E. V. Lucas Essay - Critical Essays

Lucas, E. V.


E. V. Lucas 1868-1938

(Full name Edward Verrall Lucas) English essayist, editor, biographer, novelist, critic, journalist, poet, autobiographer, short story writer, playwright, and satirist.

Lucas achieved success as a prolific author of light, entertaining popular nonfiction and novels. He was best known as a witty and observant essayist whose interests ranged from sports and domestic life to fine art and literature. His notable products in other genres include travel guides, literary anthologies, and an acclaimed series of scholarly works on the writer Charles Lamb.

Biographical Information

Lucas grew up in a middle-class Quaker family in Brighton. After an early apprenticeship to a bookseller, he worked as a journalist, eventually moving to London, where he joined the staff of the newspaper the Globe and, later, the literary journal the Academy and the humor magazine Punch. He also established himself as a respected reader and editor for the publishers Grant Richards and Methuen. In addition to his regular employment, he wrote or edited over one hundred books. He became a prosperous and well-regarded figure in the London literary community, associating with writers such as Max Beerbohm, Arnold Bennett, and James M. Barrie.

Major Works

Lucas's flexibility and high productivity as a writer and editor enabled him to have an unusually varied career, as, among other things, a humorist, essayist, novelist, anthologist, literary biographer, travel writer, and art critic. One of his earliest successes as a humor writer was Wisdom While You Wait (1902), a parody of advertisements for the Encyclopedia Brittanica written in collaboration with Charles Larcom Graves, with whom he cowrote the popular "By the Way" column for the Globe. As an essayist, Lucas retained an appreciative following for four decades with his ability to write amusingly and engagingly about a wide variety of topics chosen to appeal to general readers. His essays, many of them written for periodicals such as the London Times, Spectator, Pall Mall Gazette, and Punch, were reprinted in numerous collections, including Domesticities (1900), Fireside and Sunshine (1906), One Day and Another (1909), The Phantom Journal (1919), Giving and Receiving (1922), Visibility Good (1931), and Pleasure Trove (1935). Reviewers compare his novels, such as Listener's Lure (1906) and Over Bremerton's (1908), with his essays for their easygoing, anecdotal style. With his two-volume Life of Charles Lamb (1905), he established himself as a respected expert on Lamb, later compiling his own editions of The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb (1903-05) and The Letters of Charles Lamb (1935). Lucas's work as a travel writer includes Highways and Byways in Sussex (1904) and the Wanderer series, which offer his impressions on traveling in England and other parts of Europe. Fine art is a frequent topic in Lucas's travel books and essays, and he wrote several works on the subject of art, including a set of monographs on European masters such as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci, a biography of the painter Edwin Austin Abbey, and The British School (1913), a guide to paintings in London's National Gallery. In addition to his original writings, Lucas edited several anthologies of prose and verse, each centering on a particular subject. Among these are the bestselling The Open Road (1899), about travels in the countryside; The Friendly Town (1905), about London; and The Hambledon Men (1907), which contains material by Lucas and others about his favorite sport, cricket.

Critical Reception

Critics describe Lucas as a genial entertainer, witty and capable of unusual insights, but reluctant to offer self-revealing thoughts that might have given his writings deeper significance. During his lifetime, Lucas enjoyed the respect of many of his most distinguished peers, including Edmund Gosse, who called him the best living essayist since Robert Louis Stevenson. After World War I, however, Lucas's light, impersonal style was less in tune with literary fashions, and after his death interest in his work among critics and readers waned. As for his works on Lamb, which once confirmed his literary prestige, more recent scholarship has greatly lessened their importance.

Principal Works

Sparks from a Flint: Odd Rhymes for Odd Times [as E. V. L.] (poetry) 1891

Songs of the Bat (poetry) 1892

Bernard Barton and His Friends (biography) 1893

A Book of Verses for Children [editor] (poetry) 1897

Charles Lamb and the Lloyds (biography) 1898

Willow and Leather: A Book of Praise (poetry and prose) 1898

The Open Road: A Little Book for Wayfarers [editor] (prose and poetry) 1899

Domesticities: A Little Book of Household Impressions (essays) 1900

What Shall We Do Now? A Book of Suggestions for Childen's Games and Enjoyment [with Elizabeth Lucas] (nonfiction) 1900

Wisdom While You Wait [with Charles Larcom Graves] (satire) 1902

The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. 7 vols, [editor] (prose, poetry, and drama) 1903-05

*Highways and Byways in Sussex (travel essay) 1904

The Friendly Town: A Little Book for the Urbane [editor] (prose and poetry) 1905

The Life of Charles Lamb. 2 vols. (biography) 1905

A Wanderer in Holland (travel essay) 1905

Change for a Halfpenny [with Charles Larcom Graves] (satire) 1906

Fireside and Sunshine (essays) 1906


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Lytton Strachey (essay date 1907)

SOURCE: "The Swan of Lichfield," in Spectatorial Essays, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1964, pp. 28-33.

