After leaving Oxford, Michael trained as a chartered accountant and joined Deloitte, one of the big firms of accountants. While his elder brother George (who had failed to complete his degree course at Oxford and had become a stockbroker) was lively, amusing, an excellent dancer, a great gossip and always partying, Michael was an intellectual bookworm, and less easy in society. He lived in the family house on Millbank and spent most of his evenings reading. His job took him often to the provinces, however, to audit the books of Deloitte’s clients.


   Florence, after returning from her schooling abroad, decided not to follow the usual path of girls of her class, which was to live a life of leisure at home while waiting for matrimony. Instead she learnt shorthand and typing and had a succession of mainly secretarial-type jobs. Rather daringly for those days, she moved out of the family home in Kensington Square into a flat in Kensington Church Street (from where she used regularly to ring up the cook in Kensington Square for instructions on preparing meals). The flat had a bedroom and living room, loo, and kitchen with a bath in it; the bath had a wooden cover enabling it to double as a dining table. 


   She was strikingly attractive and had many friends and admirers, although some were put off by her strongly expressed views, especially on politics (young women of her milieu in those days were expected to restrict themselves largely to vapidities and not to argue). In 1936, she had an affair with Lewis Clive, a descendant of Clive of India. Educated traditionally at Eton and Christchurch, he had untraditionally moved sharply to the left and had been elected as a Labour Councillor in the Royal Borough of Kensington. He also wrote for the Fabian Society and under their auspices published a book on creating a democratic army. Florence imbibed from him the left-wing opinions that she largely retained for the rest of her life. Both he and Florence were strongly on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.  In 1937 (after their affair was over) Clive joined the International Brigade fighting against Franco in Spain. He was killed there in August 1938.


   In spring 1937, the Lamberts and the Macaskies (who had not previously known each other) were both invited on a Hellenic cruise by a rich mutual friend, Sir Frederick Hamilton. Michael took instantly to Florence, and by the summer they were engaged. Both sets of parents were against the match. The Macaskies were disappointed that Florence had chosen a non-Catholic but were reconciled to her choice. The Lamberts, however, were virulently anti-Catholic and were utterly dismayed at Michael choosing a penniless Catholic. They had moreover heard some unspecified gossip against Florence (it seems to have been about more than her affair with Lewis Clive, which would have been shocking enough to many in those days) that caused them strongly to oppose the engagement and to refuse all contact with Florence. Partly because of the Lambert family opposition, and partly because Michael was not yet earning enough to support a family, it was two years before Michael and Florence finally married.


   It was a union of opposites. Florence was passionate and enthusiastic; Michael was a sceptic who mistrusted all enthusiasms. Florence was literal-minded; Michael was teasingly ironical. Florence was tied to the Catholic church, although at that time out of sympathy with it because of its support for Franco; Michael was strongly anti-Catholic. Florence was on the left politically; Michael’s views were more middle-of-the-road, although he had a more developed social conscience than Florence.  Florence had been brought up by her anti-British mother to regard continental culture as superior and her ideal landscape was the tidily cultivated hillsides of Tuscany; Michael strongly preferred the restrained architecture of England and the wilder English countryside. They were to continue arguing about these subjects all their sixty-two years together.  They were, however, united in the 1930s in their opposition to the fascist and Nazi dictators who were becoming ever more threatening. Later in life they shared a strong interest in gardening and together created beautiful gardens at all their houses. 

Florence and Michael on the Greek cruise

Jane Macaskie 3rd from left; next to her George Lambert

and Sir Fred Hamilton; Nick Macaskie behind them.


Letter 6.1. Michael Lambert at the Kingsway Hotel, Cleethorpes, to his sister Grace Lambert, 25 March 1935


My dear Grace,

   Many happy returns of the day and I hope you spend your birthday in a more amenable spot than this, or at least less fishy. At last I am getting so used to the small of fish – and it smells quite different raw to cooked – that I only notice it when it is unusually strong. I am beginning to talk quite like an old hand of fish prices and projects, of catches and landings, and even of such intimate topics as stocker and offal, of which they talk here with an alarming frankness. What an accent I assume, and what a gait! I have not quite got as far as parading the fish market in mackintosh trousers, but I am only a short step away. As a matter of fact, one would be far less conspicuous in impermeable nether garments than in the more genteel coverings that I do wear.

   At nights I doff the fish-merchant and don the commercial traveller, or just traveller as it is known in the trade. This is a commercial hotel, i.e. the haunt of travellers. They are a queer lot. Naturally, I only see them at night, when they all produce bedroom slippers from the most unexpected places and drink hot milk with much intaking of air, and with an equal expulsion of air between mouthfuls. Of course they don’t all drink hot milk at the same time; while some are imbibing in melodious gulps, others supply that distinctive note that suggests a passing slumber.  It is a constant cause of wonder to me how one and all they suffer from these little weaknesses. Then, with a ‘Good night, gentlemen’, they pass to the higher regions.

   In these surroundings I live, move and have my being; and really, taking all into consideration, it might be many times worse.

   The conditions in which we worked were at first rather trying, as the company were running their own fish shop in the room underneath. But that venture, luckily for us, did not prove a success and the shop has been closed down. The only distracting thing is that we work in an outer office of the insurance, where all the halt and maimed come in to draw their money. But it is distracting, not distressing, as most of the haltingness and maimedness is assumed and has to be exposed. It is often quite funny when a lawful wife comes for an increased allowance for a bedridden husband who is having a violent quarrel beneath the window; or a haggard husband, after weary hours at his wife’s bedside, comes to draw his money early so that he can buy some medicine before the shops close and is then seen with a blooming spouse taking the early packet to Hull and the football ground. Such is life.

Yours ever,




Letter 6.2. Michael Lambert at 35 Millbank, London to Florence Macaskie, 25 May 1937


My dear Florence,

   ‘Yours while’ [an expression that Michael had used to sign off one of his early letters to Florence] has no occult meaning. It is an old style of conclusion that I have adopted for those who believe in the imminent revolution. ‘Yours ever’ is too final, for it appears that on that great day my class individuality, Mickie by name, will be eschewed in the change of material circumstances and as for my new classless individuality, when Mickie is gone, there is no knowing what it will be. So, while Mickie is with me, I can protest my faith, my sincerity or even obedience. But in the classless society these may not be virtues and then, no doubt, I shall no longer protest them. By the way, I wish you would spell my name as I would spell it. Michael means ‘the elect of God’; Micheal means nothing at all.

