A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender
Frontispiece from Earl Lavender by Aubrey Beardsley
|Publisher||Ward & Downey|
|Media type||Print (hardback)|
A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender, which Lasted One Night and One Day; with a History of the Pursuit of Earl Lavender and Lord Brumm by Mrs. Scamler and Maud Emblem, is a comical novel, written by Scots poet and playwright John Davidson, published in 1895. The story is set in contemporary London (late 19th century) and tells the story of two male friends who are testing Earl Lavender's own version of 'The Theory of Evolution'. It includes two scenes of flagellation. The book is better known for its frontispiece by Aubrey Beardsley than for its actual text.
The story begins with two gentlemen dining in a restaurant in the Strand, carefully keeping track of their finances as they order each item. It's revealed that the two men met recently, as they were staying in the same hotel; they both have been fleeing from something (later revealed to be their respective brides) and using aliases in London—in fact they chose the identical alias of J. Smith at the hotel, which facilitated their meeting. They finish their dinner early, not having enough cash to continue ordering at the restaurant they had chosen; on their way to a cheaper establishment, the younger of the two men declares his new religion of Evolution, and asks the other fellow to become his disciple. The man agrees. The young man gives himself the new name of The Earl de l'Avenir, which is immediately corrupted into Earl Lavender; he then christens the older man as Lord New Broom, which is shortened down to Lord Brumm. Earl Lavender explains that his mission is to find the fittest of all women and to mate with her.
The rest of the book finds Earl Lavender leading the way through London, assuring Lord Brumm that Evolution will care for them. They eat at multiple restaurants despite having no money, and luck always causes someone else to be at hand who is willing to pay for them. One mysterious Veiled Lady who pays their bill leads them, afterwards, to an underground city where they are all flogged with knotted cords as part of a strange religious ritual, and then given beds for the night. Earl Lavender perceives that the Veiled Lady may be the fittest of women that he's been looking for, but he is kicked out of the underground city for declaring his passion for her (as these floggings are intended to be completely non-sexual) and Lord Brumm is soon ejected likewise; they are warned that they may return to the underground city in the future but that if there is any more misbehaving, they will be stripped and sent forth into the London streets during broad daylight.
Meanwhile, Maud Emblem and Mrs. Scamler—the wife and the fiancée of Lavender and Brumm respectively—have both discovered each other hunting for their gentlemen and have teamed up after realizing the men are together. Mrs. Emblem describes how her husband ran away on their wedding night, while Mrs. Scamler tells the comical tale of how she went to great lengths to win the love of Brumm only to have him run away the morning they were to be wed.
Eventually the ladies find Lavender and Brumm in a barn surrounded by an angry mob led by a murderous waiter, a Scotsman in full regalia, and the corpse of an orangutan which Lavender had declared to be The Missing Link. The men direct the women back to the underground city, where all of the characters are flogged. Earl Lavender manages to break another rule, but the Veiled Lady and the overseer of this underworld make arrangements to spare him the usual punishment, and instead give him a stern talking-to. Lavender is convinced to abandon his religion of Evolution and his goal of finding the fittest woman in the world. The book ends with the two couples presumably returning home.
