1. Edwin Druid? Household Words Article Suggests Clue

First published at "Mr. McKinney's Class"

No cred­i­ble schol­ar speaks any­more about The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood in terms of ‘solv­ing’ it, not that pat­terns haven’t been no­ticed. A theme of re­pres­sion per­vades the text and, as Lau­ri­at Lane writes:

...allusion and echo call to mind pat­terns of an­cient myth and rit­u­al, sac­ri­fice and re­demp­tion, good and evil. Such pat­terns are coded sym­bol­i­cal­ly, cul­tur­al­ly, and even sem­i­cal­ly in Dick­ens's Edwin Drood in ways that have not yet been fully ap­pre­hend­ed, though some read­ers have sensed them. (122)

Is a ‘fuller ap­pre­hend­ing’ pos­si­ble? A House­hold Words ar­ti­cle might hold the key.

“The good old times”

An ar­ti­cle that had come across Dick­ens’s plate as House­hold Words ed­i­tor bears re­sem­blance to the char­ac­ter Mayor Sapsea in Drood. The short piece tells of an al­der­man Blenk­in­sop who stub­born­ly re­sists change pre­fer­ring the ‘good old times.’ Blenk­in­sop gets drunk and an an­i­mat­ed stat­ue teach­es the im­pli­ca­tions of hold­ing such mis­placed rev­er­ence for his­to­ry, talk­ing Blenk­in­sop back­ward in time, all the way to Druidism and human sac­ri­fices, the log­i­cal con­clu­sion of ad­her­ing to ‘the good old times.’

Was it in the good old times that Harold fell at Hast­ings, and William the Con­queror en­slaved Eng­land? Were those bliss­ful years the ages of monkery... Of Dan­ish rav­age and slaugh­ter? Or were they those of the Saxon Hep­tarchy, and the wor­ship of Thor and Odin? Of the ad­vent of Hengist and Horsa? Of British sub­ju­ga­tion by the Ro­mans? Or, last­ly, must we go back to the An­cient Britons, Druidism, and human sac­ri­fices; and say that those were the real, unadul­ter­at­ed, gen­uine, good old times when the true-blue na­tives of this is­land went naked, paint­ed with woad? (Leigh 106)

Dick­ens wrote to the au­thor, friend Per­ci­val Leigh, “your moral that the real old times are the old­est times is charm­ing.” (Dick­ens’s Let­ters)

Thomas Sapsea

Blenk­in­sop and Sapsea share par­al­lels, enough at least, to won­der aloud that Dick­ens might have had him in mind as Drood was ges­tat­ing.

Both char­ac­ters re­sist change. Blenk­in­sop “had suc­cess­ful­ly op­posed all the Beetle­bury im­prove­ments...” while Sapsea main­tains a “strong­ly felt con­vic­tion that there never should be, never would be a rail­road” con­nect­ing his town with the city. Both wield their pe­cu­liar nos­tal­gia with a lu­di­crous self-re­gard. “This title [“a man of wor­ship”] would prob­a­bly have pleased [Blenk­in­sop] very much.” (Leigh 103) Sapsea “dress­es at the dean… is mis­tak­en for the dean and is spo­ken to in the street as ‘my lord and bish­op.’ Blenk­in­sop con­tem­plates a high­ly revered pub­lic work of art as Sapsea con­sid­ers his own mon­u­ment to Mrs. Sapsea.

In Sapsea, Dick­ens might be ex­ag­ger­at­ing to ex­treme Leigh’s ‘charm­ing’ idea of stick­ing to ‘the good old times’. The al­der­man is pro­mot­ed to mayor, and his anachro­nis­tic ide­als ex­tend to his con­stituents. The towns­folk “seem to sup­pose all changes lie be­hind it, and that there are no more to come.” And again, Clois­ter­ham is “a city of an­oth­er and a by­gone time.”

In short, Blenk­in­sop/Sapsea holds suf­fi­cient cor­re­la­tion to ex­plore this premise: Led by Mayor Sapsea, Clois­ter­ham se­cret­ly main­tains the good old (Druidic) times.

The Sapsea Frag­ment

Among Dick­ens’s pa­pers at his death were five half-sized pages treat­ing Mr. Sapsea, Since it was like­ly writ­ten early in the Drood pro­cess, in other words, at a time Dick­ens was still crys­tal­liz­ing his plan, the ‘Sapsea Frag­ment’ is a good start­ing place to try the premise.

