…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
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.
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.
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.
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.