The Soldier And The Lawyer

In November, 1888, following many months of wrangling and disagreements with the Home Secretary, Henry Matthews; Sir Charles Warren, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, resigned from his post.

Contrary to what is often stated, the reason for his resignation was not because of the police inability to catch Jack the Ripper, but rather, it came about following an article that he had written for Murray’s Magazine, in which he defended his men against various charges that had been levied against them over the previous twelve months.

Matthews publicly rebuked the Commissioner, and Warren deciding he had had enough, tendered his resignation.

On Sunday, 18th November, 1888 Reynold’s Newspaper sort of defended Warren in an article that portrayed the relationship between the Commissioner and the Home Secretary as a divine comedy.

The article read:-


“Sir Charles Warren is a very earnest man, and the Home Secretary, Mr. Henry Matthews, is a slippery one: but they have succeeded in providing an entertainment during the week that entitles them to public gratitude.

It is hardly possible to observe the game that these gentlemen are engaged in and preserve a serious face.

Both actors are playful to the gallery; and the gods, who have no liking for either, are intensely amused at their antics.

In the result, the lawyer, of course, has licked the soldier, as might have been anticipated.


How Sir Charles could have expected anything else it is difficult to conceive. He is a soldier, and has the dash and gallantry of the best of his class. His view of things is contracted through the necessities of his calling; but, so far as he has the sight, he acts straight.

The Home Secretary is a bad type of a profession in which, to say the least of it, sharp practice is not unknown. He is skilled in the tricks of the trade, and knows quite as well as the son of Belial how to make the worse appear the better reason.

Could the blunt, hard-graced soldier have expected that in a fall with such an adversary he would get anything like fair play?

He entered into the contest with the unpremeditated gallantry of the soldier.

He has met his reward in public disgrace.

Sir Charles Warren, the soldier-policeman, permitted himself to become a tool in the hands of a legal pedant, earning thereby the public odium.

He was used for party purposes, and when these have excited the public wrath, the Home Secretary contemptuously flings his agent over, in the hope of obtaining some favour for his party.

A portrait of Henry Matthews.
The Home Secretary, Henry Matthews. From The Illustrated London News, 14th August, 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


It would be untrue to say that the people of London have any sympathy with the fallen man.

Within an incredibly brief period, he has succeeded, while carrying out the policy of repression in the metropolis, in making himself the most unpopular Commissioner that has ever filled the office.

Whether he was acting throughout under the direct instructions from the Home Office or from the narrow judgment begotten of military discipline, he played the tyrant as far as was possible over Londoners, and, under his orders, many citizens were killed and maimed.

For these offences, the people of London will have no forgiveness.

They are rank, and smell to high heaven.

Bloody Sunday has already taken its place in the calendar of democratic events; and that it did not end in a slaughter as great as that at Peterloo was not the fault of the then Chief Commissioner of Police.

A portrait of Sir Charles Warren.
Sir Charles Warren, The Metropolitan Police Commissioner. From The Illustrated London News, 1st May 1886. Copyright, The British Library Board.


But this is not the main thing that has tickled the onlookers of this comedy of Scotland-yard and the Home-office.

The pot that called the kettle black was not more amusing in its serious way than Mr. Home Secretary Matthews rebuking Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Warren; and the audacity of the reprimand from such a double-dyed offender against the proprieties is as surprising as it is ludicrous.


If there is any man in London more unpopular than Sir Charles Warren, it is Mr. Matthews.

For the coercion tactics of the late Chief Commissioner there may be found an excuse, if not an exculpation, in the fact of his being a purely military man, familiar only with army discipline, and who looked upon the people of London as so many men and women to whom a little drilling would have been of some service.

But Mr. Henry Matthews has no such excuse.

He is a civilian, and is assumed to know something of the laws that the people of England live under and the privileges they enjoy.

As the official superior of the Chief Commissioner, it lay within his power to control the stern extremes of the soldier and his men; but instead of doing that, he encouraged them, and approved every excess when they were worked on the Socialists and the unemployed.

For the purpose of repressing freedom of speech he strained the law, and in his defence on the floor of the House of Commons of the conduct of the police in Trafalgar-square he stultified himself as a lawyer.

In the Cass case he brought defeat and dishonour on the Government, and acted in every detail of that unhappy incident as a man wholly without human sympathy and ordinary common sense.


The unpopularity of the police of London was quite as much due to the Home Secretary as to the Chief Commissioner. Their policy is the same, the objects of it the same, the means of carrying it out the same.

If it has failed, both should suffer the penalty of failure.

It has failed, and we have the curious exhibition of the prime agent of the failure publicly rebuking his colleague and practically ordering him about his business.


It is needless to comment upon the style of the Home Secretary’s reprimand.

We are often charged with plain-speaking upon public questions, and, if we use honest Saxon to express our scorn of public robberies and public wrongs, it is done from a stern sense of duty to the people.

We are, moreover, under no restraints, either political or official.

But nothing that has ever appeared in Reynolds’s Newspaper has equalled in bluntness the terms of Mr. Henry Matthews’ censure of his colleague from his place in the House and in the correspondence that followed.

It is coarse almost to brutality.


No one attaches any importance to the pretended cause of the rebuke.

The publication of the article in Murray’s Magazine by Sir Charles Warren seemed to us something like an overture to the public.

It was an explanation – a lame one, certainly – of the reasons why he had committed certain acts that he seemed to know had aroused public wrath. In thus going directly to the people, Sir Charles showed himself as the politician – the Radical politician – he is for the first time, and contrasted with Sir Charles, the soldier.

This was the head and front of his offending, and for this he has been disgraced by a Tory Home Secretary, and not, as he should have been, for the cruelties and tyranny that he inflicted on the people.


And how do we stand now that Sir Charles Warren has been shelved?

Is this stiff-necked lawyer, with his dry manner and cold heart, to be made more powerful in the government of London than before?

There is one thing we may surely calculate upon – viz., that a purely military man will not soon again be nominated to the commissionership of Scotland-yard. Londoners have had such experiences of a soldier-policeman that they are not likely to tolerate the imposition, even if Mr. Matthews dared to put the affront on them again.

A soldier is wholly unqualified for police work, which requires special knowledge and training, and certain aptitudes seldom found in men who have passed years in the army.

That is one gain we will have from this pretty little comedy of the lawyer and the soldier; but it seems to us to be practically all we at present are likely to get.

The experiment of military commissioners has been tried, and it failed.


Crime abounds in London now as never before.

It almost flaunts itself in the face of the police, in mockery at the excellent discipline that will not permit the men to prevent a robbery taking place in daylight a few yards beyond their beat, or arrest the burglar if the men are at fixed points.

A military Commissioner is, therefore, an impossibility.

But, if such a man as Mr. Malcolm Wood, of Manchester, is appointed, it is to be hoped that he will bring some influence to bear on his chief, the Home Secretary, who knows nothing about London or Londoners, and yet who has been made, to all intents and purposes, the administrator of its affairs.


The County Council, which will be elected next year, shall have no control of the police; and, if Mr. Matthews is still in office, he will, even with a London Parliament sitting, retain all the old powers over the force and its chief.

This is one of the shameful omissions in the Local Government Bill, that it may be anticipated the next democratic Parliament will remove.”