The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.
London. 1888. One August morning young woman is found savagely stabbed to death in her bedroom. The attacked occurred in a seedy and impoverished part of London known as Whitechapel. The violence used was far more than was needful to kill her. The unfortunate female his not simply been poniarded to death. Her internal organs had been removed after death and placed on a table where they are floating on a pool of her blood. The murderer had taken especial cate to remove her womb. It is known that this unfortunate female was a prostitute. Her assailant knew what he was doing. He must have been a man of great strength and with a razor-sharp knife. His knowledge of anatomy leads many to assume that he must be a doctor. The woman who had been barbarically butchered with such medical expertise had been a lady of the night.
Who can have committed such a crime of such insensate satanic savagery? People do not care much for prostitutes. However, the newspapers are full of this most shocking story. There were some other murders in London at the time. These were usually drunk men fighting each other or criminals killing in robberies. To deliberately kill a defenceless woman was shockingly rare. There was not even a pecuniary motive to slay her. The murderer was then assumed to be rich because he has not bothered to take his victim’s cash and valuables. London was not a very violent place. The hunt for the crazed killer was afoot! Then a few weeks later people are beginning to calm down. But then he strikes again. There was a hue and cry.
In the same dingy London’s red light district of Whitechapel a woman is most foully done to death in a remarkably similar manner to the previous murder. A young woman was stabbed to death at night. The stab wounds showed extraordinary ferocity. Once again, she had been eviscerated. The killer had again cut out some of her generative organs and placed them on the floor – they were aswim in a pool of blood.
Again, the woman who was killed was a hooker. The precision with which the woman had been disembowelled led many to suspect that only a doctor could have carried out the murder. Why the fixation with her reproductive organs?
The newspapers report little else but this disgusting crime for the next few days. Some newspapers dubbed this unknown killer ”Jack the Ripper” that is because the killer ripped the organs out. Jack was a very common name at the time. The police put out appeals for information.
The police received taunting letters from a man claiming to be the murderer. Some of them referred to the slayings as ‘work’. The most notorious such epistle is known as the ‘Dear Boss’ letter since that is how it starts.
There was a large Jewish immigrant community in the East End of London at the time. They were mostly feeling from Russia. There was a lot of anti-Jewish prejudice at the time. Some graffiti as seen painted on the wall. It said ”Those who blame the Jews are not wrong.” It was assumed to be a reference to the Whitechapel murders. A senior police officer was worried that people would see this and attack Jews. He ordered the graffiti to be washed off. However, this was possibly a mistake. It could have been an important clue. The handwriting and fingerprints might have led to to the killer. Fingerprints had only just been discovered. There was a blood libel at the time. Anti-Semites in Christendom often blamed Jews for the unsolved murders.
Whitechapel was a poverty stricken and seedy area. There were many fetid lanes and dank alleys along which scurried rats. Detritus and excreta mired the streets. The many triperies and sausages factories meant that there was ample rotting offal to add to the stench of ordure. Such an unsalubrious area was inhabited by the impecunious. Many indigent women turned to the oldest profession in the world to support themselves. The place was replete with houses of ill-fame.
The pattern of slayings continued. Five times in total Jack the Ripper struck. Five times he killed a prostitute. Five times he struck at night. Five he used a knife. He always killed on the 8th or the 30th of the month. In October 1888 the last killing occurred. In one case he was seen leaving the scene of the crime. He was a tall man in expensive dark clothes. There was another occasion when he grabbed a woman from behind and was about to plunge a knife in. He was seen by someone else who screamed. Jack the Ripper was disturbed and he ran off. The wouldbe victim did not see his face. Jack the Ripper continued to send letters to the police teasing him that they would never catch him. In the letters he hinted that he was a misogynist. Moreover, the killer’s attacks on the pudenda and uteruses of his victims betray a savage odium towards females.
Surely the killer would have given himself away by wearing clothes liberally splashed with blood. This is not so. There were numerous slaughterhouses in the vicinity. Therefore, seeing a slaughterman walking around in clothes soaked in fresh blood would not have aroused suspicion. However, a butcher or shochet slaughterer would wear an apron or overalls or suchlike. This suggests that to avoid drawing attention the killer must have been similarly attired. The claim that the serial killer was attired in formal dress is thus unlikely to be veridical.
However, there were some eyewitnesses who contradicted the account that said Jack was tall and expensively dressed. A man of 5’11’’ was seen speaking to one of the harlots the last time she was seen alive. That was well above average height. Others had seen his victim speaking to a short man who was poorly dressed man on the evening that she was killed. However, this short and badly dressed man was not necessarily her killer.
People were in a blind panic. The public demanded that there should be more police patrols. There was paranoia. The slayings abated. However, after several weeks the patrols were no longer sustained. A false sense of security had been induced. Moreover, the indigent women who were common prostitutes had started to walk the streets again because otherwise they would starve.
Jack the Ripper was never caught. There are dozens of suspects. One of these was a Polish Jewish man. Some people say this was just due to anti-Jewish prejudice.
On one occasion two men had been seeking to a Ripper victim the last time she was seen alive. One man called the other Lipski.
A Jewish man named Israel Lipski had been convicted of the murder of a woman in similar circumstances in the same area of London the year before the Ripper Murders. 1887. It was a contentious case and there is some doubt about Lipski’s guilt. He was sentenced to death by Sir FitzJames Stephen. Lipski confessed to the crime shortly before going to the gallows. Some say that Lipski was cajoled into the admission by a rabbi as the rabbinate thought this would take the heat off the Jewish community. Lipski was dead before Jack the Ripper struck.
