G. E. Jeans : "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" and Its Interpreters

First pub­lished in "Liv­ing Age", 1917, Vol. VII, No. 319 

1. "Watched by the Dead". By R. A. Proc­tor. (Lon­don W. H. Allen and Co. 1887)
2. "The Puz­zle of Dick­ens' Last Plot". By An­drew Lang. (Lon­don: Chap­man and Hall. 1905.)
3. "Clues to the Mys­tery of Edwin Drood". By J. Cum­ing Wal­ters. (Lon­don: Chap­man and Hall. 1905).
4. "Keys to the Drood Mys­tery". By Edwin Charles. (Lon­don: Col­lier and Co. 1908.)
5. "About Edwin Drood". By H[enry] J[ack­son]. (Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press. 1910.)
6. "The Prob­lem of Edwin Drood". By Sir William Robert­son Nicoll. (Lon­don: Hod­der and Stoughton. 1912.)
7. "The Mys­tery in the Drood Fam­i­ly". By Mon­tagu Saun­ders. (Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press. 1914.)
8. "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood". With In­tro­duc­tion by G. K. Chester­ton. "Ev­ery­man's Li­brary". (Lon­don: .I. M. Dent and Co. Ltd. 1915.)

T

HE strange co­in­ci­dences in the deaths of the two great­est Vic­to­ri­an nov­el­ists have nat­u­ral­ly ex­cit­ed fre­quent no­tice. Both Thack­er­ay and Dick­ens died sud­den­ly; both left an un­fin­ished story in course of or part­ly ready for pub­li­ca­tion (as also did R. L. Steven­son). Thack­er­ay left of Denis Duval enough to make about three and a half num­bers of his usual in­stall­ment of a novel in the Corn­hill Mag­a­zine. Dick­ens had is­sued three of his month­ly "green leaves" — as he calls them — out of the twelve agreed for of Edwin Drood, and left just enough for three more pre­pared in proof or manuscript.

But here the strange par­al­lel changes into a stranger con­trast. About the in­tend­ed story of Denis Duval there is no room for any great doubt, nor can any­one ever have felt ex­cit­ed about it. About Weir of Her­mis­ton there is more doubt, but lit­tle scope for dis­pute. But as to The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood a keen dis­pute began on the very day that it was made known that the story could never be fin­ished.

And now, forty-six years af­ter­wards, when the book is out of copy­right, we have a suc­ces­sion of books, many of them by very dis­tin­guished men, as well as many very ably con­duct­ed de­bates in mag­a­zines, most of the dis­putants pos­i­tive­ly as­sert­ing that their own so­lu­tion of the Mys­tery is the only one con­ceiv­able. Sir W. R. Nicoll has no less than six pages of bib­li­og­ra­phy of the sub­ject up to 1912, now much in­creased. There is no par­al­lel to it in the case of any other work of fic­tion in the world.

It is not my ob­ject in the pre­sent ar­ti­cle to put for­ward any new the­o­ry as to the in­tend­ed end­ing, or as to who Mr. Datch­ery re­al­ly is. In­deed it would be dif­fi­cult to find any char­ac­ter in the book, ex­cept those in whose com­pa­ny he has ac­tu­al­ly ap­peared, with whom that gen­tle­man has not been iden­ti­fied — un­less it be Miss Twin­kle­ton or Mr. Hon­eythun­der. I sim­ply pro­pose to state the dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions that have been pro­posed, and to show how far each of these is pos­si­ble. I rely most of all on the ex­is­tent in­di­ca­tions in the book it­self; sec­ond­ly, on such ex­ter­nal ev­i­dence as re­mains; and, third­ly, on the par­al­lels with other works of Dick­ens as show­ing a prob­a­ble in­cli­na­tion or re­luc­tance pre­sum­ably to be found in his mind.

This last is ob­vi­ous­ly of a much more sub­jec­tive char­ac­ter than the other two, and, as will be seen, some­times leads peo­ple to di­rect­ly op­po­site con­vic­tions. It must there­fore only be used as at best for­ti­fy­ing con­clu­sions al­ready sug­gest­ed by the di­rect ev­i­dence. Now the "mys­tery," it is agreed, re­solves it­self main­ly into two points.

First, had Jasper re­al­ly mur­dered Edwin, as he, ad­mit­ted­ly, be­lieved he had done? Sec­ond­ly, who was Datch­ery? There are sev­er­al im­por­tant sub­or­di­nate ques­tions; es­pe­cial­ly what was to be the func­tion of the be­trothal-ring, and what con­nec­tion "Princess Puffer" had with Jasper's pre­vi­ous life. But these are con­cerned more with the dis­cov­ery of the mys­tery than with its ex­is­tence.

It is bet­ter to keep the main ques­tions dis­tinct.

I. Was Edwin Re­al­ly Mur­dered or Not?

Here we come to a most re­mark­able con­flict of opin­ion among those who have both stud­ied the ques­tion thor­ough­ly and know their Dick­ens well. Forster, Mr. J. C. Wal­ters, and Sir W. R. Nicoll say pos­i­tive­ly that he was; Proc­tor and Mr. Lang, equal­ly de­cid­ed­ly, that he was not. Dr. Jack­son and Mr. Saun­ders, with wiser cau­tion, be­lieve that he was mur­dered, but allow that both the­o­ries are ad­mis­si­ble.

The pos­si­bil­i­ty of this cu­ri­ous di­ver­gence about the very heart of the "mys­tery" it­self is caused by the fact that the book gives no cer­tain in­di­ca­tion what­ev­er. Every word in it has been pon­dered by com­men­ta­tors eager to find props to their own the­o­ries, but noth­ing can be quot­ed in ev­i­dence. Edwin in Chap­ter xiv sim­ply dis­ap­pears. There is not a sin­gle word in all the sub­se­quent part which is not just as ap­pli­ca­ble to the mur­der if Jasper only sup­posed that he had ac­com­plished it, as if he re­al­ly had done so. Edwin's watch and pin, which were caught in the weir, had been taken, but that would equal­ly have been done if Edwin had mere­ly been stunned. Hence our com­men­ta­tors have to fall back on their inner con­scious­ness as to what Dick­ens would have been sure to do — whether Edwin, as they say, was "marked" for life or death. It is amus­ing to see how ex­act­ly the judg­ment on this ques­tion of taste cor­re­sponds with what each writ­er takes to be the plot.

