Sven Karsten: Crisparkle, Harding and All The Loveliest Things

The Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus Crisparkle (Sep­ti­mus, be­cause six lit­tle broth­er Crisparkles be­fore him went out, one by one, as they were born, like six weak lit­tle rush­lights, as they were light­ed), hav­ing bro­ken the thin morn­ing ice near Clois­ter­ham Weir with his ami­able head, much to the in­vig­o­ra­tion of his frame, was now as­sist­ing his cir­cu­la­tion by box­ing at a look­ing-glass with great sci­ence and prowess. A fresh and healthy por­trait the look­ing- glass pre­sent­ed of the Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus, feint­ing and dodg­ing with the ut­most art­ful­ness, and hit­ting out from the shoul­der with the ut­most straight­ness, while his ra­di­ant fea­tures teemed with in­no­cence, and soft-heart­ed benev­o­lence beamed from his box­ing-gloves.

It was scarce­ly break­fast-time yet, for Mrs. Crisparkle — moth­er, not wife of the Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus — was only just down, and wait­ing for the urn. In­deed, the Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus left off at this very mo­ment to take the pret­ty old lady's en­ter­ing face be­tween his box­ing-gloves and kiss it. Hav­ing done so with ten­der­ness, the Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus turned to again, coun­ter­ing with his left, and putting in his right, in a tremen­dous man­ner.

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Septimus Crisparkle 
(Rev. Robert Whiston) 
in the year 1880

N my pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle I’ve tried to af­firm a di­rect link and suc­ces­sion be­tween two nov­els of the clas­sic En­glish lit­er­a­ture of the XIX cen­tu­ry: The War­den by An­tho­ny Trol­lope and The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dick­ens. I as­sert­ed and still hold to that opin­ion, that the un­fin­ished, but yet one of the great­est works of the mas­ter nov­el­ist (‘the in­com­pa­ra­ble one’) is noth­ing but a ge­nius par­o­dy of the Trol­lope’s first novel, which is far from per­fect, the novel, in which the be­gin­ner nov­el­ist, al­ready ac­ri­mo­nious and ar­ro­gant, dared sat­i­rize the men­tor of En­glish Lit­er­a­ture as Mr. Pop­u­lar Sen­ti­ment. I also as­sert­ed—now I’m even more con­fi­dent re­gard­ing this the­o­ry—that Charles Dick­ens’s novel is also full of much more del­i­cate and de­tailed counter par­o­dies of An­tho­ny Trol­lope. These par­o­dies could be only un­der­stood by his of­fend­er, but might have re­mained un­no­ticed by the rest of read­ers. At least three of the minor char­ac­ters—the Verg­er of Clois­ter­ham Cathe­dral Mr. Tope, hav­ing very poor un­der­stand­ing of gram­mar; ‘poplar Au­thor’ An­tho­ny Dur­dles, a stone­ma­son and a hard drinker; and es­pe­cial­ly Baz­zard, the un­suc­cess­ful play­wright—have much of the fea­tures so com­mon to An­tho­ny Trol­lope dur­ing dif­fer­ent stages of his life, the co­in­ci­dence that bare­ly could be ac­ci­den­tal. I’d like to go even fur­ther by mak­ing a state­ment that might ap­pear un­ex­pect­ed or even dan­ger­ous to some of you:

Trol­lope’s The War­den is the key to un­lock The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dick­ens, and the com­par­i­son of two nov­els might help to un­rav­el the mys­tery be­hind the de­tec­tive story, that has con­sid­ered ‘un­solv­able’ for more than 140 years.

