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The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs, 1876-1900

Brian Maidment

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs, 1876-1900* BRIAN MAIDMENT, M.A., Ph.D. Joseph Jacobs was a very remarkable man. The Dictionary of American Biography tells us, with a beguilingly bland air, that his special interests as an undergraduate were 'mathe? matics, history, philosophy, anthropology and general literature'.1 This kind of diversity in interests and talents was something which typified his whole life, and it is underlined by the enormous variety of the sources one has to turn to in order to evaluate his career. Even when one has finally located all these sources, one is constantly confronted with such state? ments as: Tf Jacobs had not been remembered as a Judaic scholar, folklorist, historian, man of letters', and so on, 'he would have been re? membered as an anthropologist, literary critic, statistician, controversialist' or some other equally improbable field of achievement. The limits of my own knowledge and interest make it quite clear that I can only discuss a very small part of Jacobs's work this evening, and so I have chosen 'The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs' as my title, and I have used the term to cover Jacobs's acquaintance with and writings on George Eliot, his three books of literary criticism, his work as a reviewer for The Athenaeum, his work as an editor and introducer of many reprints in English litera? ture, and his career as a publisher's reader with George Allen &amp; Co. between 1896 and 1900. 'Man of Letters' In other words, I want to see Jacobs in the context and the tradition of the English 'man of letters'?an old-fashioned and even pejorative phrase which still, I think, tells us something important about English literary life for a decade either side of 1900. Yet having limited myself in this way, I want always to remember the larger fields of activity against which Jacobs's literary work was carried out, and always to bear in mind that I am dis? cussing only a minor part of Jacobs's work. My emphasis is literary as well as historical, and scarcely at all concerned with specifically Jewish activities and attitudes, but I hope you yourselves will be able to make up the obvious deficiencies of what I say on some aspects of this very large subject. I should like to make one further introductory point. The diversity and brilliance of Jacobs's mind seems to me an ambiguous quality. As the memoir of Jacobs in the Jewish Chronicle for 11 February 1916 puts it: 'Versatility, it is true,'must be paid for. Had Jacobs concentrated more closely on one of the many sides of his activities, he might have left us a masterpiece, whereas he has to his account only pieces, not a whole. But what pieces!'2 Mental Restlessness The diffusion of Jacobs's talents was evidently both a good and a bad thing, but I think to talk of Jacobs's qualities of mental energy, spirit of inquiry, and mental restlessness alone does not entirely account for the improvisational and disturbed quality of much of Jacobs's life. This restlessness may well have been due to his temperament and character, but it is important to ask how much it was due to his circumstances as a Jew moving in non-Jewish literary circles. How far was Jacobs forced to diversify his interests, and his talents, in order to make a living at all ? I am sure that almost all of you know far more about the history of the Jews in England at the end of the last century than I do, and I might suggest that you could evaluate Jacobs's career very care? fully in the light of contemporary conditions. For an evidently brilliant man, there is a hand-to-mouth quality about Jacobs's life, a * Paper delivered to the Jewish Historical Society of England, 10 January 1973. 1 Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. V, p. 566. 2 Jewish Chronicle, 11 February 1916, p. 11. 101</page><page sequence="2">102 Brian Maidment constant use of chance circumstances or favour? able opportunities, and even a willingness to adopt ways of life and accept jobs which were unfavourable to his intellectual capacities, all of which suggest not only a mercurial temper? ament but perhaps also intransigent circum? stances. Only after 1900, when Jacobs settled in America as the revising editor of the Jewish Encyclopaedia, is there any sense of peace or security in his life. This uncertainty may well not have been entirely his own fault. A Starting Point My choice of 1876 as the starting place for a discussion of Jacobs's literary career is not an arbitrary one, for this year saw the appearance of George Eliot's last great novel, Daniel Deronda, and it was this book, with its com? passion for Jewish interests and Jewish temper? aments, which naturally led the young and passionate Jacobs to write a long and occasion? ally fulsome review in Macmillarfs Magazine for June 1877. It was this review, which became somewhat notorious, that marks the beginning of Jacobs's career in English letters. Up to this date his career had been brilliant, and even remarkable when one considers his religion and race. He was born in Sydney, Australia, on 29 August 1854, and educated first at the local grammar school and then at the University of Sydney before coming to England in 1872 at the age of 18. He entered St. John's College, Cambridge, as one of the first Jews to enter the Universities under the new legislation, i.e., Statute Law Revision Act 1863. He graduated as senior moralist in 1876, after a brilliant University career in which he had managed to incorporate all the various interests already mentioned. A Fellowship at Cambridge was the obvious next step, but here one senses that Jacobs was again made aware of his Jewish origins. The Jewish Chronicle is very coy on the matter: . . raising hopes of a brilliant career as a teacher where he had been a student. But the fates decreed otherwise and denied him the repose of an academic post.'3 Whatever the reason, Jacobs set off to Berlin to study under the distinguished Jewish scholars Steinschneider and Lazarus. Even before this, however, Jacobs had made his considerable first impact on the English literary world with his Macmillan's review of Daniel Deronda, the full title of which was 'Mordecai: A Protest against the Critics'. The critics Jacobs talks of here had been almost entirely hostile to the Jewish sections of Daniel Deronda, and indeed even now the book is sel? dom admired in its entirety. The Gwendolen Harleth story has many advocates, but