Charles Dickens.

Edwin Drood & Master Humphrey's clock online

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London: J. M. DENT & CO.
New York: E. P. DUTTON & CO.



by J-M-DENT- &-CO




Pickwick was a work partly designed by others, but
ultimately filled up by Dickens. Edwin Drood, the last
book, was a book designed by Dickens, but ultimately
filled up by others. The Pickwick Papers showed how
much Dickens could make out of other people's suggestions ;
The Mystery of Edwin Drood shows how very little other
people can make out of Dickens's suggestions.

Dickens was meant by Heaven to be the great melo-
dramatist; so that even his literary end was melodramatic.
Much more was meant in the cutting short of Edwin Drood
by Dickens than the mere cutting short of a good novel by
a great man. It seems rather like the last taunt of some
elf, leaving the world, that it should be this story which is
not ended, this story which is only a story. The only one
of Dickens's novels which he did not finish was the only
one that really needed finishiug. He never had but one
thoroughly good plot to tell; and that he has only told in
heaven. This is what separates the case in question from
any parallel cases of novelists cut off in the act of creation.
That great novelist, for instance, with whom Dickens is
constantly compared, died also in the middle of Dennis
Duval. But any one can see in Dennis Duval the qualities
of the later work of Thackeray; the increasing discursive-
ness, the increasing retrospective poetry, which had been
in part the charm and in part the failure of Philip and The
Virginians. But to Dickens it was permitted to die at a
dramatic moment and to leave a dramatic mystery. Any
Thackerayan could have completed the plot of Dennis
Duval except indeed that the Thackerayan might have
had some doubt as to whether there was any plot to
complete. But Dickens, having had far too little plot in
the stories he had to tell previously had far too much plot



viii Edwin Drood

in the story he never told. Dickens dies in the act of
telling, not his tenth novel, but his first news of murder.
He drops down dead as he is in the act of denouncing the
assassin. It is permitted to Dickens, in short, to come to
a literary end as strange as his literary beginning. He
began by completing the old romance of travel. He ended
by inventing the new detective story.

It is as a detective story first and last that we have to
consider The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This does not mean,
of course, that the details are not often admirable in their
swift and penetrating humour; to say that of the book
would be to say that Dickens did not write it. Nothing
.could be truer, for instance, than the manner in which the
dazed and drunken dignity of Durdles illustrates a certain
"bitterness at the bottom of the bewilderment of the poor.
Nothing could be better than the way in which the haughty
and allusive conversation between Miss Twinkleton and
the landlady illustrates the maddening preference of some
females for skating upon thin social ice. There is an even
better example than these of the original humorous in-
sight of Dickens ; and one not very often remarked, because
of its brevity and its unimportance in the narrative. But
Dickens never did anything better than the short account
of Mr. Grewgious's dinner being brought from the tavern
by two waiters: "a stationary waiter," and "a flying
waiter." The " flying waiter " brought the food and the
"stationary waiter" quarrelled with him; the "flying
waiter " brought glasses and the " stationary waiter "
looked through them. Finally, it will be remembered the
" stationary waiter " left the room, casting a glance which
indicated " let it be understood that all emoluments are
mine, and that Nil is the reward of this slave." Still,
Dickens wrote the book as a detective story; he wrote it
as The Mystery of Edwin Drood. And alone, perhaps,
among detective-story writers, he never lived to destroy
his mystery. Here alone then among the Dickens novels
it is necessary to speak of the plot and of the plot alone.
And when we speak of the plot it becomes immediately
necessary to speak of the two or three standing explanations
which celebrated critics have given of the plot.

