Aside from police and Home Office or Government Officials, the only two celebrities that I know of who actually wrote contemporary statements regarding the Ripper and his/her crimes were Queen Victoria and George Bernard Shaw.
My question becomes this: there were plenty of other major cultural and historical figures of top level active in 1888. Wilkie Collins, author of "The Moonstone", "The Woman in White", and "Armadale" was still alive (he'd die in 1889), and although past his prime and ill must have taken some interest in the case. Did he write any letters about his views? Conan Doyle would later reveal his suggested solution to the mystery (a murderous midwife) in a book of memoirs published decades later - but what was his views in 1888. What were the views of H. G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, William Gladstone, Sir Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, James Whistler...well you get the idea. There are plenty of volumes of collected papers and letters of these figures - has anyone bothered looking through them at all.
Maybe we should start thinking of doing it. They might have heard something, or perhaps they could have dismissed some rumors that still float around.
I'm not sure if Jack London counts as a contemporary but he obviously wrote a book about the living conditions in Whitechapel and the murders are mentioned.
This is a great writer, George Bernard Shaw, and though he did not realize it--as he was writing a leftist, satirical critique--I think he probably nailed Druitt's motive:
"Blood Money To Whitechapel"
George Bernard Shaw
The Star, September 24th 1888.
BLOOD MONEY TO WHITECHAPEL.
TO THE EDITOR OF "THE STAR."
SIR,-- Will you allow me to make a comment on the success of the Whitechapel murderer in calling attention for a moment to the social question? Less than a year ago the West-end press, headed by the St. James's Gazette, the Times, and the Saturday Review, were literally clamering for the blood of the people--hounding on Sir Charles Warren to thrash and muzzle the scum who dared to complain that they were starving--heaping insult and reckless calumny on those who interceded for the victims--applauding to the skies the open class bias of those magistrates and judges who zealously did their very worst in the criminal proceedings which followed--behaving, in short as the proprietary class always does behave when the workers throw it into a frenzy of terror by venturing to show their teeth. Quite lost on these journals and their patrons were indignant remonstrances, argument, speeches, and sacrifices, appeals to history, philosophy, biology, economics, and statistics; references to the reports of inspectors, registrar generals, city missionaries, Parliamentary commissions, and newspapers; collections of evidence by the five senses at every turn; and house-to-house investigations into the condition of the unemployed, all unanswered and unanswerable, and all pointing the same way. The Saturday Review was still frankly for hanging the appellants; and the Times denounced them as "pests of society." This was still the tone of the class Press as lately as the strike of the Bryant and May girls. Now all is changed. Private enterprise has succeeded where Socialism failed. Whilst we conventional Social Democrats were wasting our time on education, agitation, and organisation, some independent genius has taken the matter in hand, and by simply murdering and disembowelling four women, converted the proprietary press to an inept sort of communism. The moral is a pretty one, and the Insurrectionists, the Dynamitards, the Invincibles, and the extreme left of the Anarchist party will not be slow to draw it. "Humanity, political science, economics, and religion," they will say, "are all rot; the one argument that touches your lady and gentleman is the knife." That is so pleasant for the party of Hope and Perseverance in their toughening struggle with the party of Desperation and Death!
However, these things have to be faced. If the line to be taken is that suggested by the converted West-end papers--if the people are still to yield up their wealth to the Clanricarde class, and get what they can back as charity through Lady Bountiful, then the policy for the people is plainly a policy of terror. Every gaol blown up, every window broken, every shop looted, every corpse found disembowelled, means another ten pound note for "ransom." The riots of 1886 brought in £78,000 and a People's Palace; it remains to be seen how much these murders may prove worth to the East-end in panem et circenses. Indeed, if the habits of duchesses only admitted of their being decoyed into Whitechapel back-yards, a single experiment in slaughterhouse anatomy on an artistocratic victim might fetch in a round half million and save the necessity of sacrificing four women of the people. Such is the stark-naked reality of these abominable bastard Utopias of genteel charity, in which the poor are first to be robbed and then pauperised by way of compensation, in order that the rich man may combine the idle luxury of the protected thief with the unctuous self-satisfaction of the pious philanthropist.
The proper way to recover the rents of London for the people of London is not by charity, which is one of the worst curses of poverty, but by the municipal rate collector, who will no doubt make it sufficiently clear to the monopolists of ground value that he is not merely taking round the hat, and that the State is ready to enforce his demand, if need be. And the money thus obtained must be used by the municipality as the capital of productive industries for the better employment of the poor. I submit that this is at least a less disgusting and immoral method of relieving the East-end than the gust of bazaars and blood money which has suggested itself from the West-end point of view.--Yours, &c.,
G. BERNARD SHAW.
Thanks for publishing the entire letter Jonathan. This was one of the two letters Shaw wrote on the case that I mentioned earlier on this thread, but I only have seen a section of it in Tom Cullen's "Autumn of Terror".
Actually I once looked into Shaw's interest in crime. He used the shooting of William Whiteley, the department store magnate, in 1907 in "Misalliance", and he has a moment in "Mrs. Warren's Profession" (1894) where an angered young man holding a hunting rifle, yells at Winnie Warren, "You'll say it was an accident Winnie!!" when he aims the gun at an obnoxious rival.
I always have felt that (given Shaw was working on that play in 1893) he was thinking of Alfred Monson, Cecil Hambrough, and the Ardlamont hunting accident mystery of that year.
While he was having some emotional difficulties with a girlfriend in 1893 he took an interest in the case of Police Constable George Cooke, and the Constable's trial, conviction, and execution for killing his prostitute girlfriend near Wormwood Scrubbs prison.