What A Life!

05[1]
What A Life!-Lucas and Morrow 1911
A little known masterpiece of deadpan absurdity, What A Life! is a delightfully curiosity from 1911 by Edward Verrall Lucas and George Morrow. It has been called a proto-Dadaist satire and would influence Surrealist collage techniques. It was displayed at the landmark MOMA exhibition in New York of 1936 entitled ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism’.

The illustrations that the text are built around are taken entirely from the general catalogue of Whiteleys, a fashionable London department store of the time. Below is the entire work for those with a passion for obscure oddities

What a Life!

An Autobiography

by

E. V. L. and G. M.

Illustrated by Whiteley’s

Union is Strength

Preface

As adventures are to the adventurous, so is romance to the romantic. One man searching the pages of Whiteley’s General Catalogue will find only facts and prices; another will find what we think we have found — a deeply-moving human drama.

E. V. L.
G. M.


 

Chapter I: CHILDHOOD

I was born very near the end of the year.calendar showing 29 December

The grange where I was born was situated in a secluded corner of the Chiltern Hills. Rumour had it that Queen Elizabeth had slept there.

doll's house

My father was the soul of hospitality,

gent in smoking jacket and gazogene montage

and kept cigars to suit all tastes.

cigar-shaped fishing weights

Never a very strong man,

patent lung protector

he was perforce a great traveller, and my sweet mother loved to follow his wanderings on the quaint old globe in the library.

woman with globe montage

Their’s was an ideal union. They were sweethearts since the time my mother wore short frocks.

disembodied short petticoat and stockings

Our house had superb grounds, and the garden was a scene of savage grandeur.

tropical glade engraving

Two swans – one English and one Australian – were always on the lake.

ear-trumpets -- one white, one black

Our head keeper – good fellow! – saw to it that the birds were plentiful.

pheasant ornaments

My father was not only a dead shot,

pistol target

but, as a huntsman, frequently returned home after a long day with the harriers, tired but triumphant, with the brush.

feather duster

My earliest recollection is of lying in the cradle and wondering if lying was my destiny.

ornate doll's crib

Of all my nurses, Gregson was my favourite.

boy and woman montage

She was the daughter of a poor broken-down clarionet player, but was really a lady in spite of her garb of servitude.

gent with topper and cane

dutch boy with wheelbarrowEveryone was kind to me. Our Dutch gardener adored me,

housemaid dolland I was a prime favourite with our old housekeeper.

But my happiest hours were spent with the little daughter of our neighbour Sir Easton West. She was a pretty child, and, boy-like, I did my best to attract her attention.

girl and pierrot doll montage

Her parents lived in a Tudor manor that was reported to be haunted.

half-timbered doll's house

According to the legend whispered by the retainers and villagers, no sooner did the clock strike twelve

mantelpiece clock showing 9:03

than a headless apparition was seen to move slowly across the moonlit hall.

portmanteau with dress coming out on a rail, ghostlike

Poor Belinda, her fits were frequent.

Where she is now I cannot say, but I remember that she became a musician. I was at her first concert. Her triumph was complete. The vast audience rose to its feet and demanded an encore.

girl and flügelhorn montage

I pass over other ordinary occurrences incidental to childhood, such as being kidnapped by gipsies,

toy horse and caravan

and my first visit to the dentist,

plier punch

and come to my life at the preparatory school, to which I went to discover whether I was to serve my country in the Navy or the Army.

boy with boat, boy with drum montage

Chapter II: SCHOOL DAYS

School Days! Was there ever a happier time? I was sent to Dr. Bodey’s in West Kensington.

cast-iron fire guard

The name was on the door – “Dryburgh.” You could not mistake it.

door plate with MELROSE inscription

Although a martyr to kidney trouble for

cufflink

years, Dr. Bodey was a powerful man and an adept at all outdoor sports.

aunt sally shy stall

lady in winter gearHe had married a Swiss, a lady as active as himself,

and together they held the championship at Spiro-pole.

spiro-pole game

A lenient and generous teacher, the Doctor took us often to the Crystal Palace

birdcage

or to the Zoo.

early electric iron

Our favourite game was leapfrog.

ingenious clothes hanger

I was at this time a handsome boy of fourteen.

boy in loden jacket and plus-twos

Among my school fellows were some delightful lads,

misc boys

chiefly the sons of the nobility and clergy.

boy in kiltMy closest friend was Eustace Bleek-Wether with whom I often spent the vacations;

boy in dinner jacketand my bête noire was the Hon. Harold Crumpton, who made my life at school a perfect hell for the first three months.