Arthur Cox writes,“The first thing we no­tice is that [the frag­ment] has no ap­par­ent con­nec­tion with the sub­ject mat­ter of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood …. looks like a by-blow, a piece of writ­ing tan­gen­tial to the much more de­mand­ing work he had in mind.” (34).

In the frag­ment, Sapsea’s group, The Eight Club, cas­ti­gates him for his being mis­tak­en on the street as “high in the Church.”

"'I was al­lud­ing, Mr. Sapsea,' said Kim­ber, 'to a stranger who en­tered into con­ver­sa­tion with me in the street as I came to the Club. He had been speak­ing to you just be­fore, it seemed, by the church­yard; and though you had told him who you were, I could hard­ly per­suade him that you were not high in the Church.'

"'Idiot!' said Peartree.

"'Ass!' said Kim­ber.

"'Idiot and Ass!" said the other five mem­bers.

Has this noth­ing to do with the novel as read­ers have re­ceived it? It would seem not. Yet the ques­tion to be asked is, “why should the Eight Club be es­pe­cial­ly con­cerned that a stranger be­lieves Sapsea is a re­li­gious fig­ure? Sapsea rea­sons to the stranger, “Your name is Poker, and there is no harm in being named Poker.” The Eight Club sens­es oth­er­wise, and their anx­i­ety ex­plains why this par­tic­u­lar boast­ing gen­er­ates their ‘scorn­ful’ re­ac­tion.

That Poker is in­deed ‘pok­ing around’ is made clear­er in that he reap­pears ‘with­in a few yards of the door of the inn where the Club was held.”

Hard­ly ‘tan­gen­tial’ then, is this ‘by-blow’ as two cen­tral points cor­re­spond to the premise: A group con­cerned that Sapsea is iden­ti­fied as a re­li­gious lead­er. And a ‘Poker’ who makes in­roads into un­cov­er­ing a pos­si­bly ‘re­li­gious’ group by ex­ploit­ing Sapsea’s van­i­ty.

Al­low­ing for the mo­ment the Eight Club idea as gen­e­sis for a clos­et, pre-Chris­tian group, still, is there any ev­i­dence in The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood that sup­ports a Druidic con­nec­tion? The an­swer may be sur­pris­ing.

So­lar-as­tro­nom­i­cal Pre­oc­cu­pa­tion

Terry Cov­er­ley’s work on his Dick­ens Themes web­site does a nice job demon­strat­ing a clear pat­tern of so­lar-as­tro­nom­i­cal ref­er­ences in the novel.

Split­ting Drood into two parts-be­fore and after mid­night De­cem­ber 24 (just be­fore the end of Chap­ter 15) - pro­duces some in­ter­est­ing search re­sults.

A search for ‘sun’ in Part One (ig­nor­ing all gen­er­al, non-sea­son­al ref­er­ences) finds:

‘Not only is the day wan­ing, but the year. The low sun is fiery and yet cold’, ‘by the de­clin­ing sun’, ‘red­dened by the sun­set’, ‘faced the wind at sun­set’, ‘when the sun is down’, ‘the wes­t­er­ing sun be­stowed bright glances on it… ‘the sun dipped in the river.’

‘So the sun is in con­stant de­cline, and even in the final ci­ta­tion, in ‘dan­ger’ of being ex­tin­guished.

In Part Two, how­ev­er, after the Win­ter Sol­stice, the sun no longer sinks. There’s not even one more sun­set. In­stead, the sun rises. Crisparkle ‘was back again at sun­rise’.

A close link is made be­tween the sun and life and health:”

• ‘But no trace of Edwin Drood re­vis­it­ed the light of the sun.’

• ‘For still no trace of Edwin Drood re­vis­it­ed the light of the sun.’

• Crisparkle to Neville: “I want more light to shine upon you.”

• And again: “She has to draw you into the sun­light.”

• “They pre­ferred air and light to Fever and the Plague.”