the passionately hopeful Jewish sections have found few enough supporters either when the novel came out or in subsequent appraisals of the book. Only Jacobs and an anonymous reviewer in the Jewish Chronicle on 15 December 1876 stood out firmly against the general tenor of contemporary criticism. The Jewish Chronicle was almost sycophantic in its praise, and was prepared to uphold George Eliot primarily on the grounds that she had chosen such a subject rather than for any intrinsic worth in the way in which she treated it. To choose a Jewish subject was at least a gesture of sympathy, regardless of its artistic success: 'The very thought that an author occupy? ing such a proud position should have worked out these ideas with such minuteness, force, skill, and lucidity, and should have brought them forward so prominently, and lavished upon them the wealth of her genius, con? stitute a great event in itself and invest it with a significance which gives them a claim to careful consideration. Her skilful fingers elicit from Mordecai's finely organised mind, strung with heavenly chords, celestial melodies. It is the old prophetic strains which resound. It is Messianic echoes which we hear. Restoration and re-constitution of the Jewish polity, as of old, is the theme. At its very mention the hearts of thousands of Jews will undoubtedly beat high, and it will send a thrill through every fibre of their innermost being.'4 Jacobs, in a less emotive and more considered 3 Ibid., p. 11. 4 Ibid., 15 December 1876.</page><page sequence="3">The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs, 1876-1900 103 way, was equally enthusiastic about the book, and he admired it, rightly, I think, for its recognition of profound emotional qualities in even the poor, the degraded, and the des? pised?all exemplified in the character of Mordecai Cohen: 'But the new idea of which we have spoken is embodied in the person of Mordecai Cohen, the Jew par excellence of the book, the embodiment of the inner life of Judaism. The very fact of this recognition of an inner life, not to speak of the grand personality in which she has typified it, entitles George Eliot to the heart-deep gratitude of all Jews; the more so inasmuch as she has hazarded, and at least temporarily lost, suc? cess for her most elaborated production by endeavouring to battle with the commonplace and conventional ideas about Judaism. The present article aims at striking another blow to convince the English world of the exist? ence in the present day and for all past time of a spiritual life in Judaism. And we can concei ve of no better point of defence for the position than the historic probability of the character of Mordecai, which critics have found so mystic, vague and impossible . . .'5 Emergence into Literary Life Jacobs here sees George Eliot's wise and generous recognition of the inherent capacities for feeling and understanding in even the lowliest and most uneducated people which lies at the heart of all her novels. His whole review of Daniel Deronda is assured and well written, although Jacobs's passionate commit? ment to Judaic aspirations perhaps makes him insensitive to some of the novel's artistic failings. He does at least, as no other con? temporary critic does, take on the problem of the divided nature of the narrative, and for such a young and unknown man, the review is a considerable success. In terms of immediate results, the article was very important to Jacobs, for not only did it mark his emergence into the widest circles of literary London, but it also procured him a visit to the home of George Eliot, who was then still living, as she had done for many years, with George Henry Lewes at the Priory, North Bank, Regent's Park. Lewes had constantly shielded George Eliot from her critics, only allowing her to see favourable reviews, but he was always glad to greet a new and well-disposed reviewer to his somewhat terrifyingly intellectual home. Jacobs's visit there was certainly not a success? and if the report, propagated later by the Jewish Chronicle, which described Jacobs and George Eliot as 'already intimate friends' in 1877,6 of the development of a close friendship between the two writers is set against the comments which Jacobs himself makes on his contacts with George Eliot, an alarming discrepancy emerges. Jacobs describes his meetings with the great woman novelist thus in the Preface to his 1891 volume of Essays and Reviews: 'I can still recall the feelings of ardent reverence with which I approached the Priory, North Bank, one Sunday afternoon in 1877. I had written an enthusiastic? I fear I must add gushing?defence of Daniel Deronda from a Jewish point of view, in the June number of Macmillan's Magazine ofthat year, and George Henry Lewes had ex? pressed a wish that I should call upon them. I went with all the feelings of the neophyte at the shrine for the first time. Need I say that I was disappointed? Authors give of their best in their works under the conscious? ness of addressing the whole world. We ought not to expect them to live up to that best at all times and before all onlookers: but we do. I have few Boswellisms to offer. I re? member even at that early stage of my social discernment being struck by the contrast between the boisterous Bohemian bonhomie of George Lewes and the almost old maidenish refinement of his life's companion. I had tried to lead her talk to my own criticism, but was met by the quiet parry, "I never read criticisms of my own works". I could not help thinking at the time "que fais-je done dans cette galere?" but she was 5 Macm?lan's Magazine, June 1877. 6 Jewish Chronicle, 11 February 1916, p. 11.