Critic, folklorist, historian, statistician, communal worker; born Aug. 29, 1854, at Sydney, N. S. W.; educated at Sydney Grammar School, Sydney and London universities, and St. John's College, Cambridge (senior moralist, 1876). After taking his B.A. degree at Cambridge he went to Berlin (1877), where he studied under Steinschneider and Lazarus. From 1878 to 1884 he was secretary of the Society of Hebrew Literature. In the London "Times" of Jan. 11 and 13, 1882, appeared articles by Jacobs on the persecution of the Jews in Russia which drew the attention of Europe to the "pogrom" of 1881 and led to the Mansion House Meeting of Feb. 1, 1882, and to the formation of the Mansion House Fund and Committee, of which Jacobs was secretary (1882-1900). From his connection with the Mansion House (later Russo-Jewish) Committee he was led to investigate the general "Jewish question," as a result of which he published a bibliography (1885) and social and other statistics of the Jews of Europe in a series of papers contributed to the "Jewish Chronicle" and to the "Journal of the Anthropological Institute" (1882 to 1889; afterward republished as "Studies in Jewish Statistics," 1890); they were among the first attempts to apply the principles of statistical science to modern Jewish problems.

Mean while his attention had been drawn to Jewish history by the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition of 1887, to the literature and art committee of which he was honorary secretary, in that capacity compiling, with Lucien Wolf, the catalogue of the exhibition. He was associated with Wolf in the compilation also of a bibliography of Anglo-Jewish history as one of the publications of the exhibition. This bibliography has been the inspiration of all subsequent research in that field. In 1888 he undertook a literary journey to Spain to investigate the Jewish manuscript sources of that country; the results of his journey were published in 1893 under the title "Sources of Spanish-Jewish History." In 1891 he wrote, in connection with the Guildhall Meeting, a further account of Russian persecutions, with an appendix on anti-Jewish legislation in Russia (reprinted by the Jewish Publication Society of America).

From his researches in connection with the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition Jacobs was led to study the early history of the Jews in England, on which he published his "Jews of Angevin England" (1893). In 1896 he collected a number of his essays on Jewish philosophy and history under the title "Jewish Ideals"; in the same year appeared the first issue of his "Jewish Year-Book." One of the chief critics of the "Athenæum," he wrote necrologies on George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, Newman, Stevenson, and others, later assembled under the title "Literary Essays" (1894). He has published also a volume on "Tennyson and 'In Memoriam'" (1892). Jacobs has issued many editions of English classics, including Howell's "Familiar Letters" and Painter's "Palace of Pleasure," and has written introductions to Jane Austen's "Emma," Thackeray's "Esmond," and other masterpieces. Toward the end of 1896 he visited the United States, lecturing at Gratz College in Philadelphia and before the Council of Jewish Women at New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, on the "Philosophy of Jewish History." Jacobs was one of the founders of the Jewish Historical Society of England, of which he was president (1898-99), and also of the Maccabeans. He was for many years on the executive committee of the Anglo-Jewish Association and on the conjoint committee of that body with the Board of Deputies. In 1900 he went to New York to act as revising editor of the Jewish Encyclopedia, in which capacity he is still engaged (1904). He was connected for a time with the "Jewish Chronicle" of London andthe "Jewish World" (New York), and is one of the editors of "Jewish Charity."

Jacobs is one of the chief English authorities on folk-lore, and was editor of "Folk-Lore," honorary secretary of the International Folk-Lore Council, and chairman of the literary committee of the Folk-Lore Congress in London, 1881. He has published many works in this field, notably a reprint (1889) of Caxton's "Esope" with a volume of prolegomena on the history of the Æsop fable, as well as several volumes of English and other folk-tales. From his studies in folk-lore he was, in his "Studies in Biblical Archeology" (1894), led to apply to the Bible the method of comparative institutional archeology. Jacobs has also written an imaginative life of Jesus from a Jewish standpoint ("As Others Saw Him," 1895; 3d ed. 1903).

  • Men and Women of the Time, 1894;
  • Who's Who in England; Who's Who in America; Dictionnaire International des Folkloristes, 1889;
  • Nat. Dict. of Am. Biog.; Encyc. of Am. Biog. 1903;
  • Critic (New York), Jan. 23, 1897;
  • Brit. Mus. Cat. Supplement, 1903, s.v.
A. I. A.
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