There are just 76 oc­cur­rences of ‘moon­li’ in the al­most 4,000,000 words of Dick­ens’s other 14 nov­els. In Part One of Drood (less than 60,000 words) there are 22. And in Part Two, none at all! Moon­light van­ish­es en­tire­ly- re­placed by stars and starlight (which, them­selves, like ‘day­light’, don’t occur in Part One). The word ‘moon’ oc­curs 28 times in Part One and 29 times in total.”(Cov­er­ley)

Jasper’s shad­ow on the sun­di­al

Con­tin­u­ing with the premise that a group of sun-wor­ship­pers se­cret­ly hides in the pages of Drood, who is Poker’s coun­ter­part threat­en­ing to cut off solar com­mu­nion, vital to the ear­li­est En­glish­men? Of course, pos­ter­i­ty reads Jasper as a vil­lain. Under the pro­posed premise, Jasper’s ‘shad­owy’ char­ac­ter is re-con­ceived.

• He casts a soli­tary shad­ow.

• He lives in shad­ow.

• He casts a shad­ow on the sun­di­al.

• Jasper’s rooms are “most­ly in shad­ow even when the sun is shin­ing bril­liant­ly.”

Sapsea pa­trols the book look­ing for ‘un-En­glish or ‘dark’ peo­ple, des­ig­na­tions for out­side threats, and once he makes his pro­nounce­ment the ‘fin­ger of scorn’ is upon the ac­cused. Sapsea de­clares Jasper both ‘un-En­glish’ and ‘dark.’‘

In fact Jasper is writ­ing a book about the town. In a key line that sums up Jasper’s threat the Dean charges, “You are ev­i­dent­ly going to write a book about us, Mr. Jasper,” To write a book about us, well! We are very an­cient…per­haps you will call at­ten­tion to our wrongs.”

Some­thing like this

We might imag­ine Dick­ens re­calls the Leigh ar­ti­cle and, in the Frag­ment,ex­plores the cu­ri­ous idea of ‘mod­ern En­glish Druids. What we re­ceive in the novel is this idea, re­fined and mas­ter­ful­ly woven large­ly through sym­bol­ism and dou­ble­s­peak into the orig­i­nal sto­ry­line of Edwin and Rosa’s en­gage­ment.

Is it pos­si­ble?

Dick­ens hints that Clois­ter­ham was “once pos­si­bly known to the Druids by an­oth­er name and a name, more or less in the course of many cen­turies can be of lit­tle mo­ment to its dusty chron­i­cles.” “We are an an­cient city and an ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal city,” Mayor Sapsea boasts. “The town’s ar­chi­tec­ture is a mix of an­cient and con­tem­po­rary much as kin­dred jum­bled no­tions have be­come in­cor­po­rat­ed into many of its cit­i­zens’ minds.”

Michael Holling­ton in Dick­ens and the Grotesque looks at Dick­ens’s A Child’s His­to­ry of Eng­land, and notes, “Dick­ens sense of his­to­ry is fre­quent­ly shot through with a sense of irony.” Holling­ton notes in­stances of this in Bleak House:

But of course Bleak House... shows how many Druids are op­er­at­ing now, in the legal and po­lit­i­cal spheres, for in­stance, and how many magic cir­cles they de­scribe, so that the streets of Lon­don offer ‘a shame­ful tes­ti­mo­ny to fu­ture ages, how civ­i­liza­tion and bar­barism walked this boast­ful is­land to­geth­er.’ (98)

Ul­ti­mate­ly, to rise above con­jec­ture, the premise of an em­bed­ded story of clos­et Druids must be testable against other pas­sages of the book.

As a quick ex­am­ple, con­sid­er Drood’s open­ing of Jasper’s dream:

An an­cient En­glish Cathe­dral Tower? How can the an­cient En­glish Cathe­dral tower be here!... There is no spike of rusty iron in the air, be­tween the eye and it, from any point of the real prospect. What is the spike that in­ter­venes, and who has set it up? Maybe it is set up by the Sul­tan's or­ders for the im­pal­ing of a horde of Turk­ish rob­bers, one by one.

Anachro­nism is im­me­di­ate­ly in play. How can a cathe­dral co-ex­ist with this ‘Ara­bi­an’ mi­lieu? And Jasper’s fear here is of ‘ex­e­cu­tion’ by a ‘Sul­tan’; it is a ‘reach’ to in­ter­pret the dream as Jasper con­tem­plat­ing Edwin’s mur­der. The im­agery doesn’t fit. But it does the premise.

