…finding things is one of the purest of earthly joys.
E. V. Lucas from the essay On Finding Things
I found this gem on Saturday, in a very short essay. The essay is in a book, Modern Prose whose title has rather overtaken it since it was first published in 1922. My copy is the fourth edition from 1926 and it cost me a pound at a local second-hand bookshop. It’s small and rode snugly in my back-pocket when I took the kids and their friend S to the village playground on Saturday morning. It was a beautiful warm sunny morning – perfect for sitting in the park reading a book, or so I thought – but the kids wanted help with the zip wire, and then S’s Dad joined us and filled me in on the local geo-caching scene. So I had to come back to E. V. Lucas on Saturday night. I enjoyed reading the essay – even though, or perhaps because, I felt like taking issue with much of what it had to say. After a promising start it strikes a rather less positive note:
I have, in a lifetime that now and then appals me by its length, found almost nothing.
Lucas enumerates his lifetime’s finds: a couple of brooches, a carriage key, sixpence, some pennies, ‘a safety-pin, a pencil, some other trifle’. By coincidence, when we were out on the fell last weekend my friend GP found a tenner lying on the hill-side. Apparently, this was not the first such find he has made and there was some jealous comments about his good fortune. I couldn’t recall ever finding anything of pecuniary value whilst out walking although, on reflection, I did once find a perfectly good Silva compass sticking out of the peat on Black Hill in the Peak District. When I pulled it out of the bog, I half expected to find a sunken hand grasping it. I used it for years, but then lost it myself – perhaps somebody else found it and then used it in turn?
The disappointing ‘half-century’ of paltry finds which Lucas describes is surely a result of his narrow focus on what kinds of things he hopes to discover. Actually, there’s a hint in the essay that his attitude may have been quite different to what he implies, when he refers to a ‘a great moment, once, in the island of Coll, when after two hours of systematic searching I found the plover’s nest’. So – who was E. V. Lucas? A little bit of lazy internet research throws up thousands of links, all of which (well – the first couple anyway) lead to different pages containing the same article. Poor E. V. suffers the indignity of having his writing described as ‘insipid’, but my sympathies are enlisted when I read that he wrote a column for the Sunday Times called ‘A Wanderer’s notebook’, and that one of his books was an anthology of poetry called ‘The Open Road’. Perhaps I’ll unearth one of his books some day when I’m browsing the dustier shelves of a second-hand bookshop somewhere.
Our weekend had got off to a fantastic start when we ‘found’ a band which we had never seen before and which we very much enjoyed. We went to the Brewery Arts Centre at Kendal with our friends T&A to see the African Jazz All-stars. We didn’t really know what to expect – I wanted to go in case they turned out to be like the African Jazz Pioneers – whom I’ve loved for years after GP (yes him again) played one of their albums repeatedly on a long drive down to the Alps one summer. All we had to go on was this one clip I found on Youtube:
Happily, the gig was tremendous. TBH has been playing my meager collection of African jazz CDs around the house ever since (although I’m not sure that I’ve convinced her of the merits of Fela Kuti. Yet). The only disappointment was that the Malt Room at the Brewery had been set out with tables and chairs making it very hard to dance.
On Sunday the pleasant sunshine had evaporated to be replaced with more familiar cold wet cloudy autumnal weather. Naturally I took the boys for a walk in the woods. We were joined by CW and a gaggle of kids – some of them hers, some borrowed. The kids mostly coped exceedingly well with the inclement weather. They expected to find a bear in the woods and when none appeared took it in turns to roar and play the part.
Of course kids love finding things – and when they’re little it can be almost anything – sticks, stones, leaves, fungi. At the Ring of Beeches they played hide and seek, finding each other, until they found this low branch which turned out to be perfect to sit on and bounce:
We’ve often noticed how much more our kids enjoy a walk when they have some friends for company, and this was no exception. Even soaking wet through on the exposed top of Castlebarrow most of them managed to raise a smile:
On Finding Things
Edward Verrall Lucas, CH (11/12 June 1868 – 26 June 1938) was an English humorist, essayist, playwright, biographer, publisher, poet, novelist, short story writer and editor.
Born to a Quaker family on the fringes of London, Lucas began work at the age of sixteen, apprenticed to a bookseller. After that he turned to journalism, and worked on a local paper in Brighton and then on a London evening paper. He was commissioned to write a biography of Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet. This led to further commissions, including the editing of the works of Charles Lamb.
Lucas joined the staff of the humorous magazine Punch in 1904, and remained there for the rest of his life. He was a prolific writer, most celebrated for his short essays, but he also produced verses, novels and plays.
From 1908 to 1924 Lucas combined his work as a writer with that of publisher's reader for Methuen and Co. In 1924 he was appointed chairman of the company.
Life and career
Lucas was born in Eltham, Kent, the second son of the four sons and three daughters of Alfred Lucas and his wife, Jane née Drewett. The Lucases were a Quaker family, and the young Lucas was educated at Friends School in Saffron Walden. His father's financial incompetence prevented Lucas from going to a university, and at the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to a Brighton bookseller.
In 1889 Lucas joined the staff of the Sussex Daily News. The following year he published, anonymously, his first volume of poems, Sparks from a Flint. With financial help from an uncle he moved to London to attend lectures at University College, after which he joined the staff of The Globe, one of London's evening papers. His duties there allowed him a great deal of spare time, and he read extensively in the Reading Room of the British Museum. In 1897 he married (Florence) Elizabeth Gertrude, daughter of Colonel James Theodore Griffin, of the United States army; there was one child, Audrey, of the marriage. Elizabeth Lucas was a writer, and husband and wife collaborated on several children's books.