The ev­i­dence of this state­ment is way too big to be ex­plained in the con­text of one sin­gle ar­ti­cle, but I hope each of you will have enough facts as you reach the end for the ar­ti­cle to solve the mys­tery by your­self. Let’s start with the very be­gin­ning, let’s find out, who the pro­to­type of Minor Canon Sep­ti­mus Crisparkle, the key char­ac­ter of the Dick­ens’s novel was. I part­ly gave the an­swer to this ques­tion in the pre­vi­ous chap­ter of my in­ves­ti­ga­tion, by in­tro­duc­ing Robert Whis­ton, who was one of the six Canons of Rochester Cathe­dral in the 40s of the XIX cen­tu­ry. He was also the head­mas­ter of the King’s School. We can see a link be­tween the name of his po­si­tion ‘head­mas­ter’ and the last name Hard­head or ‘a hard prin­ci­ple’. Canon Whis­ton was re­al­ly ex­ces­sive­ly hard and se­vere to our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, his teach­ing ways and dis­ci­pline were in the tra­di­tion of the Mid­dle Ages—in other words, he could eas­i­ly birch a boy in his class­room. One of his for­mer stu­dents, Edwin Arnold (Edwin!), a well-known poet and jour­nal­ist of the cen­tu­ry, pub­lished an ar­ti­cle in Daily Tele­graph de­scrib­ing The Rev. Whis­ton walk­ing along the rows of stu­dents with a birch in his hand, ready to pun­ish any­one for a prank or idle­ness by whip­ping them badly on calves, thus poor boys had to pro­tect them­selves by plac­ing old news­pa­pers and fold­ed copy­books under the tights. Nev­er­the­less, ac­cord­ing to the same jour­nal­ist, The Rev. Whis­ton was held in love and re­spect for his au­thor­i­ty, for he was no only strict, but also just and fair, and never pun­ished any­one with­out a rea­son and tend to for­give a mis­take if pos­si­ble.

Crisparkle’s whole bi­og­ra­phy was based on real life events of The Rev. Whis­ton. Robert Whis­ton was born in 1808, mean­ing he was 35 years old by 1842 (The year of Drood’s dis­ap­pear­ance). His par­ents had a large fam­i­ly, just like Sep­ti­mus, who was the sev­enth child. Robert stud­ied in Cam­bridge, at The Col­lege of the Holy and Un­di­vid­ed Trin­i­ty in the late 20s, he was pas­sion­ate about box­ing—and prob­a­bly could have been nick­named as ‘Frosty-faced Fogo’ just like Crisparkle (note: 1830 was the last year of Jack Fogo’s pro­fes­sion­al ca­reer in box­ing). Whis­ton met young John Lloyd Allan dur­ing his col­lege years, their friend­ship—just like the friend­ship of Crisparkle and Tar­tar—was to be re­sumed years later, when John was ap­point­ed un­der-mas­ter at The King’s School in 1842-43s. Robert Whis­ton was the head­mas­ter at the Rochester and Chatham Clas­si­cal and Math­e­mat­i­cal School by the time he be­came a priest and a Minor Canon at Rochester Cathe­dral in 1840—the same fash­ion Crisparkle was en­gaged in teach­ing ac­tiv­i­ty be­fore he met Drood, and then just like Whis­ton he be­came a Minor Canon of Clois­ter­ham pro­mot­ed by a pa­tron. Minor Canon Row was given him as a lodg­ing, it’s bet­ter known as ‘The house of Sep­ti­mus Crisparkle’ now. The Rev. Crisparkle lived alone with his old moth­er; The Rev. Whis­ton was also sin­gle by 1842, it’s re­mark­able that his fu­ture wife’s name was He­le­na, with the last name Lloyd (but not Land­less), she was John’s sis­ter.

The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood might give an im­pres­sion, that the cler­gy of Clois­ter­ham Cathe­dral only con­sist­ed of The Dean and Crisparkle him­self, since no other char­ac­ter ap­pears through­out the novel, ex­cept for Mr. Tope maybe. How­ev­er the re­al­i­ty was dif­fer­ent: there were five other Canons in Rochester Cathe­dral—The Rev. and Hon. Fred­er­ick Hotham, Dr Matthew Irv­ing, Dr John Grif­fith, Dr Ed­ward Hawkins, and the Archdea­con, Dr Walk­er King, who were obliged to pro­vide Church Ser­vices three times a day dur­ing two months each year, while the rest ten months should be spent in a cot­tage out­side Rochester. Robert Whis­ton was too poor to af­ford a cot­tage, there­fore he had to spend the whole year in his nar­row lodg­ing at Minor Canon Row. Thus, he was able to take part in any ser­vices he wished. This part-time po­si­tion gave him the op­por­tu­ni­ty to com­bine his work as a Canon with the head­mas­ter po­si­tion—he earned ad­di­tion­al 150 Pounds as the head­mas­ter of the King’s School.