[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1907, Strachey delivers an appreciative review of A Swan and Her Friends.]

Miss Seward's name is a familiar one to readers of eighteenth-century memoirs and letters, though doubtless in the majority of cases the familiarity does not extend further than to the name. She appears somewhat dimly in Boswell; she flits for a minute or two through Fanny Burney's diary; she is mentioned more than once by Horace Walpole, and always with a laugh. Her own letters, published after her death, in accordance with the directions of her will, in six bulky volumes, are certainly not calculated to inspire a closer acquaintance; and her collected poems—'a formidable monument of mediocrity', which Scott found himself obliged to edit—could hardly fail to freeze the zeal of the most intrepid explorer. Mr E. V. Lucas, however, is endowed with an intrepidity very much above the common—a light-hearted intrepidity, which has not only carried him successfully through the desert of Miss Seward's writings, but has even enabled him to bring back from his journey a collection of relics and curiosities [A Swan and Her Friends] for which every reader will be grateful. 'The Swan of Lichfield', as her contemporary admirers called her, belongs to that class of persons who are interesting by virtue of their very fatuity, who deserve notice simply as colossal figures of fun. 'There never was anything so entertaining or so dull!' Horace Walpole exclaims in one of his letters, and the phrase fits 'the Swan' to perfection. Her endless self-complacence, her infinite affectations, her poses and her pretensions, her unfathomable ignorance, her inconceivable lack of taste—all these qualities make her either intolerable or delightful, according to one's point of view. Mr Lucas's point of view—and none of his readers can fail to share it—commands a wide prospect of flourishing absurdities, disposed and variegated in such a manner as never to distress the eye. Mr Lucas is a master of the difficult arts of selection and suppression. He has succeeded in crowding his pages with a multitude of amusing details and good stories and curious pieces of information; and he has succeeded no less in passing lightly and tactfully over the enormous number of facts connected with Miss Seward's history and writings which, to use Mrs Carlyle's phrase, 'it would be interesting not to state'.

The circle in which Miss Seward lived and moved was made up for the most part of second-rate celebrities and third-rate poets. It was a sentimental circle, where mutual adoration was the rule, and 'fine writing' took the place of common speech. Miss Seward herself was always in an ecstasy either of feeling or of flattery, and she came in for her full share of worship from the lips of her friends. 'As long as the names of Garrick, of Johnson, and of Seward shall endure,' wrote one of her admirers, 'Lichfield will live renowned.' And another declared that

'The British muse brings, with triumphant aim,
Her richest tablet, graced with Seward's name.'

Among the most ardent of her votaries was Hayley, the once famous author of 'The Triumphs of Temper', whose verse, if we are to believe Miss Seward, 'breathes a more creative and original genius than even the brilliant Pope'. The alliance of the two poets was the occasion of some amusing lines from 'the witty and wicked pen' of Dr Mansel, who summarized their mutual admiration as follows:

'Miss Seward: Pride of Sussex, England's glory,
Mr Hayley, that is you.
Mr Hayley: Ma'am, you carry all before ye,
Trust me, Lichfield swan, you do.
Miss Seward: Ode dramatic, epic, sonnet,
Mr Hayley, you're divine.
Mr Hayley: Ma'am, I'll give my word upon it,
You yourself are—all the nine.'

Unfortunately, however, this warmth of friendship was not destined to endure. For some unexplained reason, Hayley grew cool, and Miss Seward grew cool as well. 'I feel,' she wrote, with an exquisite mixture of metaphors, 'that the silver cord of our amity is...

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Arnold Bennett (essay date 1909)

SOURCE: "Chesterton and Lucas," in Books and Persons: Being Comments on a Past Epoch 1908-1911, George H. Doran Company, 1917, pp. 153-54.

[In the following excerpt from an article originally published in 1909, Bennett offers positive commentary on Lucas in a short review of One Day and Another.]

Mr. Lucas … is a highly mysterious man. On the surface he might be mistaken for a mere cricket enthusiast. Dig down, and you will come, with not too much difficulty, to the simple man of letters. Dig further, and, with somewhat more difficulty, you will come to an agreeably ironic critic of human foibles. Try to dig still further, and you will probably encounter rock. Only...

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Arthur Waugh (essay date 1919)

SOURCE: "Mr. E. V. Lucas," in Tradition and Changes: Studies in Contemporary Literature, Chapman and Hall, Ltd., 1919, pp. 292-98.

[In the following essay, Waugh commends Lucas's abilities as a writer in a review of Cloud and Silver.]

It is quite like old and happier days to find the gentle genius of Mr. E. V. Lucas still fresh and flowering [in Cloud and Silver], unchanged by all the changes of this devastating time. I say "unchanged" but, of course, no man, save one of the purely "turnip" type, can really escape the tyranny of his days. In one particularly personal essay Mr. Lucas reminds us that, at the time he wrote it, a couple more "singles" past...