Review in The Literary World
"A NEW QUIXOTE"
"Mr. Davidson can generally be relied upon to astonish his readers. His genius runs in the direction of the eccentric, and his delight is in the extremes of originality. His new volume, with a title almost as elaborately simple as the grotesque frontispiece supplied by Mr. Aubrey Beardsley, which may be abbreviated to ‘’A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender’’, will do more than astonish— it will puzzle. Some will invest it with a subtle sarcasm, aided thereto by a significant versified introduction. Others will label it grotesquely absurd, according to their degrees of perception. It is certainly clever, and we found it particularly entertaining and more than slightly amusing. ‘Earl Lavender,’ a young gentleman only recently married to a very charming girl, conceives himself to be 'the fittest man on earth' and the apostle of a new doctrine—the doctrine of evolution which is to regenerate the age and straighten all things. It is a simple doctrine, and sounds rather attractive. In everyday life it would probably lead its followers to the police station; in Mr. Davidson's pages it leads to many marvellous adventures, to say nothing of such prosaic matters as providing free meals at first-class restaurants, free cab rides, and everything else free. 'Earl Lavender,' whose title has evolved itself, along with his half-hearted disciple, 'Lord Brumm,' start out on their mission absolutely penniless. They order what they require, however, and Evolution attends to the score. That is what it is for. It has already justified the young apostle's belief in his comfortable creed, although his follower has not reached the point of implicit confidence in it. They have dined in Fleet-street, where Evolution promptly raised up a journalist to pay the bill; they have cabbed it to Piccadilly-circus, and have left the cabman outside, presumably until the same generous paymaster can attend to the fare, while they sup at the Cafe Benvenuto."
"The Doctrine on Trial"
"Lord Brumm felt some trepidation when he found himself in a beautiful white temple in the midst of a small crowd of men and women, mostly in evening dress, and saw, or thought he saw, 'ready money and plenty of it while it lasts' in the cut of their clothes and the expression of their faces. His sudden Evolutionary heat began to cool, and he suggested in an undertone that they should content themselves with a modest snack. But Earl Lavender, having ordered the 'Theatre Supper' at fire shillings a head, reproached his henchman for his inconstancy, and assured him that Evolution would help only those who reposed unwavering faith in its power, and gave it continual exercise in vindicating their fitness.
'Nothing grieves Evolution more, my dear Brumm,' he said, 'than half belief. We must not proceed on the assumption that it is easier for Evolution to provide the cost of a dish of macaroni than that of a supper of four courses. Evolution is on its trial, and will display its power cheerfully on our behalf in any matter and to any extent, or I am very much mistaken. Above all, good Brumm, be happy and regardless of expense, for to be worried and economical ill becomes the apostles of that power which wasted countless ages in fashioning indolently one little world.'
' Well, well,' said Lord Brumm restlessly, ‘Sufficient unto the day is the Evilution [‘’sic.’’] thereof. We shall have one good supper, though we sleep in prison for it.'
The rapidly served supper had been as rapidly disposed of, and the waiter, a baboon-faced person of dubious nationality, now moved stealthily about the table at which Earl Lavender and Lord Brumm sat. . . . Lord Brumm had never seen an uglier waiter, or one of stranger behaviour. He felt quite faint when he thought of what would happen on the presentation of the bill; but having that species of courage which faces the worst as soon as it is inevitable, he suggested at the pause in Earl Lavender's remarks that it was time to go.
The waiter, divining the purport of Lord Brumm's words, struck in at once with hit bill.
Earl Lavender read it aloud. 'Two suppers, ten shillings. Wine, eleven shillings. A guinea.' He then looked up at the waiter and smiled.
' I vait,' said the waiter fiercely. ' It is now quarter of tvelfe. Vnn, dwo, oader supper, not yet avhile, I vait, regard."
' Have you not understood? ' asked Earl Lavender in mild astonishment. 'You are to pay the bill out of your own pocket since Evolution has seen fit to provide no other means.'
‘Sacré!' cried the waiter. ' Afe you ze bayment made, pardon, quick, vun, dwo, oader supper. ‘Immel! ze time vly, beoble vait, I vait, ze tabble, vill you den yourself dwo oader suppers take tvice ? hoh ! heh ! '
' Explain to him, Brumm,' said Earl Lavender, rising.
' We have no money, waiter,' said Lord Brumm, who was ghastly pale, and covered with perspiration. 'Understand? We— have—no—money.'
' Vat you say? Mein Gott!' shrieked the waiter, drawing all eyes on himself. ' Yoa eat, you drink, you talk, and you lit, lit, lit, and go not avay upon nothing I bresent, and 'afe, no monney ! Ach ! roppers ! Bonne mère! twenty-vun shilling lost dead, and ze profitable tip, tip, tip. Jean '—this to the commitsionaire, a burly young Soudanese Teteran who had just entered—' vetch ze boleece.’