His father was a learned and interesting man, with, alas, one sad and only too common failing,

table with bottles of bay rum

They lived in a beautiful home nestling in the Surrey hills.

toy castle

We both adored the matron.

nurse

In spite of this rivalry we were friends, and remained so after leaving Dr. Bodey’s and passing through the ‘Varsity.

two young gents

Eustace was brilliant in every way. A wonderful fisherman;

fisherman with deadbait montage

and a crack shot, rarely bringing down his birds singly.

boy with rifle and birds brooch montage

Once, however, (I remember) he missed his quarry. Time after time he fired, but the bird was still there.

eagle lectern

Poor Eustace! a fatal fascination for the Pole gripped him,

eskimo doll

and he now lies in a silent grave beneath the Arctic star.

cross medal

young gent at easeTo return to my own story, I left school when I was eighteen and went to Oxford College,

and at the age of twenty-two I became a man about town with a latch-key of my own.

ornate key

Chapter III: LONDON IN THE OLD DAYS

Knocking about town as I then did, I naturally got to know many people, especially as I was still unmarried.

sewing kit

For example, Lady Mayfair, the present Queen of Society, I remember as a little toddling child who climbed on my knees.

doll

billiard scoreboardpyramid pplayer, with cueI knew Monty Wotherspoon, the amateur pyramid champion, intimately.

Monty was one of the old dare-devil crowd. I remember the sensation he caused when, for a wager, he drove a hansom from the Guards’ Club to Hurlingham without reins.

toy hansom cab

Poor fellow, his end was very tragic. He was poisoned by his wife. She had rinsed the glass and removed, as she thought, all traces of the poison; but the Law was too much for her.

domestic water filter

The autopsy revealed unmistakable signs of the deadly drug.

perforated wadding of some sort

Then there was the Earl of Crewett, who was never seen out of riding breeches: a veritable centaur.

torso and powder horn montage

It was Lord Crewett who won the Derby with “Salad Days.”

toy horse

The eccentric Sir William Goosepelt was a friend of mine. Among his other odd ways he often indulged in the luxury of a treacle bath.

spray bath adaptor

riding hat with strapSir William’s ears were so large that he required a chin-strap to keep his hat on. From this circumstance he earned an unenviable reputation for impoliteness towards ladies.

His wife, dear Lady Goosepelt, was a chronic invalid, and lived at Bournemouth in a charming villegiatura.

woman's head in horse-drawn tanker montage

Sir William’s beautiful mansion was burnt to the ground. It was, I remember, on Sunday, the 23rd.

calendar showing Sunday 23

The alarm was given, but no horses could be procured, so the brigade was at a standstill.

toy horse-drawn fire engine

Another man about town at that time was Sir Henry Punt. He and his wife (a beautiful woman) were probably the most inveterate gamblers living.

horse racing game

large urn with cherubsLady Punt was one of the few women of fashion who had received the King’s Bounty, and I often watched her charming brood bathing in the marble basin in their grounds, which adjoined mine.

Sir Henry (who died only last year) had a weakness for growing mushrooms for harvest festivals.

The Duke of Pudsey, in spite of his great wealth, was of a penurious nature. He was also something of a kleptomaniac, and after his death an extraordinary collection of umbrellas which he had removed from the club stand was discovered.

assorted umbrellas

On one occasion he was actually found concealing the watch of one of his guests,

carpet saver installation diagram

None the less (such is human tolerance of the great), when the Duke came to die a magnificent memorial was erected to him.

magnificent aspic

His son’s wife, Lady Clipstone, was one of the most determined autograph hunters I ever met.

man woman montage

patent lubricant advertisement excerptThe Duke’s only daughter, who became Lady Grapholine Meadows, was never seen without her coronet, which was a masterpiece of the jeweller’s art.

His other son, Lord Bertie, married the fashionable sister of Lord George Sangazure.

fashionable man woman montage

office message noticeIt was about this time that I made the acquaintance of William Browne, of London, whose peculiarity it was to be always out. It is conjectured that during a period of many years he was never at home.

