Joseph Jacobs

For other people named Joseph Jacobs, see Joseph Jacobs (disambiguation).
Joseph Jacobs
Born (1854-08-29)29 August 1854
Sydney, Australia
Died 30 January 1916(1916-01-30) (aged 61)
Yonkers, New York, US
Occupation Folklorist, critic, historian
Subject Indo-European fairy tales; Jewish history

Joseph Jacobs (29 August 1854 – 30 January 1916) was an Australian folklorist, literary critic, historian and writer of English literature who became a notable collector and publisher of English folklore. His work went on to popularize some of the world's best known versions of English fairy tales including "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Goldilocks and the three bears", "The Three Little Pigs", "Jack the Giant Killer" and "The History of Tom Thumb". He published his English fairy tale collections: English Fairy Tales in 1890 and More English Fairytales in 1893[lower-alpha 1] but also went on after and in between both books to publish fairy tales collected from continental Europe as well as Jewish, Celtic and Indian fairytales which made him one of the most popular writers of fairytales for the English language. Jacobs was also an editor for journals and books on the subject of folklore which included editing the Fables of Bidpai and the Fables of Aesop, as well as articles on the migration of Jewish folklore. He also edited editions of The Thousand and One Nights. He went on to join The Folklore Society in England and became an editor of the society journal Folklore.[1] Joseph Jacobs also contributed to The Jewish Encyclopedia.


Jacobs was born in Australia. He was the sixth surviving son of John Jacobs, a publican who had emigrated from London around 1837, and his wife Sarah, née Myers.[2] Jacobs was educated at Sydney Grammar School and at the University of Sydney, where he won a scholarship for classics, mathematics and chemistry. He did not complete his studies in Sydney, but left for England at the age of 18 and entered St John's College, Cambridge.[3] He graduated with a B.A. in 1876, and in 1877, studied at the University of Berlin.

Jacobs married Georgina Horne and fathered two sons and a daughter. In 1900, when he became revising editor of the Jewish Encyclopedia, based in New York, he settled permanently in the United States.

He died on 30 January 1916 at his home in Yonkers, New York.[2]


1919 edition of The Book of Wonder Voyages (1896)

Jacobs was secretary of the Society of Hebrew Literature from 1878 to 1884, and in 1882, came into prominence as the writer of a series of articles in The Times on the persecution of Jews in Russia. This led to the formation of the mansion house fund and committee, of which Jacobs was secretary from 1882 to 1900.

In 1888, he prepared with Lucien Wolf the Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica: A Bibliographical Guide to Anglo-Jewish History, and in 1890, he edited English Fairy Tales, the first of his series of books of fairy tales published during the next 10 years. He wrote many literary articles for the Athenaeum, which published in 1891 the collection, George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, Browning, Newman, Essays and Reviews from the Athenaeum. In the same year appeared his Studies in Jewish Statistics, in 1892, Tennyson and "In Memoriam", and in 1893, his important book on The Jews of Angevin England. In 1894, were published his Studies in Biblical archaeology, and An Inquiry into the Sources of the History of the Jews in Spain, in connection with which he was made a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of History of Madrid. His historical novel dealing with the life of Jesus, As Others Saw Him: A Retrospective A.D. 54, was published anonymously in 1895, in the following year his Jewish Ideals and other Essays came out. In this year, he was invited to the United States of America to give a course of lectures on the "Philosophy of Jewish History". The Story of Geographical Discovery was published towards the end of 1898 and ran into several editions. He had been compiling and editing the Jewish Year Book since 1896, and was president of the Jewish Historical Society of England in 1898-99.

In 1900, he accepted an invitation to become revising editor of the Jewish Encyclopedia, which was then being prepared at New York. He settled permanently in the United States, where he wrote many articles for the Jewish Encyclopedia, and was generally responsible for the style of the whole publication. It was completed in 1906.

He then became registrar and professor of English at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

In 1908, he was appointed a member of the board of seven, which made a new English translation of the Bible for the Jewish Publication Society of America.

In 1913, he resigned his positions at the seminary to become editor of the American Hebrew.

In 1920, Book I of his Jewish Contributions to Civilization, which was practically finished at the time of his death, was published at Philadelphia.

In addition to the books already mentioned, Jacobs edited The Fables of Aesop as First Printed by Caxton (1889), Painter's Palace of Pleasure (1890), Baltaser Gracian's Art of Worldly Wisdom (1892), Howell's Letters (1892), Barlaam and Josaphat (1896), The Thousand and One Nights (6 vols, 1896), and others. Jacobs was also a contributor to the Encyclopædia Britannica, and James Hastings' Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.