To Mr. Proc­tor "there are touch­es in the chap­ters of Edwin Drood pre­ced­ing Edwin's dis­ap­pear­ance which show any­one who un­der­stands Dick­ens' man­ner and has an ear for the music of his words, that Edwin Drood is not ac­tu­al­ly to be killed." To Mr. Wal­ters, on the con­trary, Edwin "is en­tire­ly un­in­ter­est­ing. . . . He is cer­tain­ly not of the class that ei­ther Dick­ens or his read­ers would care to sur­vive."

Here we are in the thick of the High­er Crit­i­cism.

We turn there­fore next to the ex­ter­nal ev­i­dence. That, in the pre­sent case, is lim­it­ed prac­ti­cal­ly to two heads — the con­sid­er­a­tion of the pic­ture-cov­er must for the pre­sent be post­poned — name­ly, first, the state­ments made, or un­der­stood to be made (an im­por­tant qual­i­fi­ca­tion) by Dick­ens to Forster and oth­ers; and, sec­ond­ly, the var­i­ous ti­tles for the book, which were al­ways very care­ful­ly weighed be­fore­hand by Dick­ens him­self.

First, let us take the state­ments.

The chief of these is the one re­port­ed by Forster, which, if ac­cept­ed as en­tire­ly ac­cu­rate, and as in­tend­ed by Dick­ens to be a sum­ma­ry, would leave us with no mys­tery at all worth five min­utes' dis­cus­sion. It is clear that it has not gen­er­al­ly been so ac­cept­ed, or the nu­mer­ous books on Edwin Drood would never have been writ­ten.

Forster's state­ment (Life, xl, 2.) needs the clos­est at­ten­tion. It is that in a let­ter of Au­gust 6, 1869, Dick­ens wrote: "I have a very cu­ri­ous and new idea for my new story. Not a com­mu­ni­ca­ble idea (or the in­ter­est of the book would be gone), but a very strong one, though dif­fi­cult to work." Forster, how­ev­er, must have in­stant­ly asked for the se­cret which was both in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble and would if dis­closed de­stroy the in­ter­est of the book, for he goes on: "the story, I learned im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter­wards, was to be that of the mur­der of a nephew by his uncle; the orig­i­nal­i­ty of which was to con­sist in the re­view of the mur­der­er's ca­reer by him­self at the close. . . . The last chap­ters were to be writ­ten in the con­demned cell, to which his wicked­ness, all elab­o­rate­ly elicit­ed from him as if told of an­oth­er, had brought him."

Now is it pos­si­ble that any­one can think after read­ing the book, as Forster be­fore it was writ­ten ap­pears pa­tient­ly to have ac­cept­ed, that the very strong but in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble idea was sim­ply Jasper's re­view of his ca­reer at the close? It is just about the same as if we were to say that the story of Oliv­er Twist rest­ed on the very pow­er­ful scene of Fagin in the con­demned cell. The con­clu­sion which, I sub­mit, is point­ed to, is the very dif­fer­ent one sug­gest­ed by the words ital­i­cized above, that Dick­ens meant to keep his se­cret from Forster, as he did from ev­ery­body else. Pos­si­bly Forster had rubbed in too em­phat­i­cal­ly the overear­ly rev­e­la­tion of the main plot in Our Mu­tu­al Friend. In any case to have asked for the plot, after so strong an in­ti­ma­tion that he must not do so, was in­dis­creet at best, and Forster seems not to have been a model of dis­creet­ness. The reply seems to show a skele­ton of facts, en­tire­ly borne out by the story as we have it, but to give no so­lu­tion what­ev­er of the "mys­tery." The lat­ter part of the words above, it must be care­ful­ly noted, gives not ip­sis­si­ma verba of Dick­ens, but what Forster "learned af­ter­wards," and might have only in­di­cat­ed the at­tempt­ed mur­der.

That Jasper was in a con­demned cell proves noth­ing, be­cause ac­cord­ing to Forster's own sketch, "Neville Land­less was, I think, to have per­ished" (this is borne out by sev­er­al points in the story) "in as­sist­ing Tar­tar fi­nal­ly to un­mask and seize the mur­der­er." In­deed it is only pos­si­ble by a mur­der of some­one thrown down from the tower of the Cathe­dral — which in the case of Edwin him­self is ex­clud­ed — to ex­plain Jasper's ejac­u­la­tions in the opium den. "Look down, look down, you see what lies at the bot­tom there!" "Look at it. Look what a poor, mean, mis­er­able thing it is. That must be real . . . and yet I never saw that be­fore." So the ar­gu­ment about the con­demned cell crum­bles al­to­geth­er away.

We may take it as one of the few quite cer­tain points about the end­ing, that Jasper was to be found guilty of mur­der, and con­demned to death.

For not only have we the Forster sketch of the plot, which, as we shall see, needs some dis­count­ing, but Sir Luke Fildes (who, ap­par­ent­ly, strong­ly be­lieves that the mur­der was in­tend­ed to have been re­al­ly ef­fect­ed) was to have been taken by Dick­ens "to a con­demned cell in Maid­stone or some other gaol, in order that he might make a draw­ing." But the mur­der of Neville Land­less, who by the agree­ment of near­ly all com­men­ta­tors is to be got rid of — it is the only point in which they al­most all agree — equal­ly serves this pur­pose for the story. The proof there­fore that Jasper was to die on the scaf­fold (or, more prob­a­bly, in the con­demned cell) is only, at best, cor­rob­o­ra­tive ev­i­dence that the mur­der was that of Edwin Drood.

