Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Joseph Jacobs and the English

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

In the 1890s many authors were interested in who the English really were, and what 'Englishness' really meant (plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: today these are still much debated particularly by authors and the media). One of these authors was Joseph Jacobs. As an outsider himself, he might have had a better chance to analyse these questions. However, he was not considered one of the inner circle of British folklorists, known to Richard Dorson as the 'Great Team' and his interest in these matters (amongst others) is largely forgotten.

Joseph Jacobs was born in 1854 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. After an school and university education in Sydney and London he entered St John's College, Cambridge. During the 1880s he worked with Francis Galton and published Studies in Jewish Statistics, Vital and Anthropomorphic in 1891. Around this time he became interested in anthropological and folkloric subjects. He joined the Folk-Lore Society and by 1889 had joined the Society's Council. He wrote several articles for the journal as well as co-editing the papers from the 1891 International Congress on Folk-Lore. He was also a member of the Anthropological Institute. In 1890 he was appointed the editor of the journal Folk-Lore, he carried on with this role until 1893 when he resigned due to pressure of other work, remaining on the editorial board until 1900 when he left England for America where he lived for the rest of his life. He died in 1916. Today he is best known for his research and writing on Jewish subjects. [Fine, 1987]

His biographer, Anne J. Kershen, in the Dictionary of National Biography concludes:

Joseph Jacobs was a man of intellect and humour, of insight and scholarliness. A humanist who was always ‘bubbling over with fun’ (Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 131), he could be scientific ‘yet as simple and fresh as a child’ (ibid., 140). He had perhaps too many interests; and concentration on one theme, one topic or one discipline, might have produced a weightier, more intellectually reputed and acknowledged scholar and elicited greater respect for his Wissenschaft des Judentums. But it would have denied many the joy of his folklore, the benefit of his historical and scientific research and analysis, the urgency of his concerns, and the enthusiasm which he gave to every project.

Dorson considered Jacobs to be a committed and versatile scholar. [Dorson, 1968: 266]

Jacobs was a fine, and witty, author. Two excerpts may be given to serve as examples:

Let us try to realise in imagination what must have happened when, for the first time, the saying was uttered that was afterwards to become a proverb, or a tale that was destined to be a folk or fairy-tale, was first told. Was it the Folk that said the one or told the other? Did the collective Folk assembled in folk-moot simultaneously shout, 'When the wine's in, the wit's out,' or 'Penny wise, pound foolish'? No, it was some bucolic wit, already the chartered libertine of his social circle, who first raised hearty guffaws by those homely pieces of wisdom. The proverbial description of a proverb. 'The wisdom of many, the wit of one,' recognises the truth. [Jacobs, 1893: 234 quoted in Fine, 1987: 187]

My folk-lore friends look on with sadness while they view me laying profane hands on the sacred text of my originals. I have actually at times introduced or deleted whole incidents, have given another turn to a tale, or finished off one that was incomplete, while I have had no scruple in prosing a ballad or softening down over-abundant dialect. This is rank sacrilege in the eyes of the rigid orthodox in matters folk-lorical. My defence might be that I had a cause at heart as sacred as our science of folk-lore-the filling of our children's imaginations with bright trains of images. But even on the lofty heights of folk-lore science I am not entirely defenceless ... Why may I not have the same privilege as any other story-teller, especially when I know the ways of story-telling as she is told in English, at least as well as a Devonshire or Lancashire peasant? And - conclusive argument - wilt thou, oh orthodox brother folk-lorist, still continue to use Grimm and Asbj6rnsen? Well, they did the same as I. [Jacobs, More English Fairy Tales (London: D. Nutt, 1894), pp. vi-vi quoted in Fine, 1987: 190]

Fine, in his 1987 Folklore article about Jacobs, discerns five themes in Jacobs' folkloric writing and research:

  • The significance of diffusion
  • The nature of the Folk-Group
  • The individual origin of Folklore and its spread through group dynamics
  • The systematic study of folktale motifs
  • The effects of social structure on behaviour. [Fine, 1987: 185]

One of his arguments which was relevant to a contemporary discussion of 'Englishness' was his view on the nature of the 'folk group'. As Fine states:

