Edward Verrell Lucas “E. V. L.”

Edward Verrell Lucas “E. V. L.”

Since the death of Edward Verrell Lucas, popularly known as E. V. L., there has been a lot of talk about him in the press and elsewhere, and a number of distinguished persons have explained what opinions led him to write as he did. I thought so, too, and never doubted that he was the comfortable, self-satisfying gentleman of Essex Street, who managed Messrs. Methuen’s affairs, wrote books, and enjoyed what is called a “good dinner.” That he could have any sympathies with the humanitarian confederacy had not then occurred to me.

But after re-reading and pondering over the letters as a whole, a new thought struck me. Lucas was an odd man; they all say that. How if he crowned his oddness by at heart belonging to the humanitarian faith, while, in life, he indulged in the appearance of being one of the unattracted ones? There have been things as strange, and I regret now that during these recent years I made illness my excuse for not going to see him; it is possible he might have talked. At any rate I am going to tell you some of the things he wrote to me.

His written letters were always in that queer form which he affected, sloping gradually down to the right-hand corner; and he addressed me personally in terms which I long took to be sarcastic, as they may have been—“My dear Sage,” “My dear Satirist,” “My dear Champion,” “My dear old Pagan,” etc. What could it have been but playful chaff? And yet, now, forty years later, I begin to wonder.

He sent me press cuttings; reports of hare-hunts, and what passes as “sport” in certain humourless districts; and sometimes he would express commendation of things that appeared in the Humanitarian, the journal of the Humanitarian League, which I was editing; as when he rejoiced in our hoaxing of the Etonians, or described something I had sent him as “a very good grain from the unconquerable cellar.” Was it only, as I thought, satire. And why should he have remarked, “How I dislike your Dean!” Criticism from our side he seemed not to resent, as when he replied quite pleasantly to a comment of mine in the Sunday Times, on his use of the neuter “what” and “which” when speaking of animals to whom we attribute intelligence; or when, referring to illustrations, he passed me off as the true article, “not Gandhi-made.”

Epigrammatic sketches of his own were sometimes included, but not often; the best of them, in my opinion, being that of “St. Paul preaching to Felix,” in which the apostle is revealed as anxiously bending down from the pulpit as he pours out his oration to a black-and-white cat, who is lolling half-asleep in the empty front pew. It was Lucas’ custom, he told me, to design these sketches himself, and then to invite a well-known artist to draft them.

Now why should the far-famed E. V. L. have taken the pains, in a busy life, to pay compliments to such an alien Society as the Humanitarian League, and to its unnoticed hon-secretary? I did not know at the time, nor do I know now, but these letters do not rank him among the brainless folk who reject all new ideas and hold that England owes her greatness to the fox-hunt.

Henry S. Salt

The Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review, September 1938