The lat­est in­ter­preter, Mr. Saun­ders, con­tends with much plau­si­bil­i­ty that the "in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble idea" was that of Jasper un­wit­ting­ly help­ing to con­vict him­self by every step that he took to pro­cure the de­struc­tion of Neville. His diary ends "I swear that I will fas­ten the crime of the mur­der of my dear dead boy upon the mur­der­er; and, that I de­vote my­self to his de­struc­tion."

This is re­al­ly a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion, be­cause for the first time it ex­plains the point of the seem­ing­ly use­less diary, and helps in ex­pla­na­tion of the strange em­pha­sis laid on Edwin's non-de­liv­ery of the ring.

Mr. An­drew Lang, who is sup­port­ed by Mr. C. K. Short­er in The Sphere, then in­tro­duces a fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion. They both be­lieve, and with some ev­i­dence, that Dick­ens changed his plot in the course of writ­ing. This is a pos­si­bil­i­ty which has se­ri­ous­ly to be reck­oned with. In the case of Great Ex­pec­ta­tions it, ad­mit­ted­ly, was ac­tu­al­ly what was done. Bul­w­er Lyt­ton and — of all peo­ple in the world — Thomas Car­lyle ob­ject­ed to the nat­u­ral and in­tend­ed close which left Pip a soli­tary man, and Dick­ens sub­sti­tut­ed the hasty and banal re­union of Pip and Es­tel­la. "I have no doubt," Dick­ens wrote to Forster, "that the story will be more ac­cept­able through the al­ter­ation." The al­most uni­ver­sal de­sire of the British read­ing pub­lic for a happy end­ing was too strong for the artis­tic in­stincts of the au­thor. So again, it has al­ways been a moot point whether the mon­strous­ly im­pos­si­ble part of a miser played by Mr. Bof­fin in Our Mu­tu­al Friend, sole­ly to teach Bella that the love of money is the root of all evil, could have been part of the de­lib­er­ate scheme of the book. Forster's ac­count of Our Mu­tu­al Friend is much short­er than that of any of the other great books, where­as it might have been ex­pect­ed to be fuller, be­cause it is near­er in date to his own writ­ing of the bi­og­ra­phy. There are traces, too, that Forster had here over­stepped the line of ac­cept­able crit­i­cism; and this may have sug­gest­ed the im­por­tant sen­tence­about the "not com­mu­ni­ca­ble" na­ture of the idea of Edwin Drood.

But Mr. Short­er clear­ly goes far be­yond the ev­i­dence when he says that "un­doubt­ed­ly Dick­ens start­ed with the in­ten­tion of killing Drood, and told Forster so." For, in the first place, this is not only doubt­ed but flat­ly de­nied by half of the crit­ics who have writ­ten upon the point.

In the sec­ond place, Forster does not say that Dick­ens told him so, but only that he "learned im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter­wards" — he does not say from whom or in what exact words — that the plot "was to be that of a mur­der of a nephew by his uncle" — thus leav­ing a dou­ble loop­hole of es­cape from the state­ment. But Mr. Lang is with­in the ev­i­dence when he says that "if Dick­ens had seen hopes of get­ting more ma­te­ri­al and more in­ter­est out of a liv­ing than out of a dead Edwin Drood he had not burned his boats; he could pro­duce Edwin alive." Here again we come full tilt against one of the nu­mer­ous im­pass­es of the story.

It seems al­most im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve that if the com­plet­ed mur­der of Edwin was in­tend­ed from the first, Dick­ens could by any chance have avoid­ed ac­ci­den­tal­ly "burn­ing his boats" in even a sin­gle sen­tence that could be brought for­ward.

Be­yond Forster's ev­i­dence, which, as we have seen, falls far short of prov­ing his con­clu­sions, there is very lit­tle to be dis­cov­ered in the way of di­rect state­ment to any­body. But it is pass­ing strange that Sir Luke Fildes (The Times. Novem­ber 4, 1905.) should think that Dick­ens is ac­cused of moral obliq­ui­ty be­cause he gave eva­sive an­swers or dropped mis­lead­ing hints about his se­cret.

Has Sir Luke never read about Sir Wal­ter Scott — most up­right of men — and the au­thor­ship of the Wa­ver­ley Nov­els? The Times re­view­er had re­marked, per­fect­ly fair­ly: Nor do we at­tach much im­por­tance to any of the hints Dick­ens dropped, whether to John Forster, to any mem­ber of his fam­i­ly, or to ei­ther of his il­lus­tra­tors. He was very anx­ious that his se­cret should not be guessed, and the hints which he dropped may very well have been in­ten­tion­al­ly mis­lead­ing.

Mr. Fildes had asked about the thick silk neck­er­chief going twice round Jasper's neck, which no doubt was rather trou­ble­some to the artist; and Dick­ens, after say­ing "he was afraid he was get­ting on too fast," ex­claimed "It is nec­es­sary, for Jasper stran­gles Edwin Drood with it." There is eva­sion here, but of a per­fect­ly jus­ti­fi­able kind, and no "de­ceit is light­ly at­tribut­ed to him." It proves that Jasper was to "stran­gle" Edwin, a point which nat­u­ral­ly was to be kept se­cret be­fore the event; but, as be­fore, stran­gling is not iden­ti­cal with mur­der­ing. Here again the sup­posed di­rect state­ment proves to be a blind alley.

The only other piece of di­rect ev­i­dence that I can find is that Dick­ens ap­pears to have said to one of his fam­i­ly when too much seemed to be taken for grant­ed, that he had called it "The Mys­tery," not "The His­to­ry," of Edwin Drood.

It is worth­while at this point to glance at the al­ter­na­tive ti­tles taken into con­sid­er­a­tion, see­ing how much im­por­tance Dick­ens al­ways as­signed to his ti­tles. There are no fewer than six­teen ex­per­i­men­tal ones in the MS vol­ume at South Kens­ing­ton. Some of these, such as "Flight and Pur­suit," "The Two Kins­men," are meant to con­vey noth­ing of the plot. Most of them are only va­ri­eties of the title adopt­ed, and one of these, "Dead or Alive?" plain­ly in­di­cates, though with­out so­lu­tion, in what the mys­tery lay.