The story, so far as it was written by Dickens, can be
read here. It concerns, as will be seen, the disappearance

Introduction ix

of the young architect Edwin Drood after a night of
festivity which wels supposed to celebrate his reconciUation
with a temporary enemy, Neville Landless, and was held
at the house of his uncle John Jasper. Dickens continued
the tale long enough to explain or explode the first and
most obvious of his riddles. Long before the existing part
terminates it has become evident that Drood has been put
away, not by his obvious opponent. Landless, but by his
uncle who professes for him an almost painful affection.
The fact that we all know this, however, ought not in
fairness to blind us to the fact that, considered as the first
fraud in a detective story, it has been, with great skill, at
once suggested and concealed. Nothing, for instance,
could be cleverer as a piece of artistic mystery than the
fact that Jasper, the uncle, always kept his eyes fixed on
Drood's face with a dark and watchful tenderness; the
thing is so told that at first we really take it as only indicat-
ing something morbid in the affection ; it is only afterwards
that the frightful fancy breaks upon us that it is not morbid
affection but morbid antagonism. This first mystery
(which is no longer a mystery) of Jasper's guUt, is only
worth remarking because it shows that Dickens meant and
felt himself able to mask all his batteries with real artistic
strategy and artistic caution. The manner of the un-
masking of Jasper marks the manner and tone in which
the whole tale was to be told. Here we have not got to
go with Dickens simply giving himself away, as he gave
himself away in Pickwick or The Christmas Carol. Some-
times one wishes that he would thus give himself away;
for there was no better gift.

What was the mystery of Edwin Drood from Dickens's
point of view we shall never know, except perhaps from
Dickens in heaven, and then he will very likely have
forgotten. But the mystery of Edwin Drood from our
point of view, from that of his critics, and those who have
with some courage (after his death) attempted to be his
collaborators, is simply this. There is no doubt that
Jasper either murdered Drood or supposed that he had
murdered him. The certainty we have from the fact that
it is the whole point of a scene between Jasper and Drood's
lawyer Grewgious, that Jasper is struck down with remorse
when he realises that Drood has been killed (from his point

X Edwin Drood

of view) needlessly and without profit. The only question
is whether Jasper's remorse was as needless as his murder.
In other words the only question is whether, while he
certainly thought he had murdered Drood, he had really
done it. It need hardly be said that such a doubt would
not have been raised for nothing; gentlemen like Jasper
do not as a rule waste good remorse except upon successful
crime. The origin of the doubt about the real death of
Drood is this. Towards the latter end of the existing
chapters there appears very abruptly, and with a quite
ostentatious air of mystery, a character called Datcher^^
He appears to have the of spying upon Jasper and
getting up some case against him ; at any rate, if he has not
this purpose in the story he has no other earthly purpose
in it. He is an old gentleman of juvenile energy, with a
habit of carrying his hat in his hand even in the open air;
which some have interpreted as meaning that he feels the
unaccustomed weight of a wig. Now there are one or two
people in the story whom this person might possibly be.
Notably there is one person in the story who seems as if he
were meant to be something, but who hitherto has certainly
been nothing; I mean Bazzard, Mr. Grewgious's clerk, a
sulky fellow interested in theatricals, of whom an unneces-
sary fuss is made. There is also Mr. Grewgious himself,
and there is also another suggestion, so much moie startling
that I shall have to deal with it later.

For the moment, however, the point is this. That
celebrated writer, Mr. Proctor, started the highly plausible
theory that this Datchery was Drood himself, who had not
really been killed. He adduced a most ingenious scheme
covering nearly all the details ; but the strongest argument
he had was rather one of general artistic effect. This
argument has been quite perfectly summed up by Mr.
Andrew Lang in one sentence: " If Edwin Drood is dead,
there is not much mystery about him." This is quite true ;
Dickens, when writing in so deliberate, nay, dark and
deliberate a manner, would surely have kept the death of
Drood and the guilt of Jasper hidden a little longer if the
only real mystery had been the guilt of Jasper and the
death of Drood. It certainly seems artistically more likely
that there was a further mystery of Edwin Drood ; not the
mystery that he was murdered, but the mystery that he

Introduction 9(p'..'. xi

was not murdered. It is true indeed that Mr. Gumming
Walters has a theory of Datchery (to which I have already
darkly alluded) a theory which is wild enough to be the
centre not only of any novel but of any harlequinade. But
the point is that even Mr. Gumming Walters' theory, though
it makes the mystery more extraordinary, does not make
it any more of a mystery of Edwin Drood. It should not
have been called The Mystery of Drood, but The Mystery of
Datchery. This is the strongest case for Proctor; if the
story tells of Drood coming back as Datchery, the story
does at any rate fulfil the title upon its title page.

