Evening Post: Dickens, Druce and Drood - A Fanciful Association.

Evening Post, Vol­ume LXXV, Issue 09, 11 Jan­uary 1908, Page 12

"C.A.S." writes in the New York Evening Post : —

T. C. Druce (left) and the fifth Duke of Port­land (right)

The Druce-Port­land con­tes­tants have dragged their al­leged mys­tery along until some­body has made the at­tempt to graft upon it the very real mys­tery in Charles Dick­ens's un­fin­ished story of Edwin Drood.

Cue for this came the other day in a Lon­don po­lice court, where a Miss Robin­son, in the course of the trial of the per­jury case of Druce against Druce, tes­ti­fied that Charles Dick­ens had told her that. Thomas Charles Druce, who em­ployed her as a stenog­ra­pher, and the fifth Duke of Port­land had been one and the same man.

This al­leged con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the nov­el­ist and the stenog­ra­pher took place in Hyde Park in April, 1870, two months be­fore Dick­ens died, and six years after the real or bogus fu­ner­al of Thomas Car­lyle Druce, and nine years pre­vi­ous to the death of the fifth Duke of Port­land. There was no cor­rob­o­ra­tion of this tes­ti­mo­ny. Miss Robin­son might have sup­port­ed her oral state­ment by let­ters, and the en­tries in her diary, if, she ex­plained, those doc­u­ments had not been stolen.

Then, just as nat­u­ral­ly as night fol­lows day, came the sug­ges­tion that Dick­ens had not only known, of the Duke's dou­ble life, but that he had used it as ma­te­ri­al for fic­tion. That doesn't seem un­rea­son­able. If the Duke were a duke only part of the time, and a dry-goods mer­chant the rest of the time, and had se­cret sub­ter­ranean, pas­sages be­tween a town house and his dry-goods store, and Dick­ens knew about it, of course, he might make lit­er­ary use of the ma­te­ri­al. There are three or four good Dick­en­sian chap­ters in that sub­ter­ranean pas­sage alone, and as many more in the mere sud­den ap­pear­ance of the trans­formed duke be­hind the linen counter, and his con­ver­sa­tion with the clerks. But it isn't rea­son­able to claim that those chap­ters were ac­tu­al­ly writ­ten, or that any­thing of the Druce case is to be found in any of Dick­ens's nov­els.

Thus "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood" bobs up again. That in­com­plete story is not se­lect­ed be­cause it is in­com­plete, and so al­ways a sub­ject of spec­u­la­tion as to what out­come was re­al­ly in­tend­ed by the au­thor. But the first two let­ters of Druce are D—r, and the first let­ters of Drood are D—r. Why should any­body want any­thing more con­clu­sive than that? The only per­sons who can't ac­cept that sim­ple the­o­ry are those who, at one time or an­oth­er, have read "Edwin Drood."

"It was his knowl­edge of the Druce case, no doubt," say the scep­tics, "that in­duced Dick­ens to put some­thing about the Druids in his 'Child's His­to­ry of Eng­land.' Prob­a­bly Mrs. Har­ri­et Beech­er Stowe knew of the Druce case. Oth­er­wise how could she have writ­ten 'Dred'? There's the same tell-tale D—r. And it also sug­gests plain Driv­el."

It may be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that there is ab­so­lute­ly no sim­i­lar­i­ty be­tween the sto­ries be­yond that of the two D—R's. It is only fair to add that, as in the Druce case, both Cald­well and Miss Robin­son have both tes­ti­fied that the Duke wore a false beard, so in Dick­ens's novel the char­ac­ter Datch­ery wears a wig.


In the story of Edwin Drood there is no dou­ble life, ex­cept the Jekyll- Hyde sort of ex­is­tence, of John Jasper, choir­mas­ter, opium fiend, and prob­a­ble mur­der­er. There are no sub­ter­ranean pas­sages. Both the Duke of Port­land and Druce were "cranks" on the sub­ject of total ab­sti­nence. Nei­ther of them used to­bac­co or liquor. But Edwin Drood and Neville Land­less, two of the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ters of the story, are both in­tox­i­cat­ed when, in Jaspers lodg­ings, they have that first hos­tile en­counter, out of which so much of the story comes.

The story of Edwin Drood was writ­ten in 1870, about the time, that Miss Robin­son says the au­thor told her about the Druce case, but there is noth­ing about the stage set­ting of the story which had not been, fa­mil­iar ma­te­ri­al to Dick­ens for many years, The only inn that fig­ures in the story was the Fur­ni­val, not count­ing, of course, Bil­lickin's ex­cel­lent board­ing-house with the leaky roof. And Dick­ens had lived in the Fur­ni­val him­self thir­ty-five or more years be­fore that. And Clois­ter­ham, the cathe­dral town where Crisparkle and all the rest of them lived, was the same old Rochester with which Dick­ens had al­ways been fa­mil­iar.


Of course, any ref­er­ence to Edwin Drood sug­gests the old ques­tion that read­ers have been ask­ing over since 1870 — "Was Drood re­al­ly mur­dered?" If he wasn't mur­dered, his body placed be­yond (he reach of all the searchers of Clois­ter­ham, what was the sig­nif­i­cance of John Jasper's cu­ri­ous ques­tion about the heap of quick­lime? And what the mean­ing of the reply of Dur­dles, the grave­stone cut­ter, who said, "Ay, quick enough to eat your boots. With a lit­tle handy stir­ring quick enough to eat your bones."

And if Jasper had not killed his nephew, just as he had dreamed of doing many times when under the in­flu­ence of opium, what did this fiendish rem­i­nis­cence and di­a­logue with a schem­ing hag in a Lon­don opium den mean after the nephew had van­ished from the face of the earth?

"What? I told you so. When it comes to be real at last, it is so short that it seems un­re­al for the first time. Hark!"

"Yes, deary. I'm lis­ten­ing."

"Time and place are both at hand."

He is on his feet, speak­ing in a whis­per, as if in the dark.

"Time, place, and fel­low-trav­eller," she sug­gests, adopt­ing his tone, and hold­ing him soft­ly by the arm.

"How could the time be at hand un­less the fel­low-trav­eller was? Hush! The jour­ney's made. It's over."

"So soon."

"That's what I said to you! So soon. Wait a lit­tle. This is a vi­sion. I will sleep it off. It has been too short and easy. I must have a bet­ter vi­sion than this; this is be poor­est of all. No strug­gle, no con­scious­ness of peril, no en­treaty — and yet I never saw that be­fore," with a start.

"Saw what, deary?"

"Look at it. Look what a poor, mean, mis­er­able thing it is! That must be real. It's over."

But dead or alive there is noth­ing about Edwin Drood that could have been sug­gest­ed by the Druce case.