Obituary: Lady Pansy Lamb
Thursday 25 February 1999
You see English Society of the 20s as something baroque and magnificent on its last legs . . . I fled from it because it seemed prosperous, bourgeois and practical and I believe it still is.
Her father, the fourth Earl of Longford, was killed at Gallipoli, leaving his widow to bring up two sons and four daughters. Most unusually for those days and those circles, Pansy, who was the eldest girl, born in 1904, was allowed to set up in a flat in London with a friend, Evelyn Gardner, daughter of Lord Burghclere. They paid pounds 1 15s a week for two rooms in Ebury Street, with a small supplement for the occasional use of a sitting-room.
Their mothers were friends, and thought (wrongly) that each would be a good influence on the other, Pansy being earnest and idealistic and Evelyn frankly frivolous, having been engaged to no less than nine men before her brief and disastrous marriage, in 1928, to Evelyn Waugh. Pansy later reproached herself for having encouraged the marriage, largely because she considered Waugh such an improvement on the other nine. Much later, she was able to give crucial evidence enabling the marriage to be annulled, leaving Waugh, who was then a Roman Catholic, free to remarry.
After a brief job in an architect's office, Pansy married, also in 1928, the successful painter Henry Lamb, 19 years her senior, who had been separated, though not divorced, from his first wife, Euphemia, for over 20 years. In 1931, under her maiden name, Pansy Pakenham, she published a novel, August, a fascinating period piece, sadly unobtainable today, which is based on the world of Garsington, whose chatelaine Lady Ottoline Morrell had had an affair with Lamb many years before he met Pansy. She described that circle as
huddled together in a fortified monastery, where, safe from the gross assaults of the outside world, they could nevertheless chastise it with sharp arrows shot from commanding loopholes . . . A delightful sense of intimacy prevailed, and the cruder forms of charlatanism were unknown.
The Lambs settled happily at Coombe Bissett near Salisbury, and their circle of friends included David Cecil, John Betjeman, Bryan Guinness, L.P. Hartley and Katharine Asquith. When the Second World War came Pansy expressed her warm admiration for de Gaulle and the Free French by organising on their behalf a loan exhibition of pictures from great collections in Wiltshire, no mean feat in wartime.
After her husband's death in 1960, she moved to London and continued her intellectual pursuits, translating a volume of poems by Charles Peguy and later working on an edition of the letters of Dickens. (Her first book, The Old Expedient, a novel, had appeared - from Evelyn Waugh's father's publishing house, Chapman and Hall - in 1928; she was also the author of King Charles I, for Duckworth's "Great Lives" series, in 1936.)
Her deep and long-standing interest in theology and church history eventually led her into the Catholic Church, though she was discouraged by the abandonment of the Latin Mass and by what she saw as the general slackening of the Church's framework at the time of the Second Vatican Council. Her perception and acute approach compensated to some degree for the lack of intellectual technique which a university education might have provided.
Tiring of London, in 1981 she moved to a small flat in Rome. Her spiritual progress had been accelerated under the influence of Cardinal Danielou and by two close friends, Pierre and Rosalyne Fortin, who lived in Rome and made a great difference to her early days there. So did a younger couple, Margaret FitzHerbert, the favourite daughter of Evelyn Waugh, and her husband Giles, who was then at the British Embassy.
She also worked for the Samaritans, where her calm and utterly unselfconscious temperament was a great asset. On giving up this work owing to failing eyesight, she became an exceptionally conscientious guide at St Peter's, sitting out in all weathers on a bench outside the main entrance and guiding innumerable visitors to their targets. She also developed an ardent personal devotion to Pope John Paul II, and never missed witnessing his public appearances.
Like other members of her gifted family, she was always happy to propound her theories, sometimes at considerable length, for the benefit of others. Without sharing any of the foibles of her surviving brother, the present Lord Longford, she viewed them with the benign tolerance of a slightly older and wiser sister.
Pansy Lamb had a great natural gift of articulate clarity in conversation, and it is sad to think that the unique timbre of her voice will never be heard again. She was also completely at home with children, and on her 90th birthday took a childlike delight in the many homemade presents from her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her Roman landlady claimed that even in extreme old age Lady Pansy often seemed to be the youngest person in the room.
The Pakenham family nearly all have great advantages - perfect complexions, hair like gold wire and voices of cajoling calm and softness, writes Frances Partridge.
I first met Pansy when she was engaged to marry Henry Lamb, who was a remarkable-looking man in his own right, and whose countenance impressed by its intelligence in a way that had a certain fierceness about it as well as humour. It seemed as though Pansy had been born to act as a model for his elegant pencil drawings. She might have got her name from her beautiful blue-grey eyes fringed with black lashes.
As the mother of three children she was kept busy by their family life at Coombe Bissett which was faintly touched with a Bohemian life- style, but Pansy herself found plenty of time to read. She had never been sent to school, but was strictly self-educated.
She was widely and deeply read, and history was her favourite subject. I remember arriving at the London Library once when she was coming out and being fixed in the door of my Mini while a torrent of talk flowed from Pansy about "a most intewesting book about the Meditewanean. Henwy is weading it too."
In 1954 my husband, Ralph, and I were paying our first visit to Rome together, when we heard Pansy's soft velvety voice talking into the well of our hotel (it was hot summer). It was also Henry's first visit, and I can remember clearly the eagerness with which he pulled on a little cotton cap with a peak, and darted off on his sight-seeing trips. Pansy was overflowing with enthusiasm and facts. They were a splendid pair to go around Rome with, and of us four I think Pansy had done her homework best. She must have fallen in love then and decided to spend the end of her life there.
Pansy's courage was immense. She became very nearly blind and she flew alone to England to visit her grown-up children and their families. She travelled by air, tube, train, but hardly ever took a taxi.
Margaret Pansy Felicia Pakenham, writer: born London 18 May 1904; married 1928 Henry Lamb (died 1960; one son, two daughters); died London 19 February 1999.
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