EVEN after he had long achieved success in half a dozen
arenas, and had become a landed man, there was long no more familiar and welcome
figure on Glasgow Royal Exchange than that of the late Dr. Jacks. Buirdly of
body and ruddy of face, he was in appearance as in history a typical son of the
north. Born at Cornhill on Tweed, near Coldstream, 18th March, 1841, he was the
son of a shepherd, and was brought up in that stern Calvinism which may have
made life gloomy, but, like the oatmeal porridge which usually accompanied it,
seems to have given men backbone. A hurt in childhood, which lamed him for
years, made him more studious than his fellows, and he soon began to think for
himself on the dogmas of the Shorter Catechism and other things His father died
early, and his mother removed to the neighbourhood of Swinton, near Duns, where
her boy went to school. Presently he led the singing at Fogo Kirk, and took part
in teaching the Sunday school.
When the time came to begin a career, he went to West Hartlepool and found a place in a shipbuilding yard. Already he saw that in order to succeed in life he must prepare for success. So, while he wrought for his living all day, he studied for the future at night. Modern languages and literature, theology, and political economy, were mastered in the hours which others spent in amusement, and presently the opportunity came. He had found his way from the yard at West Hartlepool to a shipyard in Sunderland, and before long he became manager of Sunderland and Seaham Engine Works and Foundry. His firm had despatched several thousand pounds' worth of iron goods to a purchaser in Italy, when they discovered that their correspondent had no intention of ever making payment. The bill of lading had been sent off, and there was no means of stopping delivery. The young clerk, however, knew the language, and he was sent out to do what he could. He arrived before the goods, got possession of them by tact and diplomacy, and not only sold them to better advantage elsewhere, but secured fresh business for his employers. By and by he was tempted to Glasgow to manage a still larger business. It was just before the boom of the seventies, and with sagacity and skill he took that tide at the flood and was quickly led to fortune. Then he married, and set up in business for himself as an iron merchant. He built and sold steamers, executed large contracts for ironwork, became a director of important companies, and prospered so that at last he was said to be about to retire. Just then a new career opened before him. In 1885 he was invited to stand as a Parliamentary candidate for the Leith burghs.
Here again he was ready for his opportunity. As a lad he had practised speaking at young men's literary associations (he had been President of the Amalgamated Associations in Sunderland) and of late he had lectured a good deal in aid of charitable objects. On the political platform he showed himself to have clear ideas and the faculty of expressing these clearly, and he was elected with the immense majority of 3,870 over his Conservative opponent. In the House of Commons his experience made him an authority on dockyard subjects, and he gained the confidence of Mr. Mundella by his thorough acquaintance with political economy. With the fall of the Gladstone Government Mr. Jacks lost his seat. It is not likely to be forgotten how in the election which ensued Mr. Gladstone was led to play what is still known as the "Leith dirty trick," and oust his former supporter. Mr. Jacks, however, was returned again later as Member for Stirlingshire, and sat till 1895. In politics he was an advanced Liberal, approving of Home Rule, Taxation of Land Values, and Direct Veto of Liquor. His business acumen was recognised within the House by his being put upon the Railway Rates Committee, and outside by his being appointed an arbiter in the London Chamber of Commerce Arbitration Scheme and his unanimous election as Chairman of the British Iron Trade Association in 1893. But later he turned his energies mostly into a less stormy arena. He was afterwards President of the West of Scotland Iron and Steel Institute and of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.
His first book, a translation of Lessing's "Nathan the Wise," was written in the dreary intervals of debate in the House of Commons, and was well received both by critics and public; and his "Robert Burns in other Tongues," published on the centenary of the poet's death, procured him the degree of LL.D. from Glasgow University. Among his later works, his "Life of Bismarck" brought him one letter of high appreciation from the Iron Chancellor's son, and another from the Kaiser Wilhelm II., with a gift of two volumes, biographies of Wilhelm I., and of the Emperor himself. His latest book, "The Life of His Majesty William II., German Emperor, with a Sketch of his Hohenzollern Ancestors," was published by Messrs. MacLehose in 1904, and is likely to remain a standard on the subject in this country. Among minor efforts his Presidential Address to the Iron and Steel Institute of the West of Scotland was quoted far and wide; and it is worth noting that the facts of his life and his vigorous views on commercial education and the value of a knowledge of modern languages, were made the text of an article in Chambers's Journal in April, 1902.
For long, Dr. Jacks lived at Crosslet, Dunbarton, but in 1901 he purchased the fine estate of The Gart, near Callander, and became more and more identified with the interests of that romantic neighbourhood. His death took place there, August 8, 1907.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)