Lucas's Quaker background led to a commission from the Society of Friends for a biography of Bernard Barton, the Quaker poet and friend of Charles Lamb. The success of the book was followed by further commissions from leading publishers; the most important of these commissions was a new edition of Lamb's works, which eventually amounted to seven volumes, with an associated biography, all published between 1903 and 1905. His biographer Katharine Chubbuck writes, "These works established him as a critic, and his Life of Charles Lamb (1905) is considered seminal." In 1904, while in the middle of his work on Lamb, he joined the staff of Punch, remaining there for more than thirty years. Lucas introduced his Punch colleague A A Milne to the illustrator E H Shepard with whom Milne collaborated on two collections of verse and the two Winnie-the-Pooh books.
Lucas's output was prolific; by Max Beerbohm's estimation he spoke fewer words than he wrote. Lucas's Punch colleague E V Knox commented, "Lucas's publications include many anthologies and about thirty collections of light essays, on almost any subject that took his fancy, and some of the titles which he gave to them, Listener's Lure (1905), One Day and Another (1909), Old Lamps for New (1911), Loiterer's Harvest (1913), Cloud and Silver (1916), A Rover I Would Be (1928), indicate sufficiently the lightness, gaiety, and variety of their contents." He wrote travel books, parodies, and books about painters. Of the last he said, "I know very little about pictures, but I like to write about them for the benefit of those who know less." Frank Swinnerton wrote of him:
Lucas had a great appetite for the curious, the human, and the ridiculous. If he were offered a story, an incident or an absurdity , his mind instantly shaped it with wit and form. He read a character with wisdom, and gravely turned it to fun. He versified a fancy, or concentrated in an anecdote or instance all that a vaguer mind might stagger for an hour to express. But his was the mind of a critic and a commentator; and the hideous sustained labour of the ambitious novelist was impossible to him.
Lucas's fluency was thought by some to dilute his skill. Although Swinnerton declared Lucas's essays "among the most agreeable of our age", Agnes Irene Smith wrote in The Sewanee Review of Lucas that despite his huge output "he seems to have left no finger prints. Eminently readable, he is read without being remembered; unusually quotable, he was never quoted much and seems never to be quoted any more." In 1910 Lucas authored the short article on Jane Austen in the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Before the First World War Lucas was for a while interested in the theatre; his play The Visit of the King was produced at the Palace Theatre in 1912, but was not well received. A more enduring interest was cricket. Lucas was a member of J. M. Barrie's team the "Allahakbarries", along with Henry Herbert La Thangue and Arthur Conan Doyle.Rupert Hart-Davis collected and published a collection of Lucas's essays, Cricket All His Life, which John Arlott called "the best written of all books on cricket". His study of Highways and Byways in Sussex continues to influence postmodern explorations of the local; while his 1932 memoirs Reading, Writing and Remembering retained their interest longer than most of his other essays.
Lucas had a long association with the publishing house Methuen and Co, which published his edition of Lamb. From 1908 to 1924 he was a reader for the firm; in 1924 he was appointed its chairman, a post he occupied with considerable success.
Lucas received honorary degrees from the Universities of St Andrews and Oxford, and was appointed Companion of Honour in 1932. He was appointed a member of the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England in 1928, and from 1933 until his death he was a member of the Crown Lands Advisory Committee.
In his later years Lucas cut his domestic ties and lived alone, spending his evenings in restaurants and clubs, and developing a wide collection of pornography. He was a member of the Athenæum, Beefsteak, Buck's and the Garrick. When he was stricken with his final illness he steadfastly refused to allow his friends into his sickroom.
Lucas died in a nursing home in Marylebone, London, at the age of 70.
- ^ abcdKnox, E V, revised by Katharine Chubbuck. "Lucas, Edward Verrall (1868–1938)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 13 March 2013 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- ^ abcd"Mr E V Lucas". The Times, 27 June 1938, p. 16
- ^Nickerson and Wootton, p. 199
- ^ ab"E(dward) V(errall) Lucas", Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003 (subscription required)
- ^Knox, E V. "Lucas, Edward Verrall", Dictionary of National Biography, 1949, online edition accessed 13 March 2013 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- ^Swinnerton, p. 185
- ^Smith, Agnes Irene. "E V Lucas", The Sewanee Review, Volume 48 (1940), p. 222
- ^"The Palace Theatre", The Times, 3 December 1912, p. 9
- ^Arlott, p. 188
- ^ abOlivia Laing (2011). To the River. CSA Telltapes. pp. 239–40. ISBN 978-1847677921.
- ^D. Daiches, ed. The Penguin Companion to Literature 1 (1971) p. 324
- ^ ab"Lucas, Edward Verrall", Who Was Who, A. & C. Black, 1920–2008; online edition, Oxford University Press, December 2007, accessed 13 March 2013 (subscription required)
- ^ ab"E. V. L., Autocrat", The Times 17 February 1939, p. 9
- Arlott, John (1985). David Rayvern Allen, ed. Arlott on Cricket. London: Fontana. ISBN 0006376789.
- Wootton, David (2007). The Illustrators: The British Art of Illustration, 1800–2007. London: Chris Beetles. ISBN 1905738056.
- Swinnerton, Frank (1969). The Georgian Literary Scene, 1910–1935. London: Hutchinson. OCLC 3325941.