   The Greek tragedians held that the liver was the seat of the emotion and in Silver Latin times it comprehended the intellect as well. But my experience is that what is pleasant to the stomach may not be agreeable to the liver. The calm repletion of the glutton is often shattered rudely by discovering bile or colonic humour. Whether our vital forces are derived from the stomach or the liver (I for the liver), so base a contention smacks too much of those barbarians whom St Paul contemned with ‘Their god is their belly’. But if indeed your belly is your god, as you confess, why this distaste for malodorous bodies. If god is body, then malodour is his incense. How is your stomach not stimulated by so acrid a manifestation of matter?

   I too have been suffering from depression, not in my stomach for that was easy, nor in my liver for that was in repose, but from accidie, the seventh of deadly sins, from Weltschmerz. Balm I found in Wordsworth and sensuous Keats, in the last sonnet and the sonnet to sleep. The Ode to a Nightingale is poor stuff; I can never see what people find in it; the Odes to Psyche and the Grecian Urn are much better. But best of all is Wordsworth’s sonnet The World is too much with us. Read it and see if it does not tear you from yourself and then leave you with serenity, the sublimest of human qualities.

   Last night I read Auden’s Spain.  It is a little disappointing. He relies too much on the ‘tom-tom’ technique, on a pronounced, almost jazz, rhythm, on repetition, on effect piled on effect, clause upon clause, phrase upon phrase. At first this is stimulating, vivid, but later dulling like poppy-seed. Where there should be passion there is just the beat of the unending rhythm. Passion is oddly absent. Instead, for a climax is cold understatement, picture after picture, but spoilt because the greater precedes the less. For all that it is a good poem and interesting; and the royalties are devoted to Medical aid for Spain (how nice!).

   Suffer the stinking flesh gladly, for such is the kingdom of matter.

Yours till the Day!


Florence as a young woman



Letter 6.3. Florence Macaskie at 107 Fenchurch Street, E.C.3 (where she was working) to her father Nick Macaskie, 27 August 1937


Dearest Papa,

   I never wrote you a birthday letter, please forgive me and try and pretend that this is not nearly ten days late. Thank you very much indeed for the cheque and it was most kind of you to pay my Chatham House subscription as well. I hope you are enjoying your holiday in spite of the service. Really, you know, I am very sorry you will not come to Sorrento [where she was about to go on holiday]; I should enjoy it so much more with your company. …  Couldn’t you come down to Alassio and stay on Dada’s island¹, and I could come up from Sorrento? …

   Tell Mommy her name is mud to me for ever more for her gross negligence in not sending my sandals back. Of course it is that little swab Jane’s fault for so shamelessly pilfering them. However, I have taken my revenge and pinched a pair of her shoes. They are old and I shall be back before she is, so don’t tell her. I think I shall have to stop now and go to lunch. Michael will be waiting for me in a place called Sugar Loaf Court, which I think a charming name. Anyhow, I should be working more conscientiously for the firm. They are still painting and hammering, but I have been moved to a pleasant and fairly quite landing all to myself. It is opposite the new waiting room and I am supposed to direct graciously to its Peter Jones interior (pickled furniture, rather Queen Anne-y) all the oddities who come up the stairs in something as near as I can get to their tongue. Give my love to the family and I hope you had a nice birthday.

Lots of love,


¹Dada Roseo was an Italian girl, a friend of Florence’s sister Jane. Her father, a rich Milanese businessman, owned a small island called Isola Gallinara just off the Ligurian coast near Alassio.



Letter 6.4. Michael Lambert at 35 Millbank, S.W.1, to Florence Macaskie at the Hotel Cocumella in Sorrento, 2 September 1937


Darling Florence,

   It is just as well you are away, for our lunches would have been quite hopeless. I have not had more than half an hour all the week, since we are trying to finish at the bank as soon as we can. Everyone is very tired and short-tempered. Once or twice I have been unusually abrupt, and tonight I have a nasty headache. However, I had an unexpected compliment: my principal, who is a man of few words, met me in the office and told me I was working too hard. Next week, I am going to look for an easy job. I have my eye on one at the other end of Sugar Loaf Court to your office, where with luck I shall be comfortably ensconced on your return.

   In your hermetically sealed country, you are missing plenty of exciting news. A British destroyer was torpedoed off Spain; the torpedo missed but the ship dropped several depth-charges. Apparently a good deal of oil was seen after these operations and you know what that means. The odds are strongly that it was an Italian submarine [supporting the Franco side in the Spanish Civil War]. Today a Czech-owned ship registered in England was torpedoed and sunk and several destroyers were being sent to the spot. If they pick up the submarine, there will be more depth charges. A number of destroyers are being sent out from home as an additional precaution. I believe that there is nothing like a depth charge to cool the ardour of over-zealous submarine commanders.

   I cannot make out what is happening to the Douche [joke name for Mussolini, who was known as Il Duce; after the Italians invaded his country, the Emperor of Abyssinia is said to have referred to “our enema the Douche”]. His telegram to Franco has caused considerable annoyance in France, and it is quite probable that the frontier between France and Spain will be reopened. It is madness for a man in the Douche’s position to show his hand too openly, because the opening of the French frontier would be a serious blow to Franco. Yet here is the Douche, apparently for the sake of a little vainglory, doing that very thing. Generally, he is an astute poker-player, but this I cannot understand. Perhaps it is that pride, which the Greeks thought to be followed by madness and then nemesis. I cannot understand it all.

   The British Association are holding their annual conference, and the presidential address this year was on evolution.  It was most interesting, although a trifle technical. ... From the history of the concept of evolution, one fact emerges clearly, that all knowledge is uncertain and at best only a guess. First, there was the controversy between the Church and the scientists; then between scientists themselves. Always, always, further knowledge made each controversy out-of-date. But amid this uncertainty ethical values have remained untouched. Their truth is demonstrated by science quite as clearly as it is expounded by religion. Yet, just as a man may value truth and never know it, so he may pursue virtue and never find it.

