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,