The principal objection to Proctor's theory is that there
seems no adequate reason why Jasper should not have
murdered his nephew if he wanted to. And there seems
even less reason why Drood, if unsuccessfully murdered,
should not have raised the alarm. Happy young archi-
tects, when nearly strangled by elderly organists, do not
generally stroll away and come back some time afterwards
in a wig and with a false name. It does seem superficially
true to say that it would seem almost as odd to find the
murderer investigating the origin of the murder, as to find
the corpse investigating it. To this problem two of the
ablest literary critics of our time, Mr. Andrew Lang and
Mr. William Archer (both of them persuaded generally of
the Proctor theory) have especially addressed themselves.
Both have come to the same substantial conclusion; and
I suspect that they are right. They hold that Jasper
(whose mania for opium is much insisted on in the tale)
had some sort of fit, or trance, or other physical seizure as
he was committing the crime, so that he left it unfinished;
and they also hold that he had drugged Drood, so that
Drood, when he recovered from the attack, was doubtful
about who had been his assailant. This might really
explain, if a little fancifully, his coming back to the town
in the character of a detective. He might think it due to
his uncle (whom he last remembered in a kind of murderous
vision) to make an independent investigation as to whether
he was really guilty or not. He might say, as Hamlet said of
a vision equally terrifying, " I'll have grounds more relative
than this." In fairness it must be said that there is some-
thing vaguely shaky about this theorj' ; chiefly, I think, in
this respect; that there is a sort of farcical cheerfulness

xii Edwin Drood

about Datchery which does not seem altogether appropriate
to a lad who ought to be in an agony of doubt as to whether
his best friend was or was not his assassin. Still there are
many such incongruities in Dickens; and the explanation
of Mr. Archer and Mr. Lang is an explanation. I do not
believe that any explanation as good can be given to account
for the tale being called The Mystery of Edwin Drood, if the
tale practically starts with his corpse.

If Drood is really dead one cannot help feeling the story
ought to end where it does end, not by accident but by
design. The murder is explained. Jasper is ready to be
hanged, and every one else in a decent novel ought to be
ready to be married. If there was to be much more of
anything, it must have been of anti-climax. Nevertheless
there are degrees of anti-climax. Some of the more obvious
explanations of Datchery are quite reasonable, but they are
distinctly tame. For instance, Datchery may be Bazzard ;
but it is not very exciting if he is; for we know nothing
about Bazzard and care less. Again, he might be Grew-
gious ; but there is something pointless about one grotesque
character dressing up as another grotesque character
actually less amusing than himself. Now, Mr. Gumming
Walters has at least had the distinction of inventing a
theory M^hich makes the story at least an interesting story,
even if it is not exactly the story that is promised on the
cover of the book. The obvious enemy of Drood, on whom
suspicion first falls, the swarthy and sulky Landless, has
a sister even swarthier and, except for her queenly dignity,
even sulkier than he. This barbaric princess is evidently
meant to be (in a sombre way) in love with Crisparkle, the
clergyman and muscular Christian who represents the
breezy element in the emotions of the tale. Mr. Gumming
Walters seriously maintains that it is this barbaric princess
who puts on a wig and dresses up as Mr. Datchery. He
urges his case with much ingenuity of detail. Helena
Landless certainly had a motive ; to save her brother, who
was accused falsely, by accusing Jasper justly. She certainly
had some of the faculties; it is elaborately stated in the
earlier part of her story that she was accustomed as a child
to dress up in male costume and run into the wildest
adventures. There may be something in Mr. Gumming
Walters' argument that the very flippancy of Datchery is

Introduction xiii

the self-conscious flippancy of a strong woman in such an
odd situation; certainly there is the same flippancy in
Portia and in Rosalind. Nevertheless, I think there is one
final objection to the theory; and that is simply this, that
it is comic. It is generally wrong to represent a great
master of the grotesque as being grotesque exactly where
he does not intend to be. And I am persuaded that if
Dickens had really meant Helena to turn into Datchery,
he would have made her from the first in some way more
light, eccentric, and laughable ; he would have made her at
least as light and laughable as Rosa. As it is, there is some-
thing strangely stiff and incredible about the idea of a lady
so dark and dignified dressing up as a swaggering old
gentleman in a blue coat and grey trousers. We might
almost as easily imagine Edith Dombey dressing up as
Major Bagstock. We might almost as easily imagine
Rebecca in Ivanhoe dressing up as Isaac of York.