Some people suspected an unsuccessful lawyer named Montague John Druitt. Druitt committed suicide in October 1888 – just after the last murder. He was a bachelor and known to hate women.
There was an Irish-American in London called Tumblety. Tumblety was in London as part of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). The IRB was a terrorist organisation setting off bombs to kill civilians.
Some people suspected Prince Eddy (officially Prince Albert Victor). Prince Eddy was the grandson of Queen Victoria. Prince Eddy (Albert Victor) was due to inherit the Crown. He was said to be a man of very low intelligence and he was rumoured to dislike women. But this like much of what is said about him is bogus. Prince Eddy was of average intelligence as his missives attest.
The prince was due to be married to Princess Alexandra of Denmark which he did not want to do. However, he died in 1893. Prince Eddy did not commit these murders. It can be proved he was in Balmoral in Scotland for the whole August 1888 and there were scores of witnesses to that.
Another suspect for these killing is J K Stephen. J K Stephen went to Eton and Cambridge. He was a great intellectual and poet. He was a tutor to Prince Eddy. J K Stephen never married and was said to have had a pathological hatred of women.
As we shall see the claim that J K Stephen was a vicious misogynist is bogus. In fact, he was fond of some women. He even had two girlfriends. But being spurned by both the women he had wished to wed wounded him deeply.
In some of his poems he said that women had done great evil. Stephen had a several brothers and no sisters. He had a pathologically bad relationship with his women. In one poem he wrote of wanting to ‘work’ against women. Jack the Ripper’s handwriting was strikingly close to him.
In 1889 he was declared to be mentally ill. He died of mania in St Andrew’s Hospital which is psychiatric hospital in Northampton a few years later.
Though some arrests were made no one has ever been charged in connection to these barbaric crimes. It is perhaps the most notorious unsolved murder in British history.
One of the detectives on the case believed that it was Druitt. We will never know. Montague John Druitt was the some of a successful surgeon. Druitt attended one of the most estimable schools in the British Empire: Winchester College. There he excelled at cricket.
From Winchester, Druitt had gone up to New College, Oxford. New was a college that had been exclusively for Wykehamists until the 1850s. Dean Spooners of spoonerisms fame was the first none Wykehamist ever to be admitted to New. Despite New College being open to all and sundry by the 1870s nonetheless it retained close links with Winchester well into the 20th century.
Druitt read classics but spent most of his time on sport. He graduated with a 2:2 degree. He read for the bar. He played plenty of cricket whilst he did so. Upon being called to the bar he, like most junior barristers, did not make a good living at first. When junior barristers pleaded poverty, this was highly relative. They were ‘poor’ by the standards of the upper middle class.
Montague John Druitt taught part time in a school at Blackheath, London as well as practising law. He might have been hired for his sporting prowess as much as his pedagogical abilities.
Some friends of M J Druitt said that he was ‘sexually insane.’ Did this mean that he was a homosexual or a paedophile? Homosexual acts between consenting adults were criminous in England until 1967.
In November 1888 Druitt was sacked from his teaching post. The reason for his sudden dismissal was never disclosed. He was by all account a competent teacher who had no difficulty maintaining order. So he was not sacked on such grounds as incapability. There seems to have been nothing wrong with his timekeeping. If he had turned up drunk to work that would have been noticed by the pupils. If he had stolen from the school he would not have been given a golden handshake as he was. Hitting pupils was considered good discipline then so he would not have lost his job over violence against the boys. Why was the reason for his sacking unrecorded? Presumably it was shameful. It can lead to only one conclusion: that it was a crime against the children’s innocence.
In November 1888 Druitt went missing. This was shortly after the last Jack the Ripper killing. Some weeks later his drowned body was fished out of the Thames at Chiswick. He had weighted his pockets with bricks. He appears to have committed suicide by drowning. Druitt was also found to have a large quantity of gold on his person. This appears to have been severance pay from his job. He clearly had no financial problems. A man of his education would have had no difficulty securing another reasonably remunerated position. Many believe that he was the killer.
There are about five major suspects and a hundred minor suspects. A magazine is published about the case.
Jack the Ripper is one of the early well documented serial killer cases. He slew people only for a thrill. There was no financial motive. He was not killing out of personal grudge.
There are the canonical five murders. Everyone agrees that these killings were committed by the same person. There were several other unsolved murders of women in London around this time. Some people believe that Jack the Ripper killed more than five victims. Some of these beyond the canonical five were victims killed after the death of Druitt. Therefore, if Jack the Ripper killed after Druitt’s death then clearly Druitt was innocent.
J K STEPHEN
J K Stephen was the scion of a very distinguished family of jurists. Three generations of his family had been barristers. He was to be the fourth dynast. The Stephens were a gifted race.
Sir James FitzJames Stephen was J K Stephen’s father. The fact that he was given a baronetcy (i.e. given the title ”sir” instead of plain ”mister”) indicates the esteem in which he was held. Though the father’s Christian name was ‘James’ he was always known as ‘FitzJames’ to distinguish him from his own pater.
