In his contribution Evasions Are Valueless Mr. Harris wrote that I do not like his use of the word ‘insist’. He’s right. I don’t. In the context in which it was employed by Mr. Harris, it is arrogant and high-handed and it is evident from his words "Mr Begg does not match up to the standards that I set for myself" that Mr. Harris has an elevated opinion of himself. He apparently sees himself as the standard by which others must be judged. If others don’t measure up to his standards then there is no place for discussion.
Of course, Mr. Harris’ opinion of my standards is of no importance. I am happy for Casebook readers to turn to my Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts or The Jack the Ripper A to Z and gauge my standards for themselves. What is important, however, is that Mr. Harris takes this high-handed approach to contributors to the Casebook who don’t have books to speak for them. He lacks humility about his own greatness. He can’t be charitable towards the lesser contributions of others. He can’t write without resorting to insulting, derogatory and even derisory personal comments. He hurts and upsets people carelessly. For example, was it absolutely necessary for Mr Harris in his Casebook contribution The Maybick Hoax: Some Extra Guidance to describe Casebook contributor Naomi Wooter as "the strange lady" and her contribution as "gauche and immature" and to say that "her logic has deserted her"? Did Ms. Wooter deserve these comments?
This kind of behaviour by Mr. Harris – and those who act like him (the majority of whom seem to number among his supporters) – hurts everyone who accesses the Casebook. The Casebook is much like a newsgroup and is intended for people of all ages and all depths of knowledge to share news and opinions about a common interest. As with any newsgroup, the Casebook has its experts. As with any newsgroup, those experts should treat the thoughts and opinions of others with respect. Indeed, it is that respect for all-comers that generally keeps a newsgroup alive. When people degenerate into obscenity and personal abuse, it damages the newsgroup. People don’t like to make contributions or ask questions, the newsgroup begins to die as a result. In his column in the 21st April, 1998, issue of PC Magazine - "Together, We’re a Genius" - Bill Machrone briefly addressed this problem and concluded that either a newsgroup is moderated to keep the offensive material out or we simply ignore those who start flames and spam. Mr. Machrone wrote: "Shunning isn’t a nice thing to do to people, but the good of the group - and the care and feeding of the group genius - is more important than a hypersensitive individual with a quick trigger finger. As with spam, the best thing to do with offensive messages or individuals is just ignore them.’
I doubt that anybody would describe Melvin Harris as hypersensitive but he’s certainly offensive. Maybe we could live with this, but his rudeness is provocative. It incites replies and more rudeness. Amicable discussion and exchange of views dies, as it pretty much has done over the Maybrick Diary. Thus, I think Stephen Ryder must either insist on acceptable behaviour in contributions before they are posted (which would be sad; even Mr. Harris has worthwhile and interesting to say and it would be a pity if we had to lose them because he can’t seem to say them in an acceptable way) or we must take Bill Machrone’s advice and just ignore anyone who is rude.
And one further small point for the record, Mr. Harris opened the article
in which he was rude to Ms. Wooter by responding to criticisms: "First
of all let me state that I make no apologies for the style and tone of
my papers. I am not bent on winning a Pulitzer prize or producing a flowing
narrative; or providing colourful prose; or offering woolly and wordy generalisations..."
This is odd because as far as I am aware Melvin Harris has not been criticised
– at least on the Casebook - for his prose, narrative construction, or
for being less than forthright in expressing his opinions and conclusions.
He has been criticised for being offensive, rude, and for bolstering his
criticisms with personal comments. He does not address these criticisms.
His defence is therefore mere obfuscation, an avoidance of the real complaints.
It is evasion writ large.
He also wrote in justification of his style: "And if I vent my feelings at times this is because I refuse to act like a desiccated calculating machine. Few readers know how much calumny has been directed at myself and others simply because our findings stood in the way of the Diary believers." I imagine that Shirley Harrison and Paul Feldman would echo Mr Harris almost word for word, except they would argue that the calumny has been directed at them by the Diary non-believers. I think they would be right to do so. An example is readily available in an earlier exchange about a debated quotation from Mr. Harris’s The Ripper File. This quotation virtually accused Martin Howells and Keith Skinner of having supported material in The Ripper Legacy which they knew or suspected to be untrue. This is a grave charge. It is not one to make lightly. It is provocative to say the least. Mr. Harris wrote this in 1989, long before any controversy about the Maybrick Diary may have rained calumny upon his head. Sad to say, Mr. Harris provokes much that he receives and can hardly claim it as justification for his own rudeness.