Evolution comes to the rescue, however, in the person of a mysterious and handsome woman who pays the bill and the cabman, and takes them off to a scene that would have befitted Mr. Stevenson's 'New Arabian Nights,' where we witness the recrudescence of flagellation, which is, however, carried on in the most modern and seemly manner. The ladies thrash the gentlemen and the gentlemen return the compliment. The whippings were sincere, for after taking his own stimulant,' and urged by the fair penitent, Earl Lavender lays on the scourge lustily, and we read he was 'astonished to find, when he gave himself to it, what enjoyable work it was.' For some misdemeanour the two companions are expelled from this singular scene, with the privilege of returning once again under the understanding that the second trespass entails the penalty of being set in the street at noon clad in a very unsatisfactory garment. The mad and amusing earl finds the prospect enticing: it suggests"
"A Thorough Test"
"'I should like to incur it, for I should at once fling off my shirt and walk through the streets a mother-naked man. Unless I am greatly mistaken, the matchless symmetry of my figure, and the beauty and perfection of my face and person, would bewitch all beholders. It must be done; this will be the great test of my fitness, and of the truth of my mission. If I succeed in walking unmolested from St. Paul's to Westminster at clad only in my native fitness, I shall have accomplished my mission, and if no occasion arises I shall do it on my own initiative. You shall accompany me, Brumm. You might, perhaps, take off some of your clothes—not to countenance me but to show your sympathy. Your figure begins to hang forward, you know you could hardly appear in the garb of an athlete. However, if you choose to risk it, I have over estimated myself much more than is likely if my supreme fitness failed to protect us both.'
It took some time before Lord Brumm could furnish a reply. This crowning extravagance of Earl Lavender's stirred his sluggish mind, and a dim joke struggled to the surface.
'I would strip, too,' he said at last.
'Bravo!' cried Earl Lavender.
'But I would wear a board back and front, and be your sandwichman.'
‘A brilliant idea! On one board you could have, "Behold the Purpose of the Ages," and on the other, "The Pit shall survive, and Earl Lavender is the fittest." Oh, it is a noble suggestion! Brumm, you are invaluable. Last night we performed wonders; to-day the whole world shall ring with our deeds. After breakfast we shall arrange our march from St. Paul's to Westminster, you naked, but sandwiched between two boards; I naked, but sandwiched between the Past and the Future.'Incident follows incident of the maddest, merriest, and most absurd nature during which we make the acquaintance of Mrs. Seamier, a second Mrs. Partington and an amusing creation, and Maud Emblem, the unfortunate wife of the apostle of the new doctrine; but for the account of ‘How They all Foregathered in Epping Forest,' ‘How They Chased each Other in Hansom Cabs,' and ‘How They all Ended Where They Began,’ with sundry other interesting and extravagant adventures, we must refer our readers to the book itself. 'I undertoke, ... to make a boke which stant between ernest and game' is a significant quotation, however, which may lead the thoughtful reader to go a little between the lines and evolve a meaning for himself, from Mr. Davidson's extravagances."
Review in Retrospective Reviews
The following review appeared in Retrospective Reviews: 1893-1895 By Richard Le Gallienne (1896)
"If Earl Lavender had been but, say, a third shorter, and Mrs. Scamler entirely cut out, it would have been a striking success in a very difficult genre. As it is, I confess to have read it with keen delight in its mad humour and impudent fantasticality. Mr. Davidson has recently stated that he considers Don Quixote the greatest prose book in the world. His devotion to it, evidently, has not been without marked influence upon his own novels.