Sir William Broadfoot, the well-known R.A., was a frequent visitor. He would often go out sketching, but was so absent-minded that he forgot his paints.

man under sunshade

russian doll sort of thingThen there was Lord Highlow, who constructed a dirigible of his own invention, in which he made frequent ascents from Brooklands, accompanied by his two beautiful daughters.

motorcyclistStanley Herne, the motor cycle champion, was also a friend of mine. Alas! he rides no more, not since that terrible collision with a motor bus. There lay Stanley, a ruin of what he was, while the heavy vehicle, crowded with happy passengers, all unconscious of what had happened, rolled on.

toy omnibus

I knew slightly Sir Algernon Slack, the millionaire, whose peculiarity it was never to carry an umbrella.

diver

One of this strange man’s peculiarities was that he could not endure the presence of a cat.

smoker and cat-shaped gas lamp

His end, it is thought, was quickened by varicose veins in the right hand.

cricket glove

He died in 1901, and was buried next his wife.

ornate boot scraper

Chapter IV: THE STOLEN DIAMONDS

One of the most interesting occurrences of my crowded life was my participation in the famous Closure Castle jewel robbery.

I was staying with Lord Bunderbourne. His old Jacobean mansion embowered in trees was an ideal spot for a daring burglary.

modest doll's house

ring treeIt was, I remember, midwinter. The fountain was frozen.

We had just finished dinner

convertible dining/billiards table

policeman measuring tapewhen the local constable burst in to say that a convict had escaped from the neighbouring prison.

It was too true. The safe was empty.

oven

Our cigars were forgotten in the excitement of the moment.

cigar in ash tray

A detective was telephoned for, and came at once.

detective with flat cap and cane

He first made a plan of the house,

sewing kit (opened)

and hurried next to the kitchen garden, where he stood aghast at his discovery.

man at cold frame

Then on to the out-houses, where it was noticed that one of the doors was partly open.

shed

Ponto, the watch dog, seemed dazed. He had been drugged, the detective said.

dog, cross-eyed, toy

He also pointed out that the horse’s neck was strangely swollen.

mutant horse

The detective next interrogated the whole house party, although some were in déshabille.

detective/lady-in-combinations montage

Suspicion fell first on the chief footman, whose embarrassment was greatly in his disfavour.

doorman, fawning slightly

Passing to the man’s room, the detective saw at a glance that the bed had not been slept on.

detective and bed frame

Meanwhile, being alone in the drawing room, I had an instinctive feeling that someone was hiding behind the screen,

japanese screen

knife sharpenerand I was certain that I heard the sound of the sharpening of a knife.

Having no other weapon handy, I produced my toothpick.

multi-blade pocket knife

But at this moment the detective returned, in a disguise calculated to baffle the keenest observer.

racehorse

marmalade cutterThe contents of the mysterious bag having been analysed,

he showed us that the ring was movable,

tea infuser

tilting lampand drew our attention to the fact that there were signs of a struggle.

fuzzy mittHe then showed us the print of a blood-stained hand on the wall

and producing his pocket book, convinced us that in spite of certain superficial differences, they were one and the same man.

pocket book, open

We were immensely impressed, and in a few moments the burglar was fairly trapped.

bookbinding press

The detective then resumed his natural appearance,

that detective again

and was presented by Lord Bunderbourne with a heavy cheque.

While waiting for the prison van

toy car

cloth cupboardhe told us some good stories of his career. It was he, it seems, who was the real hero of the Charlotte Street anarchist plot, which he discovered by overhearing a conversation between two of the miscreants in a Soho restaurant.

tree prunerHe gave us also some curious information about the ingenious methods of famous criminals. There was, for example, the notorious one-eyed Jimmy Snaffles, who used a housebreaking implement of his own construction, which he would try on the trees outside before breaking into the house.

couple on laddersAnd there were that very respectable couple, Tom Bilks and his wife, who entered houses with scaling ladders at night, and kept a blameless registry office in Balham through the day.


Chapter V: THE TENDER PASSION

relaxing gentIt is idle to deny that I was a handsome man.

Something also of a dandy, my appeal to women must have been terrific

trouser press

They were also attracted by my Norman descent, for it was common knowledge that one of my ancestors, Sir Ikimo de Medici, had come over with the Conqueror.

man/purse pseudo-heraldic montage

Always susceptible, I quickly fell in love. My first innamorata was the daughter of a lion tamer, and herself, although a Suffragette, in that romantic profession.

girl with riding crop

Her father disapproved of the intimacy, and we had to correspond clandestinely. She would write and seal her letter, and then place it inside a football, and leave it for me in the place agreed upon.

netball pole

My second love was the lady golf champion of Golder’s Green.

lady golfer

foundry bootDear Honoria – she inherited from her uncle, Sir Felix Chalkstones, one of the neatest ankles in the Home Counties.

glovesUnfortunately she was a deaf mute, and when we met our sweet nothings had to be conveyed by the clumsy method of sign language.

woman and sheep shearer montageMy third was Lily, who never wrote, but communicated with me on the telephone.