Of course such a question can never really be settled
precisely, because it is the question not merely of a mystery
but of a puzzle. For here the detective novel differs from
every other kind of novel. The ordinary novelist desires
to keep his readers to the point; the detective novelist
actually desires to keep his readers off the point. In the
first case, every touch must help to tell the reader what he
means ; in the second case, most of the touches must conceal
or even contradict what he means. You are supposed to
see and appreciate the smallest gestures of a good actor;
but you do not see all the gestures of a conjuror if he is a
good conjuror. Hence, into the critical estimate of such
works as this, there is introduced a problem, an extra
perplexity, which does not exist in other cases. I mean
the problem of the things commonly called blinds. Some
of the points which we pick out as being suggestive may
have been put in as being deceptive. Thus the whole con-
flict between a critic with one theory, like Mr. Lang, and
a critic with another theory, like Mr. Gumming Walters,
becomes eternal and a trifle farcical. Mr. Walters says
that all Mr. Lang's clues were blinds; Mr. Lang says that
all Mr. Walters' clues were blinds. Mr. Walters can say
that some passages seemed to show that Helena was
Datchery; Mr. Lang can reply that those passages were
only meant to deceive simple people like Mr. Walters into

xiv Master Humphrey's Clock

supposing that she was Datchery. Similarly Mr. Lang can
say that the return of Drood is foreshadowed; and Mr.
Walters can reply that it was foreshadowed because it was
never meant to come off. There seems no end to this
insane process; anything that Dickens wrote may or may
not mean the opposite of what it says. Upon this principle
I should be very ready for one to declare that all the
suggested Datcherys were really blinds; merely because
they can naturally be suggested. I would undertake to
maintain that Mr. Datchery is really Miss Twinkleton, who
has some mercenary interest in keeping Rosa Budd at her
school. This suggestion does not seem to me to be really
much more ridiculous than Mr. Gumming Walters' theory.
Yet either may certainly be true. Dickens is dead, and
a number of splendid scenes and startling adventures have
died with him. Even if we get the right solution we shall
not know that it is right. The tale might have been, and
yet it has not been. And I think there is no thought so
much calculated to make one doubt death itself, to feel that
sublime doubt which has created all religion — the doubt
that found death incredible. Edwin Drood may or may not
have really died; but surely Dickens did not really die.
Surely our real detective liveth and shall appear in the latter
days of the earth. For a finished tale may give a man im-
mortality in the light and literary sense ; but an unfinished
tale suggests another immortality, more necessary and more


It is quite indispensable to include a criticism of Master
Humphrey's Clock in any survey of Dickens, although it is
not one of the books of which his admirers would chiefly
boast; although perhaps it is almost the only one of which
he would not have boasted himself. As a triumph of
Dickens, at least, it is not of great importance. But as a
sample of Dickens it happens to be of quite remarkable
importance. The very fact that it is for the most part
somewhat more l6vel and even monotonous than most of
his creations, makes us realise, as it were, against what level
and monotony those creations commonly stand out. This

Introduction xv

book is the background of his mind. It is the basis and
minimum of him which was always there. Alone, of all
written things, this shows how he felt when he was not
writing. Dickens might have written it in his sleep. That
is to say, it is written by a sluggish Dickens, a half automatic
Dickens, a dreaming and drifting Dickens; but still by the
enduring Dickens.