   Because I believe that all knowledge is uncertain, that we can be certain only of the impressions and sensations we are receiving at the moment, and that the realisation of this and a faith in ethical values provides the best outlook on life, you tell me my faith is insubstantial; there is nothing concrete about it. I don’t care whether it is insubstantial or lacks concreteness; all I ask of you is to judge whether it is true and whether it does not reflect the quality of life. No man can be certain he knows what is true or what is good; the observations of our senses are too unreliable and the judgements of our consciences too capricious. But despite this uncertainty, we can still seek what is true or good or beautiful, without ever being able to know if we have found it. It is not the results of our search that matter, but the manner in which we searched. I doubt if you and I will ever agree on this, but some day I hope to show you that though I cannot present you with a wonderful ready-made interpretation of the world, what I value is quite as valuable as anything the Churches value. True, I have nothing concrete to convert you to, but perhaps I can help you to your own, and maybe a higher, sense of values. To me, a man’s scale of values is of far greater importance than any belief in this or that theology or superstition or magic or ritual. For all these will be discarded, but a sense of values can never be discarded, but only developed. How it is developed depends on the man himself.

   Two more things are shown by evolution. Cooperation is quite as strong a factor making for fitness and survival as struggle. How could man have survived if he had not been gregarious? Why must the desire to live and survive express itself in a desire to crush other people? The other is that modern war causes the weakest to survive, for the strongest are killed first. These are two rounds of ammunition you can loose at your fascist philosopher.

   There is yet a third thing. In science, there is nothing to indicate that man is a chosen being. There is no apparent reason why a better being should evolve from the brutes. This is a matter on which we will never agree. You do not hold with this; nor incidentally does the Roman Church; I do, as I regard all nature as one, as the expression of a single God. Mine is a humble view and happens to explain things more simply. Being a lazy man, I prefer simple explanations.

   This is enough of science and philosophy. I will close by telling you about Plato. He was a poet of great promise, when, under the influence of Socrates, he was attracted to philosophy and came to consider poetry as valueless. Accordingly he destroyed all the poetry he had written. There remains only one piece, an epigram of two lines, which can with any certainty be attributed to him. ‘My star, thou gazest upon the stars; would I were heaven that I could look at thee with a thousand eyes’, and it is a starry night. That seems a suitable sentiment to end upon, except that it was written to a little boy.

My love, I love you still,




Letter 6.5. Michael Lambert at 35 Millbank, London S.W.1, to Florence Macaskie at the Hotel Cocumella in Sorrento, 4 September 1937


Darling love,

   Another letter arrived from you this morning. So little was I expecting it that I missed it before breakfast. Just as I was leaving to play golf, I caught sight of it. Mother, provoked by the sight of me reading a letter in the hall, started to think aloud (i.e. to talk unceasingly), and I had to flee to the car. There, since happily Daddy had lost his belt, I was able to read in peace. The dog appears to have fallen in love with you, as it wanted to eat each sheet as I let it fall.

   The results of my getting the letter were somewhat unexpected. It was a glorious late summer morning and my thoughts were more with you than with golf. I did not care what happened, and only attended the game when I had a shot to play. Since I was not worrying about the game, I played very well and beat Daddy. Seeing that he has been playing regularly and has just returned from a golfing tournament holiday, I was surprised and he was shocked. May be it was your letter, which was next to my heart.

   Now, my love, I will answer some of your queries and criticisms. 18th century pastorals are nothing cabalistic. Pastorals, as you know, are poems about shepherds and the countryside. … Gray’s Elegy falls into this class and Collins’ Ode to Evening. The latter is not quite first class, but has some pleasant lines. Lycidas is a pastoral of the seventeenth century. We think of the 18th century being so sophisticated, so rational and far removed from nature. Yet a comparison of Lycidas with Gray’s Elegy is illuminating. Lycidas, although pastoral in form, is in essence classical. The Elegy by no measure can be called classical.  Here is Pope’s description of Nausicaa’s washing, in the sun to dry, just before she met Odysseus.



‘And while the robes imbibe the solar ray,

O’er the green mead the sporting virgins play

(Their shining veils unbound). Along the skies,

Tossed and retossed, the ball incessant flies.

They spat, they feast; Nausicaa lifts the voice,

And, warbling sweet, makes heaven and earth rejoice.’

There is avid classicism, especially the first line. It was written about 1730; the Elegy was written some years later; what a change!

   Sometime I want you to read Lycidas again, not because an appreciation of it is said to be a test of a man’s capacity to appreciate poetry. For once, you agree with Dr Johnson in not liking it! Certainly the references are abstruse. I want you to read it, and the Elegy, Adonais [Shelley] and Matthew Arnold’s Thyrsis. I suppose you ought to read In memoriam [Tennyson]; it is so long since I read it that I forget what it is like. These are all elegies and to read them all helps one to appreciate each. I hope you are not going to be all Bloomsbury and modern, spurning Matthew Arnold as Victorian. Victorian he was, but there is a certain tenderness about his words that no modern can attain.

   Shelley, I am afraid, will hardly fit your present mood; at least he does not fit mine. If you want to get your teeth into him, why not try The Cenci. The end is a masterly example of serenity, a quality so high and so rare. Or you could try Queen Mab and learn something about his youthful politics. Though I know you fairly well, I am ever puzzled by your love of Shelley. Without hesitation, I should have said you would have preferred Keats. Most of the time I do, though I am told it is an immature taste. It is curious how few people abroad have heard of Wordsworth, Shelley or Keats. Yet all know their Byron and a number Southey.

