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 in Eltham, 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 of the marriage, Audrey Lucas, who became an actor, playwright and novelist. 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 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 wrote 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.
Lucas was athletic and enjoyed billiards as well as cricket. He 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 Member of the Order of the Companions 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.
Edward Verrall Lucas