Un­less fur­ther ev­i­dence emerges, it can­not be proven Dick­ens used Leigh’s ar­ti­cle; what is a fact is that Dick­ens had con­sid­ered the idea that the good old times ex­tends back to Druidism. The work to fol­low is whether this cu­ri­ous idea is de­tectable in The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, and, if so, how Druidism re­lates to the cen­tral mys­tery of Edwin’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

Part II
The Ap­pren­tice­ship of Edwin Drood: Rite of the True Lover

In Part I, I raised the premise that Clois­ter­ham har­bors a clos­et group of sun-wor­ship­ing Druids. Mayor Sapsea leads the com­mu­ni­ty and Jasper at­tempts to un­cov­er it. This paper aims to demon­strate the me­chan­ics of sym­bol­ism and dou­ble­s­peak con­ceal­ing the Druid story in the su­per­fi­cial story. 

Edwin Drood, Druid Ap­pren­tice­

Lau­ri­at Lane rais­es a per­ti­nent ques­tion:

Why should ... Edwin Drood have as his first name that of an early Northum­bri­an king con­vert­ed to Chris­tian­i­ty but later over­thrown and killed by the still pagan Mer­cians and as his last name one that com­bines Druid, a pre-Chris­tian priest­hood, with Rood, the An­glo-Sax­on Cross? (124)

Lane’s spec­u­la­tion is worth adding be­cause its phras­ing ex­act­ly de­scribes Edwin Drood’s predica­ment — a pagan mar­tyred for Chris­tian con­ver­sion. The ves­pers read­ing in “The Dawn” an­nounces the theme of re­pen­tance lying at the heart of the mys­tery. “When the wicked man tur­neth away from his wicked­ness that he hath com­mit­ted, and doeth that which is law­ful and right, he shall save his soul alive.“ (Ez 18:27)Dick­ens pro­vides first hand doc­u­men­ta­tion of what he knew of Druidism:

The Britons had a strange and ter­ri­ble re­li­gion, called the Re­li­gion of the Druids. [It seems] to have mixed up the wor­ship of the Ser­pent, and of the Sun and Moon, with the wor­ship of some of the Hea­then Gods and God­dess­es. Most of its cer­e­monies were kept se­cret by the priests, the Druids... cer­e­monies in­clud­ed the sac­ri­fice of human vic­tims, the tor­ture of some sus­pect­ed crim­i­nals.... They met to­geth­er in dark woods...and there they in­struct­ed, in their mys­te­ri­ous arts, young men who came to them as pupils, and who some­times stayed with them as long as twen­ty years. (Child’s Ch 1)

Dick­ens re­peats the last line in the next para­graph, “...and their pupils who stayed with them twen­ty years...” (Ch 1)

Edwin Drood is twen­ty years old.

Req­ui­site fore­knowl­edge

The im­pen­e­tra­bil­i­ty of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood is due large­ly to the sym­bol­ic clues that are not con­ve­nient­ly com­pact­ed as they are in this paper. The ‘trail’ grows ‘hot­ter’ and ‘cold­er’ through Dick­ens’s un­fin­ished ex­per­i­ment, and the so­lu­tion builds layer upon layer only after the read­er has suf­fi­cient fa­mil­iar­i­ty with the man­ner and ap­plies this aware­ness or­ches­tral­ly.

Take the fol­low­ing scene where­in Mr. Grew­gious at­tempts a po­et­ic de­scrip­tion of a lover seek­ing his beloved, liken­ing it as to “a bird seek­ing its nest.” The read­er must have req­ui­site fore­knowl­edge a) Edwin is a Druid at the end of his ap­pren­tice­ship b) like ‘shad­ow’ and ‘sun’, ‘dark’ and ‘un-En­glish’, ‘’birds, ‘rooks’, ‘nests’ are sym­bol­ic dou­ble­s­peak.

Mr. Grew­gious’s Rite of the True Lover

Edwin vis­its Rosa’s guardian, Grew­gious, and un­der­goes an ini­ti­a­tion.