</page><page sequence="4">104 Brian Maidment obviously in the right. Others were present and the topics had to be general. . . .'7 Jacobs goes on to describe another slight meeting with George Eliot after Lewes's death, but points out that he felt his acquaintance with her to be so slight that it never coloured his critical view of her work. Certainly George Eliot never mentions Jacobs in any surviving letter, and I see no reason to doubt Jacobs's word here. It seems entirely probable to me that George Eliot remained only an intellectual influence on Jacobs's life without ever becoming anything approaching a friend. This does nothing to diminish her influence on Jacobs's intellectual life?and Jacobs continued to write on George Eliot and to see Daniel Deronda as a key book in his own awareness of the histori? cal aspects of Judaism. As he commented in the very interesting introduction to his 1896 volume Jewish Ideals and Othe* Essays, 'Spinoza envisaged for me the Jewish ideals in their static form, George Eliot transferred my atten? tion to them in their dynamic development'.8 I want to return to Jacobs's other writings on George Eliot later on, but only in the context of his subsequent career as a literary essayist. Folk-lore Interests After a short period of study in Germany, Jacobs returned to England as the secretary of the Society of Hebrew Literature, a post which he held from 1878 to 1884. These years were very much spent in political and adminis? trative activities and in study, but they also mark the beginning of Jacobs's long association with The Athenaeum and with the English Folk Lore Society. But before dealing separately with Jacobs's career as a literary critic and folklorist, perhaps I may sketch in two incidents relating to his career at this time which are perhaps more revealing of his general character as well as the constant tension and pressure under which he worked. For this material, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Mr. Rayner Unwin, of George Allen &amp; Unwin Ltd., who has allowed me to draw without restriction on the records of the publishing firms of Swan Sonnenschein &amp; Go. and of George Allen &amp; Co. All the unpublished material in this paper comes from these sources. Talmud Book Suggestion Late in 1881, Jacobs received a letter from William Swan Sonnenschein asking him if he would like to compile a volume of 'stories' from the Talmud for the Swan Sonnenschein 'Folk-lore' series.9 Although not a major undertaking, the volume was a useful com? mission for a promising young writer, and it certainly suggests that even at this early date Jacobs was beginning to have something of a reputation as a folklore scholar?remember he was still only 27 at this time. I cannot ascertain if the book was eventually published or not, but the important point is that it put Jacobs in Sonnenschein's mind when a larger project occurred. On 22 March 1882, Sonnenschein wrote to Jacobs suggesting that the Talmud book should be well in hand,10 but no more news of it appears in the Allen archive. A year later, however, we find Jacobs already com? mitted to a larger scheme?Sonnenschein's classified dictionary of great literature called The Best Books. This enormous project was eventually to occupy Sonnenschein himself for many years, and the resultant two volumes still stand as a beautifully produced and useful guide to readers and scholars. Jacobs, for all his youth and inexperience, seems to have assumed total responsibility for the work, which meant reading (or at least glancing through) standard works in a vast number of fields, and then giving a brief note on the quality and the content of the work. Even with a large amount of clerical help, it was not the kind of work fitted for a young and dazzling intelligence, excited by new ideas and prone to dissipate its energies in many directions. To make matters even worse, Jacobs was to be bound by a strict time schedule, so that the work could appear for the Christmas trade in December 1883. 7 Essays and Reviews (1891), pp. xv-xvi. 8 Jewish Ideals and Other Essays (1896). * Unpublished letter?W. S. Sonnenschein to Jacobs, 5 November 1881. io Unpublished letter?W. S. Sonnenschein to Jacobs, 22 March 1882.</page><page sequence="5">The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs, 1876-1900 105 Publisher's Pressure By the beginning of April ofthat year, Jacobs was in full harness, and the delivery date for the first third of the manuscript (1 May) loomed large. By 11 April Sonnenschein was again writing to Jacobs, in a letter which suggests clearly the speed and pressure under which the book was being put together: T am having the chief publishers' cata? logues analysed for you. The slips thus made will give you a good purpose, I think: and will ensure that no important omissions are made. These slips shall reach you in a few days; and you can make what use you like of them, or none at all. They will at least be useful for you to run over. I have instructed the compilers merely to jot down the title particulars, regardless of values of the books which could of course be ascer? tained only by reference to reviews or to specialists. 'Please send me a sample of say 12 books and titles, of an average length. I will then have them set up as a model, upon which you can work . . . "Second titles" where at all descriptive of contents, should be given, if necessary in abridgment; and the extent of the abridgment would depend upon the space you have at command . . . Perhaps, if you have room, the keynote of the author's point of view could be added in this line, thus:? 'Martineau (Rev. J) Sermons: (Unit? arian) . . . P.S. I think Fiction should cer? tainly be introduced but Gift Bks and Childrens Bks would be too laborious and in the latter "Best" would be a very difficult word to apply to.'11 Not surprisingly, Jacobs obviously found the scheme too much for his time and energy. Sonnenschein's next letter contained a new, more menacing note: '31st. May 1883 Joseph Jacobs Esq., B.A. I beg to advise you that tomorrow is the last day for delivery of M.S. of "Best Books" under first forfeiture. . . ,'12 and this menace was soon enough turned into overt anger and despair in Sonnenschein's next letter: 'Dear Mr. Jacobs, I really think your treat? ment of me is unfair. Not only do you fail to supply any copy, wholly disregarding our recent arrangement and your promise, but you do not let me know whether you are at work or not?in fact, I have no idea where I am 'What is your proposal now?'13 Here, perhaps mercifully, the correspondence ends. However, we know the fate of Jacobs's editorship of The Best Books from a stray com? ment in Mumby and Stallybrass's From Swan Sonnenschein to George Allen &amp; Unwin Ltd.: '. . .he [Sonnenschein] began work upon his great bibliography, The Best Books, that ambitious task which was originally to have been compiled by one J. Jacobs. The work had been announced in Sonnenschein's list for some years, and after waiting for it from Jacobs in vain the publisher stepped into the breach himself. Thus began a task which robbed an otherwise busy man of his leisure hours for the next half-century and, long before the end, became a burden which only one of his indomitable deter? mination could have endured.'14 In Wrong Directions It seems as well that Jacobs did not continue his work with Sonnenschein, but it is interesting that he should take on such a large task when he was obviously unfitted to finish it. This is not the only occasion where he makes similar decisions, seemingly on irrational grounds. His energy and enthusiasm often seem to have 11 Unpublished letter?