Sunday, May 1, 2016

A lost fragment of “Edwin Drood”

The literary world is thrilling to the latest discovery of a work by a major figure -- in this case, the American poet Walt Whitman -- previously unknown (in the present case, published, but not under the poet’s name):

Since the work in question -- mere newspaper fare, and appearing as its lead article -- was “hiding in plain sight”, one cannot say that the world of letters has been particularly enriched by its (re)discovery -- or rather, re-ascription.  It consists of diet advice and whatnot.  Still, it is rejoicing to learn, once again, that forgotten treasure may be found for the ferreting.

As our own, far more modest contribution to Whitmaniana, we offer this seldom-seen photograph, not of the poet, but of his elder brother Phineas:

Walt Whitman's smarter brother

In actual, actuarial fact, Walt had upwards of a dozen brothers, all of them smarter than himself, but none of them poets;  and since they all went into banking, or barbering, or bagel-making, or bootblacking, their tales are lost to literary history.


Quite on another plane  from that of Whitman (who struggled  his entire life to become a poet, without ever discovering the principle of the rhyme) is that of the brilliant Dickens, whose final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (posthum.  1870), a masterpiece of clockwork plotting and stylistic concision, was left tragically unfinished by the author’s untimely, more than lamented death.  No work in history has more sharply whetted the thirst of cognoscenti, for more; in attics throughout England, dusty trunks have long been feverishly ransacked, in hopes that some further chapter, or even the bare outline of the plot (along with the key to the murder), might turn up.  So far, all in vain.

Until now.  Using methods which, both for reasons of methodological proprietorship and of possible legal liability in case some corners might have been cut (quite without my knowledge), we shall not disclose,  we at last have managed to acquire -- against a sum which, again, I shall not reveal; consider it my humble financial contribution to world scholarship -- an actual fragment, on a torn bit of manuscript and in the author's own hand, of the final chapter of that work.

For its genuineness I have the solemn testimony of my employee Mr Thomas Chatterton, Gentleman, Director of Chemical Analysis for the WDJ  Department of Incunabula:  the fragment was printed on the very same rare make of paper that bore that priceless manuscript “A Dinner at Veneerings”, which it was our good fortune to expose to the marveling world, a photo-image of which manuscript may be inspected here.

Here then, follows the fragment.

Vide infra;  right … there.

not but that, had he

  Umm, that’s it.  That’s all he wrote.  That’s what you get.  Something of an anticlimax, perhaps, to such as are hard to please.
It might have been nice to have an actual verb, at least.   Or a noun;  or a name.  Still, as the first authenticated posthumous addition to that classic of suspense and detection, our find must mark an epoch  in Dickens scholarship.

We ourselves are far too rigorous in our adherence to the methodological rigors of diplomatic editions, to venture a guess as to the context;  although, examing the fragile fragment with a magnifier, we do perceive, off at the right edge, a curve which might be a part of an o;  in which case  the passage may confidently be emended to “had he only” -- or, what is almost the same, “had he only known”.   Or yet further, with more than moral certainty,

not but that, had he only known what effect these words would have upon his stunned interlocutor, he might have


A night of intense reflection, not unaccompanied by ardent spirits, has revealed to me the following astonishing completion:

… he might have plunged his hand into the hidden inner pocket of his blouse of Indian silk, and extracted the gem-encrusted dagger which he had secreted for so long against this very possibility -- sinking the instrument repeatedly into the half-averted visage of the crone --
“SO!  You thought you could do away with him, and frame me for the deed, and make me to imagine that I had done it myself, while in an amnesiac haze  the fruit of the treble-strength opium which you, on that accursed night, administered with your traitor’s hand!”

Ex pede, Herculem!  The mystery is solved at last !!

-- Mm; hmm.  Of course, that is all a bit speculative.

~  Posthumous Endorsement ~
"If I were alive today, and in the mood for a mystery,
this is what I'd be reading: "
(My name is Charles “Chuck” Dickens,
and I approved this message.)
~         ~

[Lit. Crit. footnote (all satire aside):
 Such a dénoument would resemble that of Wilkie Collins’ pioneering whodunit, The Moonstone (1868), in which the protagonist, having been slipped some laudanum, unconsciously commits an act which is key to a crime, and which frames him for the crime itself.   Dickens and Collins were longtime friends and emulous colleagues;  moreover, Dickens was certainly well aware of The Moonstone, having been its actual publisher!

I wrote all this simply as a hoot; yet there are several indications within the published portion of the book, which make such a hypothetical ending plausible.  For:
(1)  The crone who runs the opium den  has been meddling with the dosages;  Jasper remarks upon this.
(2)  You would think that the crone would be favorably disposed towards Jasper, since he’s a regular customer and pays his bills;  yet she absolutely has it in for him, with a deadly hatred, as we see towards the end of the published book when she visits the cathedral and sees him sing.
(3) … TBC



  1. I want to admit that I'm laughing my ass off reading this, but that's too crude a response to this high humor. Congratulations to all who toiled at these digs.
    Cap'n Mike

    1. Ho there, Cap’n, good to hear from you!
      Hopefully you will manage to locate the missing gluteus and re-attach it!
      First-Mate Davy