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The Genius Of Whitechapel

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The Genius Of Whitechapel

Post by Karen on Sat 28 Aug 2010 - 8:22


A Scholar and a Ne'er Do Well.

He came in answer to a jesting paragraph of my colleague "Picaroon," seeking employment, a tall, straight man, with hair slightly grizzled and a stiffness in one leg. His clothes were shabby and had apparently been made for a smaller man, for his waistcoat and trousers refused to meet, and round his waist was wound a red bandanna handkerchief.
He apologized for this irregularity on the ground that the possession of only one shirt rendered it difficult for his laundry woman to get to work as frequently as was desirable.
But his collar was irreproachable, his mustache was waxed, and, amid the wreck of his fortunes, he had clung to his eyeglass, which he screwed into his right eye at intervals.
From the waist upward he looked like a retired colonel. From the waist downward he presented the appearance of a sandwich man. But as the head is of more import than the feet I concluded that he was a gentleman and offered him a cigarette and a drink.
He accepted the cigarette and smoked it with somewhat feverish haste. As for drink, he would take a lemonade.
"It is better to drink nothing stronger when one is looking for work," he explained; "it may prejudice possible employers."
"How long have you been looking for work?" I asked.
"Three years," he replied. "I have answered hundreds of advertisements, pawned my clothes to pay the postage and worn out my shoes tramping the city. But I keep pegging away, and it will soon end. It is a sort of - penance," he added, reflectively contemplating the ash of his cigarette.
"What are you?" I asked.
"A failure - at present," he replied, with a quiet laugh. "But I have been most things."
"Tell me."
"First I was a medical student; then I ran away and enlisted. After that I got a place as medical officer on an American ship.
"On the west coast of Africa I caught yellow fever, was deserted by my comrades and had to walk 300 miles before I picked up another ship.
"After that I went to Paris, completed my medical studies and took my degree of bachelor of science.
"Since that I have done everything you can think of. I have invented a face powder that was advertised in all the papers and brought me in 20 pounds a week until my business partner bolted with the secret and the cash.
"I have been an artist, a showman's agent, assistant editor of a scientific paper which died, as it were, in my arms. I have been in nearly every country of the world and know French, Italian and Spanish, as well as English, not to speak of Greek and Latin."
"Why not put your experience into a book?"
"Ah! Do you remember an article in the Pall Mall Gazette some years ago on "The Real "She?""
"I remember it very well."
"I wrote that. For I had come across Obeah women in Africa who were every bit as wonderful as Rider Haggard's She. Only Rider Haggard, in deference to European taste, had made his heroine a beautiful white woman instead of a hideous black beldame. I wrote that at the request of Mr. Stead, and immediately a prominent firm of publishers offered me 50 pounds down and a royalty for a book of adventure on the lines of "She." Here is the letter."
"And you wrote the book?"
"No. My health broke down, and I had to go into a hospital. I had had nothing to eat for five days, and it nearly finished me. When I came out and went to the publishers, I was too late."
"And where are you living now?"
"At a sort of - mission, in Whitechapel. I have a cubicle all to myself and pay sixpence a night." -
"A dosshouse, in fact?"
"Some call it that. But there are better men than myself there. They have services, and so forth, but I take no notice of them. The curate is a good fellow, but an ignorant man. Would you believe it?" - he dropped his eyeglass and turned with flashing eyes on me - "he cannot perceive the difference between Greek aorist and the Greek perfect!"
"Is it important - in view of?" -
"Important, sir?" "See here!" and he drew from his pocket a worn copy of the revised version of the New Testament and laid it before me. Passage after passage was scored and corrected. On the margin and at the foot of the columns were noted the MSS from which the corrections had been made. "It is my version of the revised version. I tell you the revisers knew no English and very little Greek. It has taken me years to complete, but it will be ready in a few weeks now."
"But how did you get hold of the MSS of the gospels?"
"I have copies of many of them in my locker at the - at home. The rest I find at the British Museum in my spare time - and I have had a lot of spare time in the past three years."
My friend puffed at a fresh cigarette while I reflected on the incongruity of a Greek scholar in a dosshouse.
"Why is it? I asked, "that a man of education, experience and capacity can't get work when he wants it?"
"I know no one," he replied. "I suppose I am the most friendless man in London."
"But a man of your knowledge, who doesn't drink, who" -
He turned suddenly on me and looked me in the eyes.
"Ah, that's it!" he said. "I ought to tell you that. Some years ago I married - unfortunately. It was not her fault - and she's dead now. But I had trouble. And I drank. I don't do things by halves, and I was drunk all the time for two years. Now it is three years since I touched anything stronger than claret - and the man who lives where I live can't often afford even claret. Well, well - three years of penance should atone for it, shouldn't it? I shall get some work before I'm too old to do it."
Then he rose and went out, with his erect figure and stiff gait, with his eyeglass and absurd clothes, back to his dosshouse to revise the Bible. - Exchange.

Source: The Quincy Daily Journal, September 11, 1899, Page 6

Note: I can't help thinking that the Whitechapel genius sounds remarkably like Francis Thompson, the poet, or even, Robert Donston Stephenson.

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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