But let’s move on. In Evasions Are Valueless Mr Harris effectively called me a liar. He had accused me of ‘deliberately’ misstating his position about something and I’d replied by saying that I had never ‘deliberately’ misstated Mr. Harris’s position over anything and that if I had at any time ever misstated his position, it was unintentional. Mr Harris’s response rejected what I had said. His reason is that I have apparently seen at least four documents which make it ‘unmistakably clear’ that everything he ever wrote about Dr. Dutton applied to material attributed to Dr. Dutton in Donald McCormick’s book. The trouble is, as far as I can recall, I have never disputed this. What I have questioned is Mr. Harris’s belief that everything attributed to Dr. Dutton by McCormick is McCormick’s invention.
That this is Mr. Harris’s opinion is made clear on page 150 of his second Ripper offering, The Ripper File, where he wrote: "In a similar fashion any theories drawing on the ‘Dr Dutton Diaries’ are invalid. In The Bloody Truth I demonstrate how and why these papers are sheer fiction."
As a matter of interest, it is worth observing here that Mr. Harris does not provide any caveat such as the ‘...papers as presented by McCormick are sheer fiction." Anyone unfortunate enough to read only The Ripper File would be left in no doubt by these words that the "Dutton Diaries" themselves are sheer fiction. But would reading The Bloody Truth have altered this impression? A careful reading of the relevant chapter - "Rasputin’s Russian Ripper" - reveals several indications that Mr. Harris was criticising only McCormick’s representation of Dutton and not Dr. Dutton himself. There are words like "as Donald McCormick tells it" and "something unreal about the Doctor too as he appears in McCormick’s books". Also, the statement by Hermione Dudley that Dutton actually thought the Ripper was an insane doctor is a suggestion that McCormick’s account of what the doctor believed was inaccurate (although McCormick himself drew attention to this and countered it). On the other hand, Mr Harris also loudly proclaimed that some "words brand the doctor as a first-class charlatan" which suggest that Mr. Harris was taking a swipe at Dr. Dutton himself. I am therefore uncertain that it would actually be clear to the casual reader that Mr. Harris was criticising only McCormick’s representation of Dutton and not Dutton himself.
I don’t think it would be misstating Mr. Harris’s position if one were to say that Mr Harris’s primary published material doesn’t make his views about the "Dutton Diaries" clear. However, my point about the "Dutton Diaries" is that Mr. Harris clearly believes that McCormick invented all the material he attributed to the "Diaries." I can recall no source, published or otherwise, in which Mr. Harris allows that anything attributed to the "Diaries" by McCormick could have a foundation in fact. I question (rather than disagree) with Mr. Harris’s conclusion. My argument is that although anything claimed by McCormick has to be treated with considerable care - and I draw Mr Harris’s attention to the following statement in The Jack the Ripper A to Z: "All we know about them (the "Diaries") comes from McCormick’s recollections and notes. They must, therefore, be treated with great caution at present." - Dr. Dutton’s career shows him to have been a man of wide interests and considerable ability; he was living in the East End at the time of the murders; he wrote about crime; his writings referred to Jack the Ripper. If McCormick did see the "Dutton Diaries" and take notes from them, which as far as is known he did, then what McCormick attributed to them could contain at least a kernel of genuine material. In other words, just because much of what McCormick attributed to Dr. Dutton was of McCormick’s own invention or elaboration, this does not mean that everything attributed to Dutton by McCormick is invention and we should be wary of dismissing it all as "sheer fiction".
Whether or not my point is valid, I don’t think anything I have said actually misstates Mr. Harris’s position regarding the "Dutton Diaries". I am aware, of course, that none of this will be of interest to the average Casebook reader, but Mr. Harris has chosen the Casebook as his public platform to make accusations which I consider unjust. I wish, if possible, to disillusion him. Or, if I have indeed misstated his position, allow Casebook readers to see the reason for my error and to appreciate that I did not act with purposeful intent.