Many contemporary folklorists define this as any group that shares at least one trait in common. Folklore has been extended to cover all interest groups in modern society. No longer is the concept of the folk restricted to peasant groups or savage tribes. This 'modern' view of folklore is anticipated in Jacobs' essays. In his article 'The Folk' Jacobs indicates that folk groups are segments of societies, and are 'many-headed...and often many-minded.' He argues that within any society there are many folks. Folklore is contemporary as well as historical. [Fine, 1987: 187]

He was particularly interested in the 'battle over diffusion versus independent invention'. [Fine, 1987: 184] Jacobs believed that folklore was diffused: first it was created by an individual (as suggested in his quotation above about proverbs), then accepted by a social circle, then diffused out to other groups and societies before becoming, presumably, ubiquitous. Practical commonsense suggests that this is a likely route, today many catch-phrases pass into common use by the same route, starting out limited to a very small circle of friends and ending up being used by most members of a society, spread today by the mechanisms of television, radio and the web.

The mean Englishman

This article, published in the Fortnightly Review in July 1899, attempted to categorise and identify the English people through the shape of the 'mean Englishman'. In a review of the article in the New York Times of 19 August 1899, the reviewer calls it 'an exceedingly clever sketch'. Jacobs suggests that a typical Englishman might be thought to be 'Lord Kitchener, Mr Kipling, Mr. C.B. Fry, or (perhaps) Canon Gore'. [Jacobs, 1899: 53] In other words someone who combined martial skills and temperament with artistic skills (as a writer), supreme sporting skills and a strong Christian belief.[2] Jacobs commented of this combination:

That curious combination represents to us certain tendencies of the nation which are expressed in their highest degree of intensity by these eminent personalities. And indeed in any comparative estimate of races or nations we judge of their civilisation by their capacity to produce types of this kind, whih, in their turn, influence and create national ideals. [Jacobs, 1899: 53]

Jacobs points out, though, that these men are 'eminent exceptions' and 'for many reasons it seems desirable to obtain a clearer and more definite conception of the average Englishman, who can never hope to be enshrined in Who's Who'. [Jacobs, 1899: 53][3] In fact his paper, rather than concentrating on the 'average Englishman' sought to identify the 'mean Englishman', that is the the 'middle or Mean Man, who would possess the particular quality in question to a degree approximating, but not necessarily identical with, the average', 'this universal middle man - this Whiteley of economic and social statistics - might conveniently be called the Mean Englishman, and would form a highly useful sociological gauge of the general condition of the nation'. [Jacobs, 1899: 53] Later on, he indicates that the mean Englishman is

a statistical exposition of Matthew Arnold's 'l'homme moyen sensuel'. But good, bad or indifferent, he is the type of the men whom English civilisation is turning out at the present moment. [Jacobs, 1899: 54]

The first thing he identifies is that the Mean Englishman lives in a town of around 30,000 inhabitants, apparently about the size of Cambridge at that time, although he settles on Loughborough as the correct location. [Jacobs, 1899: 55]He suggests that bootmaking might be the ''modal' occupation most popular among his countrymen', [Jacobs, 1899: 55] He believes that the right class for the Mean Englishman would be 'artisan' with a 'median' wage of 24 shillings and 9 pence [Jacobs, 1899: 55, 56][4]

Weekly expenditure of William Sproggett from Jacobs 'Mean Englishman' p. 58

Weekly expenditure of William Sproggett from Jacobs 'Mean Englishman' p. 58

Jacobs then gives the particulars of his 'Mean Englishman':