But two of them, "The Flight of Edwin Drood," and — still more — "Edwin Drood in Hid­ing," cre­ate a very strong pre­sump­tion in favor of the the­o­ry that Edwin was not re­al­ly mur­dered.

The only re­main­ing ev­i­dence, apart from each man's sub­jec­tive im­pres­sions as to what Dick­ens would be sure to do, con­sists in the cel­e­brat­ed cover of the orig­i­nal month­ly parts

It is not cel­e­brat­ed for its artis­tic mer­its; in­deed it con­trasts rather painful­ly with the del­i­cate and fin­ished work of Sir Luke Fildes. But it is the work of Charles Collins, Dick­ens' son-in-law, a younger broth­er of Wilkie Collins, who aban­doned the pro­fes­sion of arts for that of let­ters, in which he had some­what greater suc­cess, and it was drawn under Dick­ens' own di­rec­tion. Sir Luke Fildes him­self has ex­plic­it­ly made the im­por­tant state­ment, (The Times, Novem­ber 4. 1905) Collins told me he did not in the least know the sig­nif­i­cance of the var­i­ous groups in the de­sign; that they were drawn from in­struc­tions given by Charles Dick­ens, and not from any text.

We have come back, there­fore, to the foun­tain-head, and the cover ought to have con­tained a de­ci­sive, if hid­den key to the mys­tery. But alas! the sketchy draw­ings, "not from any text," only lead us up an­oth­er blind alley, since sev­er­al of them, in­clud­ing the most im­por­tant final seene, are in­ter­pret­ed in whol­ly dif­fer­ent ways! They need, there­fore, the clos­est ex­am­i­na­tion.

The cover may be taken as di­vid­ed into seven scenes. The two upper cor­ners — al­le­gor­i­cal fig­ures of Com­e­dy and Tragedy — and the two lower cor­ners — the old hag and a Chi­na­man smok­ing opium pipes — may be passed as undis­put­ed. So also may the scene over the title — Jasper be­hind the pro­ces­sion of cho­ris­ters going down one side of the Cathe­dral nave, and look­ing at Edwin and Rosa (both of whom have a bored ex­pres­sion) on the other side. Even here, how­ev­er, Mr. Lang, with all the solem­ni­ty of ital­ics, notes that Edwin "like Datch­ery, does not wear, but car­ries his hat." Alas for the clue! The rest of us men, also, like Datch­ery, do not wear our hats in church. But Jasper, it should be noted, has black whiskers, as in the text.

The other three lit­tle vi­gnettes are dis­put­ed on more rea­son­able grounds.

The first of these rep­re­sents a woman — the fea­tures are too vague to en­ti­tle one to say a girl — with stream­ing hair and a lamentable de­fi­cien­cy of cloth­ing above the waist, who is star­ing at a plac­ard head­ed "Lost." This might just pos­si­bly be, as Mr. Lang calls it, "an al­le­gor­i­cal fig­ure," though why an al­le­gor­i­cal fig­ure should be ob­trud­ed among the ac­tu­al scenes from the book is hard to imag­ine.

But it does al­most make one gasp to learn that any human being could — ex­cept in de­fense of a the­sis, for which case Aris­to­tle wise­ly al­lows much lat­i­tude — take this to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tion (of this Dr. Jack­son is "sure") of Rosa's "flight" from Miss Twin­kle­ton's school to see her guardian, Mr. Grew­gious. That "flight" con­sist­ed in pack­ing a small hand­bag, walk­ing to the rail­way om­nibus "at the cor­ner," and pro­ceed­ing in it to the sta­tion! One can hard­ly be ''sure" about any­thing in this cover. But at least an in­ter­pre­ta­tion with­in rea­son­able bounds is that it refers to the past life of Jasper which was to have been dis­closed; and sug­gests that the rea­son of the Princess Puffer in hunt­ing Jasper down was to have been some­thing like that of Good Mrs. Brown with Cark­er in Dombey and Son.

The vi­gnette un­der­neath this seems fair­ly ob­vi­ous, but again we come to the most per­verse in­ter­pre­ta­tion. It con­sists of a girl — no­body ap­par­ent­ly has ques­tioned that this is Rosa — who, with­out much en­thu­si­asm per­haps, but cer­tain­ly with­out strug­gling, is al­low­ing a kneel­ing young man to kiss her hand. The most nat­u­ral in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that this is Neville tak­ing his farewell of Rosa, in a scene which had not yet oc­curred in the pub­lished part. It might just pos­si­bly have been meant for the farewell of Edwin, though Edwin did not kneel, and his kiss­ing was not on the hand, if it were not that the same face ap­pears again in the op­po­site pic­ture.

But one be­comes al­most hope­less of se­cur­ing an agreed in­ter­pre­ta­tion of any of the pic­tures on find­ing that Dr. Jack­son ac­tu­al­ly takes this to rep­re­sent the scene of Jasper and Rosa — per­haps the most pow­er­ful scene of the book — in the gar­den of the Nuns' House! In that, it will be re­mem­bered, Jasper only once touch­es Rosa, and that is with his of­fered hand, from which she shrinks into the seat, when he says "I will come no near­er to you than I am." Dr. Jack­son may per­haps get over this scene on the ground of very im­per­fect in­struc­tions to Collins. He might, pos­si­bly, put down Rosa's ac­qui­es­cence to very fee­ble draw­ing — much worse than Collins was guilty of. But there is no pos­si­ble way by which the black-whiskered Jasper of the Cathe­dral could be­come the whisker­less, mus­tached young man at Rosa's feet.

Re­al­ly he should get a mag­ni­fy­ing glass, and look at the pic­tures again, when he could not but admit his in­ter­pre­ta­tion to be hope­less.