“Lord bless me cried Mr. Grew­gious, break­ing the blank si­lence which, of course en­sued: though why these paus­es should come upon us when we have per­formed any small so­cial rite, not di­rect­ly in­duc­tive of self-ex­am­i­na­tion…”

“I could draw a pic­ture of a true lover’s state of mind tonight.” (true lover=ini­ti­ate)

“Mr. Edwin will cor­rect me where it’s wrong (will ob­ject if he can­not con­sent)

“The true lover’s mind is com­plete­ly per­me­at­ed by the beloved ob­ject of his af­fec­tions. (The group de­mands ex­clu­sive loy­al­ty.)

Her dear name is pre­cious to him, can­not be heard or re­peat­ed with­out emo­tion, and is pre­served sa­cred. (This is why Sapsea is in trou­ble; his brag­ging risks ex­po­sure.)

If he has any dis­tin­guish­ing ap­pel­la­tion of fond­ness for her, it is re­served for her, and is not for com­mon ears (again, noth­ing what­so­ev­er about the cult is to be ut­tered on the High Street.)

A name that would be a priv­i­lege to call her, being alone with her own bright self, it would be a lib­er­ty, a cold­ness, an in­sen­si­bil­i­ty al­most a breach of good faith to flaunt else­where.”

Dick­ens com­pletes the pic­ture

It was won­der­ful to see Mr. Grew­gious sit­ting bolt up­right, with his hands on his knees, con­tin­u­al­ly chop­ping his dis­course out of him­self; much as a char­i­ty boy with a very good mem­o­ry might get his cat­e­chism said. (it is a cat­e­chism)

Mr. Grew­gious con­tin­ues:

Hav­ing no ex­is­tence sep­a­ra­ble from that of the beloved ob­ject of his af­fec­tions, as liv­ing at once a dou­bled life and a half life.” (this ex­plains the per­va­sive du­al­i­ty of the town and peo­ple.)

Edwin sat look­ing at the fire and bit his lip. “There can be no doubt, no half fire and half smoke state of mind in a real lover.

What will the cult ex­pect from him? Just what is this ‘en­gage­ment’ with Rosa adding up to? Grew­gious tells Edwin, “ You are going down yon­der where I can tell you you are ex­pect­ed and to ex­e­cute any lit­tle com­mis­sion from me…”

“Grew­gious charges Edwin with his eyes on the fire. Edwin nods as­sent with his eyes on the fire.”

Edwin does break the en­gage­ment. He de­cides he will not ‘ex­e­cute the obli­ga­tion’ so now Jasper and he know that the ‘fin­ger of scorn’ is upon them. As Grew­gious un­der­scores, ‘the largest fi­deli­ty to a trust is the lifeblood of the man.’ And the Droods and Jaspers have be­trayed that trust.

Rosa as Sac­ri­fice

When Grew­gious leads Edwin through the rite it was noted that ‘no half smoke, no half fire would do.’ Grew­gious looked upon the fire and Edwin took his mean­ing. Re­turn to Jasper’s rooms, ‘most­ly in shad­ow’:

Even when the sun shines bril­liant­ly, it sel­dom touch­es the grand piano in the re­cess, or the folio mu­sic-books on the stand, or the book­shelves on the wall, or the un­fin­ished pic­ture of a bloom­ing school­girl hang­ing over the chim­ney­p­iece.

Jasper’s ‘shad­ow’ shields ‘Rosa’ from the ‘sun’ as ‘Rosa’ hangs pre­car­i­ous­ly over the fire.

Rosa’s sac­ri­fice is pre­fig­ured.

“Miss Twin­kle­ton turns to the sac­ri­fice, and says, ‘You may go down, my dear.’ Miss Bud goes down, fol­lowed by all eyes.”

Else­where she is the ‘doomed lit­tle vic­tim’ and ‘ap­pari­tion.’

Edwin points to her por­trait and says, “I’ll burn your comic like­ness.” Is he talk­ing about the pic­ture or is he talk­ing to the pic­ture and re­fer­ring to its like­ness?

“What is this imag­ined threat­en­ing, pret­ty one? What is threat­ened? I don’t know. I have never even dared to think or won­der what it is.” Al­ways vague, al­ways half imag­ined, like the fear that wells up in any drowsy night­mare. “Don’t Eddy!” “Don’t what, Rosa?”

All re­gard­ing the na­ture of sac­ri­fice is summed up in one of the cen­tral lines of the novel:

Rosa “rep­re­sent­ed the spir­it of rosy youth abid­ing in the place to keep it bright and warm in its de­ser­tion.”