William Sproggett was born in Loughborough on January 12, 1864. His father was born in the same town, but his mother migrated thither from the country. He was married on August 20, 1892 ... to Jane Davies (of Celtic descent) born also at Loughborough, January 18, 1866 ... They were married in church, which Sproggett then visited for the first time since his boyhood. In the seven years since that critical period they have had five children - three boys and two girls. One of the boys has died in the interim, and I regret to have to prophesy that the girl that is still to come will die before she attains five years of age. Sproggett left school in 1875, when he was eleven years of age and in the fourth standard, and his wife in 1878, when twelve, and in the fifth standard. ...
Our hero is 5 ft 7 in. in height, and 150 lbs in weight ... Jane, his wife, is naturally inferior to him in all these categories, being only 62 in. in height, 120 lbs in weight ... Both are the same physical type, known to anthropologists as the "C." or "Anglo-Saxon" type, with vertical, rounded forehead, smooth eyebrow ridges, wide, full cheeks, short bulbed nose; their lips are well-formed, chin heavy and rounded, their eyes oval, with full lobes, and their jaw is heavy and wide; their skull rather long than broad; their eyes are blue and prominent; their hair light and limp. Notwithstanding their meagre diet ... their habit is stout and well-covered. On the whole they are tolerably healthy. William has only had eight days of sickness in the last year, and will live on till the age of 68, when he will die on March 15th, 1932, of a disease connected with the nervous system. Jane will survive him nearly three years, and die of bronchitis. Perhaps it as well that they should leave the world before reaching the normal three-score years and ten, as otherwise there is little hope of either of them escaping the workhouse.
Sproggett is in a hosiery manufactory, and began work ... at 11 years old. He is ... earning 24s. 9d. a week ... Mrs Sproggett['s] ... housekeeping money would probably be 15s. He works 54 hours a week and ... managed to save no less than £21 ...
That Sproggett cannot afford to spend anything in travelling, meals out, religious observance, charity, or gifts, pocket money, pet animals or loans has a very marked moral significance. ...
Sproggett lives in a house of four rooms, two of which are at present used as bedrooms, one as a kitchen, and one as a living-room. It is, however, the ambition of Mrs Sproggett to have one day a parlour ...
As an intellectual and artistic being, Sproggett does not lend himself much to statistical enquiry. He does not take any daily newspaper .... It is needless to add that Sproggett does not buy books. A Bible and a Prayer-book (both belonging to Mrs Sproggett) and a few odd numbers of Virtue's 'Shakespeare' and Cassell's 'Popular Educator' ... represent his sole intellectual ballast. Any intellectual curiosity that he may possess is adequately satisfied by the occasional purchase of one of the many "snippet" weeklies. He emphatically does not attend the local museum, or public library; but he does occasionally go, by himself or with his family, for excursions, mainly with crowds of his fellow-workers, on beanfeast days or other local holidays, which altogether amount to nine days per annum. His chief recreation, apart from attendance at the "pub." .... consists of occasionaly visits to the cricket-field or football ground, with a look-in now and then at the local music-hall or "sing-song". He does not sing or play ... but he does bet ... Sproggett does not travel much - only thirty miles a year by railway ...
Such, as far as can be ascertained ... is the normal life of the Mean Englishman. Unattractive as is the picture which this bare outline shows, it must not be assumed that he represents a low level of civilisation. We cannot determine this till we have obtained similar details for the Mean Frenchman, the Mean German, the Mean American, and the Mean Russian, and have reduced them all ... to some common measure. ... we have yet to compare our Mean Englishman with the Mean Irishman, Scotchman and Welshman. [pp. 56-62]

It will come as no surprise that the 1901 Census for England and Wales has no entries for a William or Jane Sproggett, indeed there are no Sproggetts at all listed in that census. The benefits of universal education up to age 16 and a National Health Service are clearly shown, particularly in the shockingly different child mortality figures.

This article seems, to this author at least, as a very modern idea. I like the teaser in the title, few Englishmen probably think of themselves as mean, though, of course they might be. His portrait of an Englishman is similar in concept to the clichés close to pollster and the media's hearts of 'Mondeo Man' [5] and other constructs. However, rather than attempts to draw a picture of a 'mean' Englishman are built from demographics and represent particular tendencies in the modern electorate. They seem to be closely associated with the New Labour project in British politics. It is curious also how different the 'Mean Englishman' is from 'Mondeo Man' in many regards, but how similar he is in others.

Who were 'the folk'?

