulgarian ex- pansion. The relations of confidence which he had been able gradually to establish with King Alexander had been shattered by the latter's assassination, and for some reason he and Prince Paul had never yet been able to hit it off. The Bulgarian people had, in addition to their deep feeling for Russia, retained sentiments of great respect for Great Britain and the United States. But what help could he expect from London or Washington? "On se fiche de nous," he said. I protested lamely. "But yes, but yes," he
said, " to them I am but a Balkan monarch with a long nose," * * * *
The obituary notices which I haie read on King Boris in the English newspapers seem to divide themselves into two categories. There are those writers who know the true story and who tell it Correctly : such writers admit that Boris was a gifted man, and that until 1934 or so the policy which he followed was, correct. They admit that he stood out longer than many people expected, and was able to defer his final surrender until 1941. Had he been a stronger man he might have emulated the fine examples of King Christian of Denmark or King George of Greece. Had his acquaintance and contacts with Great Britain been more intimate and more constant he might have realised that the German triumph of 194o could not be lasting. But the other school of thought which identifies Boris with his horrible falai, and which represents him as having " betrayed his country," is neither accurate nor well-informed. Three times in recent history have the Bulgarians chosen the" course of disaster: their conduct during their short periods of triumph has not entitled them to sympathy ; but it is incorrect to place upon the shoulders of King Boris the sole responsibility for what was a national, and not a personal, error.