Mr. Tar­tar is a dash­ing sailor who mys­te­ri­ous­ly shows up in the mid­dle of events, and Rosa im­me­di­ate­ly comes under his pro­tec­tion.

Tar­tar’s “cham­bers were the best or­dered under the sun moon and stars.” This is the only time ‘moon’ is men­tioned in the sec­ond part of the book, com­pared with twen­ty eight in the first. It is an­oth­er bib­li­cal clue. “And lest when you see the sun and the moon and the stars you are drawn away and wor­ship them and serve them.” Tar­tar’s al­le­giance is made known. (Deu 4:19)

Tar­tar is con­nect­ed with sun-wor­ship through sym­bol­ism. He is deeply sun­burned though Dick­ens is care­ful to show us he is not a dark per­son by his white neck line.

His boat­man, Lo­bely was “the dead image of the sun in old wood­cuts, his whiskers an­swer­ing for rays.”

Tar­tar set­tles Rosa in her Lon­don rooms, in what she and the read­ers feel safe­ty: ‘Rosa imag­ined liv­ing her whole life atop the fire­proof stairs.”

Again, “…what is to be done with you? …liv­ing fire­proof, up a good many stairs for the rest of her life was the only thing in the na­ture of a plan that oc­curred to her.”

Tar­tar is not Rosa’s sav­ior after all. In fact, Dick­ens ar­ranges it so that the greater the re­lief the read­er feels in Tar­tar’s care, the clos­er Rosa is to un­speak­able hor­ror.

The whole time, “Mr. Tar­tar talked as if he were doing noth­ing to Rosa.”

The cu­ri­ous case of Mr. Tope

In two chap­ters of the manuscript, Tope’s name is ‘Pep­tune.’ Dick­ens opts against an­oth­er ‘as­tro­nom­i­cal’ name pur­pose­ful­ly.

Tope’s job as verg­er ex­plains the name change. ‘His­tor­i­cal­ly verg­ers were re­spon­si­ble for the order and up­keep of the house of wor­ship, in­clud­ing the care of the church build­ings, its fur­nish­ings, and sa­cred relics.” (Verg­er)

“From the mound or cairn came the tope and pyra­mid, and very strong ev­i­dence could be added to show that the dome and spire are only an­oth­er growth.” (Simp­son 177)

Re­call Grew­gious’s ad­mon­ish­ment that the lover seeks the beloved as a bird seeks its nest.” The Druids with their “poor strips of walled off gar­dens” are in­creas­ing­ly crowd­ed into hid­ing. Is their meet­ing place an ac­tu­al sub­ter­ranean lo­ca­tion in the book?

Tope’s house is termed, ‘the verg­er’s hole in the wall.” Carlo Frut­tero and Fran­co Lu­cen­ti­ni in,The D Case: The Truth About the Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, trace the phrase to Ezekiel 8:8:

Then He brought me to the en­trance to the court and I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall... So I dug into the wall and saw a door­way there... So I went in and looked, and I saw por­trayed all over the walls all kinds of crawl­ing things and de­testable an­i­mals and all the idols of the House of Is­rael.

Then He brought me to the en­trance to the north gate of the House of the Lord, and I saw a woman sit­ting there, mourn­ing for Tam­muz.

“He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the en­trance to the tem­ple, be­tween the por­ti­co and the altar, were about twen­ty five men with their backs to­ward the tem­ple of the Lord and their faces to­ward the east, they were bow­ing down to the sun in the east.” (Ez 8:8-16).


Drood, abet­ted by Jasper, de­cides to flee; he spends his last day walk­ing Clois­ter­ham.

“He strolls about and about, to pass the time until the din­ner-hour. It some­how hap­pens that Clois­ter­ham seems re­proach­ful to him to-day; has fault to find with him, as if he had not used it well; but is far more pen­sive with him than angry.”

And on the win­ter sol­stice, Edwin Drood dis­ap­pears.

[Grew­gious’s] gaze wan­dered to the stars, as if he would have read in them some­thing that was hid­den from him. Many of us would, if we could; but none of us so much as know our let­ters in the stars yet — or seem like­ly to do it, in this state of ex­is­tence — and few lan­guages can be read until their al­pha­bets are mas­tered.