In 1893 Jacobs wrote a short paper for the Folk-lore Society journal about who 'the folk' actually were, about which the Society members constantly talked. As he put it in the introduction:

During the discussions which took place some years ago in the Folk-lore Society as to the nature of folk-lore, there was one curious omission. Much was said about what the Folk believed, what the Folk did, and how these sayings and doings of the Folk should be arranged and classified. But very little indeed was said as to what the Folk was that said and did these things, and nothing at all was said as to how they said and did them, and especially as to how they began to say and do them. In short, in dealing with Folk-lore, much was said of the Lore, almost nothing was said of the Folk. [Jacobs, 1893: 233]

Jacobs pointed out that:

We all know the way in which the currency of a folk-custom is described. "It has arisen among the people"; "it is universally the custom"; "everybody does it or thinks it", and so on. These phrases are adequate enough as far as they go, though even here it is worth while recording that at times the custom is not universal, or has important variations. Thus at times it is unlucky to have a man step over your threshold first in the New Year; at times, horresco referens, it is one of the fairer sex whom the Folk are so ungallant as to taboo on that occasion. At times the first-foot should be of light complexion, at others he should be dark, and so on. So that even for purposes of universal custom we have to split up that mysterious entity, the Folk, into various segments of mutually conflicting opinions. [Jacobs, 1893: 233]

Jacobs believed that there was no simple or straightforward people who could be called 'folk'. He believed that most 'folk-lore' originated in the behaviour or speech of an individual:

Even when it comes to custom, even custom which involves the simultaneous doing of some one thing by two or more persons, we must search for the individual among the Folk, at least for the initiative. [Jacobs, 1893: 235]

For an example of this he suggests a typically quirky event:

When Northumberland House still existed, one of a sporting turn earned a heavy bet that he would cause a crowd in front of it without apparent cause, [sic] He simply stood on the opposite pavement, and stared steadily at the lion that surmounted the edifice. By-and-bye a crowd collected, all staring at the lion. A myth arose, I have been told, that the lion had been seen to wag his iron tail. But whether that be so or no, the sportsman had won his wager, and incidentally had given an apt illustration of the way in which folk-lore arises. The sportsman initiated the folk-lore, the crowd was the Folk. [Jacobs, 1893: 235]

He concludes that '[t]he Folk is a publishing syndicate that exploits the productions of that voluminous author, Anon.' [Jacobs, 1893: 236] He believed that this had implications for the way that folk-lore was disseminated and diffused: 'When we
find similar customs in far-distant lands, we shall find it more difficult to suppose them to have originated independently, if we have to recognise that they arose with individuals'. [Jacobs, 1893: 236]

In this paper he is particularly interested in English folklore, most of the examples he gives relate to England. He points out the problems of assuming the uniformity of culture in England:

Just at present, we are content to say such and such a creation is spread from John-o'-Groat's to Land's End. The assumption is usually made, if only implicitly, that it arose independently in all the places of its occurrence, owing to the similarity of social conditions and the like. From the new stand-point we shall want to know how it thus spread, and where it took its rise, since from that standpoint it must have originated in one mind in one spot. And when we learn how it spreads in one country, we may get to know how it spreads from one country to another. [Jacobs, 1893: 237]

He rather cheekily slips in at the end of one paragraph, the shocking thought (one presumes) for the other Folk-Lore Society members, 'For, after all, we are the Folk as well as the rustic, though their lore may be other than ours, as ours will be different from that of those that follow us'. [Jacobs, 1893: 237]

He challenges Tylor's supposed identification of survivals with folklore:

Survivals are folk-lore, but folk-lore need not be all survivals. We ought to learn valuable hints as to the spread of folk-lore by studying the Folk of to-day. The music-hall, from this point of view, will have its charm for the folk-lorist, who will there find the Volks-lieder of to-day. The spread of popular sayings, even the rise of new words, provided they be folk-words, should be regarded as a part of the study of folk-lore. [Jacobs, 1893: 237]

At the beginning of his paper, as a footnote, it notes 'A paper read - as a stopgap - before the Folk-lore Society'. One wonders at its reception. [1]

Measuring the 'folk'

Not only was Jacobs interested in identifying and quantifying the folk and the Mean Englishman, he was also interested in their anthropometric measurement. In an article he read to the Anthropological Institute in 1890 he described how Isidore Spielman and himself had measured a series of English Jews 'of various classes' at the Jewish Working Men's Club, Great Alie Street [East London] and the 'West End'. [Jacobs, 1890a: 76] Jacobs identified a great difference between the two communities, which he related to 'one of the burning questions of anthropology, that of nurture v. nature'. [Jacobs, 1890a: 77] The conclusions he drew were stark:

The general result of this table is tolerably clear. English Jews in general compare unfavourably in almost all anthropological measurements with the class of Englishmen who visited the Health Exhibition [where Galton carried out measurements]. But if we take the West End Jews, who were probably of very nearly the same class as the Exhibition visitors, the inferiority vanishes almost entirely. ... It is obvious that nurture has made the difference between heights, both of West End and East End Jews, and between Jews and Englishmen. ... Here we have seemingly an instance where long continued bad nurture through many generations shows its influence on the measurements of well-nurtured descendants not by reducing the average, but by restricting the range and preventing any very great variations from the artificially reached average.
If this example could be taken as typical, the real test of races is rather to be found in the extreme cases than in the mean. [Jacobs, 1890a: 80-1]

Jacobs' collections of folk tales

Jacobs published five collections of fairy tales between 1890 and 1912, English Fairy Tales, More English Fairy Tales, Celtic Fairy Tales, More Celtic Fairy Tales, and European Folk and Fairy Tales. According to wikipedia he wanted 'English children to have access to English fairy tales, whereas they were chiefly reading French and German tales'.

In English Fairy Tales, published in 1890,[6] Jacobs makes the following remarks:

Who says that English folk have no fairy tales of their own? The present volume contains only a selection out of some 140, of which I have found traces in this country. It is probable that many more exist. [Preface, English Fairy Tales]

Although Jacobs elsewhere seemed to believe that the 'Folk' or the originators of the lore could be and probably were anyone, in his preface he seems, like most of the Folk-lore Society of the time, to identify the source of the stories as the 'other':

Up to 1870, it was said equally of France and of Italy, that they possessed no folk-tales. Yet, within fifteen years from that date, over 1000 tales had been collected in each country. I am hoping that the present volume may lead to equal activity in this country, and would earnestly beg any reader of this book who knows of similar tales, to communicate them, written down as they are told, to me, care of the Publishers. The only reason, I imagine, why such tales have not hitherto been brought to light, is the lamentable gap between the governing and recording classes and the dumb working classes of this country--dumb to others but eloquent among themselves. It would be no unpatriotic task to help to bridge over this gulf, by giving a common fund of nursery literature to all classes of the English people, and, in any case, it can do no harm to add to the innocent gaiety of the nation. [Preface, English Fairy Tales]

He plainly had intentions to do more 'scientific' work with the folk tales:

It is, perhaps, not necessary to inform readers who are not fellow-students that the study of Folk-tales has pretensions to be a science. It has its special terminology, and its own methods of investigation, by which it is hoped, one of these days, to gain fuller knowledge of the workings of the popular mind as well as traces of archaic modes of thought and custom. I hope on some future occasion to treat the subject of the English Folk-tale on a larger scale and with all the necessary paraphernalia of prolegomena and excursus. I shall then, of course, reproduce my originals with literal accuracy, and have therefore felt the more at liberty on the present occasion to make the necessary deviations from this in order to make the tales readable for children. [Preface, English Fairy Tales]

In the Notes and References section of English Fairy Tales he does categorise the tales a little:

Since the first publication of this book in 1890, ... I have myself published a sequel entitled More English Fairy Tales, containing forty-four additional stories (Nutt, 1894). ... In the introduction to the notes to this sequel volume, I have made some general remarks on the English folk-tale in particular, and on its relations to the general body of European 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. With regard to their provenance, eight are derived from ballads, while twenty-nine others show traces of having rhyming portions and thus partaking of the nature of the cante-fable. Of the seventy story-radicles common to the European area, about forty are represented in my two volumes, and of these about twenty-seven are shown in the notes to have been imported. It is probable that of the remaining thirty radicles many once existed in England, and some of them can be traced in the English-speaking Pale in Ireland. These statistics show a rather larger proportion of imported tales than other parts of Europe, where tradition has not so completely died out. But, properly speaking, we may say that from a quarter to a third of the story store of any European country has been derived from abroad, and is in most cases shared by all Europe. Hitherto the attention of folk-lorists has been concentrated on these common elements of European folk-lore, but in reality the chief interest is afforded by the native tales in each country, which are the only ones to which we can legitimately apply the method of 'survivals'. [Notes and References, English Fairy Tales]