An ed­u­cat­ed man with good physique, pleas­ant voice, full of en­thu­si­asm, who likes sport, and just like Crisparkle 'was a firm be­liev­er in games, in ex­er­cise of all kinds, in fresh air and in cold bath,' a man of strong be­lieves, hand­some and kind-heart­ed, who had a good rep­u­ta­tion both as a teach­er and a priest—that was ex­act­ly the per­son, in the eyes of the cler­gy, wor­thy of being the head­mas­ter of a boys’ school. And that man, I would add, was wor­thy of be­com­ing the pro­to­type of a pro­tag­o­nist of Charles Dick­ens’s novel—a char­ac­ter, who is ready to fight for the rep­u­ta­tion and well-be­ing of his schol­ars against Cathe­dral Chap­ter, the au­thor­i­ty and even the phi­lan­thropist ma­chine. The Rev. Whis­ton proved it in re­al­i­ty by stand­ing for the schol­ars of his school, while The Rev. Crisparkle proved the same as a char­ac­ter of a novel, pro­tect­ing Neville Land­less, who fell into dis­favour with all.

The de­tails of the con­fronta­tion be­tween The Rev. Whis­ton and the En­glish Church have very lit­tle to do with the novel The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood. Of course, that con­fronta­tion is in­ter­est­ing, but as a sep­a­rate issue to a nar­row cir­cle of ex­perts. Let’s not be dis­tract­ed and get more in­for­ma­tion about the ac­tu­al pro­cess of the Church ser­vices, and who was in charge of those singings—a Church singer, a Choir­mas­ter, or a Pre­cen­tor or what­ev­er you call it.

Here is the first sur­prise, Minor Canon had to act as a Church Singer him­self, in­stead of Canon Pre­cen­tor (from Latin ‘the first singer’). Canon Pre­cen­tor — is the sec­ond po­si­tion of au­thor­i­ty after The Dean with­in a re­li­gious hi­er­ar­chy, and Pre­cen­tor was al­lowed to con­duct Church ser­vices him­self, i.e. to re­place The Dean dur­ing sick­ness or ab­sence for any other rea­son. The main pro­fes­sion­al re­quire­ment for Canons was a strong and pleas­ant voice, that’s it. ‘WHEN THE WICKED MAN…’ — was sup­posed to sing Minor Canon Crisparkle, but not John Jasper. Well, ac­cord­ing to the novel The Rev. Sep­ti­mus pos­sessed those mu­si­cal abil­i­ties: he de­liv­ers him­self in mu­si­cal rhythm singing some melod­ic roulades in Chap­ter II — ‘Tell me, shep-herds, te-e-ell me; tell me-e-e, have you seen…’ The Rev. Canon Whis­ton also had a pret­ty good voice, as it was con­firmed by his con­tem­po­raries.

Suc­cen­tor (from Latin ‘un­der-singer’) — or the as­sis­tant to Pre­cen­tor is the third po­si­tion of au­thor­i­ty in the hi­er­ar­chy. Suc­cen­tor just like Pre­cen­tor were both at­tribut­ed to the cler­gy, in other words — again not the case with John Jasper, con­sid­er­ing that the Suc­cen­tor po­si­tion wasn’t even list­ed in Rochester Cathe­dral.

Then who Jasper re­al­ly was? He prob­a­bly was a lay clerk, or a vi­car­ius. Lay clerks were not re­lat­ed to the cler­gy, they were only pro­fes­sion­al singers in En­glish cathe­drals, who usu­al­ly worked for half a Canons’ salary. Lay clerks re­hearse psalms and other re­li­gious songs with cho­ris­ters, rewrite and dis­tribute sheet music and some­times do ac­count­ing for the choir, but you can’t call them ei­ther Pre­cen­tors or con­duc­tors or re­gents — that would be too much of a flat­tery, for those po­si­tions were re­served ex­clu­sive­ly for Canons.

