Puslapio vaizdai

Briton Blood and

Gipsy Instinct

From "The Book of Jack London"


MUST speak of the spirit in which I approach the telling of the story, the full story, of Jack London's life and adventures, before I set down the facts of an ancestry that gave him his rugged soul and restless spirit. Here in his own workroom, at his own work-table, which, like himself, is deep-grained, beautiful, unshamming even to its rugged knots and imperfections, I write of the Jack London whom I knew.

"That one of us should go before the other is unthinkable," he often said. Or, "It is beyond my imagining that I should ever be without you. By rights we should go out together in some bright hazard-gallant shipwreck in a shouting, white gale, or shoulder to shoulder in some forgotten out-land where the red gods have called us." And again, "If I should go first, it would be for you to write of me if you dare be honest.

"But you could hardly do it," he would add. "I fear you 'd not want to write of my shortcomings, which you know only too well, and your work would be valueless without them. Also, neither you nor I, unless it should be when I am very old and when others are gone past wounding, can write without restraint of the very circumstances and characters that helped to make or mar me. And, anyway, my dear," was his familiar conclusion,

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"I'm going to live a hundred years, because I want to; and I 'm going to beat you to it some day and write my own book of myself, and call it 'Jack Liverpool,' and it 's going to make everybody sit up."

In some such fashion we would speculate, perhaps riding over the Beauty Ranch, lying on the slant deck of a ship in the trades, or tooling our alert four-in-hand across a mountain-range.

I warn, therefore, that this "Book of Jack London" is written only for those sincere and open-minded folk who want to know the real and living facts that I can tell. So unusual a man should be honored with an unusual biography, and mine is bound to be frank beyond the ordinary, since I must approach it with frankness or do a spurious piece of work. I do not minimize the criticism to which I subject myself, but my philosophy is of a sort that transcends fear on this


But only name him, and forthwith a thousand vivid, trenchant thoughts clamor for delivery. Even more sharply than during his life I now realize how he was eternally whelmed by surging ideas whenever his embracing mind laid hold of a theme. Often and often I have seen him near despair at the impossibility of capturing and holding for presentment to his listener the myriad related

thoughts that crowded hard under a single impelling one.

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The material at my hand is manifold and priceless. Much of it I shall forego, lest I wound where he hesitated to wound. But within limitations, dictated by like consideration for those he spared, I must in simple justice to him bring to bear all possible illumination. If I, of all biographers, assume a "dignified," conservative, tooproud-to-explain pose concerning this intimate soul, who of his admirers, misled, or at best puzzled by popular misreport, and desiring more light upon his personality, is to acquire what only I have to offer? Since he went out in the midday of his brave years, I have sensed him with still subtler clarity. I summon the dear ghosts of all he has meant to me, all heritage from him of unclouded vision, purpose, straightness of speech; whatever I have meant to him. All these I beg to help me in my loving and difficult task. For at the outset I am appalled by the task ahead of me. Almost it looks a vain endeavor, one I should far better abandon, and confine my revelation to the commonplace, if commonplace can be found in such a life, lest I court failure by reaching too wide and deep.

In reviewing what was in our long run a rainbow trail round the curve of the world, though I shall try to write from the height of my head, making honest this document, as he would have it, without sainting his humanness, I know I shall find myself most often directed from the depth of my heart toward a bountiful estimate of his abounding lovableness, charm, and variety.

I should be glad if I could believe that he, friend, lover, and husband for a dozen rich years, were now consciously standing over me, guiding my pen, his pen, with which I begin his portrait, glad for my own sake, at the same time decrying the selfishness to stay him one moment from that Field of Ardath that ever, to him, in his fairest hours, meant dreamless rest. But since I cannot even in his loss find hope and faith in what he did not believe for himself, for me, for any one, I can yet know that what of his gift there resides in my being from those long, comprehending years together drives brain and hand to lay what I may of him "cards up on the table," as he fearlessly played his own game of living.

Shortly after his death my already awakened mettle to write of him was spurred by the remark of an American author to a common friend, "Jack London was a far greater man than some of his intimates may let us know." I at least shall not merit this curious implication.

