Friday, 15 May 2009

Osbert Lancaster

The recent death of Anne Scott-James has reminded me of her late husband, Osbert Lancaster, one of the cleverest and wittiest of social commentators. Anyone who wants an overview of English social history over the past few centuries need only turn to Drayneflete Revealed, or The Littlehampton Bequest. Hard to imagine anything funnier or cleverer than the line-up of family portraits in the latter. Here is one of them. In the portrait we see Vanessa Countess of Littlehampton with her two daughters and "her devoted page, Hasrubal, who had been born on her father's estate in Jamaica". The text goes on to say: "This engaging blackamoor was held in the highest esteem by the whole family and his mistress took a particular pleasure in his company and insisted on his being always about her person". Then look at the younger daughter, Lady Euphemia, described as having "irrepressible gaiety and strangely exotic beauty".

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