L. P. Jacks

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Lawrence Pearsall Jacks (9 October 1860 – 17 February 1955), abbreviated L. P. Jacks was an English educator, philosopher, and Unitarian minister who rose to prominence in the period from World War I to World War II.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Jacks was born on 9 October 1860 in Nottingham, to Anne Steere and Jabez Jacks. When his father died in 1874, George Herbert, at the University School in Nottingham, allowed the 14-year-old Jacks to continue his education without fee. At about the same time, his family took in a Unitarian lodger, Sam Collinson, who discussed religion with Jacks and lent him books such as Matthew Arnold's Literature and Dogma. Jacks left school at the age of 17 and spent the next five years teaching at private schools, while earning a degree as an External Student at the University of London.[1][2]

In 1882, Jacks enrolled in Manchester New College (which by then was in London), to train for the clergy, and became a Unitarian while at the College, under the influence of Joseph Estlin Carpenter and James Martineau. After graduating, he spent a year on scholarship at Harvard University, where he studied with the philosopher Josiah Royce and the literary scholar Charles Eliot Norton.[1] In 1887, after returning from the United States of America, he received an unexpected invitation (due to Carpenter's recommendation) to take the prestigious position of assistant minister to Stopford Brooke in his chapel in London; he later wrote that "Had I received an invitation to become demigod to Apollo my surprise would hardly have been greater." He served as assistant minister for a year, and then accepted a position as Unitarian minister for Renshaw Street Chapel in Liverpool in 1888.[2]

In 1889, Jacks married Olive Brooke (the fourth daughter of Stopford Brooke), whom he had fallen in love with on the ship returning from America. They had six children together. During this time, Jacks' circle of associates included George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and Oscar Wilde.[2]

In 1894, Jacks was appointed minister for the Church of the Messiah, Birmingham, England, where he developed his democratic political and religious views, holding that "the Common Man is the appointed saviour of the world," and developed his idea of a natural religion accessible to everyone, regardless of denomination or creed.


In 1903 he accepted a Professorship at Manchester College, Oxford, where he taught philosophy and theology. He taught the work of Henri Bergson and Baruch Spinoza, and published The Alchemy of Thought in 1910. He served as Principal of the College from 1915 until his retirement in 1931, where he opened the theology program to lay students and tried to introduce the study of Asian religious thought, in an effort to relieve what he saw as the "insufficient ventilation" in the theology program.[1]

Jacks served as the editor of the Hibbert Journal from its founding in 1902 until 1948.[1] Under his editorship the Journal became one of the leading forums in England for work in philosophy and religion, and introduced the work of Alfred Loisy to British readers.[1][2] He gained international notoriety as a public intellectual with the outbreak of World War I, when he wrote in support of the war effort, citing the need to defeat German militarism and defend "the liberties of our race." In September 1915, he published "The Peacefulness of Being at War" in The New Republic, arguing that the war had "brought to England a peace of mind such as she had not possessed for decades," claiming that the sense of common purpose brought on by the war had overcome social fragmentation and improved English life.

After the war, Jacks wrote prolifically and gained popularity as a lecturer in Britain and America. He frequently returned to the theme of militarism and the "mechanical" mindset, which he regarded as one of the greatest threats in modern life. In his Revolt Against Mechanism (1933), he wrote that "The mechanical mind has a passion for control—of everything except itself. Beyond the control it has won over the forces of nature it would now win control over the forces of society of stating the problem and producing the solution, with social machinery to correspond."[1] He proposed liberal education and world vision as a hope for salvation from the mechanistic world, in books such as his Education for the Whole Man (1931) and his 1938 BBC Radio Lectures.[1][2] In his article "A Demilitarized League of Nations", ("Hibbert Journal", August 1936) Jacks argued the League of Nations should completely eschew military force.[3]

Although he continued to preach Unitarianism, he became increasingly critical of all forms of institutional religion and denominationalism, and refused to let his name be added to a list of Unitarian ministers published by the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches in 1928. He accepted an invitation to preach in Liverpool Cathedral in 1933; a Convocation of the Church of England rebuked the cathedral for allowing a Unitarian to preach, igniting a controversy in the press.

Jacks published prolifically over a period of fifty years, including philosophical and visionary treatises, biographies, articles, and moral parables. He died in Oxford on 17 February 1955, at the age of 94.


  • The Alchemy of Thought (1910)
  • Mad Shepherds and Other Human Studies (1910)
  • Among the Idolmakers (1911)
  • All Men Are Ghosts (1913)
  • From the Human End (1916)
  • Life and Letters of Stopford Brooke (1917)
  • The Legends of Smokeover (1921)
  • Realities and Shams (1924)
  • The Faith of a Worker (1925)
  • The Magic Formula and Other Stories (1927)
  • Constructive Citizenship (1927)
  • My Neighbour the Universe: A Study of Human Labour (1929)
  • The Inner Sentinel: A Study of Ourselves (1930)
  • Education for the Whole Man (1931)
  • Revolt Against Mechanism (1933)
  • Co-operation or Coercion? (1938)
  • The Last Legend of Smokeover (1939)
  • Near the Brink: Observations of a Nonagenarian (1952)



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Alan Rushton, "Jacks, Lawrence Pearsall" in Stuart Brown, The Dictionary Of Twentieth-Century British Philosophers. Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2005. ISBN 1-84371-096-X (pp. 472-3)
  2. ^ a b c d e f Richard Aldrich and Peter Gordon, Dictionary of British Educationists. London: Woburn, 1989. ISBN 0-7130-4011-4 (p. 129)
  3. ^ Robert Seeley, The Handbook Of Non-Violence; including Aldous Huxley's An Encyclopedia Of Pacifism. Westport, Conn.: L. Hill; Great Neck, N.Y.: Lakeville Press, 1986. ISBN 0-88208-208-6 (p. 52).

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