– Dear, brave Lily, who in the dark days struggled so hard to support her mother and poor ailing Susan.

woman with mangle montage

But at last I met my fate – Lady Brenda Birdseye. I had motored over to her father’s seat – Cavendish Court. I wandered through the house; it was empty. Lunch was not yet cleared away.

refreshment table

The tennis court was deserted;

tennis court

but in a hammock in the shrubbery I chanced upon her – asleep. It seemed a pity to disturb her dreams. I gazed, and was fascinated.

woman in hammock

Fond fool – I thought that Lady Brenda smiled upon me. She seemed to like me to pay for her lunch. We were often to be seen together at Ranelagh.

man woman montage

But I was living in a fool’s paradise – she loved another. The news came to me as I was eating my breakfast.

man and breakfast montage

Could it be true? But to whom was she engaged? To Lord Kempton, that cur.

What was I to do? To hail and leap into a taxi was the work of a moment.

toy motor taxi

The maid said she was not at home. I said I must see her. She saw me. I heard afterwards how she had braced herself for the effort.

back brace

I vowed to be revenged on my rival, even if I had to follow him to the bottom of the sea.

toy submarine

She gave me no hope and I left her in despair. For days I lived on nothing but a few sandwiches.

bread slicer

Then I grew more philosophic and tried other means to forget her,

various exercises

but in vain. It was no good, I took to my bed; and for some months my life was despaired of.

invalid in summer-house

On recovering sufficiently, I determined to seek peace of mind in travel.

case and man in travelling attire

Chapter VI: TRAVEL AND ADVENTURE

In the mad effort to forget Lady Brenda I globe-trotted furiously.

One day found me among the quaint walled towns of Normandy.

turreted thing

The next I was in Germany.

inflatable neck cushion

Feeling that excitement was necessary to me, I joined the motor race to Monte Carlo,

model touring car

and was to be seen every night in the Casino;

chess pieces

where I lost heavily.

coin purse

I passed on to Venice,

roller blind

and from there to Naples.

fumigating cone

But in vain – I could not forget Lady Brenda, and sleep was out of the question.

fitful sleeper

I also suffered from loss of memory, and frequently forgot my shirt and waistcoat.

jacket and trousers on rail

bottle-shaped knitting bagIn my despair I took for a brief, mad period to drink, but was careful that no one should suspect the proximity of the bottle.

From Naples I passed on to India, that land

toy elephants

elephant pincushionof mystery and Eastern splendour.

calendar showing January Wednesday 1It was my first experience of the tropics. The heat was intense.

At night I lay with my tent open;

marquee

by day the jungle throbbed beneath the intolerable sun.

gunnera

But by taking precautions I retained my health.

mosquito net hat

I had also my faithful and admirable syce, who, like everyone with whom I have ever come in contact (except, alas! Lady Brenda), adored me.

african doll

boy scoutThen came the Paticaka Guerilla War. I enlisted against the insurgent Gherkins.

I slept soundly the night before the battle.

sleeping military type

Although shot many times I fought on, but I became unconscious from loss of blood, not, however, until the day was won. That night eleven bullets, which I still preserve, were extracted from my body.

lead shot

The Maharajah showed his appreciation of my services,

medals

and, furthermore, put me to the blush by offering me his favourite wife.

woman's driving veil

It was on leaving Paticaka that I had the narrowest escape from death that I have yet experienced. I took my seat in the Calcutta train

toy train

and settled myself to repose, when, with a fearful crash, the carriage was overturned. We had disregarded the signal.

toy signal

The scene was appalling; human remains strewed the ground.

misc body parts (comedy)

Fortunately I escaped unhurt, although somewhat badly shaken.