Illustration of "A Legend of Knockmany" by John D. Batten for Celtic Fairy Tales (1892)

Jacobs edited the journal Folklore from 1899 to 1900 and from 1890 to 1916 he edited multiple collections of fairy tales that were published with distinguished illustrations by John Dickson Batten: English Fairy Tales, Celtic Fairy Tales, Indian Fairy Tales, More English Fairy Tales, More Celtic Fairy Tales (all 1890 to 1895) and Europa's Fairy Book (also issued as European Folk and Fairy Tales) in 1916.[4] He was inspired in this by the Brothers Grimm and the romantic nationalism common in folklorists of his age; he wished English children to have access to English fairy tales, whereas they were chiefly reading French and German tales;[5] in his own words, "What Perrault began, the Grimms completed."

Although he collected many tales under the name of fairy tales, many of them are unusual sorts of tales. Binnorie (in English Fairy Tales)[6] and Tamlane (in More English Fairy Tales)[7] are prose versions of ballads, The Old Woman and Her Pig (in English Fairy Tales) is a nursery rhyme, Henny-Penny (in English Fairy Tales) is a fable, and The Buried Moon (in More English Fairy Tales) has mythic overtones to an extent unusual in fairy tales. According to his own analysis of English Fairy Tales, "Of the eighty-seven tales contained in my two volumes, thirty-eight are Märchen proper, ten sagas or legends, nineteen drolls, four cumulative stories, six beast tales, and ten nonsense stories."[8]

Selected works

Fairy Tales contents

English Fairy Tales (1890)
More English Fairy Tales (1894)

Issued for the 1893 Christmas season.[lower-alpha 1]

Celtic Fairy Tales (1892)

Issued for the 1891 Christmas season[lower-alpha 1]

More Celtic Fairy Tales (1895)

Issued for the 1894 Christmas season[lower-alpha 1]

    • The Fate of the Children of Lir
    • Jack the Cunning Thief
    • Powel, Prince of Dyfed
    • Paddy O'Kelly and the Weasel
    • The Black Horse
    • The Vision of MacConglinney
    • Dream of Owen O'Mulready
    • Morraha
    • The Story of the McAndrew Family
    • The Farmer of Liddesdale
    • The Greek Princess and the Young Gardener
    • The Russet Dog
    • Smallhead and the King's Sons
    • The Legend of Knockgrafton
    • Elidore
    • The Leeching of Kayn's leg
    • How Fin went to the Kingdom of the Big Men
    • How Cormac Mac Art went to Faery
    • The Ridere of Riddles
    • The Tail
Indian Fairy Tales (1892)
    • The Lion and the Crane
    • [How the Raja's Son won the Princess Labam]
    • The Lambikin
    • Punchkin
    • The Broken Pot
    • The Magic Fiddle
    • The Cruel Crane Outwitted
    • Loving Laili
    • The Tiger, the Brahman, and the Jackal
    • The Soothsayers Son
    • Harisarman
    • The Charmed Ring
    • The Talkative Tortoise
    • A Lac of Rupees for a Piece of Advice
    • The Gold-Giving Serpent
    • The Son of Seven Queens
    • A Lesson for Kings
    • Pride Goes Before a Fall
    • Raja Rasalu
    • The Ass in the Lion's Skin
    • The Farmer and the Money-Lender
    • The Boy who had a Moon on his Forehead and a Star on his Chin
    • The Prince and the Fakir
    • Why the Fish Laughed
    • The Demon with the Matted Hair
    • The Ivory City and its Fairy Princess
    • Sun, Moon, and Wind go out to Dinner
    • How the Wicked Sons were Duped
    • The Pigeon and the Crow
Europa's Fairy Book (1916)

Issued in 1967 as European Folk and Fairy Tales[4]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Contemporary newspaper records show that the most or all of the Fairy Tales collections were published the fall for the Christmas gift-book season, in both Britain and America. Some are generally catalogued as publications of the following year, from their title pages.


  1. " Storytelling, Storytellers, Stories, Storytelling Techniques, Hear a Story, Read Stories, Audio Stories, Find Tellers, How to Tell A Story - Articles About Storytelling".
  2. 1 2 G. F. J. Bergman, "Jacobs, Joseph (1854 - 1916)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, MUP, 1983, pp. 460-461. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
  3. "Jacobs, Joseph (JCBS873J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. 1 2 3 "SurLaLune Fairytales - Illustration Gallery - John D. Batten (1860-1932) British". Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  5. Maria Tatar, p 345, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, ISBN 0-393-05163-3
  6. Jacobs, Joseph; Batten, John D. (1890). English Fairy Tales.
  7. Jacobs, Joseph; Batten, John D. (1894). "Tamlane". More English Fairy Tales (2nd ed.). London: David Nutt: 159–62. ISBN 0-370-01023-X.
  8. "Joseph Jacobs - English Fairy Tales (notes and references)".


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