Lewis Hastings

In his ‘ family memoir’ Did You Really Throw it at the Television, renowned war correspondent and military historian Max Hastings has this to say of his eccentric great uncle, Major Lewis Hastings, whose swashbuckling life in South Africa in the early years of the twentieth century was in marked contrast to that of so many members of his family at that time:


‘He adopted a lifestyle so remote from those of his forebears as to deny any notion of inherited values. It was as if set out to compensate for generations of stiff collared family respectability and piety by cramming a century’s misdeeds and extravagances into a single lifetime. He was also writing verse…Lewis possessed real literary gifts, not least a talent for verse. When he exercise his brain and pen, the results were sometimes remarkable. His accomplishments were much slighter than they might have been because he always chose to please himself, to forswear discipline, to pursue whatever overhead star momentarily seized his imagination…To my father and later myself, when we read of the Hastingses of the nineteenth century, they seemed respectable, hard-working, decent Christian people…Lewis by contrast was more fun than the chaps who got made head of house at school or lived blameless lives…’


In a typewritten poem entitled ‘PLAIN PRAYER’ and inscribed in pencil ‘ by Lewis Hastings ‘ which we found in the Jot 101 Archive recently ( the provenance is unknown) , the former Rhodesian MP, South African farmer and all-purpose adventurer and maverick expresses his contempt for all those people and their values that Hastings writes about in his tribute.


Jot 101 Lewis Hastings portrait 001

PLAIN PRAYER ( To be recited only at Regimental Dinners, Old Boys Reunions and meetings of the Virgin Uplift Society).


Grant me, O God! Thine aid

Touching this matter of evil

And the pains that follow it.

It is written that no man shall escape wrath

For the guilt that is in him.

But is fall I must

Let me fall for the venal things,

And the little human hells-

Let me avoid the Deeps

Where Dives dwells,

And Lady Mary Toadspit,

And General Wart C.B.,

And Mr Jones

(Not the Swype-Jones, O God,

The Leicestershire ones  I mean)

And all the other reputable

Church going,


Social ornaments.


Give me the guts to survive

The poison gas of good form.

If crash I must

Let me do it with bloody hands in the open

For it is better to sin than to snigger

On soft chairs in drawing-rooms

Like male and female half-virgins

With orderly minds

And head-masters’ ethics

Whose notion of Christ

Is a highly prosperous member of the Rotary Club

Taking the chair at a Conference

For the limitation of Alcohol and Large Families

Among the Masses.


Give me the strength to escape

The blacker heresies of the broad-minded.

Save me alive

From Lord Beaverbrook,

Dean Inge,

And Henry J. Ford.

Deliver me from satisfaction,

From the cant of clothes and of games,

From most Bishops,

From Public School traditions,

And nearly all Priests;

From bath-proud pot-bellies

Sniffing disdainfully

At the compulsory dirt

And the crowded heroisms of the slums;

From the esteem of the well- brought-up

From taking the common-sense view,

And subscribing to the Morning Post;

From dementia praecox and syphilis

And being considered Sound—

O God !

If any of my departed relatives has any influence

Don’t let it come to that!


O, if you like,

Let me wallow in lost gutters

And sleep with prostitutes—

Let me lose my substance with the Books

And die rigid of two-block dope,

But never, never,

O God of Justice !

Let me become respectable

Down in the Pit

With Dives,

And Lady Mary Toadspit,

And General Wart C.B.,

And Mr Jones,

(The Leicestershire Jones, O God!)

And all the other eligible,



Pillars of Society.


The novelist Doris Lessing met Hastings in Rhodesia when she was a gawky teenage girl. Her impressions of him will be discussed in a future Jot. [ R Healey]





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