The scene on the right-hand side con­sists of two run into one. It is of a spi­ral stair­case, no doubt that of the Cathe­dral tower so often men­tioned, on which are three fig­ures. The low­est one, wear­ing a cler­i­cal hat and col­lar, can­not be any­one but Crisparkle. The up­per­most one, with fin­ger point­ing to the Cathe­dral scene of Jasper and Edwin, has ex­act­ly the same face and curly hair, part­ed in the mid­dle, as the lover in the op­po­site scene — which at least proves that Collins kept to his char­ac­ters, and does not make Jasper put his black whiskers on and off at plea­sure — and is thus ap­par­ent­ly fixed for Neville Land­less. The in­ter­me­di­ate one has his face half hid­den be­hind a pil­lar, but it seems to be a man in a bowler hat, taller than ei­ther Crisparkle or Land­less. This is nat­u­ral­ly taken by most in­ter­preters to be Tar­tar, whose sailor-like qual­i­ties of climb­ing in per­ilous places are ob­vi­ous­ly in­tend­ed to be uti­lized. Mr. Lang makes the quite im­pos­si­ble sug­ges­tion that it might be old Mr. Grew­gious.

But Dr. Jack­son again achieves an in­ter­pre­ta­tion which might well have been thought in­con­ceiv­able. He takes both the cler­gy­man and the curly-haired young man to be Jasper, on two dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions, and the tall, ac­tive man to be Dur­dles, the drunk­en old stone-ma­son! After this one has al­most to aban­don the cover as giv­ing any clue that will sat­is­fy ev­ery­body. We must be con­tent to pass over a mi­nor­i­ty of one.

Last comes the im­por­tant pic­ture at the foot, in which Jasper (again very black and whiskered) re­vis­its the vault, and there, undis­put­ed­ly, is gaz­ing aghast at the fig­ure of Edwin Drood await­ing him. This on the face of it would seem to be a clinch­ing ar­gu­ment for those who main­tain that Edwin was not killed, and Mr. Proc­tor and Mr. Lang are jus­ti­fied in mak­ing a very strong point of it.

But the other in­ter­preters must all be re­gard­ed as coun­sel re­tained for their own par­tic­u­lar the­o­ry, and bound to com­bat every other as best they may. Thus Mr. Charles, since he main­tains that Edwin was mur­dered, thinks it was "one of the spec­tres of the night." Mr. Wal­ters and Sir W. R. Nicoll daunt­less­ly throw all re­sem­blances over­board and main­tain that this is the dark-skinned He­le­na "in the char­ac­ter of Datch­ery." Dr. Jack­son, though he ac­cepts the He­le­na "as­sump­tion," for once ad­mits the ob­vi­ous draw­ing, and falls back on the the­o­ry of it being a ghost­ly imag­i­na­tion, even see­ing some­thing "a lit­tle shad­owy" in the fig­ure, as might well be ex­pect­ed of one seen in a vault at night. So again we are brought up against an­oth­er blind wall, and even the fa­mous cover, which looks as if it must be so de­ci­sive, helps us lit­tle to­wards a gen­er­al agree­ment.

The only re­main­ing ev­i­dence is cir­cum­stan­tial, and that cen­ters chiefly in the be­trothal-ring which Edwin had in his breast-pock­et on the fatal night. Un­doubt­ed­ly the ring was to be a de­ci­sive clue. Forster's state­ment is as fol­lows: All dis­cov­ery of the mur­der was to be baf­fled till to­wards the close, when by means of a gold ring which had re­sist­ed the cor­ro­sive ef­fects of the lime into which he had thrown the body, not only the per­son mur­dered was to be iden­ti­fied, but the lo­cal­i­ty of the crime, and the man who com­mit­ted it.

How the ring could prove these two lat­ter points pass­es all imag­i­na­tion.

But again we must re­mem­ber that there is no ev­i­dence that this comes from Dick­ens him­self; Forster, as was shown above, mere­ly, "learned im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter­wards," and when Dick­ens was away from home.

The book it­self, how­ev­er, in a forced and crude­ly melo­dra­mat­ic pas­sage, in­sists upon the part of the ring and its jew­els.

Why should I tell her [Rosa] of it? . . . Let them be. Let them be un­spo­ken of in his breast. How­ev­er dis­tinct­ly or in­dis­tinct­ly he en­ter­tained these thoughts, he ar­rived at the con­clu­sion, Let them be. Among the mighty store of won­der­ful chains that are foiev­er forg­ing, day and night, in the vast iron­works of time and cir­cum­stance, there was one small chain, forged in the mo­ment of that small con­clu­sion, riv­et­ed to the foun­da­tions of heav­en and earth, and gift­ed with in­vin­ci­ble force to hold and to drag.

The im­por­tance of all this for the dénoue­ment is be­yond ques­tion. But it must be no­ticed that it is not the re­ten­tion of the ring which in that mo­ment was re­solved on, but to let it re­main un­spo­ken of. Again, this em­pha­sized pas­sage makes Jasper's at­tempt cer­tain, but gives no clue as to its suc­cess, only as to its even­tu­al de­tec­tion.

Thus in what­ev­er di­rec­tion of ev­i­dence we turn — Dick­ens' own proved state­ments, his sup­posed in­di­ca­tions given at sec­ond-hand, the in­di­ca­tions in the book it­self after the min­utest search of op­pos­ing crit­ics, the anal­o­gy of the great au­thor's ear­li­er works, the "feel­ing" im­pressed upon his clos­est stu­dents, and even the ti­tle-draw­ing done under his own di­rec­tion — all alike lead us to some place where the tracks are ab­so­lute­ly lost, and opin­ions re­main just as di­vid­ed as on the first im­pres­sion. A slight ma­jor­i­ty per­haps of the crit­ics who have made a study of the book think de­cid­ed­ly that Edwin was not mur­dered. But a con­sid­er­able mi­nor­i­ty are equal­ly cer­tain that he was, and nei­ther side can find any de­ci­sive proof. Now in the case of an au­thor so care­less as Dick­ens gen­er­al­ly was of sci­en­tif­ic de­tail, while so keen to re­serve any melo­dra­mat­ic points, so li­able also by his method of month­ly num­bers to fall into small con­tra­dic­tions never in­tend­ed, the one ra­tio­nal con­clu­sion is that he de­lib­er­ate­ly left the de­noue­ment open, and with the great­est pos­si­ble care avoid­ed block­ing h's own way to­wards ei­ther so­lu­tion, as he might here­after see best. The mys­tery of Edwin Drood, there­fore, Dick­ens car­ried to the grave, be­cause even he had not him­self solved it fi­nal­ly.

