Luke Fildes: A Letter to the Editor of the Times

First pub­lished: Times Lit­er­ary Sup­ple­ment, 27th Oc­to­ber 1905


IR, — In an ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled ‘The Mys­ter­ies of Edwin Drood’ in your issue of to-day, the writ­er, spec­u­lat­ing on the var­i­ous the­o­ries ad­vanced as so­lu­tions of the mys­tery, ven­tures to say: —

‘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.’

I know that Charles Dick­ens was very anx­ious that his se­cret should not be guessed, but it sur­pris­es me to read that he could be thought ca­pa­ble of the de­ceit so light­ly at­tribut­ed to him.

The ‘hints he dropped’ to me, his sole il­lus­tra­tor — for Charles Collins, his son-in-law, only de­signed the green cover for the month­ly parts, and 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 per­son­al­ly given by Charles Dick­ens, and not from any text — these ‘hints’ to me were the out­come of a re­quest of mine that he would ex­plain some mat­ters, the mean­ing of which I could not com­pre­hend, and which were for me, his il­lus­tra­tor, em­bar­rass­ing­ly hid­den.

I in­stanced in the print­ers’ rough proof of the month­ly part sent to me to il­lus­trate where he par­tic­u­lar­ly de­scribed John Jasper as wear­ing a neck­er­chief of such di­men­sions as to go twice round his neck; I called his at­ten­tion to the cir­cum­stance that I had pre­vi­ous­ly dressed Jasper as wear­ing a lit­tle black tie once round the neck, and I asked him if he had any spe­cial rea­sons for the al­ter­ation of Jasper’s at­tire, and, if so, I sub­mit­ted I ought to know. He, Dick­ens, ap­peared for the mo­ment to be dis­con­cert­ed by my re­mark, and said some­thing mean­ing he was afraid he was ‘get­ting on too fast’ and re­veal­ing more than he meant at that early stage, and after a short si­lence, cog­i­tat­ing, he sud­den­ly said, ‘Can you keep a se­cret?’ I as­sured him he could rely on me. He then said, ‘I must have the dou­ble neck­tie! It is nec­es­sary, for Jasper stran­gles Edwin Drood with it.’

I was im­pressed by his earnest­ness, as in­deed, I was at all my in­ter­views with him — also by the con­fi­dence which he said he re­posed in me, trust­ing that I would not in any way refer to it, as he feared even a chance re­mark might find its way into the pa­pers ‘and thus an­tic­i­pate his “mys­tery”’; and it is a lit­tle startling, after more than thir­ty-five years of pro­found be­lief in the no­bil­i­ty of char­ac­ter and sin­cer­i­ty of Charles Dick­ens, to be told now that he prob­a­bly was more or less of a hum­bug on such oc­ca­sions. — I am, Sir, yours obe­di­ent­ly,

Luke Fildes
Har­ro­gate, Oc­to­ber 27.