   I am collecting a number of articles for you to read, notably H.G. Wells on Education and an answer in the Spectator. There is disputation on a high level and I cannot make up my mind. You have accused me of cynicism, fence-sitting, doubt-sowing and a number of other things of greater or lesser atrocity. But I never want to impose on you any particular views. When I first met you, it seemed that here was an active and curious mind, hurrying out of a natural sympathy into socialism, without having thought the matter out; subsisting on what it considered a positive religious faith, but which appeared to me to be more a suppression of doubts.  Naturally I, to whom freedom of the mind is of all things precious, bristled, and the more so because you seemed so intelligent. I confess that when I uncovered your doubts about Catholicism, I was sorry to have caused you pain, but I never regretted it. I had sufficient faith in the balance of your mind to know you would overcome it; and oh! the relief  at not ever having to confine the conversation to superficialities. It seemed such a waste that you could never probe and delve into life and thought fearlessly and without misgivings. In future, you will find me far less cynical, both because you will find me at heart not really cynical, but I cannot stand mental obstinacy (not that you were ever that, but communists etc. are), and because I would rather construct with you, sharpening my mind with yours. As I have told you often enough, I give you no certainty, but only a way of looking at things. ...

   As for your other queries, you should get a lampshade as the one in Kensington Square is most attractive. Please, my love, please send me a photograph of you on the beach. I would love it….



Letter 6.6. Michael Lambert at Coffins, Spreyton, Devon, to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8., early December 1937

   … After I posted the card to you at Exeter on Saturday, we proceeded safely but not without mishap here. A sudden failure of the petrol supply called a halt to our progress which could be resumed only after a walk, rather bleak, to the nearest petrol pump, luckily not to far distant. ...

   Slowly I am recovering from my Weltschmerz. The strain of the last few months has left me listless and the world pointless. All I managed to do yesterday was to clean a pair of shoes. It took three hours, as they were the wrong colour. However, now they have a magnificent shine of rich ripe plum. Cleaning shoes is one of my few accomplishments: it’s a nice restful task. This pair still bore the scars and scratches of Delphi.

   This morning on waking, my head seemed frigid. No wonder; the window wide-open over my head disclosed a new soft-fallen mash of snow and a severe frost. Today has been cloudless, but the frost is settling again tonight and heaven knows what the roads will be like tomorrow. We will probably be snow-bound, as we were ten years ago. If my letters cease, you will know why. My galoshes are extremely useful in snow. I managed a couple of walks, morning and afternoon, but both quite short. Otherwise, I have had to supervise some rearrangements in the garden. It was suggested that I should start shifting some large boulders, but if I had, I should have spoiled my lovely nails. The suggestion was ignored.

   There were the tracks of a fox at the bottom of the garden today. This is the first time I have heard of a fox in these parts for years. I hear a nest was dug out in the bottoms the other day.

   Now, dear heart, tea is arriving and the post will leave soon. I will close, wishing you were here. All my love, darling,

Yours while




Letter 6.7. Michael Lambert at Coffins, Spreyton, Devon, to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8, 7 December 1937


Dearest heart,

   I certainly have chosen good weather for a rest. Yesterday’s brilliant sun has been succeeded by a penetrating North-East wind. Now the evening is closing in with a rising gale and lowering clouds. At 7.30, we have to open the new heating system in the Chapel. The ceremony is to be followed by a Sacred Concert, which rouses my interest but may, I fear, lose my attention.

   Yesterday I went out into the mud and took all the polish off my beautiful shoes. It took an hour to restore them, but now they outshine Aphrodite’s mirror.

   Whether Erasmus, as you put it, ‘ruined’ the Reformation, you must judge for yourself. Formally, he never broke with Rome, but also never refused succour from the English reformers. To the end of his life the Pope made unsuccessful attempts to persuade him to denounce the Reformation, but he died unshriven. Evidently he was regarded as a Catholic by Catholics and a Protestant by Protestants. But as he received the last rites of no church, you must decide for yourself…..

Yours while




The Lamberts were not particularly religious but, as the letter below describes, when Michael’s father was a teenager, he used to attend the non-conformist Chapel (very much the place of worship of the small tenant farmers and farm labourers), and there probably imbibed much of the radical liberalism that set him off on his political career. He consistently received strong support at the polls from the non-conformists and, while no longer attending the Chapel, would still make donations to it and probably paid for the new heating system. He also, however, kept in with the Church of England vicar.


Letter 6.8. Michael Lambert at Coffins, Spreyton, Devon, to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8, 8 December 1937


Dearest heart,

   My feet are cold. We had another heavy fall of snow last night and it is cold; and when it is cold here, it is cold.

   Last night we ploughed through the bitter weather, to do our duty by the Chapel. I found the whole business agreeable. With the foresight founded on experience, I mistrusted the new heating apparatus and put on an extra vest and pullover; even then, though with a thick scarf and mackintosh, I was none too warm. These non-conformists are an odd lot. The Chapel has no altar and no decoration of any sort; just pews and a rostrum where the altar should be. I sat in the seat where Daddy used to sit fifty years ago, when his mother sent him to Chapel secretly because grandpa had fallen out with the Church. In those days the service used to wait until he appeared coming down the road! Like Daddy used to, I put half a crown in the box.

   The lack of religious appurtenances is made up for by the singing, which is done with much fervour. In some of the large chapels in N. Devon it is very impressive. Yesterday the sacred concert was given by a local choir. The stuff they sang was nauseating – sickly, sentimental religiosity. One man sang a composition with the refrain:



‘I will cling to the old rugged cross

And exchange it for a crown’.

Generally, I cannot abide anything of that nature, but it was sung with such sincerity, and it was so obviously real to the singer and the audience, that I felt rather humiliated. Sophistication and intellectual superiority seemed so hollow. I had previously been reading how Milton came to write Paradise Lost, and I was in a strange state of exaltation the whole evening. But despite that and the feeing of the people, I did not receive the slightest religious impulse – odd.

   There was a cornet solo for which the building was too small. The crescendos overwhelmed a bit. Daddy spoke – better than I have heard him speak for some while. Mother was given a large bunch of carnations. I met an old nurse whom I had not seen for many years; in fact neither of us at first recognised the other. She used to wheel my pram up and down the drive. So home, well satisfied after a fine family affair.

   The dog Honey has chewed the nethers of my unmentionables – most embarrassing; even worse I have shed a fly [button].

   This afternoon, Mother and I are calling on the vicar (I regret through not having shaved I failed to go to Church last Sunday) and our political agent is coming to tea. He generally stays hours. Otherwise, except for having put an even better polish on my shoes, and having come to the weighty conclusion with the chauffeur that all generals should be shot, and that Leslie Hore Belisha¹ is a fine fellow, I shall have a blank day. Tomorrow Daddy has a County Council meeting at Exeter; Mother is going poking round the antique shops and I the book-shops.