Sir FitzJames published a number of acclaimed legal treatises. He also once stood for Parliament in the Liberal interest though his foray into public life was not crowned with success. The baronetcy passed to J K Stephen’s elder brother. Sir James was the third in a line of outstanding barristers. He later became a judge. Sir FitzJames served a few years as a judge in India. His rulings are still quoted in legal textbooks to this day.
J K Stephen was one of ten children. However, surviving infancy he had two brothers and four sisters. J K was known as ‘Jem’ among his family. His family ambience was ferociously intellectual. One of his brothers became a very prominent barrister. His sister was later to become Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge which was the first female college in that university. His first cousin was the world-famous novelist Virginia Woolf (nee Stephen).
J K Stephen had a precocious intellect. In those days Latin and Ancient Greek were the mainstays of education. It was said that English literature was what a gentleman read in his spare time. English was for light entertainment. People considered English literature unworthy of serious study and it had no place at a university. J K Stephen won a King’s Scholarship to Eton College. The King’s Scholarship exam was solely on Classics (Latin and Greek). A boy could be a laggard at Mathematics for instance and still win a King’s Scholarship. Eton was then as it is now considered the premier school of the United Kingdom. There were about 800 boys in the school at the time. Only 70 of them were King’s Scholars. Those who were not King’s Scholars were called Oppidans. The King’s Scholars were mostly from middle class families whereas the Oppidans tended to be upper class. Although J K Stephen’s family was middle class it was the very wealth end of middle class since his father was one of the most successful lawyers in the realm. J K Stephen’s father had also been schooled at Eton. The King’s Scholars lived in a house called College. Therefore, King’s Scholars were sometimes called Collegers. The housemaster of College has the title: Master in College.
J K Stephen threw himself into his studies with his characteristic brio. He was very tall and well built. Anyone who met him was unlikely to forget the experience. J K was enormously self-possessed. He became known throughout the school for his highly eccentric diction. He spoke in a hyper correct, witty and very verbose style. It seemed his like to display his knowledge of the most recondite words. His schoolwork demonstrated that he had a razor sharp mind.
Jem was also physically unforgettable. He grew to six foot tall. In the 19th century that was five inches above average. He was also powerfully built with massive shoulders and a lantern jaw. He wore his dense black follicles swept back over his prominent forehead. His bow lips and penetrating eyes were remarkably expressive.
Every boy at Eton had to have a tutor. J K’s tutor was Oscar Browning. Browning was known by his initials: OB.
OB was himself an Old Etonian and indeed a former King’s Scholar. He had gone on to King’s College, Cambridge and then returned immediately to teach at his alma mater.
OB ran a boarding house. As a housemaster he believed he should make his house a home away from home for the boys. Every housemaster could run his house as he saw fit, and it was a private business. Each house charged a different fee. So long as the housemaster provided three meals a day then the head master of Eton would not interfere.
Mr Browning was a moderniser. He realised that Eton’s curriculum was not fit for purpose. It was bland and unimaginative. Learning Latin and Greek texts off by heart was sheer tedium for most boys. He taught with verve and humour. He insisted on teaching them the gems of English literature. Until then it was said that English literature was what a gentleman read in his spare time. Nothing composed in English was regarded as being worthy of serious study.
Not all of OB’s colleagues liked his new-fangled approach. His seemingly radicalism and his informal and ebullient style irked some of them. No doubt they coveted his popularity and later his huge income.
OB’s business model was to charge a very high fee in return for superb accommodation and ample delectable food. This proved to be a winning formula. He was also deeply concerned with the welfare of his boys. He took a genuine interest in their progress and helped them with their problems. Oscar Browning superintended their academic performance with the greatest solicitude. OB was kind and caring. He organised concerts where the boys in his house performed. He also had them put on theatrical productions in the house. He would not permit card games since he regarded this as a footling waste of time.
Browning’s approach was hugely popular. The wealthiest and the noblest families clamoured to secure a place at his house for their sons. Despite the high running cost of a well-furnished, well heated house with lashings of the choicest food, OB made a thumping profit. Because so many sought admission to his house he was able to jack up the fee. Soon he was making an income of £3 000 per annum. For modern values put two noughts on the end.
An Etonian could choose a tutor who was the housemaster of another house. This is what J K Stephen did. He selected OB as his tutor. An Etonian had to pay a fee to the school, a fee to his housemaster and a fee to his tutor.
There was a sinister side to OB. His affection for his charges was more than avuncular. He appears to have overstepped the bounds of propriety on numerous occasions. He was brazen enough to write in letters about how he ‘loved’ his schoolboys. It is implicit that he did not love them in the familial sense. He wrote many letters to his colleagues and friends saying how he persuaded his wards to kiss him.
J K was a tutee of OB. J K Stephen therefore went to the private side of Oscar Browning’s boarding house. There is ample circumstantial evidence that OB molested some of the pupils in his charge. There is a fair chance that J K was one of them. However, given the mores of the time it is unlikely that J K would have perceived this as abusive.
If J K Stephen was molested it might have had a lifelong effect on him. Such people can have an attitudinally warped sex life as a result of this imprinting. As W H Auden wrote, ‘those to whom evil is done do evil in return.’
Upper class Britons were brought up on a diet of Hellenism. They adulated Ancient Greek as the superlative civilisation. In Ellas some had held that pedagogy and pederasty were the same thing. Some British schoolmasters appear to have drunk deep of this notion.