But this truth can only be made evident by beginning
nearer to the beginning of the matter. Nicholas Nickleby
had just completed, or, to speak more strictly, confirmed, the
popularity of the young author; wonderful as Pickwick
was it might have been a nine days' wonder; Oliver Twist
had been powerful but painful; it was Nicholas Nickleby
that proved the man to be a great productive force of which
one could ask more, of which one could ask all things. His
publishers, Chapman and Hall, seem to have taken at about
this point that step which sooner or later most publishers
do take with regard to a half successful man who is becoming
wholly successful. Instead of asking him for something,
they asked him for anything. They made him, so to speak,
the editor of his own works. And indeed it is literally as
the editor of his own works that he next appears ; for the
next thing to which he proposes to put his name is not a
novel, but for all practical purposes a magazine. Yet
although it is a magazine, it is a magazine, for all practical
purposes, entirely written by himself; the publishers, in
point of fact, wanted to create a kind of Dickens Miscellany,
in a much more literal sense than that in which we speak of
a Bentley Miscellany. Dickens was in no way disposed to
dislike such a job; for the more miscellaneous he was the
more he enjoyed himself. And indeed this early experiment
of his bears a great deal of resemblance to those later experi-
ences in which he was the editor of two popular periodicals.
The editor of Master Humphrey's Clock was a kind of type
or precursor of the editor of Household Words and All the
Year Round. There was the same sense of absolute ease
in an atmosphere of infinite gossip. There was the same
great advantage gained by a man of genius who wrote best
scrappily and by episodes. The omnipotence of the editor
helped the eccentricities of the author. He could excuse
himself for all his own shortcomings. He could begin a
novel, get tired of it, and turn it into a short story. He

xvi Master Humphrey's Clock

could begin a short story, get fond of it, and turn it into a
novel. Thus in the days of Household Words he could
begin a big scheme of stories, such as Somebody's Luggage.
or Seven Poor Travellers, and after \NTiting one tale or two
toss the rest to his colleagues. Thus, on the other hand,
in the time of Master Humphrey' s Clock, he could begin one
small adventure of Master Humphrey and find himself
unable to stop it. It is quite clear I think (though only
from moral evidence, which some call reading between the
lines) that he originally meant to tell many separate tales, of
Master Humphrey's wanderings in London, only one of
which, and that a short one, was to have been concerned
u-ith a little girl going home. Fortunately for us that little
girl had a grandfather, and that grandfather had a curiosity
shop and also a nephew, and that nephew had an entirely
irrelevant friend whom men and angels called Richard
Swiveller. Once having come into the society of Swiveller
it is not unnatural that Dickens stayed there for a whole
book. The essential point for us here, however, is that
Master Humphrey's Clock was stopped by the size and
energy of the thing that had come of it. It died in child-

There is, however, another circumstance which, even in
ordinary' public opinion, makes this miscellany important,
besides the great novel that came out of it. I mean that
the ordinary' reader can remember one great thing about
Master Humphrey's Clock, besides the fact that it was the
frame-work of The Old Curiosity Shop. He remembers that
Mr. Pickwick and the Wallers rise again from the dead.
Dickens makes Samuel Piclrwick become a member of
Master Humphrey's Clock Society'; and he institutes a
parallel society in the kitchen under the name of Mr.
Weller's Watch.

Before we consider the question of whether Dickens was
wise when he did this, it is worth remarking how really odd
it is that this is the only place where he did it. Dickens,
one would have thought, was the one man who might
naturally have introduced old characters into new stories.
Dickens, as a matter of fact, was almost the one man who
never did it. It would have seemed natural in him for a
double reason ; first, that his characters were ver\' valuable
to him, and second, that they were not very valuable to his

Introduction xvii

particular stories. They were dear to him, and the\- are
dear to us; but they really might as well have turned up
(within reason) in one en\-ironment as well as in another.
We, I am sure, should be delighted to meet Mr. Mantalini
in the story of Dombey and Son. And he cerxainly would
not be much missed from the plot of Nicholas Xickleby.
" I am an afiectionate father," said Dickens, " to all the
children of my fancy ; but like many other parents I have
in my heart of hearts a favourite child: and his name is
Da\'id Copperfield." Yet although his heart must often

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