II Who Was Datch­ery? 

The sec­ond ques­tion raised by the book — the iden­ti­ty of Datch­ery — is a prob­lem of the most cu­ri­ous in­ter­est, and of a per­plex­i­ty of op­pos­ing cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence, re­mind­ing us of in­sol­u­ble cases like that of Eliza Fen­ning or the Syden­ham mur­ders.

It dif­fers from the cen­tral prob­lem about Edwin in al­low­ing, not one, but sev­er­al con­ceiv­able so­lu­tions. It is con­nect­ed with it, not only as being ob­vi­ous­ly the prime de­tect­ing agen­cy, but be­cause if Datch­ery is Edwin him­self, the main point of the mys­tery is set­tled.

Datch­ery has been ex­plained by crit­ics in at least eight dif­fer­ent ways.

(1) As a char­ac­ter that has not yet been in­tro­duced (Athenaum, April 1 and 8, 1911); (2) a de­tec­tive or a awyer em­ployed by Grew­gious (Corn­hill Mag­a­zine, March, 1884, and Mr. Saun­ders); (3) Neville Land­less (F. C. B., in Cam­bridge Re­view, 19061; (4) Grew­gious (Mr. Percy Fitzger­ald); (5) Tar­tar (Mr. G. F. Gadd, Dick­en­sian, vol. ii); (6) Baz­zard (Mr. Edwin Charles, and many oth­ers); (7) He­le­na Land­less (Mr. J. C. Wal­ters, Dr. Jack­son, and Sir W. Robert­son Nicoll); (8) Edwin Drood him­self (Mr. Proc­tor and Mr. An­drew Lang).

The first four of these may be ruled out of court with­out much cer­e­mo­ny.

When the Athenaum re­view­er as­sumes that the book might be as long as Dorn­bey and Son he was ev­i­dent­ly not aware that ex­act­ly half of Edwin Drood — six out of the twelve parts of so many pages each men­tioned in the con­tract with Chap­man and Hall — had al­ready ap­peared. There is room enough for new char­ac­ters to ap­pear, but Datch­ery, in Dick­ens' own phrase to Miss Hog­a­rth, is an "as­sump­tion." This also dis­pos­es of the sug­ges­tion that he is mere­ly a de­tec­tive, sent by Grew­gious. Real de­tec­tives do not go out of their way to at­tract at­ten­tion, and Datch­ery was clear­ly a gen­tle­man of ed­u­ca­tion and po­si­tion.

Mr. Saun­ders great­ly im­proved this, by mak­ing him one of the firm of Mr. Grew­gious' so­lic­i­tors, below his rooms in Sta­ple Inn, who have twice been men­tioned. In this case, the shock of white hair would prob­a­bly not be a wig, and would thus avoid the dif­fi­cul­ty of his per­pet­u­al­ly shak­ing it.

But then what is the "as­sump­tion"? That he was Neville Land­less can hard­ly have been se­ri­ous­ly ar­gued, though the ini­tials given above sug­gest a dis­tin­guished The­o­log­i­cal Pro­fes­sor. Any­thing more un­like the easy, ban­ter­ing Datch­ery than the gloomy, un­in­ter­est­ing Neville can­not be imag­ined. More­over, while Datch­ery is hunt­ing for ev­i­dence against Jasper at Clois­ter­ham, Jasper him­self is shad­ow­ing Neville in Sta­ple Inn, and is being shad­owed in turn by Grew­gious and Tar­tar. The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the "an­gu­lar" old Mr. Grew­gious is, if pos­si­ble, even more ridicu­lous.

A bet­ter case is made out by Mr. Gadd in the Dick­en­sian for Datch­ery being Tar­tar. Tar­tar had re­tired from the navy to in­her­it his uncle's for­tune, and re­al­ly was, like Datch­ery, "a sin­gle buffer, of easy tem­per, liv­ing idly on his means," while his breezy style of ad­dress has a good deal that re­calls Datch­ery. His as­sum­ing a dis­guise at all at Clois­ter­ham, where he was a stranger, is quite un­nec­es­sary, but may per­haps be only due to Dick­ens' melo­dra­mat­ic in­stincts. Dr. Jack­son dis­miss­es the the­o­ry as whol­ly im­pos­si­ble, but the ap­par­ent­ly fatal bar — that Datch­ery ap­pears at Clois­ter­ham in Chap­ter xviii and only meets Rosa and hears of the story in Chap­ter xxi — is equal­ly fatal to the He­le­na the­o­ry, which Dr. Jack­son sup­ports. Mr. Cadd, how­ev­er, does not seem to have cre­at­ed a school.

The com­mon­est the­o­ry is — or rather used to be, for it has grown some­what musty — that Datch­ery is Baz­zard.

The ev­i­dence for it re­solves it­self at the last al­most en­tire­ly into the re­mark of Grew­gious to Rosa after Datch­ery has ap­peared at Clois­ter­ham, "In fact he is off duty here al­to­geth­er just at pre­sent." But there are two sat­is­fac­to­ry ex­pla­na­tions of this state­ment. One is that it might well be a blind, in­tend­ed by Dick­ens to make the care­less read­er adopt this very the­o­ry. The other is that Baz­zard re­al­ly was in all prob­a­bil­i­ty em­ployed in watch­ing Jasper at this time, not, how­ev­er, at Clois­ter­ham but about the opium den. Mr. Proc­tor's in­ge­nious con­jec­ture, too, is worth no­tice, that the "place near Alder­s­gate Street" where Jasper puts up would have turned out to be Baz­zard's house.

Dick­ens had an ab­so­lute­ly un­lim­it­ed be­lief in the long arm of co­in­ci­dence.