OB’s intimacy with his pupils was possibly criminal. It is a moot point whether it ever crossed the line into what would now be considered sexual abuse. The 19th century was not an era where such issues were tackled head on. The approach was to brush the issue under the carpet. It was felt that it would be wrong to create a scandal.
The head master of Eton was dissatisfied with OB for various reasons. He was itching to sack OB. Eventually Dr Warre found an excuse. He was able to dismiss OB for breaking the rule that said that a tutor could have no more than 40 tutees.
The sacking of OB caused a furore in the press. Some Etonians in the press campaigned for OB to be restored to his job. Nonetheless, Magister Informator stood firm. OB did not get his position back.
No legal action was taken about OB’s alleged molestation of his schoolboys. An Eton beak was on a pedestal. Such matters were never reported to the police. For a teacher to be convicted for sexual abuse was unheard in the 19th century.
OB remained on good terms with many of his former pupils. He even took some on holiday. One of those who went with him to the Continent was George Nathaniel Curzon. He was the future Viceroy of India.
There had been other Eton masters who had been suspected of immoral relations with their schoolboys. William Johnson (also an Old Etonian) had been too close to his pupils. His unfamiliarity had extended to highly emotive letters. The head master at the time suspected that this was indicative of molestation. Johnson was celebrated as the author of the Eton Boating Song – the school’s unofficial song. Wm Johnson was pressured to resign. As he left quietly the school remained on good terms with him. William Johnson later changed his surname to Cory to make it impossible to connect him to his bad reputation. William Cory (ne Johnson) reached half a century without ever having evinced the slenderest desire for womenfolk. Yet at Mr Cory, at the age of 55, he took to wife. He even sired a child.
Eton was certainly homosocial if not homosexual. There were virtually no women to be seen. Only a minority of the masters were wed. There was the odd boys’ maid who cleaned rooms. The rule was that she had to be menopausal lest the boys lust after her.
The boy would attend ordinary lessons. These consisted chiefly of Latin and Ancient Greek. The brightest learnt Hebrew too so they could comprehend the Old Testament in its original tongue. There was a little time for French and some studied German and Italian. Mathematics was compulsory but given little curricular time. The pupils learnt some history and geography. These consisted almost entirely of the study of Europe. They history that was knocked into them was principally concerned with the Ancient Mediterranean. Science was considered to be of trifling importance.
Eton has an unusual sport – the Eton Wall Game. This is like a rugby scrum beside a wall. The pitch is 100 metres long and about 5 metres wide. Because the furrow (the pitch) is so narrow there is little room for tactics. The King’s Scholars picked a team of 10 players from their 70 boys. The 700 and some odd Oppidans also selected a team of 10. As the Oppidans have far greater numbers the odds are that they will have more superb players. On the face of it the Oppidans should win. The King’s Scholars’ Wall Game team was called ”College Wall.” The Oppidans’ team was called ”Oppidan Wall.” The main match of the year is the St Andrew’s Day Match – played on 30 November. Oppidan Wall would gather before the match on a nearby playing field to pysche themselves up. They would mentally prepare and then jog through the streets in pairs chanting ”oi, oi, oi, oi”. They would assemble behind the wall and climb over it to jump onto the pitch before bully off. College Wall assemble in their house (College) and then walk to the pitch with their arms linked in time honoured fashion.
In 1874 J K Stephen was first picked for College Wall. That was quite an achievement bearing in mind he was three years younger than some other players. He remained in College Wall for the next three years.
When J K Stephen was playing he would get stuck into the melee. With his size, strength and stamina led his team to some resounding victories. This feat is so legendary that the King’s Scholars toast his memory each year: ”In Piam Memoriam J K S” which is Latin for ”In dutiful memory of J K Stephen.”
J K Stephen not only mastered the Classics. He turned his hand to English poetry. He composed some verses which were pastiches of well known poets. J K published a volume of light verse entitled Lapsus Calami and other versies. Lapsus Calami means ‘a slip of the pen’ in Latin. In Lapsus Calami he wrote ”When Rudyards cease from Kipling/ And Haggards ride no more”. These were oblique references to the most popular writers of adventure at the time namely Rudyard Kipling and Rider Haggard. Kipling professed himself to be filled with admiration for the word weavings of J K Stephen. It is not often that a pastiche of a poet’s work arouses the respect of the target of such mirth. He also ridiculed Robert Browning. One of his poems is a send up of ”Ode to the Distant Prospect of Eton College” by Thomas Gray which was written over a century earlier. Stephen wrote jocosely about Eton being a Tory institution as Gray was a Tory.
A poem about well known Kingsmen was published by J K Stephen. In it he wrote ‘Vivat Monty Jamesius’: an allusion to Montague James who later became Provost of Eton.
J K Stephen won a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge. A undergraduate or a graduate of King’s College Cambridge is known as a Kingsman. He was the third generation to matriculate at Cambridge. King’s College, Cambridge was founded by King Henry VI just like Eton. The coat of arms of Eton and King’s College, Cambridge are almost identical. The latter was founded one year after the former. The idea was the King’s Scholars from Eton would go onto Henry VI’s other foundation. From 1857 not all King’s Scholars from Eton did this and King’s also accepted boys who had not been KS’s at Eton.