How­ev­er, Dick­ens never refers to John Jasper as ‘a lay clerk’, he rather calls him ‘a choir­mas­ter’. Nev­er­the­less, read­ers might get the im­pres­sion that John Jasper was with­in the re­li­gious hi­er­ar­chy, being equal with Canon Crisparkle, and even su­pe­ri­or to him when it came to music skills. Prob­a­bly, Dick­ens did it on pur­pose, that im­pres­sion was nec­es­sary, in order to con­struct an an­tag­o­nist who was equal in pow­ers with Crisparkle, the pro­tag­o­nist of the novel—in other words, speak­ing ro­man­tic lan­guage, to con­trast a White Knight with a Dark Knight.

Good is said to be ex­posed in its fight against Evil, and Virtue is bet­ter shad­owed by Vice. We might as­sume that Jasper and Crisparkle made to­geth­er the Unity of Light and Dark­ness, just like Yin Yang, or even like Lu­cifer and Ze­baoth, fight­ing over the souls of hu­man­i­ty—in our case, Neville Land­less: the first tries to ruin him, while the sec­ond tries to save. How­ev­er, the most amaz­ing thing is, that Dick­ens picked up Trol­lope’s pro­tag­o­nist (The Rev. Canon Pre­cen­tor Hard­ing) to recre­ate him as the an­tag­o­nist of his novel. The bat­tle of two Sep­ti­mus — such an amus­ing con­fronta­tion it is.

In­deed, The Rev. Canon Hard­ing has so many sim­i­lar­i­ties with Choir­mas­ter Jasper, it is so ob­vi­ous, that any­one would see the suc­ces­sion after read­ing The War­den while hav­ing the Droods’ story in mind.

Of course, they were to­tal­ly dif­fer­ent in ap­pear­ance from each other—Canon, an el­der­ly man and Jasper, a pret­ty young choir­mas­ter, though they both wore black, ex­act­ly what a cler­gy­man is sup­posed to wear. How­ev­er, Trol­lope men­tioned in the novel, that The Rev. Canon Hard­ing also wore a black neck-hand­ker­chief, which ‘some­what scan­dalised some of his more hy­per­cler­i­cal brethren.’ And choir­mas­ter Jasper, as we re­mem­ber, also had a black scarf of strong close-wo­ven silk, which also didn’t re­main un­no­ticed by con­gre­ga­tion.

The Rev. Hard­ing, ac­cord­ing to Trol­lope, adores his younger daugh­ter Eleanor, whom she some­times lov­ing­ly calls Nelly. Choir­mas­ter Jasper also loves his nephew Edwin end­less­ly, whom he also ten­der­ly calls Ned. Mr. Hard­ing im­proves the mu­si­cal­i­ty of the cathe­dral choir, Jasper does the same at his Cathe­dral.

The Rev. Hard­ing — is an ex­cep­tion­al mu­si­cian, who oc­ca­sion­al­ly plays vi­o­lon­cel­lo to his noble au­di­ence. He was in the habit of wav­ing his hands in the air, as if play­ing imag­i­nary in­stru­ments in the mo­ments of worry or anx­i­ety. Choir­mas­ter Jasper — is also a great mu­si­cian, he amazes the au­di­ence play­ing the piano mas­ter­ly at ‘Al­ter­nate Mu­si­cal Wednes­days.’ In the mo­ment of stress, for ex­am­ple, when his stu­dent Rosa sud­den­ly breaks into a burst of tears in the mid­dle of a song, he, just like Hard­ing, con­tin­ues play­ing in his mind with his fin­gers pois­ing above the keys in the air.

