Original at Beachcombing's Bizarre History blog
HE Mystery of Edwin Drood is Dickens’ unfinished novel. Half way written when the author died in 1870, it has long offered an opportunity to pot boilers to finish off the novel for themselves – it is essentially a murder mystery – something many have tried, impossible as it is to judge Dickens’ plans for the characters. This piece by Conan Doyle tickled Beach because it describes an attempt to resolve matters by turning to the spirit world.
In the original form of this essay, which appeared in the Fortnightly Review, I devoted some space to considering a continuation of Edwin Drood, which professed to come from Charles Dickens through the hand of one James who was foreman in a printing office in Brattleborough, Vermont. No one who reads it can deny that it is an excellent imitation of the great author’s style, but the most unconvincing part was the narrative itself, which was clumsy and improbable. My conclusion was ‘that the actual inspiration of Dickens is far from being absolutely established.’ I added, however, ‘No one with any critical faculty would say that the result was an entirely unworthy one, though if written by the living Dickens it would certainly not have improved his reputation. It reads,’ I added, ‘like Dickens gone flat’.
However, there was a sequel.
Shortly after I had written as above I had a sitting with Florizel von Reuter the celebrated violin virtuoso, and his mother. Their (or rather her) mediumship is of a most convincing nature, as its technique is in itself of abnormal power. She sits with her eyes tightly bandaged, and her hand upon a small pointer which darts very rapidly at the letters of the alphabet, while her son writes down the result. There is no question at all about the bandage being adequate, and she does not turn her face down to the board. The letters too, are so close together that she could not learn to touch them with accuracy. Yet the messages come through with extreme speed. Whatever their value there is no question that they come in preternatural fashion. Imagine us there, seated, these two at the centre table, my wife and I in the corner of our cottage room. Dickens and Drood had been in my mind, but our visitors had no means of knowing that.
Unless, of course they had read Doyle’s article in the Fortnightly Review…
Florizel von Reuter had never read Edwin Drood. His mother had read it years ago but had a very vague memory as to the book. Suddenly the pointer begins to dart furiously and Florizel reads off each sentence as he notes it down Some of them, I may add, came in looking-glass writing and had to be read backwards. The first was, ‘Boz is buzzing about’. Boz, of course, was the nom-de-plume of Dickens, so I asked if it was he. He eagerly declared that it was. After a short interchange of dialogue I said, ‘Will you answer some questions?’ ‘I hope I know enough,’ was the answer. ‘Was that American who finished Edwin Drood inspired?’ ‘Not by me,’ was the instantaneous and decided answer. Now von Reuter knew nothing of this matter, and my own opinion was, at the utmost, neutral, so that this positive answer reflected none of our own thoughts. Then came a further message. ‘Wilkie C. did’ [or would have done] ‘better.’ There was, I believe, some talk after Dickens’ death of Wilkie Collins finishing the book. So far as I know he did nothing in the matter. The von Reuters knew nothing of this. ‘Was Edwin Drood dead?’ ‘No, he was not.’ That was certainly my own opinion so I make a present of it to the telepathist. Then after a pause, the message went on: ‘I was sorry to go across before I got him out of his trouble. The poor chap has had a hard time. I don’t know which is better, to solve the mystery in your note-book or let it remain a mystery for ever. If you make good with Conrad I will put you on to Edwin.’ ‘I shall be honoured, Mr. Dickens.’ ‘Charles, if you please. We like friends to be friends.’ The reader will smile at this. So did I. But facts are facts and I am giving them. I asked: ‘Have you a clear recollection of the plot?’ ‘I have.’ ‘Who was Datchery?’ ‘What about the fourth dimension? I prefer to write it all out through you.’ What the fourth dimension has to do with it I cannot imagine. I think it was meant as chaff, since the fourth dimension is what no one can understand. Now comes the important sentence: ‘Edwin is alive and Chris is hiding him.’
This solution convinced Doyle for reasons he goes on to explain.
Some of the best brains in the world have occupied themselves over the problem as to whether Drood was dead, and if not where he could be. Numerous solutions have been suggested, but though I am fairly well posted in the matter this is an entirely new one. Chris is the Rev. Crisparkle, who in the novel is a kindly and energetic, muscular Christian. Certainly if he played the part indicated it is well concealed. But then it was the author’s duty to conceal it well. There are several subtle touches which might point to the truth of it. On re-reading the fragment with this idea in my mind I can say with certainty that up to a point Crisparkle certainly knew nothing about it. He has a soliloquy to that effect, and whatever means are legitimate by which an author may mislead a reader, a false soliloquy is not among them. But after that point in the story there is no reason why Crisparkle may not have surprised Drood’s secret, and helped him. There was a huge cupboard in Crisparkle’s room which is described with a detail which seems unnecessary and exaggerated if nothing is to come from it. There again the artist drew his frontispiece under Dickens’ very particular direction, and it contains small vignettes of various scenes. There is one which shows Drood standing in a sort of vault, and someone who has some indications of clerical garb coming in to him with a lantern. Is this not Crisparkle and is it not some corroboration of the spirit message? We got no more messages at that time. Let us for a moment, however, consider the case. Is it not clear evidence of an intelligence outside ourselves? I do not insist upon Charles Dickens. If anyone says to me, ‘How can you prove that it was not an Impersonation?’ I would admit frankly that I cannot prove it. There is none of that corroboration from style which I get in the case of Wilde and of London. I put it on the broader basis, ‘Was it not an Intelligence apart from ourselves?’ Whence came an ingenious solution of a mystery which involved a character of which neither of the von Reuters knew anything with a solution entirely new to me. I claim that it was a most evidential case of Intelligence outside our own physical bodies. I may add that on the same evening we had a number of messages in Arabic which none of us could understand. When, however, I sent them to my friend, Major Marriott, who is a competent Arabic scholar, they proved to be quite correct. This reinforces the argument that the Dickens’ messages were quite apart from ourselves.
January 16, 2013