Monday, 14 November 2016

The Nemesis of Neglect

There floats a phantom.....

     In the latter part of the nineteenth century the east end had become a rookery of crime and disease. An image springs to mind even today when we think of those times, The Nemesis of Neglect, a gothic image that still makes the blood run cold.

    London 29th September 1888, the city is gripped by the autumn of terror, an unknown fiend stalks the night murdering fallen women with seeming invulnerability.

    Up to this point he has murdered and mutilated  Mary "Polly" Nichols and "Dark" Annie Chapman; he has been blamed for the murders of Emma Smith and Martha Tabram (many believe she was the first victim).

    On the 27th September the infamous "Dear Boss" letter was received giving the mysterious assassin his spine chilling nick name Jack the Ripper.

Dear Boss..........
    It was on the 18th September that the genesis of the Nemesis of Neglect was born, in a letter to The Times written by Rev. Lord Sidney Godolphin Osbourne (S.G.O "At Last" page 11.) he states "whatever the theories to account for them (the murders), whether or no the perpetrators may yet be discovered, they have been the means of affording a warning it would be at our extreme peril to neglect". 

    He goes on to describe those unfortunates as "creatures begotten and reared in an atmosphere of Godless brutality, a species of human sewage......such sewage ever on the increase and in it's increase forever developing fresh depths of degradation."
Sidney Godolphin Osbourne
    He goes on to sermonise about the level of degradation found in the east end and remonstrates with Christian societies who raise thousands of pounds to "propagate the Gospel in foreign parts". 
    He believed the problem couldn't be solved by educational and religious societies preaching piety, the problem is hereditary, so the poor must be given a better place to live. To leave them in such squalor, to neglect these people, is a recipe for disaster.

    "Just so long as the dwellings of this race continue in their present condition, their whole surroundings a sort of warren of foul alleys garnished with the flaring lamps of gin shops and offering to all sorts of lodgers, for all conceivable purpose, every possible accommodation to further brutalise, we shall still go on, affecting astonishment that in such a state of things we have outbreaks from time to time of the horrors of the present day." (Quoted in Punch 29.9.88)
    It would seem this letter had a profound effect on Mr John Tenniel, Mr Tenniel was an illustrator and cartoonist, in 1861 he began working as chief cartoonist for Punch, or the London Charivari. He was most famous for his illustrations of Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871).
John Tenniel

    Already having an eye for the grotesque S.G.O's letter stuck a chord, the imagination of Mr Tenniel began to visualise a wraith like creature, nothing tangible, just that gnawing fear of unseen peril haunting the alleys and courts of the dreadful east end.

    In the following week, leading up to the publication date on 29th September, the Nemesis of Neglect was born. This deeply disturbing image seared the perception of a supernatural killer prowling the foggy streets of Whitechapel into our minds for ever more.
    Under the heading "Nemesis of Neglect" S.G.O's letter was partly quoted (above), following this there was this poem written by John Tenniel

THERE is no light along those winding ways
Other than lurid gleams like marsh-fires fleeting;
Thither the sunniest of summer days
Sends scare one golden shaft of gladsome greeting.
June noonday has no power upon its gloom
More than the murky fog-flare of December;
A Stygian darkness seems its settled doom;
Life, like a flickering ember,
There smoulders dimly on in deathly wise,
Like sleep-dulled glitter in a serpent's eyes.

Yet as that sullen sinister cold gleam
At sight of prey to a fierce flame shall quicken,
So the dull life that lurks in this dread scene.
By the sharp goad of greed or hatred stricken,
Flares into hideous force and fierceness foul,
Swift as the snake to spring and strong to capture.
Here the sole joys are those of the man-ghoul.
Thirst-thrill and ravin-rapture.
Held DANTE'S Circles such a dwelling-place?
Did primal sludge e'er harbour such a race?

It is not Hades, nor that world of slime
Where dragons tare and man-shaped monsters fought.
Civilisation's festering heart of crime
Is here, and here some loathly glimpse is caught
Of its barbaric beating, pulsing through
Fair limbs and flaunting garb wherewith 'tis hidden.
Mere human sewage? True, O Sage! most true!
Society's kitchen-midden!
But hither crowd the ills which are our bane:
And thence in viler shape creep forth again.

Whence? Foulness filters here from honest homes
And thievish dens, town-rookery, rural village.
Vice to be nursed to violence hither comes,
Nurture unnatural, abhorrent tillage!
What sin soever amidst luxury springs,
Here amidst poverty finds full fruition.
There is no name for the unsexed foul things
Plunged to their last perdition
In this dark Malebolge, ours--which yet
We build, and populate, and then--forget!

It will not be forgotten; it will find
A voice, like the volcano, and will scatter
Such hideous wreck among us, deaf and blind,
As all our sheltering shams shall rend and shatter.
The den is dark, secluded, it may yield
To Belial a haunt, to Mammon profit;
But we shall reap the tillage of that field
In harvest meet for Tophet.
Slum-farming knaves suck shameful wealth from sin,
But a dread Nemesis abides therein.

Dank roofs, dark entries, closely-clustered walls,
Murder-inviting nooks, death-reeking gutters,
A boding voice from your foul chaos calls,
When will men heed the warning that it utters?
There floats a phantom on the slum's foul air,
Shaping, to eyes which have the gift of seeing,
Into the Spectre of that loathly lair.
Face it--for vain is fleeing!
Red-handed, ruthless, furtive, unerect,
'Tis murderous Crime--the Nemesis of Neglect!

    The following page showed the Nemesis in its full page splendour with the last six lines of the poem repeated, two days later Jack the Ripper would perform his double event, murdering Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes in one night. The terror would carry on long after his final victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was butchered on 9th November, even now when Jack's name is mentioned the Nemesis of Neglect is not far behind.

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