The Desire to Please is the second installment of Harold Nicolson's memoirs of his family and his childhood, of which the first installment was the volume called Helen's Tower. The general title In Search of the Past evidently echoes Proust; but the purpose of Mr. Nicolson's own chronicle seems a little vague.
Mr. Nicolson's ancestry is varied and distinguished: it has included a viceroy of India, a celebrated Irish patriot and a veteran diplomat, his father. His childhood, as he tells us in this book, was spent mostly out of England in the embassies. From Persia, where he was born, his father, he says, "went to Constantinople; from Constantinople to Budapest; from Hungary to Sofia; from Bulgaria to Morocco; from Morocco to Madrid and from Madrid to Russia"; and the son in his earlier years continued the diplomatic tradition: he was present at the Peace Conference, in the British delegation, and he accompanied Lord Curzon to Locarno. His experience has thus been unusual, and one would expect of him a story more interesting than these volumes and his studies in diplomacy have yet turned out to be. He is often engaging and sometimes brilliant--he has a genuine literary gift; and it is only after we have been reading him a little that we begin to feel his limitations.