But even such iden­ti­fi­ca­tions pour rire as those with Neville or Grew­gious are hard­ly more hope­less than the one with Baz­zard. Be­sides all the ob­jec­tions to the other cases, most of which Baz­zard seems to com­bine in him­self, imag­ine the "pale, puffy-faced, doughy-com­plex­ioned," self­ish, dis­con­tent­ed, un­grate­ful, un­lik­able clerk, who writes tragedies that no­body will read, as­sum­ing at will the char­ac­ter of the easy, de­light­ful Datch­ery! He, too, must un­hesi­tat­ing­ly be brushed aside. Mr. Saun­ders' con­jec­ture is far bet­ter, that he was to prove to be a traitor to Grew­gious, and as­sist in some way against his will in en­trap­ping Jasper. It is prob­a­bly for some such rea­son that Mrs. Bil­lickin, with whom Rosa lodges, is made to be Baz­zard's cousin.

The only re­main­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tions of Datch­ery are the two that are by far the most startling, most melo­dra­mat­ic, most in keep­ing with Dick­ens' own de­scrip­tion of the story as "a very cu­ri­ous and new idea" — those with Edwin Drood him­self, and with He­le­na Land­less. It is true that the idea of Watched by the Dead — Mr. Proc­tor's sen­sa­tion­al title — would not be al­to­geth­er new. In two short sto­ries Hunt­ed Down and (the Dick­ens part of) No Thor­ough­fare, the idea is to some ex­tent an­tic­i­pat­ed, but the dif­fer­ence of treat­ment might be con­sid­ered to make the story new. In fact this is just the melo­dra­mat­ic plot which would have strong­ly ap­pealed to Dick­ens, and in his later days seemed to be grow­ing al­most into an ob­ses­sion. So far then as the gen­er­al idea of the plot, the ev­i­dence of the ti­tles, the il­lus­tra­tion on the cover, and the re­sem­blance of Edwin's talk to Datch­ery's talk with the opium hag, Mr. Proc­tor and Mr. Lang have a very strong case in­deed. We know that it could not have oc­curred in life, be­cause though a dis­guise (some­thing much bet­ter than Datch­ery's wig and eye­brows) might per­haps have been car­ried through, the voice can­not be dis­guised, and Edwin could not pos­si­bly have met Jasper; but we must allow a con­sid­er­able mar­gin of con­ven­tion for melo­dra­mat­ic plots.

But there are two culs-de-sac to this the­o­ry, both ab­so­lute­ly fatal, if Dick­ens played any­thing like fair with his read­ers. The first is that Datch­ery was re­al­ly ig­no­rant of Jasper's lodg­ings, and showed it when pre­tense could not be known to any­body, or of any ser­vice what­ev­er to the plot.

The wait­er's di­rec­tions being fa­tal­ly pre­cise, he soon be­came be­wil­dered, and went bog­gling about and about the Cathe­dral tower, when­ev­er he could catch a glimpse of it, with a gen­er­al im­pres­sion on his mind that Mrs. Tope's was some­where very near it.

Then he meets Deputy, and bar­gains to be shown the way to Tope's. The boy points to an arched pas­sage.

"Yoo see," he says, "that there winder and door." "That's Tope's?" "Yer lie; it ain't. That's Jarsper's." "In­deed?" said Mr. Datch­ery with a sec­ond look of some in­ter­est. Spe­cial plead­ing has to go far in­deed to make this sec­ond look given for Deputy's fu­ture ben­e­fit! The sec­ond fatal bar is to be found in Datch­ery's con­ver­sa­tion with the opium hag. "I'll lay it out hon­est," she says, "on a medicine as does me good." "What's the medicine?" he asks. "I'll be hon­est with you be­fore­hand, as well as after. It's opium." "Mr. Datch­ery, with a sud­den change of coun­te­nance, gives her a sud­den look." But the woman had asked Edwin also for three and six­pence, and had told him that she want­ed it for opium. There is no get­ting over this, if Dick­ens played fair.

We turn to the last iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, with He­le­na Land­less. There is some­thing de­cid­ed­ly tak­ing about this, re­gard­ed pure­ly as melo­dra­ma. It would un­doubt­ed­ly be "a new idea" and "not com­mu­ni­ca­ble" (at least to Forster) "or its in­ter­est would be­gone." It would, of course, be even more im­pos­si­ble in ac­tu­al life than Edwin's as­sump­tion, and the spe­cial plead­ing of Dr. Jack­son, Mr. Wal­ters, and Sir W. R. Nicoll on be­half of its many "ab­sur­di­ties serves only to height­en them. Of course no girl could re­al­ly stay at an hotel for weeks as an el­der­ly gen­tle­man, and be un­sus­pect­ed. But when we are told that He­le­na after or­der­ing a pint of sher­ry for din­ner "per­haps did not con­sume it all," or that when she "fell to on the bread and cheese and ale with an ap­petite," Mrs. Tope "would have thought her strange­ly fas­tid­i­ous oth­er­wise" — a new way of cre­at­ing ap­petite — still more when her lik­ing the old tav­ern way of keep­ing scores is ex­plained as "seen by her in coun­try walks with Neville" (!) — it is plain that the ar­gu­ment is wear­ing very thin. The phys­i­cal im­pos­si­bil­i­ties seem hard­ly to be no­ticed by these in­ter­preters.