Meanwhile, in the Notes and References section of the book he drew attention to his worry that Engiish stories would be lost as a consequence of societal changes in the nineteenth century:

... in the middle of last century the genius of Charles Perrault captivated English and Scotch children with as much force as or, probably, with even more force than he had entranced French ones. Cinderella and Puss in Boots and their companions ousted Childe Rowland and Mr Fox and Catskin. ... This would not have been so serious if English provincial life had been as conservative and tenacious as the provincial life of France, Italy, or Germany. But railways and the telegraph have disintegrated our provincial life much more than continental. And for various reasons the English peasant has never had so vivid a social life as the Bauer or Jacques Bonhomme. [Notes and References, English Fairy Tales]

The worry that folk traditions, or 'Englishness', was dying out and should be recorded 'before it was too late' was common to both anthropology and folklore at the time. Jacobs gives the sources of his fairy tales at the end of the Notes and References section of English Fairy Tales, most were collected by fellow folk-lorists like Edward Clodd (1840-1930), Charlotte Burne (1850-1923), and the Reverend S. Baring-Gould (1834-1924) amongst others. He also gives parallels for the tales from other sources, or other countries.

In his More English Fairy Tales, published in 1894, Jacobs argues that he is not worried about re-working the tales to increase the readability by children, or including Lowland Scottish folktales in a book entitled, '... English ...':

The truth is, my folk-lore friends and my Saturday Reviewer differ with me on the important problem of the origin of folk-tales. They think that a tale probably originated where it was found. They therefore attribute more importance than I to the exact form in which it is found and restrict it to the locality of birth. I consider the probability to lie in an origin elsewhere : I think it more likely than not that any tale found in a place was rather brought there than born there. I have discussed this matter elsewhere [See 'The Science of Folk Tales and the Problem of Diffusion' in Transactions of the International Folk-Lore Congress, 1891. Mr Lang has honoured me with a rejoinder, which I regard as a palinode, in his Preface to Miss Roalfe Cox's volume of variants of Cinderella (Folk-Lore Society, 1892).] with all the solemnity its importance deserves, and cannot attempt further to defend my position here. But even the reader innocent of folklore can see that, holding these views, I do not attribute much anthropological value to tales whose origin is probably foreign, and am certainly not likely to make a hard-and-fast division between tales of the North Countrie and those told across the Border. [Preface, More English Fairy Tales]

In the Notes and Reference section of the 1894 publication he suggests that the English folk could be found wherever English was spoken:

The result of my investigations confirms me in my impression that the scope of the English folk-tale should include all those current among the folk in English, no matter where spoken, in Ireland, the Lowlands, New England, or Australia. Wherever there is community of language, tales can spread, and it is more likely that tales should be preserved in those parts where English is spoken with most of dialect. Just as the Anglo-Irish Pale preserves more of the pronunciation of Shakespeare's time, so it is probable that Anglo-Irish stories preserve best those current in Shakespeare's time in English. On the other hand, it is possible that some, nay many, of the Anglo-Irish stories have been imported from the Celtic districts, and are positively folk-translations from the Gaelic. Further research is required to determine which is English and which Celtic among Anglo-Irish folk-tales. [Notes and References, More English Fairy Tales]

In fact Jacobs seems to use the English language as one of his markers of the 'Englishness' of the tales:

In the course of the tale, the chief thing to be noticed is the occurrence of rhymes in the prose narrative, tending to give the appearance of a cante-fable. I have enumerated those occurring in English Fairy Tales in the notes to Childe Rowland (No. 21). In the present volume, rhyme occurs in Nos. 46, 48, 49, 58, 60, 63 (see Note), 64, 74, 81, 85, while 55, 69, 73, 76, 83, 84, are either in verse themselves or derived from verse versions. Altogether one-third of our collection gives evidence in favour of the cante-fable theory which I adduced in my notes to Childe Rowland. Another point of interest in English folk-narrative is the repetition of verbs of motion, 'So he went along and went along and went along'. Still more curious is a frequent change of tense from the English present to the past. 'So he gets up and went along.' All this helps to give the colloquial and familiar air to the English fairy-tale, not to mention the dialectal and archaic words and phrases which occur in them. [Notes and References, More English Fairy Tales]

Why include an article about Jacobs on this website?