\V. S. Sonnenschein to Jacobs, 11 April 1883. 12 Unpublished letter?W. S. Sonnenschein to Jacobs, 31 May 1883. 13 Unpublished letter?W. S. Sonnenschein to Jacobs, 8 July 1883. 14 F. A. Mumby and W. Stallybrass, From Swan Sonnenschein to George Allen &amp; Unwin Ltd. (1955), p. 19.</page><page sequence="6">106 Brian Maidment led him in wrong directions?directions which emphasised thoroughness and dullness at the expense of his obvious capacities to absorb, synthesise, and think in original ways. Jacobs was always under pressure of some kind, and he seldom refused a job of work, however un? congenial or even trivial it may have been. This is not to dismiss Jacobs as a mere hack writer?his scholarship and erudition are too broad for that?but rather to see him as representative of a new generation of men of letters for whom there was more work available than time to do it in, and for whom commercial considerations were more important than they had been for the old-style serious journalists like John Morley or T. H. Green. Jacobs's generation was the generation of Wells, Chesterton, and Belloc, Galsworthy, Saintsbury, and Robertson Nicholl. Despite his evident sense of his Victorian heritage, exemplified in his writings on major figures such as George Eliot, Arnold, and Newman, Jacobs belongs, commercially if not emotionally, to the new century rather than the old. For these new men it was possible to make a good living and a good reputation by writing and by a journal? istic versatility which only occasionally trans? cended its usually mundane purposes. Compromise Career As a literary critic Jacobs does not rank with any of these men mentioned?but it is inter? esting, or even amazing, that he could be thought of in the same terms as the new full time professionals when the other aspects of his career reach so broadly and so successfully in many directions. If the pressure was some? times too much even for Jacobs, his literary achievements were still considerable. If the emphasis is on quantity rather than quality, it is necessary to see his career against the back? ground of a new literary mentality, where making a living was no longer a compromise to one's intellectual or literary principles. The struggle on this issue which eventually destroyed Reardon in Gissing's New Grub Street is one which never destroyed Jacobs. His career is a compromise, but a compromise which to a very large extent succeeds. Jacobs published three volumes of literary criticism. The first and best is Essays and Reviews, first published in 1891 by his friend David Nutt, and reprinted in 1895 as Literary Studies, with three additional essays. This book con? sists entirely of reprinted obituary notices ('Necrologes', as Jacobs called them) and essays from The Athenaeum, and the writers and personalities discussed are, principally and most interestingly, George Eliot and then Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, and John Henry Newman. There are ten essays in all, none of them over thirty small and generously spaced pages, and the most interesting part of the book is undoubtedly the Introduction, where Jacobs gives a justification of his own kind of criticism. As one might expect from a man with such broad interests, he sees the function of literary criticism not so much as 'aesthetic' (by which Jacobs means criticism as an art form which is more than criticism) but as 'psychological'. He goes on to define these two viewpoints: 'There are two methods of studying literary productions, which may roughly be de? scribed as the aesthetic and the psychological. The former goes straight to the literary products themselves, and seeks to deter? mine their aptitude for exerting the speci? fic literary emotions often reflecting the critic's own feelings in the rhythm and beauty of his language. This is the method of Lamb and Mr. Swinburne, and (in his best moments) Mr. Matthew Arnold. The other or psychological method looks rather to the literary producer, and endeavours to ascertain those qualities of the author's mind that would produce such results. Mr. Leslie Stephen pursues this method during his Hours in a Library, and Mr. Morley and Mr. Hutton afford other instances of its use. I need scarcely say to which of these two methods the present essays belong. . . ,'15 'Psychological' Principles In ranging himself with Stephen and Morley and Hutton here, Jacobs gives a clear indication 15 Essays and Reviews, pp. xiii-xiv.</page><page sequence="7">The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs, 1876-1900 107 of the kind of tradition in which he sees his writing. He is in effect applying an old and honourable Victorian tradition to contempor? ary situations. All the essays in this volume tend to come from the early part of his writing career, when his Victorian roots were at their strongest, and when he was trying to assimilate his reading of the great Victorian writers to his newer experiences in a changing and exciting intellectual world which was soon to reject a lot of what 'Victorianism' represented. His critical writings do exactly exemplify the 'psychological' principles laid down here. The range is wide, the subject intellectual achieve? ment rather than literary worth. In other words, Jacobs saw his literary criticism as the product of a cultured mind rather than of a literary sensibility. Ideas are more important than texts for him, and his writings put him firmly in this tradition in Victorian criticism, which, to my mind, represents one of the highest achievements of the age, an opinion endorsed by John Gross's fascinating book on The Rise and Fall of the English Man of Letters. Jacobs is only a minor critic when compared with such a man as Morley, but he does lead us on towards our newly discovered discipline of 'the history of ideas' or whatever one wishes to call it. As Jacobs puts it, T have tried to show above that the psychological method has a fit applica? tion at moments when we are thinking of the literary qualities of an author's mind rather than the literary effect of his works'.16 Critical Works The second volume of criticism which Jacobs produced is the 1892 volume entitled Tennyson and lIn Memoriam1?an appreciation and a study, which is exactly what its title suggests it to be?a careful and precise study of the Laureate's great poem, neither brilliantly incisive nor startlingly original. Jacobs's third critical