He­le­na was "slen­der, sup­ple, fierce," and "very dark, al­most of the gipsy type." Datch­ery "wears a tight­ish surtout" — the very last thing a girl could wear — and, apart from his hair and eye­brows, the only bod­i­ly de­tail men­tioned is that his head was un­usu­al­ly large — a like­ly thing for a girl! But the case is al­most ex­act­ly par­al­lel to Baz­zard's. As that rest­ed in the last re­sort main­ly on Grew­gious' re­mark, "In fact he is off duty here al­to­geth­er just at pre­sent," so the case for He­le­na falls back con­tin­u­al­ly on the re­mark of Neville to Mr. Crisparkle that in their child­ish run­nings-away, she "dressed each time as a boy, and showed the dar­ing of a man." It might have been thought that any­one would sus­pect that where Dick­ens was so anx­ious to hide his traces, so ob­vi­ous a lead as this must be in­ten­tion­al. But here again, just as in Baz­zard's case, it is not nec­es­sary to take it as a mere blind. There are plain enough in­di­ca­tions given that He­le­na is re­al­ly to face and help to crush Jasper. And the most prob­a­ble so­lu­tion of this is that she does again as­sume male cloth­ing, and keep Jasper oc­cu­pied in Sta­ple Inn by per­son­at­ing her twin broth­er Neville whom she so near­ly re­sem­bles, while Neville es­capes.

But, as the book stands, she — like Grew­gious and Tar­tar — is ex­clud­ed from being Datch­ery by the se­quence of events. Datch­ery ap­pears at Clois­ter­ham in Chap­ter xviii, while Grew­gious, Tar­tar, He­le­na, and Neville — ev­ery­body but the stupid and dis­agree­able Baz­zard — are all still at Sta­ple Inn in Chap­ter xxi. Dr. Jack­son points out that this is just as fatal to the He­le­na the­o­ry as to the Tar­tar or the Grew­gious the­o­ry. So with sin­gu­lar and in­ter­est­ing bold­ness he deals with his text as Dr. Cheyne might do with a Psalm re­tain­ing any Pre-ex­il­ic traces He re­ar­ranges his chap­ters.

Now it is ob­vi­ous that a the­o­ry which re­quires al­ter­ation of the text to begin with, starts with a very heavy hand­i­cap against it, es­pe­cial­ly since we know that Dick­ens re­vised the proofs to the end of Chap­ter xxi. Dr. Jack­son shows too from the MS. (the High­er Crit­i­cism again) that the first half of Chap­ter xviii (the Datch­ery chap­ter) was writ­ten after Chap­ter xix ("Shad­ow on the Sun­di­al"), and then trans­posed by Dick­ens. This makes an ac­ci­den­tal trans­po­si­tion of the chap­ters after Dick­ens' death al­most an im­pos­si­bil­i­ty.

But fur­ther­more — if Dick­ens, as we ought to as­sume, played fair with his read­ers — He­le­na is barred from being Datch­ery for the same rea­son as Edwin. He­le­na knew where Jasper's rooms were per­fect­ly well, but Datch­ery did not; for to ex­plain Datch­ery's " 'In­deed,' with a sec­ond look of some in­ter­est," when Deputy points out the room over the arch­way, as only mean­ing that he "re­gards them now in a new light" (to which Deputy has con­tribut­ed noth­ing what­ev­er) is ob­vi­ous­ly spe­cial plead­ing of the kind of which the crit­ics of Edwin Drood have fur­nished such an as­ton­ish­ing va­ri­ety.

In short, most peo­ple will agree with Mr. Chester­ton that the ob­jec­tion is not so much to the im­pos­si­bil­i­ty as that this as­sump­tion would not be melo­dra­ma but farce. "One might," he says, "as eas­i­ly imag­ine Edith Dombey dress­ing up as Major Bag­stock!" Thus no sat­is­fac­to­ry so­lu­tion of the mys­tery has ever been pro­pound­ed, and I sub­mit that it never can be; be­cause every the­o­ry not only in­volves im­prob­a­bil­i­ties, but is im­pos­si­ble to rec­on­cile with the ex­ist­ing text. If the MS. of the re­main­ing chap­ters were sud­den­ly dis­cov­ered to be in ex­is­tence, we should know what Dick­ens in­tend­ed, but we should still not have a sat­is­fac­to­ry so­lu­tion, be­cause he him­self — per­haps owing to some un­cer­tain­ty in his orig­i­nal idea, per­haps to a vari­a­tion of it in the course of writ­ing — has in some way or other barred every con­ceiv­able out­let. It must al­ways re­main "The Mys­tery" of Edwin Drood. And it is not an un­rea­son­able sur­mise that the hope­less task of find­ing a sat­is­fac­to­ry so­lu­tion may have pre­cip­i­tat­ed the final at­tack of apoplexy while he was at work on it which brought the cur­tain so sor­row­ful­ly down.

Per­haps I may add here a few of the as­ton­ish­ing "Cathe­dralia" in the book, which would have made the late Mr. Macken­zie Wal­cott's hair stand on end. They scarce­ly af­fect the ev­i­dence, how­ev­er, ex­cept as prov­ing Dick­ens' amaz­ing in­ac­cu­ra­cy in mat­ters not lend­ing them­selves to his par­tic­u­lar gifts.

Jasper, a lay choral-clerk, is also called "a lay Pre­cen­tor," and even "the Pre­cen­tor." Mr. Crisparkle's Minor Canon­ry must have been in pri­vate pa­tron­age, since he was "pro­mot­ed by a pa­tron grate­ful for a well-taught son." At ser­vice in the Cathe­dral, "the sac­ristan locks the iron-barred gates that di­vide the sanc­tu­ary from the chan­cel," the sanc­tu­ary at Clois­ter­ham thus being the nave.

Jasper "leads" the choir-boys in the pro­ces­sion to ser­vice. (This, by the way, is silent­ly cor­rect­ed by Charles Collins in the pic­ture on the cover.) Jasper's "pa­thet­ic sup­pli­ca­tion to have his heart in­clined to keep this law" is of­fered up, strange to say, at Ves­pers." But the best of all is that when the Princess Puffer wants to see and hear Jasper in the An­them, she has to go to the Cathe­dral at seven o'clock. That would have been wak­ing sleepy Clois­ter­ham up with a vengeance! Still as the cel­e­brat­ed match of Din­g­ley Dell v. All Mug­gle­ton clear­ly proves that Dick­ens had never played crick­et in his life, and yet re­mains the most fa­mous re­port of a match on record, so the im­pos­si­ble do­ings at Clois­ter­ham have an in­ter­est never to be found in the life­like and ac­cu­rate Barch­ester.