This, then, is my goal-to strive to expound him through the evaluations he placed upon himself, which untiringly he strove to make clear to me. I crave indulgence for that I must appear somewhat profusely in my own pages. Verily, in order to make a book about Jack London, I should have to make a book about myself, which, indeed, would be all about Jack London.

Here I give to the world my Jack London, a virile creature compounded of curiosity and fearlessness, the very texture of fine sensibility, the loving heart and discerning intuitions of a woman, an ardent brain, and a divine belief in himself. And since he was

first and foremost his own man, I render, as nearly as may be in the premises, also his own Jack London. If I prove candid to a degree, let it be remembered that he would be the first to have it so.


In sifting and assembling the details bearing upon Jack London's origin, the keen enjoyment of serving his readers joins with a keener zest in singing his pride of race, sounding the pæan, manifest throughout his work, of his very own Anglo-Saxon breed, upon which he gambled his faith. And the pleasure increases as additional verification is uncovered bearing upon his direct British ancestry.

From the heart of the city of London there sprang two large families that bore the city's name, one of which branches was from Semitic seed, as witness Meyer London, erstwhile Socialist congressman, and many another in America; while in England one of my correspondents is a Jewess whom I address as "Mrs. Jack London."

Of the Gentile group, the first person in my available record is Sir William London, who foreswore allegiance to Great Britain and betook himself to America. Here, under General George Washington, he fought valiantly for his ideals, thereby sacrificing no mean estates in the tight little island; for these were promptly confiscated by the jealous crown, and thereafter figured conspicuously in the mill of chancery. I can remember Jack London saying, "One of my childhood recollections is of mysterious sessions held by my mother and father, from which I gathered that he had been approached across the water by the London heirs to lend a hand in fight

ing for his great-grandfather's seized properties."

Sir William London's son William named his son Manley, and Manley London became the sire of John London, with whom the direct life-story of Jack London begins. And these Londons, one and all, from the redoubtable knight down to and including his great-grandson John, took part in each and every warlike uprising for American liberty. It would not be out of place here to add that the last of the paternal line, nephews of Jack London, namely, Irving Shepard and John Miller, did their part on sea and land in this twentieth-century's greatest of all struggles.

John London, great-grandson of Sir William, first saw the light in Pennsylvania, on January 11, 1828. He grew up on a farm, receiving the education attainable in small rural schools nearly a century ago, while he learned the hard, practical way of agriculture at that early date.

He comes next into view, at the age of nineteen, as boss of a section gang in the construction of a great railroad system in Pennsylvania. One day, reporting at the big farm residence of an official of the road, one Hugh Cavett, the latter being absent, his daughter Anna Jane took the message. Eyes and hands struck fire, and in two weeks the pair were married; for John London was a bonnie lad, six feet in his homespun socks, square-shouldered, well-limbed, fine-skinned, with comely hands and feet, and a wealth of soft, wavy brown hair, one of Jack London's don's own physical characteristics. "Finest head of hair I ever barbered," old Barber Smith of San Francisco declared of John's luxuriant mane thirty years later. Like Jack's, John's

wide-set, gray-blue, dancing eyes and sweeping ways were not to be resisted by mortal woman. What mattered it to him, when kind called to kind, that Anna Jane's father was his employer and a rich man? He was the owner of profitable farm-lands, stockholder in the Wheeling Bridge property, and an investor in various other lucrative schemes that were bringing fortunes to foreseeing men of Hugh Cavett's type. Besides, over and above the love that drew the man and maid so quickly together, was not the comely girl John's very ideal of a capable country-house mistress?

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After the wedding John London came to live for a time in the big house, where he began the founding of his own line, a generous contribution of eleven olive-branches, some sprouting twin-buds, to the family tree. He was absent frequently, sent out, I gather, by his father-in-law on business connected with the railroad. If the elder man was outraged at all by the forthright methods of the young couple in matters matrimonial, evidently he made the best of the situation and advanced the unexpected son-in-law in line with his abilities. Moreover, the sedately arriving yearly babies, beginning with Tom and Mary, could not fail to erase any last vestige of their grandfather's possible pique.