   There is a great clattering of pans in the kitchen; lunch must be coming soon and I have to rush up to the Post Office to send a wire.

With all my love, darling heart,



¹ Leslie Hore-Belisha, later 1st Baron Hore-Belisha (1893-1957). First a Liberal and then a Conservative politician. Of Jewish extraction. M.P. for Devonport, where he was born. While Minister of Transport 1934-37 he introduced “belisha beacons”. In 1937 he was appointed Secretary of State for War by Neville Chamberlain and remained in that post until 1940. It was a controversial appointment, attracting (partly anti-semitic) hostility from much of the military establishment, who opposed his attempts to modernise the British armed forces.



Letter 6.9. Michael Lambert at Coffins, Spreyton, Devon, to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8., 10 December 1937


   … Yesterday Mother and I visited the cemetery in Exeter where my grandmother is buried. Some of the monuments are extraordinary examples of Victorian taste. Once in the open, the cemetery [in Heavitree] is now surrounded by houses: ‘Most unhealthy’, said Mother. Looking at the forests of tombstones, crosses, pedestals, scrolls, slabs and all the other variations of morticiary masonry, some bright and new, well tended, but all gradually then left to decay forgotten, so overpoweringly mournful, depressing reminders of human vanity and neglect, I saw how much better it is to be cremated, not to encumber the world further, forestalling the forgetfulness of man. Some churches forbid cremation, presumably because it might spoil the miracle of the resurrection of the body; but how much more wonderful if a cremated body were resurrected! I intend to be cremated. …

Michael died in Italy and was cremated there. His ashes were brought back to England and are buried in the family plot in Spreyton churchyard.


In the spring of 1938, Michael accompanied his parents on a tour round Italy. It does not seem to have been a particularly happy journey, as Michael was out of sympathy with his parents, not only over his engagement to Florence but politically – like many in England of their generation, they had at first welcomed the emergence of the fascist leaders in Italy and Germany, as being the best people to bring orderly government to two badly managed countries. Michael was, however, looking forward to seeing Italian art and architecture, of which Florence had constantly hymned the praises; and also as a classicist to seeing at first hand the Roman remains.


Letter 6.10. Michael Lambert at the Hotel Excelsior, Rome, to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8, 7 April 1938


Dearest Heart,


   We seem to be coming to the end of our sightseeing. There is naturally a limit to seeing things as we have been doing. Yesterday in desperation I took my dear parents, who were getting irritable, for a walk along the Tiber; they seemed to enjoy it. As I told you would happen, my worthy progenitors are getting obstreperous and I am having to keep them quiet. Now that we have visited all the obvious things, neither knows what he wants to see and each negatives the other’s suggestion. I do not object overmuch, as on these occasions I take them to see what I want to see but would otherwise bore them. This afternoon, I want to wander through Mediaeval or renascence Rome, past the Spada and Borghese Palaces, and to see the Tortoise Fountain. No doubt they will come too.


   Yesterday morning was very funny; Daddy was at his most obstreperous, vowing he would never go to a church again. As he had no suggestions of his own, I took him to San Clemente, which interested him enormously, and then to San Paolo fuori le Mura. Of course he complained that it was a long way out. However, I pointed out that we were going along the route Hitler was to take and since the wooden amphitheatre being erected for Hitler in the Piazza di Siena was, so he said, the most interesting thing in Rome, he ought to be particularly interested in the decorations being put up along the triumphal way. As he is now a little ashamed of so vociferously having proclaimed that the wooden amphitheatre was so interesting (this was done in a moment of indigestion), he shut up. So you see why I was not so enthusiastic about this trip as I might have been. …



Letter 6.11. Michael Lambert at the Hotel Excelsior, Naples to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8, 10 April 1938


   … Not all my generalisations are to be taken literally. I have always given you my true views on individual things, but on Italian art in general I sometimes exaggerate a trifle. My rabid insularity I assume for you, since you had so few good words for England and so slight a knowledge of its peculiar way of life and achievements that a rabid insularity was a very good form of attack. I will say this: that the architectural achievements of North Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are comparable in beauty and surpass in originality anything that came from South Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. A good case could be made out for this being so in literature and thought, and in politics it is undoubtedly so.

   To me, the oddest thing about the Renascence was that the Italians should have produced a number of experimental scientists, for this is foreign to their nature. But the full effects of experimental science were not worked out by the Italians. Galileo discovered, but Bacon and Descartes drew the conclusions of his discoveries. If, therefore, a man is interested in culture generally, and not only in one special art, he should always keep in mind the achievements of the Proto-Renaissance and to what extent others had to give full effect to the Renascence when the Italian contribution had ended. This naturally has been more obvious to me studying politics than to you studying art and especially painting. Macchiavelli and Galileo destroyed one world, but they did not build another. Locke and Newton had to do the rebuilding. Now that their edifices have been destroyed, one may say that the Renascence has come to an end.

   I wish you had told me that you had never been to Herculaneum: I would have bought you more postcards. You will enjoy it more than Pompei. Pompei looked to me a ruin, but Herculaneum a street deserted in the hot noonday sun. The mosaics and frescoes are more attractive, though those at Pompei are more numerous and more amusing. There are no corpses at Herculaneum and nothing has rotted away; the charred timber rafters in many places still remain.

   This morning we went to the Museum. The attendants seemed to think I had a most lewd mind as they were constantly pointing to a large tubular object and saying ‘phallus’. From their expression, I assume they were being lewd, as I saw nothing much. Apparently to the Romans a statue passing water or a female passing water through a basket of fruit was the sign of great fecundity – a pleasant whimsy.