Turning briefly to the question of the "Eight Little Whores" poem, I contended that the poem did not fit McCormick’s theory. Mr. Harris seems to reject this, yet with curious dexterity he seems to support me. He writes that McCormick accepted six victims and hedged his bets about Coles as a seventh. So, if McCormick accepted six victims why didn’t he invent a poem about six victims. If he wanted seven victims, why not invent a poem about seven? McCormick was writing in 1959; there wasn’t a hungry band of Ripperologists about to descend on him for omitting this victim or including that one. He didn’t have to hedge bets. If McCormick wanted six victims, why didn’t he have invent "Six Little Whores"?
But again Mr. Harris seems to evade the point, which is not why McCormick invented the poem, but whether he invented it at all. What is important about the poem – and crucial for the "Maybrick Diary" – is where the poem came from. If McCormick invented it, as Mr. Harris claims, then we need consider it no more. But if Mr. McCormick obtained it from elsewhere – even from his father, as I believe he is said to once have claimed – then the poem had a currency pre-1959 and doesn’t reveal the "Maybrick Diary" to be of post-1959 composition. As for the confession claimed by Mr. Harris, we can do no more than wait for Mr. Harris to produce it. Only then can we see what Mr. McCormick actually said and judge whether Mr. Harris’s interpretation is the only possible interpretation. And I feel obliged to state here that I am curious about why Mr. Harris didn’t long ago produce this devastating confession and put an end to the "Eight Little Whores" controversy. But sadly we have had experience of Mr. Harris making claims which he later refuses to or can’t substantiate, such as being able to name the three forgers of the "Maybrick Diary".
As for the red cigarette case, I make no major point about it and certainly don’t go so far as some in suggesting that it was left by accident or on purpose by the murderer. I merely observe that it was perhaps a surprising object for Eddowes to have possessed given that only a few hours earlier she had been forced to pawn her ‘husband’s’ boots to buy some simple necessities. I wonder, bearing in mind her complete lack of funds, how she was able to get incapably drunk. I wonder if she had been with someone from whom she stole or by whom she had been given the red cigarette case. But be this as it may, that the cigarette case was old does not mean it was without value and could not have been pawned. And Anderson’s statement on 24th October 1888 may mean that the cigarette case was not considered a "clue" at that time, it does not mean that it was not recognised as a clue after that date or that it was recognised as a clue by the City Police (but unknown to Anderson) before that date. Mr. Harris, I think, has made a couple of assumptions and reached a couple of conclusions that are rather more definite than they deserve.
Finally, in my introduction to Paul Feldman’s book I refer to two camps - meaning schools of thought - one believing the "Diary" to be genuine, the other believing it a modern forgery. I clearly disassociated myself from either camp, saying that both ‘camps’ had assumed a date for the composition of the "Diary" when no date of composition had been established. In this context I was talking about ‘camps’ in a different sense to that employed by Mr. Harris, who gives the impression of Paul Feldman and Melvin Harris surrounded by their supporters, followers and – to use a word once employed by Mr. Harris in this context - ‘henchmen’. Both Keith Skinner and myself have been portrayed as being supporters of Paul Feldman and being in the pro-camp, but we have repeatedly made it clear that we do not support everything Paul Feldman says or endorse his belief that the "Maybrick Diary" is genuine. Mr. Harris also has his supporters, but I don’t imagine that he endorses everything they say either, such as the memorable ramblings of the idiot who urged me to take a gun and blow my head off. Therefore, contrary to the impression given by Mr Harris, there are no camps of believers and disbelievers and in my opinion talk of such camps is and has been divisive and a hindrance to proper research.
Finally, Bill Machrone urges that we ignore those who persist in being rude and offensive. I intend to take his advice. If Mr. Harris persists in being rude and offensive, then I shall ignore him and it should not be assumed that my silence is tacit agreement with whatever he says. I apologise for writing at such length on a matter of little interest to Casebook readers, but I do not like being charged with ‘deliberately’ misstating the views and opinions of other people. More importantly, I don’t like the actual and potential damage Mr. Harris (and others) may be doing to what Bill Machrone called "the care and feeding of the group genius." As for Naomi Wooter and anyone else who may shrink from making any contribution to the Casebook for fear of failing to meet Mr. Harris’s high standards, it may be some comfort to contemplate the assumptions we have encountered – that a cigarette case was old, therefore it was without value; that Anderson was ignorant of clues on 24th October 1888, therefore he was ignorant of clues thereafter – and wonder whether those standards are really that high after all.