work, again most notable for its introduction and for its reprinting of the 1877 review of Daniel Deronda in revised form, came out in 1896 under the title of Jewish Ideals, and other essays. Obviously, these three slender volumes are a very small basis on which to build bisr claims, although the memorial notice of Jacobs in the Jewish Chronicle does its best to do so: 'Thus for several years, it fell to Jacobs to act as the spokesman of national opinion on some of its greatest literary forces. In the days when The Athenaeum stood unrivalled as a recorder and critic of English literary fame, Jacobs wrote the obituaries of G. Eliot, M. Arnold, Browning, Newman, and many others. These obituaries were not only the first in the field, they told the truth once for all. . . .'17 The last sentence makes Jacobs sound like a leader-writer for the News of the World, and certainly the Jewish Chronicle is claiming too much here, but praise for Jacobs's critical writings, if of a somewhat guarded nature, comes from, of all places, Sonnenschein's The Best Books, which eventually began to struggle into print in 1887, five years after its original inception, with constant supplementary vol? umes to bring it up to date. Essays and Reviews is described in a later edition as 'being of some permanent value', and the Tennyson book is called a 'detailed and careful study'. This all sounds like half-hearted praise until one remembers that inclusion in The Best Books at all was something of an achievement, especially in an age which abounded in essay writing and literary studies. Energetic Editor It is, however, unfair to base any assessment of Jacobs as a critic of English literature solely on his occasional essays, for in addition he was an enormously competent and energetic editor and introducer of reprinted works. The range of his work in this field is prodigious. Up to 1896, when his commitment to a single pub? lisher slightly diminished his output, Jacobs had already edited Aesop's Fables, an edition of the English Lives of Buddha, Bidpai's Fables, Gracian's The Art of Worldly Wisdom, James Ho well's Familiar Letters, Longus's Daphnis and Chloe, Meinhold's The Amber Witch, a huge and luxurious edition of The Palace of Pleasure by William Painter, the History of Reynard the 16 Ibid., p. xiv. 17 Jewish Chronicle, 11 February 1916, p. 12.</page><page sequence="8">108 Brian Maidment Fox, a children's book called the Book of Wonder Voyages, and of course his wonderful series of selected fairy stories, edited for his friend and publisher, David Nutt, and illus? trated by J. D. Batten. After 1896, the range tends to narrow more to English literature, but the sheer quantity of editorial work still remains staggering. Goldsmith's Comedies, Henry Esmond, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, William Morris's Old French Romances, Tales from Boccaccio, The Book of Job, Boncourt's Peter Schlemihl, two volumes of foreign views of England, and The Literary Tear Book for 1897 were all edited by Jacobs between 1896 and 1900. Obviously, much of this work demanded little of Jacobs's time and talents, though it must have been a useful way of making ends meet in difficult times. Yet however helpful such activity was to Jacobs's income, it is difficult to see how his intellectual energy and enthusiasm could remain unimpaired by such commonplace activities spread over a decade of his life. I have not been able to?and I don't think I'd want to?look at all of these volumes edited by Jacobs, although I have seen everything he edited between 1896 and 1900. 'Jews of Angevin England' It is all competent work, but little more. The style is generally slightly effusive and florid after the manner of the time and as the market in elegant illustrated reprints of the classics obviously demanded. The introductions read effortlessly and undemandingly enough, but one can't help comparing these genteel and amiable productions with Jacobs's other work in the eighteen-nineties. First and foremost stands Jacobs's best known scholarly work, The Jews of Angevin England, which was first published in 1893, a work of scholarship which, Dr. Newman informs me, still commands enormous respect. Even a brief list of titles outside Jacobs's literary work shows a very different mind at work from the one which gave a gilt cloth elegant Emma its final touch of urbanity: The Persecution of the Jews in Russia (1890); Statistics of Jewish Population in London 1873-1893 (1894); Studies in Biblical Archaeology (1894); Studies in Jewish Statistics, social, vital, and anthropometric (1891); The Story of Geo? graphical Discovery (1899), and this brief selection of titles ignores all of Jacobs's fascinating controversial writings on diffusion theories of folk-tales, which were coming out in the early 'nineties, and which are best described in R. M. Dorson's fine book The British Folklorists,? which is a major source for anyone writing on any aspect of Jacobs's career. The inevitable conclusion from such lists of Jacobs's literary activities in the 1890s is that he was working under a kind of literary schizophrenia. On the one hand, he was accepting every possible, and even impossible, literary job offered to him in order to give him the financial security and literary status which would lend power to his more serious work in other fields. On the other hand, he was trying to remain as uncommitted as possible to his literary hack work so that he could continue and expand his public but financially unprofitable career as a con? troversialist, politician, and Jewish scholar. David Nutt as Publisher In an effort to resolve these contradictions, Jacobs obviously took advantage of every contact he could make. His Folk Lore Society debates had made him friends with the Society's publisher, David Nutt, and he had brought out many of his commercially less viable works under Nutt's imprint. This friendship provides the only reason for the survival of some of Jacobs's slighter works, as such works as Essays and Reviews could scarcely have given Nutt an enormous profit. Indeed, Nutt was a generous man in many respects?he continued to admire and produce Jacobs's works even though he disagreed violently with him over the diffiusionist controversy which was splitting the Folk Lore Society at this time. From all these instances, the insecurity of Jacobs's position is evident, and it is under? lined by his gradual acceptance of his need to be dependent on a regular income, even if this also involved regular and usually uncongenial literary work. Finally, he was forced into the position of taking a full-time literary job in order to support himself, and he became a is R. M. Dorson, The British Folklorists (1968).