A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender, which Lasted One Night and One Day, is the third novel, or rather fantasia, which he has written on the same whimsical plan. In Perfervid and Baptist Lake we have the same half-mad central figure, determined to ride his hobby against the world, attended by a timorous Sancho Panza, whom his will and enthusiasm have distracted for a while from his everyday, commonplace sanity. The bee in the bonnet of the hero of Perfervid, it will be remembered, was that he was the direct descendant of the Stuarts, and that he was destined to restore the Stuart line to the throne. Earl Lavender, so-called, is firmly convinced, under the influence of whisky, vanity, whim, and original mental and moral perversity, that he is born to be the prophet and exemplar of Evolution.
Armed with the formula, 'The fit shall survive, and Earl Lavender is the fittest,' he and his friend, alike impecunious, make a tour of the taverns in the town, and, when asked to pay, Earl Lavender, with ready eloquence and insolent imperturbability rises to preach to the company the great gospel of Evolution. The best scene of the kind, a scene perhaps a little too often repeated in the book (for, curiously enough, the author of Scaramouch in Naxos fails for once in invention), is that in the St. James's Restaurant, which is exceedingly humorous, and absolutely convincing.
Another clever scene of convincing farce is that in Epping Forest, where Earl Lavender imagines himself to have discovered the missing link, and gives a lunch in its honour at the Razor and Hen. But I confess to believing and delighting in all that this Don Quixote of Evolution undertakes. It is only Mrs. Seamler who brings in unreality. She is evidently a reflection of Mrs. Chump in Mr. Meredith's Sandra Belloni, and Mrs. Chump has always seemed to me tiresome and unreal.
As so often happens in imaginative literature, the most real scenes in the book are those which are ostensibly most unreal; for instance, the flagellation scenes in that underground Stevensonian world – an allegory, I suppose, of the tired taste and jaded sensibilities of our end of the century. Mr. Davidson, by the way, has a proem in verse touching on the same theme, which contains some happy, pertinent phrases:
- 'Though our eyes turn ever waveward,
- Where our sun is well-nigh set;
- Though our Century totters graveward,
- We may laugh a little yet.
- Oh! our age-end style perplexes
- All our elders time has tamed;
- On our sleeves we wear our sexes,
- Our diseases, unashamed.
- Have we lost the mood romantic
- That was once our right by birth?
- Lo! the greenest girl is frantic
- With the woe of all the earth!
- But we know a British rumour,
- And we think it whispers well:
- "We would ventilate our humour
- In the very jaws of hell."
- Though our thoughts turn ever Doomwards,
- Though our sun is well-nigh set,
- Though our Century totters tombwards,
- We may laugh a little yet.'
On the whole, if one must say, parodying Earl Lavender's favourite formula, 'John Davidson shall survive, but Earl Lavender is not quite the fittest,' yet, for my part, I find the obvious faults of the book trouble me but little. Everybody talks too much, and I cordially detest Mrs. Scamler, whom you cannot listen to, and from whom it is equally impossible to seek refuge in sleep. But Earl Lavender, and his henchman, and the whole absurd, entertaining idea of the thing, are realities of the imagination, which I shall often carry with me to Fleet Street and Piccadilly."
Review in Today
The following review appeared in Today, A weekly magazine-journal, edited by Jerome K. Jerome, Vol. 6 (1895)
"The Diary of a Bookseller""I have been compelled to stock a certain number of Mr. John Davison's [sic] ‘’A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender’’. It sells among a class of customer attracted possibly by Mr. Beardsley's unpleasant frontispiece. The book is said—by Mr. Davison's press friends—to be really funny, but I suppose I am too old-fashioned a person to see the wit. This newest of all humour used to be called indecency in my young days, and I am surprised to see a man of Mr. Davison's talents dabbling in a subject which men of the world would tell him is chiefly interesting to elderly debauchées."
- A Full and True Account of the Wonderful Mission of Earl Lavender (1895) Ward & Downey Limited, London
- The Literary World, Vol. 51 (1895) James Clarke & Co., London
- Richard Le Gallienne (1896) Retrospective Reviews: 1893-1895