Hard­ing’s young daugh­ter Eleanor is in love with a hand­some young man called John Bold, whom the el­der­ly Canon also sym­pa­thizes. Jasper’s nephew Edwin is also in love with a charm­ing young lady Rosa Bud, where­as his own uncle also lusts se­cret­ly for his young fi­ancee. John Bold has a neg­a­tive at­ti­tude to­wards The Rev. Hard­ing and even­tu­al­ly breaks up with his daugh­ter Eleanor. The same here, Rosa Bud both hates and fears Choir­mas­ter Jasper and ter­mi­nates her be­trothal with his nephew Edwin.

And last­ly, their lodg­ing are iden­ti­cal, as if they were copied one from the other: they both live close to Cathe­dral with a river flow­ing around. The Lon­don road cross­es the river by a pret­ty one-arched bridge. Canon Hard­ing’s house is lo­cat­ed fur­ther from the bridge, be­yond a ‘pon­der­ous gate­way under a heavy stone arch’, while Jasper has a sim­i­lar stone gate­house with an ‘arched thor­ough­fare pass­ing.’

In con­clu­sion, after sum­ming up all those co­in­ci­den­tal match­es one might as­sume, that Dick­ens sim­ply picked up some of Trol­lope’s char­ac­ters im­prov­ing them and as­sign­ing them to dif­fer­ent roles, work­ing out more fas­ci­nat­ing, il­lus­tra­tive and so­phis­ti­cat­ed plot for his novel.

Was it pos­si­ble for An­tho­ny Trol­lope not to read Charles Dick­ens’s lat­est novel, the au­thor whom he un­will­ing­ly had to admit to be the most loved and pop­u­lar au­thor of Eng­land? Of course not. Was it pos­si­ble for An­tho­ny Trol­lope not to rec­og­nize in The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood the plot of his own novel The War­den, which had been so mag­i­cal­ly meta­mor­phosed; his own char­ac­ters in Dick­ens’s novel; and ‘the sec­ond-rate char­ac­ters’ to be the im­per­son­ations of his own life­time? Well, not re­al­ly. He sure­ly ex­pect­ed that reply, after he had sat­i­rized the local mas­ter of words so fierce­ly—not only ex­pect­ed but was long­ing for that reply dur­ing these fif­teen years! Would An­tho­ny Trol­lope share this un­pleas­ant dis­cov­ery with pub­lic in his Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy six years later or with any­one par­tic­u­lar? He wouldn’t—not even for all the Tea in China!

But let’s cease talk­ing about Trol­lope and get back to dis­cus­sion of his ac­tu­al work. Chap­ter XI of The War­den, the key chap­ter of the novel is called ‘Iphi­ge­nia’ in hon­our of Agamem­non’s daugh­ter in Greek Mythol­o­gy. In this Chap­ter The Rev. Canon Hard­ing’s daugh­ter Eleanor just like Iphi­ge­nia de­cides to sac­ri­fice her­self for a vil­lain John Bold, un­able to tor­ment her fa­ther’s suf­fer­ing caused by li­bel­lous pam­phlets and feuil­letons pub­lished by her beloved ‘fight­er for the truth’. She thinks by doing this she could make John feel ashamed of dis­grac­ing his own fa­ther-in-law! Not to be men­tioned, the story, con­struct­ed in the tra­di­tion of the best ro­mances, pays Eleanor back for her self­less­ness—John Bold con­fess­es his love to Eleanor fol­low­ing with end­less tears and vows on both sides. The con­tem­po­rary Iphi­ge­nia does not sac­ri­fice any­thing, but in­stead is ac­cept­ed with love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

How­ev­er, in the orig­i­nal An­cient Greek story, Iphi­ge­nia did not want to sac­ri­fice her­self for the well-be­ing of her fa­ther. It was fa­ther Agamem­non who de­cides to sac­ri­fice his own daugh­ter to Artemis, as de­mand­ed by Calchas the sooth­say­er, in a re­turn for a tail­wind for his ships to sail safe­ly to Troy. Agamem­non fools his wife Clytemnes­tra into bring­ing Iphi­ge­nia to Aulis by send­ing a let­ter to Clytemnes­tra telling her that Iphi­ge­nia will be mar­ried to Achilles.

