The life of Jens Peter Jacobsen (YAH-kawp-suhn) began in the fishing village of Thisted, Denmark, in 1847 and ended there in 1885. Within that brief span of time, Jacobsen traveled very little; his one trip to France was made in an attempt to arrest the progress of the disease that eventually killed him. The body of his creative work is small, with two novels, a book of poems, and a few short stories composing the total. However, one novel, Niels Lyhne, is important enough to cause his name to be placed beside that of his friend and mentor, Georg Brandes, on the list of the foremost Danish writers of the nineteenth century.
Although it was brief, Jacobsen’s career was a full one when his scientific accomplishments are added to his literary works. He went from his small fishing village to the University of Copenhagen, where, besides reading widely in literature and philosophy, he studied tirelessly in the natural sciences. Upon his graduation in 1868, he won a gold medal for his thesis on a microscopic marsh plant.
His education completed, he devoted himself to writing in both fields, the literary and the scientific, and artfully joined his two interests in a successful short story, “Mogens,” title story of a volume of short fiction published in 1882. Jacobsen’s greatest contribution to the Danish scientific world, however, was his translation into his native language of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), completed in 1873, and his greatest contribution to literature was the scientifically discerning study of human decay presented in his novel Niels Lyhne.