   This afternoon we went for a drive to Pozzuoli. The weather was quite dreadful and Vesuvius has covered herself with a mantle of snow. La Solfatara was much improved by the rain and the wind, but the views of Baia and Lago Averno completely spoiled. Do you know if Dante placed Inferno in La Solfatara? I wish you would find out. It is a terrifying place and the smell I detested; mother liked it but I cannot get it out of my nostrils. We saw Cumae and the two Sybils’ (or Sybil’s?) grots, one of which was bogus, but I was unable to satisfy myself which. However, I proudly produced two of my Latin tags: ‘Facilis descensus Averno’ and  ‘Styx, Acheron, Phlegethon, Lethe, Cocytis, Avernus’, the latter being the six rivers of Hades as a hexameter. I felt rather under Plutonic influence as I had a splitting headache all day. …

   My dear parents are becoming complete little fascists and proudly announced to me yesterday how Naples used to be full of beggars. Today we have been endlessly and persistently accosted by hordes of the unemployed in uniform collecting for some charity. My dear parents are becoming rather annoyed. …

Goodnight, darling heart,




Letter 6.12. Michael Lambert at the Hotel Excelsior, Naples to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8, 12 April 1938


   … The inclemency of the elements confining us within doors, Daddy and I called on the Consul here. We had a most instructive talk which I will tell you about on our return. Daddy has been given plenty of food for thought, if only he would think and not merely choose what supports his point of view. He arrived very much in favour of this regime, but at once received a rude shock when the telephone was disconnected by the Consul as we sat down. Those are the little things that do wake up the ordinary unimaginative Englishman. The Consul more or less bore out your uncle Ferdie’s ideas¹, although not quite so dogmatically as you set them out in your letter. Unfortunately, Daddy missed the worst, as I got the Consul alone for a moment while Daddy was talking to someone else, and elicited all sorts of things that Daddy missed. However, by leading questions, I got out a good deal of information which disturbed my worthy parent. I also checked up some of the information you gave me and found to my pleasure that the Consul bore it out. The person I should have liked to have seen was the Commercial Counsellor at the Embassy.

   We had another bout at the Consulate today, Tuesday, the weather being deplorable; I think Daddy’s fascism is rather more troubled now.

   I went off today to buy that history of Italian art, as you directed me. But I was told it was a schoolgirl’s book that was not in stock, though it could soon be got. There was not time for that, so I got you instead a first edition of J.A. Symons’ Renaissance in Italy, seven volumes, specially bound in half-calf. I am a little dubious about giving it to you as the last book I gave you on the Renascence was used, as far as I remember, as a copy-book for wash drawings executed for your paramour. Happily, this book is not illustrated, so that particular temptation should not arise.

   My family would be furious if they realised the tomes were destined for you; so I pretend they are for Tim Simon [a friend and colleague at Deloittes] who wants to get a complete set but still lacks four volumes, or alternatively that I can sell them for more than double what I gave for them, which incidentally is true. I believe, however, that I might have got them even cheaper, as I made the man take only 20% off the price. … Pardon me, darling, for talking in this Shylockian way, but I am having a double pleasure of a good bargain and of giving you a present. To be quite honest, I am extremely thrilled with the books. Even if you don’t like them, they will at least instruct you and, as there are some three thousand pages to be read, occupy you for some little while. Oh, darling, I know it is dreadful of me to praise my own present, but you know I get very excited over books, and this is the best purchase I have ever made. The books belonged to a man called Palmer who lived in Capri, and are in quite a good state of preservation. …


¹ Ferdinand Tuohy, foreign correspondent and writer, was the brother of Florence’s mother



Letter 6.13. Michael Lambert at the Grand Hotel, Venice to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8, 18 April 1938


Dearest heart,

   I seem to be so busy that I can scarcely find time to write to you. Every letter is made up of several bits written at odd moments. This one is being written while waiting for my family to start on our morning round. The family waste a lot of time, as very often I think I have only a minute or two to wait, but by the time they are ready it is extended to half an hour.

   This evening we are being social and having dinner with Lord Runciman¹ on his yacht Sunbeam, which has arrived in Venice. I would rather go and have something with Toni², but I was let in for it. …

   We are having a full day conducted tour, by land in the morning and by gondola presumably this afternoon. I should like very much to go very slowly down the Grand Canal with someone who knew a fair amount about Venetian architecture. From a preliminary survey yesterday, it did not strike me as being very original or stimulating. Levantine Gothic is an extraordinary combination, but I looked in vain for something that gave signs of original thought. Venice I suppose never produced anything very original. Of all the big Italian cities, her contribution to the world seems to have been the least.

   We got the worst of impressions when we arrived. We were shoved in a gondola and taken through all the back streets or rather canals where all the big houses were in a dreadful state of repair. The sun had just set and it was getting cold. I was expecting the ghosts of the past to be hanging over the place and my god! they were. It gave one an unforgettable impression of decay. The impression has not worn off quite, either. The streets are rather depressing, being so narrow. ...


¹ Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford (1870-1949). Political colleague of Michael’s father. As a Liberal and then a National Liberal MP, he occupied a number of Ministerial positions, including President of the Board of Trade. In 1938 he was sent by Chamberlain on a mission to Czechoslovakia to broker an agreement between the Czechoslovak Government and the Sudetenland Germans; this led indirectly to the Munich Agreement.


² Antonio Lucarda (1904-1993). Painter and sculptor who lived and worked in Venice. A life-long friend of the Macaskie family. Florence had presumably given Michael an introduction to him.



Letter 6.14. Michael Lambert at the Grand Hotel, Venice, to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8, 19 April 1934


Darling heart,

   Last night we had dinner on Lord Runciman’s yacht. Seeing that he is a millionaire and was for a long time a Cabinet Minister, I have yet to meet anyone more charming and unpretentious. … We had great trouble getting to the yacht. Runciman said we were to come romantically in a gondola. The weather broke yesterday afternoon. The time for our departure was 7.30; at 6.30 a gondola arrived. It was told to come back at 7.30. By the time it arrived, it was raining a trifle and the gondolier suggested a rug. The concierge had no nonsense and summoned a motor-launch. We were struck with terrific seas as we rounded the Customs House [the yacht was presumably moored off the Zattere] – they would probably have sunk a gondola. Coming home there was a gale and torrents of rain. …