Cambridge University then consisted of about 20 colleges and 2 000 students. It was sufficiently small that everyone knew everyone. Almost all the students were undergraduates. Post graduate degrees hardly existed. A Bachelor’s degree was considered sufficient for an academic career. Seven years after matriculation a Bachelor’s degree could be upgraded into a Master of Arts degree without sitting any exams or doing any further academic work. Men would spend three or four years earning a Bachelor’s degree. There were scholarships for those who had little money. These scholarships were incredibly difficult to win. Middle class boys who could not afford university fees sometimes won these. In practice very few working class boys won scholarships. The two great universities (Oxford and Cambridge) were known as ”varsity” in British argot at the time. This is by cutting off the ”uni” part of the word ”university” and leaving ”versity”. The ”e” is then changed to an ”a” to make the slang word ”varsity.”
Some upper class boys saw Varsity as a sports club. They would spend time at university because they wished to row, play cricket, rugby or football. Some of them would hardly know there was a library there. It was not difficult for those with financial means to gain admittance to Varsity. However, it was not easy to gain a degree. Some gentlemen spent a year or two at university and left without a degree. That was common at the time and seen as unembarrassing. They had still gained some education even though they had no qualification. Degrees were classified from a First Class degree, down to Second Class degree, to a Third Class degree and a Fourth Class degree. There was even a Pass degree which was below a Fourth. A Pass degree was very unusual indeed. It was very someone who had performed very badly indeed but the university had decided not to fail. Only about 5% of people were awarded a First Class degree. It was a bit like summa cum laude in the United States now. In the novel Brideshead Revisited a character in 1920s Oxford says, ”A gentleman wants a First or a Fourth. Time spent on a good second is time thrown away.” Much the same attitude prevailed in Cambridge in the 1870s. J K Stephen was the sort of undergraduate who was definitely aiming at a First.
Boys from the gentry would often go down from Cambridge without a degree. These young men had often been indolent at varsity. Some of them had gone up to Cambridge to socialise and play sport. They could run the estate or be slotted into the family firm. People talked about those who were ”reading men” as in they actually wanted a degree rather than perceiving varsity as a finishing school. The middling classes were usually more career oriented. Therefore, a degree was usually a prerequisite. They might seek to prosper at the Bar or in the civil service. Many of them went into colonial service and seek a post as a district commissioner in the Punjab or British Bechuanaland (now called Botswana). At least a quarter of Cantabrigians went onto be clergymen. Many graduates became schoolmasters. Often a gentleman was both ordained a clergyman and taught at a school.
The lecturers at Oxford and Cambridge were colloquially known as dons. Very few of them had the title ”professor.” The dons all had to be priests in the Church of England. The Church of England allowed its priests to marry. However, dons were not permitted to marry. If a don wished to marry then this not considered any disgrace. He was allowed to marry but he had to leave the university and run a parish somewhere. The colleges had connections with parishes all over the country and could easily arrange for a don to find a comfortable billet if he wanted to take to wife. The dons lived in the colleges beside the undergraduates.
J K Stephen was unmissable. He cut a dash striding down King’s Parade. At over six foot tall, he stood head and shoulders above the others both physically and academically. His thick dark hair was worn brushed back and with a centre parting. His bow lips and piercingly demonic gaze were unforgettable. He blazed a with frightening intellect. J K Stephen was renowned for his overly precise enunciation as well as his florid and polysyllabic lexis. He joined the Cambridge Union Society which is a debating and social club. He made a name for himself as a brilliant debater. His stentorian voice, poise, panache and flawless logic won the debating chamber around to him time and again. J K was blessed with a theophrastian turn of phrase. His oratorical flourishes could make the blood race. His rhetoric rolled like a river. Despite or perhaps because of his awe-striking intelligence and encyclopaedic knowledge he does not seem to have had strong opinions on matters of state. This may have been because he was neutral in politics or perhaps he was such a canny operator that he believed his chances of being elected president would be best served by not identifying himself with any faction. He made some jocular remarks about Tories but he does not appear to have seriously opposed them. At the age of 21 he was elected President of the Cambridge Union. He was perhaps the most illustrious man in the university at the time. Incidentally the university had just admitted women in 1871. They were a tiny minority within the university and largely kept themselves to themselves. They were not permitted to join the Cambridge Union.
Not everyone was enamoured of J K Stephen. His brilliancy excited envy. His sesquipedalian speaking style irked some. J K came across as pretentious, self-regarding and haughty. In the Cambridge Union he had rivals and indeed enemies. His enemies found Stephen’s verbosity to be emetic. J K also took the most obsessive interest in Etonania. He returned to Eton with tedious frequency and would stay with the Master in College for days at a time. Some loathed him as a professional old boy. He often played the Wall Game when he went back to Eton. His dispatched letter to the Chronicle (Eton’s newspaper) arguing the toss about the rules of the Wall Game. Jem Stephen could never outgrow school.