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A. B. Walkley (essay date 1923)

SOURCE: '"E. V.' and Proust," in More Prejudice, William Heinemann Ltd., 1923, pp. 52-5.

[In the following excerpt, Walkley offers positive comments on Genevra's Money.]

There is one saying that I often wish Elia had added to his essays on Popular Fallacies: Easy writing makes hard reading. In the long run, if a man writes easily, it is because he is, like the M.P. who introduced the Liquor Bill, full of his subject; or, even if he be full of emptiness, he is in a blithe mood. In either case the reader profits; he will have gained something, either knowledge or, what is much better, happiness. No easy writings make more happy readings for me than do those of Mr. E. V....

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St. John Adcock (essay date 1928)

SOURCE: "E. V. Lucas," in The Glory That Was Grub Street: Impressions of Contemporary Authors, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1928, pp. 191-201.

[In the following essay, Adcock gives a laudatory overview of Lucas's career.]

For the last half-hour I have been sitting with a sheet of paper in front of me urging myself to start writing about E. V. Lucas, but quite unable to make up my mind where I ought to begin or when and where I ought to leave off. For he has written fifty or sixty books—of travel, of stories, of art criticism, of essays, of biography, one play and half a dozen books for children; and this says nothing of six anthologies he has compiled, nor of books...

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Agnes Irene Smith (essay date 1940)

SOURCE: "E. V. Lucas," in The Sewanee Review, Vol. 42, April, 1940, pp. 221-35.

[In the following essay, Smith offers a reservedly positive assessment of Lucas.]

In these hectic days, when the attitudinizing writer has invaded the pages of even the most conservative of our American magazines, it is a pleasure to find among the L's on the shelf of the public library a half dozen loose-leaved, dog's-eared volumes, essay novels or, as he himself styled them, "entertainments" from the pen of E. V. Lucas. A fashion more than a quarter of a century out of use, and staled by the great publishing houses, he still holds his own in quiet reading rooms, where middle-aged...

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H. N. Wethered (essay date 1954)

SOURCE: An introduction to Selected Essays of E. V. Lucas, Methuen Ltd., 1954, pp. v-x.

[In the following essay, Wethered describes Lucas as a writer and a person.]

E. V. Lucas subtitled one of his best known anthologies, The Friendly Town, an opposite number, mainly in prose, to The Open Road, with the words 'A Little Book for the Urbane'. Apart from the witticism there was much in it that was characteristic of the writer: for Lucas was not only courteous and urbane but wrote particularly for urbane readers. He studiously avoided ever being didactic, sedulously avoiding any taint of the instinct for teaching. Everything that mattered was to...

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Frank Swinnerton (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: "E. V. Lucas," in Figures in the Foreground: Literary Reminiscences 1917-1940, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1963, pp. 82-8.

[In the following essay, Swinnerton reflects on his personal acquaintance with Lucas.]

Friendship with Lucas, though it could be both fluent and free, called for tact. While on the surface equable, he suffered from sensitiveness which could twist a chance inattention into a deliberate affront, or an ironic comment into an accusation. Personally a wit, he belonged, I always thought, to the days of the hansom cab and the historic Café Royal; and it was unquestionable that he remembered those days, or believed he remembered them, with...

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Visvanath Chatterjee (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "E. V. Lucas: Prince of Essayists," in Calcutta Review, Vol. 1ll , No. 4, April-June, 1972, pp. 315-20.

[In the following essay, Chatterjee describes Lucas's style as an essayist]

As Virginia Woolf truly says, the essayist must know—that is the first essential—how to write. 'There is no room for the impurities of literature in an essay. Somehow or other, by dint of labour or bounty of nature, or both combined, the essay must be pure—pure like water or pure like wine, but pure from dullness, deadness, and deposits of extraneous matter.' ('The Modern Essay', The Common Reader, First Series). The essays of E. V. Lucas have this purity about them, for...

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Claude A. Prance (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "Edward Verrall Lucas," in The Charles Lamb Bulletin, No. 8, October, 1974, pp. 157-62.

[In the following essay, Prance presents an overview of Lucas's work as a writer and editor.]

On E V Lucas as a man I cannot comment because we never met, but as a writer he seems to have been an old friend for almost as long as I can remember. We have so many interests in common: old Brighton, Sussex, London, cricket, Charles Lamb and England, to say nothing of painters and picture galleries.

After a day of difficulty and stress, or even after reading a book which requires more than usual concentration, it is a relief and a relaxation to turn to one of...

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Further Reading


Prance, Claude A. E. V. Lucas and His Books. West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 1988, 243 p.

Annotated listing of writings by and about Lucas.


Morley, Christopher. "In Memoriam." In The Ironing Board, pp. 166-78. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1949.

Short obituary tribute to Lucas.

Swinnerton, Frank. "Literary Men: E. V. Lucas, Edward Garnett, Ford Madox Hueffer, C. E. Montague, Max Beerbohm, Middleton Murry, and Katherine Mansfield." In The Georgian Scene: A Literary Panorama, pp. 231-52. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1934.


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