   Yesterday we had a full day of sightseeing, insofar as Venice can provide a full day. There is really not so very much to see. The Frari church I like the most. The houses on the Grand Canal seem to be owned mostly by Count Volpi [rich Italian politician, supporter of Mussolini] or Barbara Hutton [Woolworths heiress]. I like Barbara Hutton’s place; it is just opposite here. … But all the show places have left me remarkably cold. The town itself is beginning to grow on me. I suppose I should soon tire of it. I like the narrow streets that go in every direction. I went out exploring last night and began at last to get my bearings. …



Letter 6.15. Michael Lambert at the Hotel Villa d’Este, Cernobbio, Lake Como to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8, 20 April 1938


   …I was very sorry to leave Venice, even more sorry than to leave Florence. Though at first I felt that, while it was very nice to have seen Venice, I never wanted to return, it began to grow on me. It is the feeling that to live a gentle life in those narrow streets and to saunter about the Piazza would be such a pleasant change to our present hectic existence. The canals do not attract me, but the streets without any traffic whatsoever do very much. Venice itself is most uninteresting. But that same feeling of wanting to be quiet and live a gentle life makes me so much want to build a house in the country. As you may have guessed, one of my ambitions is to build a house that will be a gem of twentieth century architecture. It will have to be in England. … The Italian landscape may be very thrilling, very beautiful, but nowhere has yet given me a feeling of there I would like to build a house and just ‘live for ever, or else swoon to death’ [Keats: Bright Star]. That feeling of repose I had entirely missed, as indeed I expected to. Have you never on returning to England felt the serenity of lofty well-branched trees and the rich green of the grass after the flat sun-baked roofs and desert browns of the south? You will never love England until you have. It is that quality in the English landscape that makes me loath to settle down permanently abroad.

   On the whole, I have been rather disappointed with the Italian landscape. It never really had much of a chance. After all, I am used to the scenery of Devon, one of the loveliest of the English counties.  Even Toni said that the trouble with Devon was that it was sometimes too beautiful, and it is by the scenery I am used to and the standard of beauty that is for me commonplace that I judge all scenery. After hearing your rapturous praises of Italian scenery to the detriment of English, I was expecting something incomparably better than the best Devon can produce, and naturally the scenery here just is not; nowhere in the world could be. I am, I am afraid, altogether very blasé about scenery. This place, which is one of the most beautiful in Italy, has not warmed me up very much.

   We are crowded out with Germans. Venice was too dreadful. At one time in the Piazza, when there were a lot of people about, I reckoned that the Germans must nearly have outnumbered everyone else. They go about in such droves imbibing Kultur. There are special exchange facilities between Germany and Italy. The German Government is not, I think, very wise sending them in such droves, as they have no money to spend. Herds of indigent tourists must be a great trial.

   Hitler’s visit is causing the police endless trouble. Here, which is near the frontier, we were asked all sorts of questions. Many people on the route in Florence have been so pestered by the police that they are going away for the day. The consul said that some of the police confessed that they would be very relieved if he was shot before he arrived, so their responsibility would be over. However, all the Italians are delighted at having an accord with us, nor am I surprised.

   I hear my family stirring, darling, and I must be off. Good-bye my love.



A few days earlier, an Anglo-Italian agreement had been signed. It dealt with a number of issues between the two countries in areas where their respective imperial ambitions threatened to clash. Its entry into force was to be conditional on the Italians withdrawing their personnel from Spain (where they had been supporting Franco). Under the agreement, Britain also effectively accepted Italy’s annexation of Ethiopia. There was a general expectation in both countries that the agreement would lead to a considerable reduction in tension. Hitler put paid to that.


Letter 6.16. Michael Lambert at the Hotel Villa d’Este, Cernobbio, to Florence Macaskie at 164 Church Street, London W.8, 21 April 1938


   I got two letters from you this morning, dear heart, Monday’s and Tuesday’s. I am sorry you are not feeling too well; we must fatten you up on my return. You say that you are not feeling hearty; for this mercy I am relieved.

   While you are unwell, I am depressed. The weather is bad and there is nothing much to do here. Mother has been having a go at me about you. She will believe every scrap of gossip, and you know that there is amongst us a very fecund fount of tittle-tattle. It is disturbing and very depressing to be told that we can never be happy. Why we can’t is a matter of feminine intuition that admits neither of argument nor of contradiction. There are some comforts, darling: after all, I know the very worst about you and a good deal more and what I am undertaking in wanting to marry you and what all the drawbacks are. Sometimes I envy people who can marry at once and for whom the whole matter is easy and agreeable. But there is this consolation that all my greatest successes have begun badly, and if everything were going well I should be far more nervous. Though nothing has gone right so far, it must one day. If we can accustom ourselves to living cheaply and can cultivate lots of interests in common, what more can we want? I have too a feeling that our present troubles are a disguised blessing, so that we shall start humbly and without illusions and consequently not suffer disappointments in the future. …


1938 saw rising international tension with both the continuing Civil War in Spain and increasing German aggressiveness. In March 1938 Germany had invaded Austria and in May there were reports of German troops massing on the border of the Sudetenland, the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia. In response the Czechoslovaks declared partial mobilisation of their armed forces and for a short time many thought war was imminent. Britain and France issued warnings to Germany, who denied any hostile intent, and the crisis gradually eased. But it had been a tense time. It was a prelude to the later crisis that led to the Munich Agreement of 30 September 1938 that allowed Germany to take over the Sudetenland. Both Michael and his brother George were obviously beginning to think in terms of war, one becoming a special constable and the other joining the Territorials. Michael’s letters to Florence while she was on holiday in Italy in August 1938 (probably with her parents) also contain references to the war in Spain and the May crisis over Sudetenland.


Letter 6.17. Michael Lambert at 35 Millbank, London S.W.1 to Florence Macaskie in Italy, 19 August 1938


   … Daddy was in fine form at dinner. George was full of his camp and of annoyance with some officer who arrived fifty minutes late for the inspection. He keeps worrying Daddy to take this matter up. After having harangued him for a while, he turned to me and started telling me I ought to join. ‘But Mick’s a special constable,’ says Daddy, ‘and has to put out the fires you allow to be lit.’ That will have shut Gorge up for a bit. I always seem to be the person for whom everybody has the most wonderful ideas.

