William Wymark Jacobs was born in Wapping, near London, on September 8, 1863. His father, William Gage Jacobs, was employed as a wharf manager on the docks at Wapping. His mother was Sophia Wymark. Young Jacobs spent his youth playing around the docks of Wapping, meeting many of the kinds of characters who would later appear in his dockside stories. The only respite from this somewhat wild existence was his holidays in Sevenoaks and East Anglia. He lived the life of a poor boy.
After attending Kirkbeck College, Jacobs entered the civil service in 1879 as a clerk. He was promoted in 1883 to the savings bank section, where he remained until 1899. While serving as a clerk, he began submitting sketches and occasional pieces to magazines. His opportunity came when The Strand Magazine accepted one of his stories in 1895. One year later, his first book, a collection of humorous sea tales entitled Many Cargoes, appeared, and thereafter he was able to issue nearly a book a year until 1914, when his production slowed. His first novel, A Master of Craft, appeared in 1900. His most famous work, “The Monkey’s Paw,” garnered considerable attention when it first appeared in 1902. A dramatic adaptation, a one-act play produced a few years later by Louis Napoleon Parker, also was received well. Nevertheless, by 1914 Jacobs began to weary of his creations, much as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had reacted against his Sherlock Holmes series. Jacobs’s later books show signs of strain.
A slightly built man, pale in complexion, and retiring, Jacobs was no literary lion. He avoided publicity, keeping to a small circle of friends, including the illustrator of many of his books, E. W. Kemble. Though for a time a most successful writer of stories, he never put on airs. Jacobs died on September 1, 1943.
William Wymark Jacobs spent his childhood in Wapping, on the Thames estuary, where his father worked as a wharf manager. After graduation from school at sixteen, he worked for the civil service. For amusement and extra money, Jacobs wrote humorous stories about the activities of people in villages along the Thames. In 1885 Jacobs was first published in Idler and To-Day magazines. Later, his works were published exclusively in the Strand. His stories were illustrated by his friend, Will Owen. In 1898, when Jacobs’s writing produced enough income to support him, he quit his civil service job to write full time.
In 1900, he married Agnes Eleanor Williams, a feminist and socialist. Jacobs’s philosophy was conservative. Even though the marriage suffered from irreconcilable political and social differences, they had two sons and two daughters.
Jacobs wrote more than 158 short stories under his byline and anonymously. By 1916, his prolific writing had slowed, and he began converting his stories into plays. He died in 1943.
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