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 Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide 
This text is from the E-book Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide by Christopher J. Morley (2005). Click here to return to the table of contents. The text is unedited, and any errors or omissions rest with the author. Our thanks go out to Christopher J. Morley for his permission to publish his E-book.

Charles Swinburne

It is said, 'A more unlikely candidate for Jack the Ripper would be harder to find than poet and critic Algernon Charles Swinburne'. Born on 5 April 1837 in Grosvenor Place, London, the son of an Admiral, he spent most of his childhood on the Isle of Wight, where his parents and grandparents had homes. Educated at Eaton 1849-53 and later Balliol College, Oxford 1856-60, he left without a degree and lived off an allowance from his father.

He contributed to periodicals in the Spectator and Fortnightly Review. The first poem he had published under his name was in 1865 Atalanta In Calydon, a poetic drama modelled on a Greek tragedy, it was received with critical acclaim.

His lifestyle was said to be as energetic and extravagant as his poetry. Throughout the 1860's and 70's his life was a cycle of alcoholic collapse, drying out at home in the country, then returning to London, where he would begin all over again. A decadent poet, he is perhaps best remembered for The First Book Of Poems and Ballads 1866. The poems emphasis on masochism and flagellation was met with outrage and admiration, in equal proportions. He took a sardonic delight in what the critic and biographer Cecil Lang calls, algernonic exaggeration. When people began to talk about his homosexuality and other sexual proclivities, he circulated a story that he had engaged in pederasty and bestiality with a monkey. Oscar Wilde called him, 'A braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality, without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestialiser'. His self indulgent excesses resulted in him suffering a breakdown in 1879. Weakened by epilepsy and alcoholism he was rescued by his friend Walter Theodore Watt Duncan 1832-1914, an English poet, novelist and critic, who took him in and persuaded him to moderate his habits, which he did, becoming a more respectable figure. He died of influenza at the age of 72 on 10 April 1909. He was 61 years of age at the time of the Whitechapel murders, a little over 5ft tall with a slight build. Swinburne believed that the older a man was, the more cynical and less trustworthy he became.

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