   The Times has an article on the battle on the Ebro which appears to have upset Franco’s plans quite a lot. The 15th International Brigade, composed of British, Canadians and Americans, led the attack at Moro del Ebro near Gandesa; presumably that was where Lewis [Clive] fell. Probably it was the last action of the International Brigade which will as a unit be disbanded under the non-intervention agreement. Margaret was saying last night that there is some consolation in the fact that the International Brigade enabled the [Republican] Government to put up the resistance it has; and if Italy had not been so tied up in Spain, Germany would probably have struck at Czechoslovakia last March. …



The Battle of the Ebro in July-August 1938 was the last major Republican offensive of the Spanish Civil War. The Republican army was beaten back by Franco’s forces (aided by Italian and German air power) and effectively destroyed as a fighting force. It was indeed the last action of the International Brigades, and one of the victims was Lewis Clive, Florence’s former lover, who was killed on 2 August.


Letter 6.18. Michael Lambert at 35 Millbank, London S.W.1, to Florence Macaskie at the Villa Irene, Marina di Massa, Poverano, 22 August 1938


   …The Government whose protection you are now enjoying has surpassed itself in barefacedness. New material has been sent to Franco, but this does not constitute a breach of non-intervention since it has only been sent to replace materials that have since worn out! One of the advantages of the League of Nations was that Ministers had to cast a mantle of justice and propriety over their more immoral demands. Of course this is a matter in which the British Government and people excel. Have you ever heard of the British Government doing anything that was not in the strictest accord with the highest morality? The Douche is without that knack.

   To turn to the equally grave internal situation, one of the Scotch MPs is threatening to introduce a Bill to prevent any tampering with the Loch Ness monster. It will need the exercise of considerable legal talent to decide whether what has been tampered with is or is not the undefined beast that by law may not be tampered with. It is a horrible manifestation of Fascism that one may not be able to take anything out of Loch Ness without being able to say whether one is infringing an Act of Parliament protecting in the widest terms certain denizens of that Loch. The proposed Bill must be agitated against. …

   The City is beginning to wear that fine, bronzed, down-cast look of the post-holidays. The office was full of it this morning. No one seemed to have much to do, except me, but they were all so brown. Monday morning is always a time when the office is full of people with nothing to do. One hears all the gossip of the past week. Today I heard of nothing but holidays and the horror of returning to work. …



Letter 6.19. Michael Lambert at 35 Millbank, London S.W.1, to Florence Macaskie at the Hotel Cocumella, Sorrento, 29 August 1938


Dearest heart,

   I have just got in from dinner with a friend of Margaret’s called Veronica Wedgwood¹ rather later than I intended, so this must be quite a short note. Veronica is one of the potters, though her father is general manager of the L.N.E.R. [London and North-Eastern Railway].

   We are living in a time of wars and rumours of war. The foreign situation is very tense. I cannot help feeling that the May crisis was the crucial one and that this one will pass off. The great danger is that Hittle may get himself into a position from which he cannot retreat. Even now he must lose considerable prestige. It is always amusing working out the possibilities and then seeing how the unexpected generally turns up. There seem to be three at the moment: some agreement over the Sudetens, presumably with Hittle pursuing disruptive activities in Czechoslovakia afterwards; a general conflagration; or Hittle being chucked out by the [German] Army for getting into an impossible situation. One can hardly imagine the Army allowing a war when two points of the flying triangle are pinned down. Japan is quite hors de combat and Musso would almost certainly remain neutral. Veronica, who is a very good historian, said that in history the unexpected always causes the trouble. I dare say it will be so again.

   About the May crisis [when the Germans seemed to be massing on the Czechoslovak border], whose existence you deny, Veronica said that a conference of railway managers was held for the immediate evacuation of London. It may comfort you to know that her father is now in Switzerland. Presumably he would be here if serious trouble were expected. One fortunate circumstance is that the German fortifications of the Rhineland are not finished.  If only our fools had taken proper steps to protect London, the greatest temptation would have been removed. …

   Darling, I must to bed. I am sorry to have been so political. The foreign situation is the one topic everyone avoids until suddenly it crops up and remains the sole topic for the rest of the evening. One feels it is prominently in everyone’s mind.

   Good-night, dearest heart, and don’t let Hittles and Douches and the rest trouble you.

All my love, darling heart,



¹ Veronica (C.V.) Wedgwood (1910-1997) was a distinguished historian who published a number of successful and well-regarded books, mainly on English and European history of the 16th and 17th centuries. She was a descendant of Josiah Wedgwood who founded the Wedgwood pottery. She was made a Dame in 1968. Her father, Sir Ralph Wedgwood Bt., was Chief Officer of the London and North Eastern Railway from its inauguration in 1923 to 1939.



Letter 6.20. Jane Macaskie at the celtic Hotel, Saint-Cast, to Florence Macaskie, 29 August 1938


My darling Florence,


   I am so sorry to hear of Lewis’s death and I know how it must sadden you. There is something so unbelievable about a contemporary dying when one is very young. I knew it when I lost my greatest friend Dorothy Nicholson just when we were both 21. It seemed absolutely impossible. As for poor Lewis himself, I never doubted his absolute sincerity and he was so willing to give his life to his cause. He has given it, in the most complete and perfect way. I feel sure that for him, with his uncompromising ideals, life spent in the wear and tear of politics would have only brought him bitterness and disillusionment – perhaps even the [illeg] had he seen the cause he believed in triumph. It is a death such as his which sanctifies any cause and raises war somehow from being the lowest degradation of mankind. …



Letter 6.21. Michael Lambert at 35 Millbank, London S.W.1, to Florence Macaskie at the Hotel Cocumella, Sorrento, 6 September 1938


   … Today I was offered a job for six months at £800 per annum, rather bogusly. It was in connection with the exchange of prisoners in Spain. The British Government agents wanted an accountant at that salary for six months to look after the finances. They applied to Deloittes and Kettle [his boss at Deloittes] offered it to me, but as it appeared that Deloittes get the £800 per annum and I my present £250, I sniffed. It would be quite fun but I do not know if I can take it. Actually, at the moment Deloittes charge me out at £700 per annum, so they would not make very much more out of it. But it shows my worth. …

Florence and Michael in 1939