</page><page sequence="9">The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs, 1876-1900 109 publisher's reader with the firm of George Allen &amp; Co. George Allen had begun life as a carpenter, but was taught engraving by Ruskin and other masters at the Working Men's College before becoming Ruskin's general assistant in 1854. He had served Ruskin for many years in this capacity, when in 1870 Ruskin decided to set up his own publishing firm, both to solve immediate practical diffi? culties and as an attack on abuses in contemp? orary bookselling. Allen had been put in charge of this venture, and by the mid-eighteen nineties had succeeded not only in running the very large business in Ruskin's books but also in evolving a general publishing list of his own. MS Reader for Allen The new expansion of the firm in this same period had forced Allen to look around for assistance in reading the increasing number of manuscripts which came to him for publication, and in giving general advice on large projects which he had in hand. Late in 1894, Allen began to consider possible readers, and he wrote plaintively on the subject to T. J. Wise: 'Do you know anyone who could at times give one a little advice as to the worth of M.S. for publication. I don't mean money value. Things come in and one feels as if one would like advice at times.'19 Nothing came of this appeal immediately, and it took Allen some time to find a per? manent reader. At about this time Jacobs began reading manscripts for Allen, although the arrangement was an entirely informal one, with Jacobs being paid on a piece-rate basis. Allen was still doing most of his own reading at this time, and he was calling in Jacobs only when the subject of the manuscript was outside his own interests, or when the pressure of his other work demanded. During the six months which followed Jacobs's first jobs for Allen, a closer relationship evolved between them, although their arrangement was still of a very informal nature. Allen occasionally sent books to other readers, and Jacobs himself continued to read occasionally for other firms, notably Macmillan's, although I have been unable to establish exactly how much work Jacobs carried out for other firms. My suspicion is that his arrangements with other firms were at this time similar to those with Allen, although I have no real evidence for saying this, and I have not checked the matter in the Macmillan archives. By April 1895 Jacobs was reading the manuscript of a novel for Allen, and he had recently given his opinion on five other manuscripts. Even this amount of work, how? ever, did not prevent Allen from sending manu? scripts to Theodore Watts Dunton and other critics for their decision. Impermanent Relationship This occasional relationship between Allen and Jacobs could only be an impermanent one, however, because, while Allen continued to struggle for emancipation from Ruskin's guardians at Brantwood and for independence as a publisher, he needed to place all his business arrangements on a more permanent level as an expression of his new independence. The situation was made more difficult by the ambitious nature of Allen's projects at the time. During 1895 and 1896 Allen was planning several large and important series of publica? tions, one being a set of reference works for libraries (the Public Library Series), the second comprising a series of classics (the Masterpieces of Fiction), and the third made up of foreign views of England and the English (As Others See Us). These books demanded an editor rather than a reader. In addition to these schemes, the number of manuscripts coming into Allen's office was increasing considerably. Allen was beginning to feel the need not only for a reader but also for a general literary adviser who could edit texts, write introduc? tions, and read manuscripts with no other loyalty than that to Allen. Allen was acknow? ledging both to himself and to the trade that his firm had grown too large for one man to run on his own, without a literary adviser on matters of general policy. He began to make serious efforts to find such a man in the 19 Unpublished letter?George Allen to T. J. Wise, 3 April 1894.</page><page sequence="10">110 Brian Maidment summer of 1895. At first, he tried to find a more august literary figure than Jacobs, which emphasises both the informal nature of their previous arrangement and also that Jacobs was still only on the fringes of literary society. In Place of Saintsbury George Saintsbury was Allen's first choice, and he had met Allen's approaches with a promising, if vague, response. The whole scheme fell through, however, on Saintsbury's appoint? ment to the Professorship of Literature at Edinburgh, which caused Allen to look towards Jacobs as the most likely candidate, even though he had not entirely eliminated other names for consideration. He wrote to Mr. Hanson, of the Edinburgh printing firm of Ballantyne and Hanson, about the problem: 'May I trouble you on a business matter of my own? You may remember the con? versation you had a short time ago with my son William about our seeking for a literary adviser and the mention of Mr. Joseph Jacobs and his terms. I should have liked a talk with you about the matter but I suppose you are not likely to be back in town yet awhile. The duties consequent upon the election of Mr. George Saintsbury to the Edinburgh Professorship have now robbed me of his services as editor for future pro? jects?at any rate for some time to come: and it has become more than ever imperative that I should take some decisive steps. Mr. Saintsbury who has shown much interest in my various projects and has very kindly offered me any help or advice that is in his power, mentioned Mr. Walter Pollock (formerly of the Saturday Review) as one who would be likely to suit such a post if his present engagements admitted of it? he also mentioned Mr. J. A. Blackie, of whom he said that he knew no one with a sounder combined knowledge of literature and art. Are you acquainted with either? and have you any idea what honorarium a man in Mr. Pollock's position would ask for his services as adviser? I want to look into matters further before I give Mr. Jacobs a reply; the last time he came to our office he asked one of my people whether? in the event of my taking him on as adviser with the salary mentioned previously to you ?I should object to his reading M.S.S. for other firms such as Macmillans who employ him occasionally now. 