Before returning to England I visited Japan,

japanese doll family

where I made many friends among the quaint little people. I saw a sight I shall never forget – the sun rising over Fusiyama.

wire brush - before use

Later in the day I saw it set – an equally memorable spectacle.

wire brush - after use

From Japan I sailed to Africa, and among the many photographs I took is a view of a kraal on the banks of the Oomba river, Nygskmbasi, B.C.A.

miscellaneous hemispheres

Chapter VII: HOME LIFE

It was on the liner coming back,

toy boat

just off (I remember) the Eddystone lighthouse,

sugar shaker

that I met my dear wife.

dashing man woman montage

She was the daughter of a retired Government official. now enjoying a leisurely and happy old age.

family gathering

glovesWe had long been catching each other’s eyes. The time was ripe. When I at last proposed, she gave me both hands impulsively.

Ours was a romantic engagement,

very proper young couple

but we decided to cut it very short, and were married directly the village church could be made ready.

church with ladders

We had some very novel wedding presents.

bread basket and sugar bowl

My best man was Lord Wagglecleek.

sporting gent

Almost my oldest friend, I had first met him in the bath.

head in bath and attendant

It was a pretty service, and the villagers, whose hearts are wholly ours,

heart pincushion

gave us a cordial send-off.

boots

doll's houseWe were idyllically happy at Frisby Towers, in spite of its outward air of gloom.

woman with overly large salmon fly montageWe both had rural tastes. My wife was very fond of whipping the stream,

natty golferand I was, of course, an ardent golfer.

One day we took the motor;

pedal car

on the next I ordered out the roan.

rocking horse

When it rained we knew what to do.

table croquet

We were so simple that we often did not dress for dinner.

woman, man in smoking jacket and clock at 3:48 montage

In the evening after a small but recherché meal, for the cuisine at Frisby Towers left nothing to be desired,

doll's house kitchen

we had music. Melba’s divine notes floated into the liquid air,

gramophone

or I would perform a solo on my favourite instrument, which I flatter myself I play with a certain amount of delicacy and feeling;

triangle

harp oil lampmy wife occasionally accompanying me on the harp.

We entertained freely. Like my father I am a most hospitable man.

salve box

hand grenadesNo sooner is a guest inside my doors, than I pass the refreshments.

photo albumIn other ways also I kept them amused and happy.

By day we often made up parties of six for the fishing.

hip flasks

tortoise pincushionI had my hobbies too. In 1904 I succeeded, after many failures, in obtaining a cross between a tortoise and a porcupine, and the training of the hybrid gives me infinite pleasure.

engraved conchI was also the foremost conchologist of the country, and the arranging of my collection of 14,000 varieties of winkles, now in the Natural History Museum, occupied many otherwise tedious evenings.

whatnotLife also had its exciting incidents. Now and then I would add to my unique collection of Sèvres;

or a new hat would come from London for my wife.

ornate aspic

Sometimes a guest revoked;

ten of clubs

while an occasional fracas with the plumber also enlivened the routine, as when on one memorable occasion I drew his attention to the inadequacy of the bath.

man and small bath montage

Now and then my wife and I may even have had a tiff, during which we were not on speaking terms; but it soon blew over.

woman man, back to back

On Sunday we naturally went to church, to which, in my capacity of Squire, I presented a new organ,

heater

and where I frequently had the pleasure of hearing the choir render my favourite hymns.

hymn board

Chapter VIII: APOTHEOSIS

Such was my life for a considerable period —, rendered really notable only by the arrival of a son and heir —

nurse and perambulator

until 1911, my annus mirabilis. But then everything was changed, for the Prime Minister graciously invited me to become one of his new peers, which I was pleased to agree to; and I therefore take my leave of my patient and too indulgent readers as Baron Dropmore, of Corfe.

aristocratic type in top hat
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25 thoughts on “What A Life!

  1. This my be my favorite of all. Love the parts about the burglary and of his unsuccessful love life. Absolutely hilarious! So very, very clever to take the images from the catalogue and devise an entire biography. Oh just love love love it!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, most definitely. I love how the detective disguised himself as a horse too! Ridiculous and superb! I would love to have a copy of this. Do you have a physical copy? Or just an electronic one?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish I could appreciate the humor, Cake. But, alas, I can only view these images and the lives of the times with my heavily tinted orange lenses! Today’s upgrades in lifestyles come with even wider disparities between the haves and haves-not 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem Rosaliene it is the kind of humour people either get or find bewildering and of course humour is highly personal. I would say that the absurdity of life is pretty constant throughout history and the parody on the country house detective genre is spot on, however I appreciate your orange tinted comments always.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hmmm, not sure. The order confirmation doesn’t say. However, one of the illustrations is on the cover it looks like… Does that sound like the edition you had? I really DID have to have it!

        Liked by 1 person

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