Jacob, Mr. ("Jacob of Simla") (ca. 1850-1921)
Jacob, Mr. ("Jacob of Simla") (ca. 1850-1921)
A reputed wonder-worker of India during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A rich diamond merchant, Jacob had a reputation for generosity and for working miracles. He was immortalized in literature, serving as the archetype for the main character in the novel Mr. Isaacs (1882), by F. Marion Crawford. In the novel, Isaacs is a disciple of Brahmin initiate Ram Lal, whose mystical powers include appearing and disappearing at will.
Jacob was also the model for "Lurgan Sahib," the mysterious secret agent with hypnotic powers in Rudyard Kipling's great novel Kim (1901). Lurgan, too, is a dealer in precious stones and describes himself as a "Healer of Pearls." He boasts, "There is no one but me can doctor a sick pearl and re-blue turquoises. I grant you opals—any fool can cure an opal—but for a sick pearl there is only me. Suppose I were to die! Then there would be no one."
Crawford first met Jacob in a hotel in Simla, India. Jacob invited the novelist to his room, where Crawford was astounded by an Aladdin's cave of wealth and beauty:
"It appeared as if the walls and the ceiling were lined with gold and precious stones…. Every available space, nook and cranny was filled with gold and jeweled ornaments, shining weapons or uncouth but resplendent idols…. The floor was covered with a rich, soft pile, and low divans were heaped with cushions of deep-tinted silk and gold … superbly illuminated Arabic manuscripts…. At last I turned, and from contemplat ing the magnificence and inanimate wealth, I was riveted by the majestic face and expression of the beautiful living creature, who by a turn of his want, or, to speak prosaically, by an invitation to smoke had lifted me out of the humdrum into a land peopled with all the effulgent fantasy and the priceless realities of the magic East."
After publication of Crawford's novel, wild rumors spread about the reputed magical powers of Jacob, whose operation was assisted by his spirit guide, "Ram Lal," who was said to have died 150 years earlier. An article by a European occultist calling himself "Tautriadelta" (pseudonym of Dr. Roslyn D'Onston) a pupil of Lord Lytton) in Borderland (April 1896) recounts miracles performed by Jacob, such as growing bunches of ripe black grapes on a walking stick, thrusting a sword into a man's body without injury, and walking on water. Some time later, interviewed by a member of the Society for Psychical Research, Jacob was quoted as saying that the growing of buds and blossoms on a walking stick was a trick with a prepared stick, and that pushing a sword into the body was only a matter of skill and knowledge, but that his walking on water was achieved by being supported in the air by his spirit guide, who also acted as a kind of "astral postman," delivering messages over vast distances when needed.
This last phenomenon is of particular interest considering that Jacob met Theosophist Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who later acquired fame for the magical precipitation of "Mahatma letters" over a distance. Jacob himself regarded Blavatsky as no more than "a clever conjurer."
Jacob's early life was as romantic as his later life was reputed to be. He was born a Turkish or Armenian Jew near Constantinople and sold into slavery at age ten. He was bought by a rich and intelligent pasha who saw that the boy had great abilities and instead of giving him menial tasks educated him in Eastern life, literature, philosophy, and occultism. On the death of his patron Jacob made a pilgrimage to Mecca, then took passage to Bombay, landing without money or friends. Through his knowledge of Arabic he soon obtained a position as scribe to a nobleman at the Nizam's court in Hyderabad. There he started dealing in precious stones, later moving to Delhi, then to Simla, where he became one of the most famous jewelers of the time. Maharajahs from all over India engaged his services and he became a rich man, furnishing his house in Oriental splendor with priceless and lavish possessions. At home he received Indian princes, viceroys, governors, and distinguished members of the civil and military services. Lord Lytton, then viceroy, visited him and remained for several days. In spite of his lavish surroundings, Jacob lived a simple vegetarian life, occasionally entertaining guests with occult marvels that became the gossip of Simla.
The story of his eventual downfall is equally remarkable. He had incurred the displeasure of a prime minister at Hyderabad through giving information about the brutal execution of a Hindu by the minister's brother. Knowing that the Imperial Diamond was being sold in England, Jacob offered to buy it for the nizam of Hyderabad, who agreed to pay him 46 lakhs of rupees (more than $600,000). Jacob knew that he could buy it for half that sum and saw the chance of a good bargain. The nizam paid him 20 lakhs of rupees on account. After the diamond arrived in India and was paid for by Jacob, the prime minister urged the government of India to prevent the sale, knowing that there was an official embargo on princes spending such large sums. The sale was vetoed and Jacob was left with the diamond and less than half the sum promised by the nizam. Next, the prime minister urged the nizam to sue Jacob for return of the money already paid. The trial lasted 57 days; after returning the nizam's deposit and paying legal costs, Jacob was ruined. In desperation he offered the diamond to the nizam at any price from one rupee upward and the nizam agreed to pay 17 lakhs of rupees. Jacob never received any money after handing over the diamond, however, and was penniless. He retired to Bombay, living in penury and later becoming blind.
Fodor, Nandor. The Haunted Mind. New York: Garrett Publications, 1959.
Heath, Frederick W. "The Story of Mr. Isaacs' Life." Occult Review (October 1912).
Russell, Edmund. "'Mr. Isaacs' of Simla." Occult Review (March 1917).