'A word of advice from you on these points would be very helpful to me, if you will forgive my troubling you.'20 Permanent Literary Adviser Allen's unwillingness to let Jacobs work for any other publishing house shows his deter? mination to have a man with a single loyalty to his own firm, and it gives further expression to Allen's wishes for independence as a pub? lisher. The other people mentioned in this letter, Walter Pollock and J. A. Blackie, seem eventually to have been either unsatisfactory or unavailable, as Allen wrote to Jacobs a few days later, not in an especially enthusiastic way, offering him a post as a permanent literary adviser: 'With reference to your letter of the 14th. Inst.?I have had under consideration what has been said at our various interviews; and, taking into account the fact that your works are in other publishers' hands?I am not disposed to give you more than ?150 as a retaining fee for your services. Would you feel inclined to act as my adviser for that sum per annum, with a commission of five per cent on the net profits of such of the projects submitted to you that are carried out?your work to include the reading of all M.S.S. submitted and advising thereon, and the making of proposals to me first of such schemes of publication as might seem to you suitable and possible. It is un? derstood that no literary work beyond editing is included. If these appear to you reasonable terms, we might have a conference at an early date and go more into details.'21 20 Unpublished letter?George Allen to Hanson, 8 October 1895. 21 Unpublished letter?George Allen to Jacobs, 16 October 1895.</page><page sequence="11">The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs, 1876-1900 111 This letter provides a full, and entirely unusual, insight into the literary world of the eighteen-nineties. It is difficult to find similar statements about terms to compare with this, but from what little knowledge I have of publishers' readers at the time, the retaining fee offered by Allen is a generous one, even if the amount of work involved also seems quite high. Furthermore, Jacobs's literary work was clearly excluded from the retaining fee, so that introductions he might write were paid for over and above the ?150. Allen met Jacobs a few days after sending this letter, and Jacobs accepted Allen's terms with evident satisfaction. Allen, even if he had no misgivings about the arrangement, certainly had regrets, especially of his inability to appoint Saintsbury as his editor. Jacobs was only his third or fourth choice, which I suppose is a comment on his literary position. Allen's dissatisfaction appears in a letter to Saintsbury written a few days after appointing Jacobs: '. . . Re: the matter of an adviser in which you took so kindly an interest?I have, after all, decided to come to terms with Mr. Jacobs. But I hope that in future I shall yet have the chance of your name in associ? ation with some of my schemes, when your work at Edinburgh does not press so heavily upon you.'22 Not Overpaid Jacobs's tasks were greatly extended as a result of his permanent appointment, and his recommendations were more concerned with matters of general policy than they had pre? viously been. The appointment was not a full time job in the sense that it demanded regular working hours or constant attendance in London but there is no doubt that Allen ex? pected, and received, a considerable amount of work for his ?150. Although Jacobs continued to read and advise on manuscripts, he also began to suggest larger schemes and to assess them in terms of the whole literary and commercial climate of the time. He recom? mended, for example, that the Ruskin Dictionary which two Miss Gibbs had been compiling for two years with infinite patience was not commercially viable, and Allen's scheme for reprinting the Pre-Raphaelite magazine The Germ, edited by William Michael Rossetti, met with a similar fate. Jacobs's hand can be felt in many of Allen's decisions at this time, whether the verdict was in favour of new enterprises to help the firm's general expansion, or, as was far more often the case, against. 'The Literary Year Book' Although there can be no doubt that Jacobs's work with Allen gave him financial security for the last years of the century, there can be little doubt also that his work for the firm was demanding, and often either trivial or even positively destructive when Jacobs's larger endeavours are considered. Remember? ing the trouble that his editorship of The Best Books had caused Jacobs, it comes as something of a shock to find Jacobs's name on the title page of Allen's extremely useful and thorough annual publication, The Literary Tear Book, for 1897. This publication, which continued for several years to collate details of publish? ing firms, authors and their specialities, and illustrators, much on the lines of The Writers' Tear Book, was a worthy and well-produced publication which must have required infinite patience and persistence to edit. Indeed, the correspondence dealing with the volume survives in considerable quantities, and once again we see Jacobs under pressure to finish a tedious and demanding job by a particular date, however much time and trouble this might involve. To his credit, Jacobs finished the job, and did it well?thus making subsequent editions a much easier task?but the evident strain he found the work is reflected in the fact that in following years the work came out under a different editor, even though Jacobs continued to work for Allen in exactly the same way as he had done before in all other respects. The Literary Tear Book repeated in Jacobs's life the pattern which had been instigated by The Best Books fifteen years before. It is a pattern of commitment followed by realisation of the full responsibility 22 Unpublished letter?George Allen to Prof. G. Saintsbury, 21 October 1895.