19 September 1888
It is no doubt a most desirable thing that a community should be disabused of any illusions as to its social condition and surroundings. On that point we shall all be agreed: and if, therefore, there be any considerable number of persons among us who have been till now under the impression that Whitechapel was a perfect home of the civil and domestic virtues, or even that it was a region in which, as the discontented Western American complained, "respectability stalks unchecked", they should be duly grateful to those philanthropic gentlemen who are endeavouring to awaken them to a perception of the true state of the case. For ourselves, however, we should have thought that the persons standing in need of this sort of enlightenment form an extremely limited class; and we are certainly not prepared to admit that the "Whitechapel horrors," as one enthusiast assures us this morning, "will not be in vain" if they assist the enlightening process. Four murders of unexampled barbarity are a rather heavy price to pay for opening the eyes of a few people who must have been hitherto in the habit of keeping them most obstinately shut, and who must be so very little likely to use them to any purpose now that they are opened. Moreover, it must be said, with unfeigned respect for "S.G.O." and the Rev. Samuel Barnett, that the particular crimes which they profess to consider so "awakening" do not form by any means an appropriate text for the particular sermon which they are preaching upon them. If they wish - as they do, and very rightly, wish - to enforce the truth that the normal condition of certain of the poorer and more populous districts of London is deplorable, and that the social reformer should redouble his efforts to improve it, they do not act wisely in resting so much of their case on the perpetration of certain atrocities which are of a quite abnormal character even for the crime haunted district in which they have occurred. If the murderer or murderers of these four unfortunate women be ever discovered, it is tolerably certain, whatever else is doubtful, that he or they will ever be found to belong to a class of criminal which Whitechapel has no more a speciality for engendering than has any other region of the world in which a human monster from time to time makes his appearance. "Society" is in these days made responsible for much, and is accustomed to accept that responsibility without much question. But when Society is told that, if it does not at once prosecute to accomplishment certain extremely difficult social and economical reforms, it will be held responsible for the existence and growth of a class of criminals who make it their business or their pastime to murder and disembowel woman, common sense revolts. And since common sense must, in the long run, direct and guide all efforts for the amelioration of the human lot, it is not well to alienate it from the case for which Mr. Barnett in his own day, like "S.G.O." in his, has so laudably and unselfishly laboured.
There is nothing, moreover, in the measures which the former of these philanthropists is urging upon us this morning which is not familiar enough to every one, or which needs to be recommended by four savage murders of a kind entirely outside all ordinary experience. "Efficient police supervision", for instance, is a detail of municipal government which ought not to be defective in any quarter of a great city; although there is no doubt much reason to fear that there is in fact a serious lack of it in Whitechapel. When provided, however, it is much more likely to be effective in preventing the "rows, fights, and thefts" which are so common in the locality than in anticipating the occasional commission of a secretly planned and swiftly executed murder. "Adequate lighting and cleaning," "removal of slaughterhouses," and "control of tenement houses by responsible landlords," are, again, all of them doubtless reforms of substantial if of unequal value. They have all of them, we admit, a more or less direct connection with the general improvement of the morals and manners of the inhabitants of this or any other locality; but their bearing upon the particular crimes with which they are now concerned is really exceedingly remote. Men with a maniacal thirst for bloodshed would still appear occasionally, even if all the slaughterhouses were removed from Whitechapel and all the tenement houses placed under responsible landlords; nor could the most perfect system of "lighting and cleaning" the streets of the district leave such miscreants without a back yard near at hand in which to commit a murder. It cannot possibly enlist fresh efforts on behalf of any cause to set before its well wishers an object which they must know to be impossible of attainment. And, adverting for a moment to another question raised by these crimes, we may add that it does not hopefully stimulate the efforts of anybody in any undertaking, to make no allowance for its difficulties and to obstruct its progress by unreasonable and unseasonable interference. We are not concerned to defend the conduct of the inquiry into these murders by the police; least of all to justify the way in which they have presented the case to the coroner. But it is fair to remember that the murders themselves are of a character which makes it peculiarly difficult to trace the perpetrators, and that certain sensational organs of the press have done their utmost from the outset of the case to render the work of detection as hard as possible.