There are var­i­ous leg­ends of Iphi­ge­nia with dif­fer­ent end­ings, very sim­i­lar to the story of Edwin Drood. Ac­cord­ing to one leg­end, Iphi­ge­nia is suc­cess­ful­ly sac­ri­ficed by her fa­ther, while ac­cord­ing to an­oth­er leg­end—a deer is put in Iphi­ge­nia’s place as the poor lass is about to be slain, then she is trans­ferred to Tau­ris with the help of Artemis. Of course there is such a ‘deer’ for sub­sti­tute in The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood (the one that was stoned by Deputy in Chap­ter XVIII). I’ve read so many times the­o­ries about Jasper tak­ing the corpse of that ‘deer’, who died so time­ly, in­stead of his nephew into the Droods’ crypt, but you must admit, that such kind of so­lu­tions are very un­like to the ge­nius of Dick­ens.

Dick­ens skil­ful­ly adapt­ed Trol­lope’s idea of Eleanor Hard­ing’s sac­ri­fice into the de­tec­tive plot of his novel. But how sac­ri­fice is pos­si­ble, if there is a crim­i­nal com­po­nent in the story, and the ques­tion is: Dead or Alive? Self-sac­ri­fice plus death equals sui­cide.

Con­sid­er Edwin Drood’s sui­cide! What a pre­pos­ter­ous idea! Edwin did not have a sin­gle rea­son for com­mit­ting a sui­cide. Yes, he was re­ject­ed by a woman, but al­ready had an­oth­er in his mind. He had nei­ther shame, no fear, nor any other neg­a­tive feel­ings. His fu­ture well-be­ing was se­cured by his fa­ther’s wealth. As for Jasper, Edwin had no idea that his opi­um-smok­ing uncle was going to mur­der him!

Ex­act­ly—to mur­der, to sac­ri­fice some­one for one’s own prof­it! Jasper is just like Agamem­non! Jasper is men­tioned un­am­bigu­ous­ly as a mur­der­er in Dick­ens’s notes to the novel, and it was even ob­vi­ous from the plot, that Jasper was plan­ning some­thing evil against his ‘ten­der­ly loved’ nephew. Is it pos­si­ble to com­bine both mur­der and sui­cide in one story?!

Quite sim­ple, the same so­lu­tion we could find in so many other de­tec­tive sto­ries—a mur­der­er fakes his vic­tim’s sui­cide in order to re­main be­yond sus­pi­cion. It was not Edwin who com­mit­ted a sui­cide, but Jasper who faked Edwin’s sui­cide.

And now think, what a sui­cide might it be, and how Jasper might fake it in order to ‘come out at last’, as it was writ­ten in the notes to the novel—think and you will re­veal the real pur­pose of Mrs. Sapsea’s mon­u­ment, why Edwin’s pock­et watch was found on the Weir, the rea­son be­hind Jasper’s ha­tred to Neville Land­less, where Edwin dis­ap­pears and much more. An­tho­ny Trol­lope’s novel is the key to un­lock the Mys­ter­ies of The Drood fam­i­ly, as if it was Mrs. Sapsea’s mon­u­ment. Be­hold, and you will find a pile of quick­lime, Mrs. Bud’s be­trothal ring and even the black scarf of the mur­der­er-choir­mas­ter in the shad­ows of the mon­u­ment!

I don’t want to spoil the plea­sure of solv­ing the mys­tery, so I’ll leave it to you. Thus, you may join the threads of the story and find that ul­ti­mate so­lu­tion, earth­ly and un­ro­man­tic, but yet so very sim­ple. Today is Au­gust’ 14th 2014. So­lu­tion was found on May’ 6 th, which I fur­ther put into an ex­haus­tive script on June’ 1st. The Script was ap­proved by an­oth­er Drood­i­an and even put on stage. The so­lu­tion is going to be re­vealed for pub­lic at the First ever held Drood Con­fer­ence in Lon­don on Septem­ber’ 20 th. Also will be post­ed on my web­site.

See you there and Happy rev­e­la­tions!

Translated by Lucius Tellus