2. The Why of the Weir

W

HY did Dickens stage the jewelry find in the Cloisterham Weir? Crisparkle's "pilgrimages" (Ch X) to the weir are established early and often; this body of water must have been central in the author's intention. I have postulated elsewhere that Edwin is apprenticed to a group of Druids, and that he vanishes to break his engagement; and more is meant by this 'engagement'. Now consider:

"Rochester is taken to be the real setting, "resemblences are so identifiable as to be almost exact... Whilst a weir at Cloisterham plays an important part in the story, there is no weir at Rochester, the nearest being seven miles away." (Hill)

Considering, then, that the weir nearest to the "real" Cloisterham, Rochester, is a full seven miles away from the fictious spot, it becomes doubly obvious that Dickens had a special motive in mind for the weir when he penned it into the novel.

Then there is this curious greeting of recognition:

"My old fag!" said Mr. Crisparkle. "My old master!" said Mr. Tartar.
"You saved me from drowning!" said Mr. Crisparkle.
"After which you took to swimming, you know!" said Mr. Tartar.
"God bless my soul!" said Mr. Crisparkle.
"Amen!" said Mr. Tartar.
And then they fell to shaking hands most heartily again. (Ch XXI)

Add this frat-like greeting of recognition that, likewise, is concerned with water, and play a hunch. Is there any ritual connection specifically to "weir" that impelled Dickens to place a weir in his story?

Dickens, drawing on the Druid idea, pulls books on the topic. In 1869, Edward "Celtic" Davies' The Mythology and Rites of The British Druid (1809) was a prominant, maybe the most prominant, book on the subject. In it, Davies employs anything in the pre-Roman record that could be made to echo Judeo-Christian myth. In short, the book contains what men like Dickens were led to imagine to be the expression of the ancient Bardic religion of England.

Davies documents his core belief, culled from the Hanes Taliesin, that the wear (weir) was a sacred pagan place...

"Hanes Talesin...relates to a succession of ceremonies, by which the ancient Britons commemorated the history of the deluge..." (255)

"It connects the tale of Gwyddnaw with that of Ceridwen, who chose the time and place, in the exposure of the coracle, so conveiniently for its recovery in the mystical wear, upon the sacred eve."

"Here the noviciate was committed to the sea, which represented the deluge, in a close coracle, the symbol of the ark; and after the example of the just patriarch, was to be saved from the image of the flood, at Gwyddnaw's wear, the type of the mount of debarkation."(248)

"It is evidently a formula in the celebration of mystical rites. It pertains to the ceremony of inclosing the aspirant in the coracle, and launching him into the water...the Probationer, seeing the wear...trembling at the thought of the perilous adventure...etc..." (250)

"The doctrine inculcated by this perilous ceremony, is sufficiently obvious. The same superintending providence, which had protected the magnanimous and amiable patriarch, from the waters of the deluge, would likewise distinguish his worthy descendents and by conducting them in safely to the sacred landing place, ascertain their due admission to the privilege of the Bardic religion. At the same time, the very form and condition of this ceremony must have deterred the pusilanimous candidate, as well as him that was conscious of secret crimes."

Why Crisparkle went immediately to the spot

The key to trying this interpretation is to look at the preceding scene that compels Crisparkle to check the weir. Grewgious suspects trickery so goes to test what Jasper knew of the break of engagement. Jasper lays his acting on thickly; Grewgious remains cynical and scrutinizing. The 'distraught' Jasper is evidentally relishing the predicament the disappearance has placed this most secretive group in; he is munching, chewing away and becomes chatty:

“Do you know,’ said Jasper, when he had pushed away his plate and glass, and had sat meditating for a few minutes: ‘do you know that I find some crumbs of comfort in the communication with which you have so much amazed me?”
“Do you?’ returned Mr. Grewgious, pretty plainly adding the unspoken clause: ‘I don’t, I thank you!”
“I begin to believe it possible:’ here he clasped his hands: ‘that he may have disappeared from among us of his own accord, and that he may yet be alive and well.’
Mr. Crisparkle came in at the moment. To whom Mr. Jasper repeated:
‘I begin to believe it possible that he may have disappeared of his own accord, and may yet be alive and well.”
“But [Crisparkle], too, did really attach great importance to the lost young man’s having been, so immediately before his disappearance, placed in a new and embarrassing relation towards every one acquainted with his projects and affairs; and the fact seemed to him to present the question in a new light.” (Ch 16)

That is when Crisparkle makes a beeline for the weir.

The reader will go on to note the actions of Crisparkle immediately after finding the jewelry. He reports the evidence directly to Sapsea, and they go on to accuse Neville Landless of complicity in the trio's maneuver.

“Mr. Jasper was sent for, the watch and shirt-pin were identified, Neville was detained, and the wildest frenzy and fatuity of evil report rose against him... Before coming to England he had caused to be whipped to death sundry ‘Natives’—nomadic persons, encamping now in Asia, now in Africa, now in the West Indies, and now at the North Pole—vaguely supposed in Cloisterham to be always black, always of great virtue, always calling themselves Me, and everybody else Massa or Missie (according to sex), and always reading tracts of the obscurest meaning, in broken English, but always accurately understanding them in the purest mother tongue.."

Notice here that the first accusation is that he is an agent that has ferreted out 'natives' everywhere he has gone. This echos the earlier scenes in which Sapsea patrols the book look- ing for ‘un-English or ‘dark’ people, designations for outside threats, and once he makes his pro- nouncement the ‘finger of scorn’ is upon the accused. Sapsea declares Jasper both ‘un-English’and ‘dark.’

Subterfuge is what is really at play, subterfuge, through and through: deception by strategem in order to conceal, escape, evade. Of course then Dickens must bury the tracks a bit by sprinkling some surface rendering over the top of it, but as I have presented in earlier work, Honeythunder has imposed his hunting hounds on the community, evidentally having had his suspicion aroused initially by Mrs Crispakle. Neville indeed hates the young Drood, genuinely, until Jasper convinces Drood to repent. From that point, the three are working together.

Drood made it out of town that night; Neville expected him to follow his route: “Neville in the interval, sitting in a sanded parlour, wondering in how long a time after he had gone, the sneezy fire of damp fagots would begin to make somebody else warm.” (Ch 15)

And now the group cannot fulfill Jasper's opium dream and kill this meddling outsider, so long as Drood is out there with the "burden of explanation." The most they can do meantime is to keep Neville under house arrest and hope to convert him.

The motive for planting the jewelry in the weir

Edwin is obliged to undergo the final initiation rite. When he renigs on his commitments, and especially after reassuring Grewgious of his intent to carry through with his engagement, he flaunts his defiance in the most blatant way, planting his father's jewelry in the exact spot of the expected ceremony.


Davies, Edward. Mythology and Rites of the British Druids. London: J. Booth, 1809. Print.

Hill, T.W. Notes On The Mystery of Edwin Drood first published in The Dickensian, 1944.

McKinney, Timothy. Edwin Druid? Household Words Article Suggests Clue

McKinney, Timothy. Dissociation and Druidism in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Surabaya: Universitas Muhammadiyah, 2012. Print.