J K Stephen was elected into the Apostles. The Apostles is a semi-secretive society based at Trinity, College Cambridge although not all its members have attended Trinity. The Cambridge Apostles are not registered with the university, they publish no material about themselves. They do not deny their existence as a society but neither do they declare it. They are called Apostles because there are 12 of them at a time. An Apostle will invite an undergraduate to join if he thinks this man is fascinating and outstanding. (These days women can join too). Someone is proposed as an Apostle. The existing Apostles then voted to accept or reject the nominee. The Apostles meet on Saturday evening where one of them will read an essay on a subject agreed beforehand. This will then open the floor to a discussion. The Apostles are urged to be as frank as possible. An Apostle must not be afraid to express his opinion even if it is so controversial that he would never dare voice it in any other forum. Every opinion, no matter how tendentious, is listened to with respect. The proceedings of the society are kept secret. Those Apostles who had graduated were called ”Angels”. Angels were welcome to come back and participate in these weekly discussions whenever they wished. Only 12 Apostles are in statu pupillari at any one time. There will be scores of living angels. Apostles tended to go on to be academics and writers. In the 1870s the Apostles veered to the liberal left. In time Apostles were to espouse views such as the compulsory sterilisation of the academically subnormal; the legalisation of abortion; gender equality and communism. Some of the Cambridge Apostles were homosexuals at a time when such conduct was illegal. J K Stephen never showed any romantic attraction to women at that stage of his life. This has led some to surmise that he was attracted to his own sex. There is no evidence to support this. No one has ever named a man whom J K Stephen supposedly had a liaison with. We live in a sex saturated age when it is presumed that everyone must have some desires and act on them. Some people are happily celibate. Perhaps J K Stephen was one of those. Here J K became acquainted with other litterateurs and translators of the classics.
J K Stephen was an academic supernova, a sportsman and a champion debater. He graduated and of course gained a First Class degree.
Given his jurisprudential pedigree some expected J K Stephen to become a legal eagle. Instead he opted to stay on at Cambridge to tutor undergraduates. Outstanding graduates were offered this position. People seldom to never did postgraduate degrees. A college would already know someone was bright enough to tutor undergraduates so why would one bother with such a thing as a postgraduate degrees? Cambridge did not even have such a thing as a substantive doctorate at the time: only honorary ones.
One of the other obvious careers for him would have been the Church. Being an Anglican priest had very high status at the time particularly is appointed to a fashionable parish. Preferment to a bishopric could easily have been his. But this would have precluded being a barrister. Since the Middle Ages the bar and holy orders were mutually exclusive. Luckily for J K the days when a fellow of a Cambridge college had to be ordained had just past. His not being a priest no longer precluded him from being a elected a fellow of his college.
At the age of 23 J K Stephen received the ultimate accolade. He was asked by Queen Victoria to tutor her eldest grandson. James Kenneth Stephen became the tutor of Prince Albert Victor. (Despite the princes’s name he was always known as Prince Eddy by his family.) Prince Albert Victor was in the same position as Prince William is now – as in he was the grandson of the reigning queen. Therefore, Prince Albert Victor was the second in line to the throne. The first in line to the throne was Edward VII who was the son of Queen Victoria and the father of Prince Albert Victor. After Prince Albert Victor’s death, the Royal Family burnt all his private papers. This meant that for a long time there were very few sources on him. Many books published about him accused him of lassitude, idiocy and dissipation.
It has been speculated by some that there was a homosexual relationship between Prince Albert Victor and J K Stephen. Again, no one has ever attested that this was so. The notion that the two had a gay relationship is sheer conjecture and should not be given credit. Even if Oscar Browning had had a immoral and abusive relationship with his pupil JK this does not prove that JK had one with his pupil who was an adult.
Prince Albert Victor was then 18. The 5 year age gap between them ensure that J K Stephen could fully understand his pupil and yet still be more mature than him. The prince was not a scholarly sort at all. J K Stephen’s first impression of his pupil was very low indeed:
”I do not think he can possibly much benefit from attending lectures at Cambridge. He hardly knows the meaning of the words ‘to read.’ ”
In fact, some suspected that the prince was mentally subnormal. This is possibly because he was born two months early and was hard of hearing. The truth is that Prince Albert Victor’s intellectual abilities have been severely underrated. Letters that he wrote have survived and reveal a man of ordinary intelligence and some sensibility.
Prince Albert Victor wrote to his cousin Prince Louis Battenberg (the father of Earl Mountbatten of Burma) some years after he left Cambridge. Here are some excerpts from a few of his epistles to his cousin.
”My Dear Louis,
It was good of you and Victoria to send me such a charming present for my birthday for which I thank you very much. You may be sure it will remind me of our long cruise together.”
” Swedensborg… I am as certain as certain as most people are who are in love with a girl that I could make her happy if she would only give me a chance of doing so.”
”Cambridge. …The next morning – we went to Wellington Barracks to see the Footguards off. It was a sad and painful sight to see their poor wives saying taking leave of them – a thing I dislike more than anything.”
These letters demonstrate that Prince Albert Victor had no difficulty in expressing himself in writing. Moreover, he comes across as a sentimental type who felt for the sufferings of his grandmother’s subjects. Bearing in mind that he had the best education possible it is unsurprising that he could compose decent English prose. The point is that he is not the ninny that some have made him out to be.
J K’s task was to make him appear respectable in public and to give short speeches with passable eloquence. Stephen lamented that his pupil was dim. J K’s interests were too abstruse for His Royal Highness. J K Stephen may have rated the prince as being intellectually inferior but that was because everyone was inferior to J K. J K Stephen could not distinguish between a normal young man and a young man who was far below average. The tutor was such a brilliant Classicist that he assumed that anyone who was not good at Latin and Greek was a dimwit. Ancient languages came so naturally to J K Stephen that he was nonplussed that anyone should find these subjects tricky or bland.