Joseph Jacobs did not donate any artefacts to the Pitt Rivers Museum and there is no evidence that he had any contact with it, or even with any of the staff associated with it. His interest was in English folk-lore and, in particular, in English intangible heritage, as it would be termed today. However, he is one of a series of people who were reflecting about the nature of 'Englishness' and English culture, taken at its widest, in late nineteenth and early twentieth century England. I was taken with his writing style and also the fact that he seemed to want to quantify and evaluate people and their lives and customs as well as relate folk facts. These made me want to spend a little time looking at his work in this area. I hope to contextualise this with work on other folklorists and anthropologists who also contributed to the debate at the time.


[1] Oddly, for this author and website, there is no recorded discussion about this paper, but the following article is a review of Lieutenant-General Pitt-Rivers' excavations in Bokerly and Wansdyke, 1892.

[2] 'Lord Kitchener, Mr Kipling, Mr. C.B. Fry, or (perhaps) Canon Gore'. Lord Kitchener was Earl (Horatio Herbert) Kitchener of Khartoum (1850-1916), an army officer, in 1898 he had been granted a hero's status in Britain because of his involvement in the Anglo-Egyptian campaign and the 'Fashoda incident', he was created Baron Kitchener in 1898. Mr Kipling was (Joseph) Rudyard Kipling, (1865-1936), the famous author, in 1899 he published Stalky and Co.. Mr C.B. Fry was presumably Charles Burgess Fry (1872-1956), the sportsman and journalist, he played cricket for Sussex and England. Finally, Canon Gore was probably Charles Gore (1853-1932) the bishop of Oxford and in 1899 Canon of Westminster Abbey.

[3] Interestingly, Jacobs himself was listed in Who's Who, or at least he is currently listed in Who Was Who.

[4] 24 s. 9 d. in 1899 is the equivalent of between £99.85 using the retail price index and £945.09 using the share of GDP. Calculations provided by measuring worth website

[5] 'Mondeo man', who was originally 'Sierra Man', was supposed to be 'an ex-Labour voter who had bought his former council house and would polish his ageing Ford at weekends'. The Mondeo man was a key demographic target whom Labour needed to win over from the Conservative Party in order to win the 1997 General Election. See here and here (but note that these are both Conservative use of the term). Another similar term was 'Worcester woman', according to wikipedia 'It profiles or describes a certain type of voter, a white collar professional who worries about quality of life issues.

[6] I used the version of this publication available via http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/authors/jacobs.html#ENGLISH to obtain the following quotations. Although it only references the first publication dates of 1890 and 1894 it is clear that at least in the first instance the edition which is transcribed on this site is a later edition as the preface and notes and references have been updated by Jacobs, I do not know the actual date of the edition used.

Further Reading

Dorson, Richard 1968 The British Folklorists Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Fine, Gary Alan 1987 'Joseph Jacobs: A Sociological Folklorist' Folklore, Vol. 98, No. 2 (1987), pp. 183-193
Jacobs, J. 'The Folk' Folklore, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Jun., 1893), pp. 233-238
Jacobs, J. 1890 [a] 'On the Comparative Anthropometry of English Jews', The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 19, (1890), pp. 75-88
Jacobs, J. 1890 [b] English Fairy Tales London: D. Nutt
Jacobs, J. 1894 More English Fairy Tales London: D. Nutt
Jacobs, Joseph. 1899 ‘The Mean Englishman’, The Fortnightly Review, 72, July 1899, pp.53-62
Phillips, O. Somech 'Joseph Jacobs 1854-1916' Folklore, Vol. 65, No. 2 (Sep., 1954), pp. 126-127











‘JACOBS, Joseph’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2007 [http://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/article/oupww/whowaswho/U198433, accessed 11 Feb 2009

I would like to thank Ollie Douglas for drawing Joseph Jacobs to my attention, and for his help in accessing the Mean Englishman paper.