</page><page sequence="12">112 Brian Maidment of the commitment, followed by a destructive reaction almost amounting to panic. Commercial and Literary Acumen Despite the half-hearted way in which Allen had appointed Jacobs, and despite his difficul? ties over The Literary Tear Book, their arrange? ment seemed to work out very well, and Allen gradually relied more and more on both the commercial and the literary acumen of his reader. Jacobs worked hard and was full of new, if not particularly original, projects, and in addition to these duties he managed to write the many introductions to Allen's books already detailed, for which he was paid very generously by contemporary standards over and above his retaining fee of ?150. For his introduction to Henry Esmond, for example, he was paid ?18, and a similar sum was due to him for Allen's illustrated edition of Goldsmith. Emma brought him ?21, all considerable sums for such work. At the end of Jacobs's first yearly contract, in October 1896, his agreement with Allen was renewed with rather more grace than it had been instigated, Allen even allowing Jacobs three months' leave of absence so that he could lecture to Jewish institutions in America. Never a man to waste an oppor? tunity, Allen used Jacobs's visit to clarify his own position in America: With reference to your letter of the 17th. Inst. where it bears upon the business arrangement between us?I accept your proposal that the present arrangement be continued for another year, viz. until Oct. 20th. 1897?it being understood that you have leave of absence from Oct. 24th. to some date in Deer. I have pleasure in accepting your offer to be of service to me while you are in America, particularly as regards my relations re. my Ruskin agency with Messrs. Maynard, Merrill &amp; Co. of New York. We will discuss the form of letter to them of which you are to be the bearer, at our interview tomorrow.'23 Allen wrote frequently to Jacobs while he was in America explaining new projects and giving details of the progress of others, and immediately on Jacobs's return their old relationship was renewed with increased activity. They met every three months officially, for what Allen described as 'our quarterly field day', but Jacobs seems to have called at Allen's office in the Charing Cross Road on many unofficial occasions which grew more frequent as the years passed. What had started as a purely business arrangement became some? thing very close to friendship, and Jacobs continued to advise Allen on many of his projects until the very end of the century. In view of the increasing closeness of their relationship, the following letter of Allen's, dated 31 October 1899 (the renewal date of the agreement), must have given Jacobs an unpleasant surprise, especially as Allen's ultimatum seems to have been delivered without any prior warning: T have been considering matters and I really think we shall have to modify our present arrangement with you after April 21st. next as the business will not justify our paying the salary over and above the allowance for M.S.S. that you read and advise upon. I regret that I am compelled to take this step, but the exigencies of the case demand it.'24 Emigration to America Allen seems to have been adding up his payments to Jacobs, and he had obviously realised that his ?150 a year salary, plus the two pounds allowed in addition for each manuscript which he read, plus the payments made for introductions, represented a very high expenditure. Certainly the arrangement seems to have worked out decidedly in Jacobs's favour. As a result either of this letter or of a coincidental offer of employment in America, or out of a general sense of a need to do less of the kind of routine work which his association with Allen had demanded, Jacobs decided to leave Allen's employment. 23 Unpublished letter?George Allen to Jacobs, 20 October 1896. 24 Unpublished letter?George Allen to Jacobs, 31 October 1899.</page><page sequence="13">The Literary Career of Joseph Jacobs, 1876-1900 113 A few weeks later, Allen was writing references for his reader for American publishing firms. Jacobs had decided to abandon the stresses of his career as an English man of letters and emigrate to America to become the revising editor of the Jewish Encyclopaedia in New York. He left in February 1900, almost unnoticed by Allen in his grief over the deaths of Ruskin and his own youngest daughter. Jacobs's duties as reader were passed on to Frederick Ryland, who had been a contemporary of Jacobs's at Cambridge. Dissipation of Talents Jacobs had been with Allen during four very important years in the making of the firm, and yet, in spite of the large amount of work he had done, both as a reader and as a writer, he does not seem to have had a pro? found effect on Allen's policies. Over these four years from 1895 to 1899, Jacobs had become exactly what Allen had wanted? a self-effacing general literary adviser to take the weight of many decisions off his own shoulders. Most of all, Jacobs's appointment, like so many of Allen's actions, can be seen as a further step in Allen's attempts to set up a general publishing firm, and it represents for Allen another move away from control by Ruskin's guardians. For Jacobs, his work with Allen, remunerative as it had been, represented a commitment to the kind of work which inhibited his larger studies. It meant a dissi? pation of energies and talents which is so noticeable in looking at his potential as against his achievements. If Jacobs became a per? manent part of the English literary scene, he did so only at the expense of his wider genius. Summing Up In summing up Jacobs's career as a literary critic, we are really brought up immediately against the question of whether it is worth while to reconsider his writings in this field. My own feeling is that his work does not merit any such revaluation or rediscovery on its intrinsic merits. What does emerge from a study of Jacobs as a man of letters, however, is something more clearly represented in his life than in his work. Jacobs's career shows how it was quite possible to live comfortably on his earnings as a critic in this period without ever needing to write any serious literature himself, or indeed to produce any work of higher quality than journalistic competence. That Jacobs obviously did produce fine work under difficult circum? stances seems of less significance to me than the sense of the literary milieu of the 'nineties which his career exemplifies. A career in the new commercial world of journalism and reprinting was eminently possible even for a fairly undistinguished critic. Jacobs was a man who belonged commercially to one generation but emotionally to the generation before. No one would dispute Jacobs's right to be remembered with admiration in many fields of activity, and I don't think it too unfair to suggest that literary criticism is not one of these fields. At the same time, in the way he shows us the pressures and tensions of a free-lance literary life in the last decades of the nineteenth century, especially those upon a Jew, Jacobs deserves to be remembered. He was in every way a very remarkable man.</page></plain_text>

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