Acton, Harold (Mario Mitchell)

Acton (1904-94, knighted 1974) was educated at Eton and Christ Church. His nominal study was economics, and Harrod was his tutor. According to Bowra and Christopher Hollis , Acton's essays were high flown but not quite on the academic point, and Harrod decided he had little capacity for economics (some correspondence between Harrod and Acton concerning his studies is preserved in HPBL 71609). He was lecturer in English literature at the National University of Peking and Peking Normal College (1933-35), and lived for seven years in Peking, devoting much time to Chinese Classical Theatre.

A prolific author, as an undergraduate Acton was the "unquestioned leader" of the circle of aesthetes which Harrod cultivated as a young don. Harrod wrote of him: "He was an endless fount of brilliant and witty talk, with a quite unusual range of knowledge for an undergraduate. The principal topics of conversation, apart from perennial gossip and comment on the characteristic of friends, were in the field of art and letters. It was doubtless Harold's famous home in Florence that gave his learning in these matters a cosmopolitan character. He seemed to know of everything of importance that was happening in Europe in contemporary writing, painting and music. [...] He kept us laughing endlessly. His humour was entirely personal, original, quite unlike anything that one has heard before or since. It was daring and highly imaginative. To us it seemed obvious that he would be the literary leader of his generation, rather as Lytton Strachey had been in the earlier decade. Although he has written a number of interesting books, he has not achieved quite that position, perhaps because of being too heavily anchored to his parental home in Italy."

Some correspondence on Acton's books, including The Last Medici, is filed in HPBL Add. 71181.

See list of letters .

Source: www ; C. M. Bowra, Memories 1898-1939 (1966), chapter 7; C. Hollis , Oxford in the Twenties: Recollections of Five Friends (London: Heinemann, 1976), p. 104; Harrod, recollection in M.-J. Lancaster, Brian Howard. Portrait of a Failure (1968), pp. 209-10.


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