John London's lifelong gallantry is illustrated by a little incident that took place upon his home-coming from one of these trips. Finding his bride overstrained by the housewifely labor of entertaining for weeks a full complement of relatives, he expressed his solicitude by dismissing the whole tribe, stating his reasons, and then

turned to and helped Anna Jane clear up after them. In quite another setting, half a century later, Jack London said to me:

"When we are married, much as I love an open house, if I cannot afford servants, we'll live in tents, so there can't be any entertaining. No domestic drudgery for wife of mine. It's your life and my life, first. Our need of each other lies in different ways than circumscribed domesticity."

Very congenial seem to have been John and Anna Jane. "No one ever saw Jane angry or disagreeable," reads the yellowed fragment of a letter, “nor John London cross or harsh. He was always protecting some one." A roving spirit characterized the London strain, and Anna Jane appears to have been in nowise backward in aiding and abetting its development in her spouse. From the fact that she is not mentioned in Hugh Cavett's will, and by other data, one is led to conclude that he had settled her portion upon her before she and John presently went adventuring up through Wisconsin with an eye for an abiding-place, thence drifting down to Illinois, where John's mother, a remarkable woman, managed her own stock-farm. Five sons she gave to the Civil War; meanwhile she continued to develop her holdings.

When John London enlisted in the War of the Rebellion, it was from a Missouri farm, and he, with one of his lungs out of action as the result of a combined siege of pneumonia and smallpox, left behind him Anna Jane with seven children. At the close of the war, taking his family, he migrated to a quarter section of government land in Muscatine County, Iowa, near the town of Moscow. When his wife

was discovered with consumption, John arranged affairs so that he could devote himself to her, and it fell in with their mutual dreams to play at gipsying. For two years they moved over the prairies in a "schooner," and during this time John came into pleasant contact with the Pawnees, by whom he swore stoutly to his dying day. "Play fair with an Indian," he held, "and you can trust him with anything, anywhere. It's wrong treatment that 's made sly devils of 'em."

With the redskins this born outdoors man hunted and trapped racoons and other prairie game, and in beehunting proved of keener sight than the aborigines in following to its honey store the flight of a homing worker. Later, when the Indians were camping near the farm, John branded his stock, and, unlike some of his neighbors, never lost a single head to any marauder. Play the game squarely, was his philosophy, and you stand to win.

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Early in the seventies John London found himself bereft of his mate, and with an exceptionally large family to consider. One of the sons, Charles, had been injured playing our national game, a ball catching him in the chest, and his father conceived a plan whereby he might leave the remaining youngest folk-three of the eleven had died-temporarily with the older sisters and willing neighbors, while he struck out farther West in the hope of benefiting the ailing boy. All was satisfactorily worked out, when John weakened to the wailing of Eliza and Ida, hardly more than babies. At the last moment a rearrangement was effected that included the pair, as well

as two friends, Mr. and Mrs. Chase, who, in return for their expenses to California, were to assume the care of Charles and his two little sisters.

And John never again saw Iowa. Charles grew rapidly worse, and died eleven days after he looked upon his first ocean. The widower disposed of the farm, and with the proceeds established himself in a contracting business in San Francisco. Meantime he placed Eliza and Ida in the Protestant Orphan Asylum on Haight Street, paying for their living and tuition. Eliza London has always averred that the period spent in the quaint, moss-grown stone home was the happiest of her life, and with the tenaciousness of a devoted nature she had soon fastened her shy affection upon one of the teachers. Next she came to nourish a fond hope that her beloved papa would share her own adoration for "teacher," and bring to his girls a new mother. But she was doomed to secret sorrow and tears, for papa, although never blind to a pretty face and womanly traits, was even then under the influence of a wholly different person.

Many a smart beau of that winsome light-opera star of the long ago, Kate Castleton, will smile with awakened memories to learn that a sweet friendship existed between the lovable young singer and the big, quiet, long-bearded man from the Middle West who had such a way with him. But it was not she, and another ardent desire of the wee Eliza, who still wore a ring her idol had sent her, went glimmering with the first; for the lady of her father's second choice in life was not beautiful. And Eliza, who did not consider lovely her own small, expressive face, with its deep-blue, black-lashed London eyes, worshiped beauty, and little

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