Prince Albert Victor entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1883. Trinity is the grandest of Cambridge’s colleges. Members of the British Royal Family did not then go to school but they sometimes attended university. They always left early without a degree. That was not considered embarrassing at the time. The prince attended some lectures but he was mostly given one on one tutorials by J K Stephen. The prince had previously spent some time as an officer cadet in the Royal Navy and he had sailed as far as Japan. He found Latin and Greek very difficult and tedious. He was also poor at French. J K Stephen was there was a companion as much as a tutor. He was perhaps a poor choice. During their confabulations J K had to do most of the talking. Stephen’s academic profile was so fantastic that His Royal Highness was somewhat in awe of his tutor.
The Ivy League had not yet come into its own. The British Empire was at its zenith. Oxford and Cambridge were then surely the most admired universities in the world. Prince Albert Victor was at Trinity with its febrile intellectual atmosphere but it did not appeal to him. Moreover, Stephen’s manner of speaking came across as delphic to his academically challenged pupil.
Prince Albert Victor joined the socially exclusive Pitt Club. He mingled with those who were interested in politics and theatre. The political hot potato of the 1880s was Ireland. The whole if Ireland was then within the United Kingdom. It was a bone of contention as to whether or not Ireland should have Home Rule. Home Rule was autonomy within the UK. Queen Victoria was known to privately disapprove of Home Rule but no politician ever brought this up. She was also suspected to revile the Liberal Prime Minister W E Gladstone who had come to advocate Home Rule. Prince Albert Victor privately pronounced himself to favour Irish Home Rule. This shows that he did not voice the unthinkingly reactionary views that one might have expected from him if he really was as empty-headed as he has been described. However, he did not sit any exams at Cambridge.
Prince Albert Victor spoke some Danish. His mother was originally Prince Alexandra of Denmark. J K Stephen taught him German. The prince then went and spent some time at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. He then returned to Cambridge for a while. He finally left the university in 1885 without a degree. He had not sat any exams. He was being prepared to be monarch. A king does not need to be an intellectual but he needs a basic understanding of history and constitutional law. It cannot be said that J K Stephen found tutoring the princeling rewarding. The results were meagre. It seems to prove Oscar Wilde’s dictum which he put into the mouth of Lady Bracknell, ”In England at any rate education produces no effect whatsoever.” J K Stephen did not conceal his gladness to be rid of the prince’s infertile mind. The fact that he was relieved of this duty reflected no discredit on him. Prince Albert Victor was not as ineducable as many have suggested.
Prince Albert Victor was certainly able to deliver a decent speech. He wrote this about his speech on his 21st birthday party:
13 January 1885
My Dear Louis,
I was very sorry that neither you nor Victoria could not come to the festive weeks as we really hard a pleasant party. Strange to say all the relations got on wonderfully well together and everything went off without a hitch… I had no end of addresses and deputations to receive I think it would have amused you to have heard some of them as some of the old fogies could hardly read a word from nervousness. I must say I felt a bit nervous myself but it gradually passed off.
Afterwards Prince Albert Victor went on to be an officer in the Hussars. Much nonsense has been written about Prince Albert Victor such as the absurd claim that he was involved in the Cleveland Street Scandal in 1888. This was a scandal about an underage gay brothel.
All homosexual acts were illegal in England until 1967. What was going on at Cleveland Street was not just a case of consensual Ganymede encounters between adults. Minors were prostitutes there. The paedophilic aspect of the scandal seemed to horrify people far less than the gay side.
Prince Albert Victor never visited that male brothel nor did anyone ever allege that he had. His equerry Lord Arthur Somerset used to frequent this house of prostitution. To avoid being prosecuted the prince’s equerry Lord Somerset said that if he was had up in court on these charges then it would drag the name of Prince Albert Victor into proceedings. He might be cited as a character witness. The very fact that an employee of the prince was accused of such a crime would besmirch the honour of the Royal Family. The prince had dozens of people working for him. That one of them engaged in conduct of a questionable morality does not mean that the prince was partook in such activities. The judge at the trial of the Cleveland Street rentboys was one Sir James FitzJames Stephen: i.e. the father of J K Stephen. In some minds; the plot thickened.
Shockingly, the adults who sexually abused these children were not prosecuted. The children themselves were prosecuted! They received sentences of a few months each. This was mild by the standards of the epoch. The establishment wanted the whole sordid affair hushed up.
There is ample evidence that the prince was decidedly heterosexual. These are gobbets from letters to his cousin Prince Louis. Prince Albert Victor is talking about his 16 year old cousin Princess Alix of Hesse.
7 October 1888
Aleky is still here and is much grown. She is looking prettier than ever and I am sure she will be very handsome when she grows up.
6 September 1889
My Dear Louis,
I thought you knew I was fond of Aleky. I did not give her the slightest sign that loved her. Although I inwardly wanted to tell her so but thought I had better wait my time.
It is hard to imagine that he would go to the bother of writing these private letters to pretend to be straight. In the event this Princess Alix married Tsar Nikolai II of Russia.
Stephen was made a Fellow of King’s College. Each college in Cambridge or Oxford has a number of Fellows. The Fellows of the college are the governing body of the college. Those who teach at Oxford or Cambridge are colloquially called dons. Not all dons become Fellows and not all Fellows are dons. Some people lectures as dons in these universities for their entire career and are never made a fellow of a college. To be made a Fellow at that time meant a job for life. J K Stephen was made a Fellow at the age of 25 which was very young indeed. He lectured there. He published English verse. His most celebrated work is a mirthful volume entitled ”Lapsus Calami and other verses”. Lapsus Calami is Latin for ”A slip of the pen.” The expression was well known to those with a grounding in Classics.
Stephen remained fascinated by Eton. He took an obsessive interest in Etonania. He visited the school frequently and often stayed for days with the Master-in-College. Some people found his nostalgic fixation with his old school to be distasteful and tiresome.
J K Stephen never married but did he have two romantic attachments to women. In his poesy he sometimes made barbed remarked about women. He suggested that if all the wickedness women had done could be rolled up it could not fit into the sun. He said that men had done far less harm than the fair sex. Some have taken this as mere humour. Others feel it hints at misogyny. His poems sometimes expressed his view that women were physically unappealing.
By the late 1880s J K Stephen’s behaviour was increasingly bizarre and unpredictable. He had spent a great deal of money launching a literary magazine called the Reflector. It had not been a commercial success. The magazine then went bust. J K swung between periods of frenetic activity and periods of listless melancholy. His derangement of mind was ever more apparent. His father, sister and other family members were afflicted by insanity.
The letters that it is supposed Jack the Ripper sent to the police have been likened to missives composed by J K Stephen. The handwriting is similar and so is some of the phraseology. However, this is inconclusive. The similarities are not so strong as to be incontrovertible. Moreover, there is no proof that the person who sent the letters claiming to be the killer really was the killer.
J K Stephen practised law at the Inns of Courts. This area is three miles from Whitechapel where Jack the Ripper killed five women. J K knew Whitechapel because his sister had been in hospital near there. He had often walked through the area.
People say that J K Stephen was not a violent man. But as he was affected by insanity it is possible that he sometimes did things that his ordinary self would not have done. J K was in a depression and possibly enraged. He had twice been jilted by women. Did he seek to avenge himself on womenkind?
In 1888 Jack the Ripper killed five prostitutes in London. Some people have come up with the idea that J K was the Ripper. Others have dismissed this an absurd theorem. J K Stephen’s partisans say that J K Stephen was not the murderer. There are about 100 suspects for this unsolved crime. J K Stephen is one of those who is provably innocent. These murders took place late at night in London. J K Stephen was at his family’s holiday house in Ireland for some of the time around the period during which the murders took place. He was in Ireland for some of August and September. There is no record of the dates of his voyages. Therefore, it is entirely possible that he was in London on all five nights when the serial killer struck.
Eyewitnesses describe an man in costly clothes who stood about six feet tall speaking to one of the victims the last time she was seen alive. This would fit J K Stephen’s description.
People also claim that Prince Albert Victor was the killer. This is another ludicrous contention. He has alibis for some of the nights in question such as being at the royal family’s retreat in Scotland (Balmoral) with dozens of witnesses who could attest to his presence there. Moreover, the prince is recorded in his grandmother’s diary as being at Balmoral. Despite watertight alibis deranged and pernicious conspiracy theorists have persisted in calumniating Prince Albert Victor. It is very exciting for inadequates to believe that a prince was behind these gruesome murders. That these accusations are certainly bogus does not deter those who wish to besmirch the prince’s posthumous reputation.
But is the alibi for Prince Albert Victor (i.e. Eddy) really watertight? The court circular could have been mistaken. Or it could have been falsified to provide him with an alibi.
Genius goes with madness. It is thought that he suffered from bipolar disorder which his cousin Virginia Woolf was also afflicted by. This explained his phenomenal energy and jollity at times. A head injury in 1886 worsened his condition. J K started to make outlandish claims such as he was a renowned painter. In truth he never painted anything. He also publicly cut a loaf of bread with a sword. In between bouts of hyperactivity and erratic behaviour he was listless and unfocussed. As J K Stephen became more severely mentally ill and had to be confined to a psychiatric hospital in Northampton by the famous Dr Gull. Ironically it was a hospital called St Andrew’s Hospital: after all he had made a name for himself in the St Andrew’s Day match.
In January 1892 J K Stephen’s condition disimproved with alarming rapidity. He stopped eating. His avolition was extraordinary.
J K died in 1892. 20 days earlier Prince Albert Victor had died of pneumonia. Upon hearing that the prince was dead J K refused to eat. J K Stephen’s cause of death was recorded as ‘mania’.
In time his younger brother became George V. A 1960s biography of Prince Eddy concluded that the United Kingdom had a lucky escape when this prince died young. He would have been a calamitous king it was said. His papers were all destroyed by his family as soon as he died. This is in marked contrast to people like Queen Victoria whose diary has been published. Was the aim to make him seem dim and immoral so that his surviving brother George V could have his reputation built up? More recent research has found letters that Prince Albert Victor sent to others. This has revealed the real prince who was not the moron he has been portrayed as.
J K Stephen is the subject of a play entitled Sympathy for the Devil. Sympathy for the Devil is by former Eton housemaster Angus Graham-Campbell. The play toys with the notion that J K Stephen was Jack the Ripper. Graham-Campbell privately acknowledges the claim that J K Stephen and or Prince Albert Victor were involved in the Whitechapel murders is certainly false.
Had J K Stephen lived a full life he would have accomplished more marvellous feats. He would have published more volumes of verse. He would likely have become head of a college. Even greater prizes may have been his.
No final verdict can be reached on whether J K Stephen and or Prince Albert Victor (Eddy) were the killers. However, their guilt cannot be excluded as a possibility. The jury shall probably always remain out on this one.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.