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Briton Blood and Gipsy Instinct
From “The Book of Jack London”
By CHARMIAN LONDON
§ 1 MUST speak of the spirit in “I 'm going to live a hundred years, which I approach the telling because I want to; and I 'm going to of the story, the full story, of beat you to it some day and write my Jack London's life and ad- own book of myself, and call it ‘Jack
ventures, before I set down Liverpool,' and it 's going to make the facts of an ancestry that gave everybody sit up.” him his rugged soul and restless spirit. In some such fashion we would Here in his own workroom, at his own speculate, perhaps riding over the work-table, which, like himself, is Beauty Ranch, lying on the slant deep-grained, beautiful, unshamming deck of a ship in the trades, or tooling even to its rugged knots and imper- our alert four-in-hand across a mounfections, I write of the Jack London tain-range. whom I knew.
I warn, therefore, that this "Book “That one of us should go before of Jack London" is written only for the other is unthinkable,” he often those sincere and open-minded folk said. Or, “It is beyond my imagining who want to know the real and living that I should ever be without you. facts that I can tell. So unusual a By rights we should go out together man should be honored with an unin some bright hazard-gallant ship- usual biography, and mine is bound wreck in a shouting, white gale, or to be frank beyond the ordinary, since shoulder to shoulder in some forgotten I must approach it with frankness or out-land where the red gods have do a spurious piece of work. I do called us." And again, “If I should not minimize the criticism to which I go first, it would be for you to write subject myself, but my philosophy is of me if you dare be honest.
of a sort that transcends fear on this "But you could hardly do it," he score. would add. “I fear you'd not want But only name him, and forthwith to write of my shortcomings, which a thousand vivid, trenchant thoughts you know only too well, and your clamor for delivery. Even work would be valueless without them. sharply than during his life I now Also, neither you nor I, unless it should realize how he was eternally whelmed be when I am very old and when others by surging ideas whenever his emare gone past wounding, can write bracing mind laid hold of a theme. without restraint of the very circum- Often and often I have seen him near stances and characters that helped to despair at the impossibility of capmake or mar me. And, anyway, my turing and holding for presentment dear," was his familiar conclusion, to his listener the myriad related
thoughts that crowded hard under a I should be glad if I could believe single impelling one.
that he, friend, lover, and husband
for a dozen rich years, were now con$ 2
sciously standing over me, guiding my The material at my hand is manifold pen, his pen, with which I begin his and priceless. Much of it I shall fore- portrait, glad for my own sake, at the go, lest I wound where he hesitated same time decrying the selfishness to to wound. But within limitations, dic- stay him one moment from that Field tated by like consideration for those of Ardath that ever, to him, in his he spared, I must in simple justice to fairest hours, meant dreamless rest. him bring to bear all possible illumi- But since I cannot even in his loss find nation. If I, of all biographers, as- hope and faith in what he did not sume a "dignified,” conservative, too believe for himself, for me, for any
, proud-to-explain pose concerning this one, I can yet know that what of his intimate soul, who of his admirers, gift there resides in my being from misled, or at best puzzled by popular those long, comprehending years tomisreport, and desiring more light gether drives brain and hand to lay upon his personality, is to acquire what I may of him "cards up on the what only I have to offer? Since he table," as he fearlessly played his own went out in the midday of his brave
game of living. years, I have sensed him with still Shortly after his death my already subtler clarity. I summon the dear awakened mettle to write of him was ghosts of all he has meant to me, all spurred by the remark of an American heritage from him of unclouded vision, author to a common friend, "Jack purpose, straightness of speech; what London was a far greater man than ever I have meant to him. All these some of his intimates may let us I beg to help me in my loving and know.” I at least shall not merit this difficult task. For at the outset I am curious implication. appalled by the task ahead of me. This, then, is my goal—to strive to Almost it looks a vain endeavor, one expound him through the evaluations I should far better abandon, and con- he placed upon himself, which untirfine my revelation to the common- ingly he strove to make clear to me. place, if commonplace can be found I crave indulgence for that I must in such a life, lest I court failure by appear somewhat profusely in my own reaching too wide and deep.
pages. Verily, in order to make a In reviewing what was in our long book about Jack London, I should run a rainbow trail round the curve have to make a book about myself, of the world, though I shall try to which, indeed, would be all about write from the height of my head, Jack London. making honest this document, as he Here I give to the world my Jack would have it, without sainting his London, a virile creature compounded humanness, I know I shall find my- of curiosity and fearlessness, the very self most often directed from the depth texture of fine sensibility, the loving of my heart toward a bountiful esti- heart and discerning intuitions of a mate of his abounding lovableness, woman, an ardent brain, and a divine charm, and variety.
belief in himself. And since he was
first and foremost his own man, I ren- ing for his great-grandfather's seized der, as nearly as may be in the prem- properties.' ises, also his own Jack London. If Sir William London's son William I prove candid to a degree, let it be named his son Manley, and Manley remembered that he would be the first London became the sire of John Lonto have it so.
don, with whom the direct life-story
of Jack London begins. And these 83
Londons, one and all, from the reIn sifting and assembling the details doubtable knight down to and includbearing upon Jack London's origin, ing his great-grandson John, took part the keen enjoyment of serving his in each and every warlike uprising for readers joins with a keener zest in sing- American liberty. It would not be
a ing his pride of race, sounding the out of place here to add that the last pæan, manifest throughout his work, of the paternal line, nephews of Jack of his very own Anglo-Saxon breed, London, namely, Irving Shepard and upon which he gambled his faith. And John Miller, did their part on sea and the pleasure increases as additional land in this twentieth-century's greatverification is uncovered bearing upon est of all struggles. his direct British ancestry.
John London, great-grandson of Sir From the heart of the city of London William, first saw the light in Pennthere sprang two large families that sylvania, on January 11, 1828. He bore the city's name, one of which grew up on a farm, receiving the edubranches was from Semitic seed, as cation attainable in small rural schools witness Meyer London, erstwhile So- nearly a century ago, while he learned cialist congressman, and many another the hard, practical way of agriculture in America; while in England one of at that early date. my correspondents is a Jewess whom He comes next into view, at the age I address as “Mrs. Jack London." of nineteen, as boss of a section gang
Of the Gentile group, the first person in the construction of a great railroad in my available record is Sir William system in Pennsylvania. One day, London, who foreswore allegiance to reporting at the big farm residence of Great Britain and betook himself to an official of the road, one Hugh America. Here, under General George Cavett, the latter being absent, his Washington, he fought valiantly for daughter Anna Jane took the message. his ideals, thereby sacrificing no mean Eyes and hands struck fire, and in two estates in the tight little island; for weeks the pair were married; for John these were promptly confiscated by London was a bonnie lad, six feet in his the jealous crown, and thereafter fig- homespun socks, square-shouldered, ured conspicuously in the mill of well-limbed, fine-skinned, with comely chancery. I can remember Jack Lon- hands and feet, and a wealth of soft, don saying, "One of my childhood wavy brown hair, one of Jack Lonrecollections is of mysterious sessions don's own physical characteristics. held by my mother and father, from "Finest head of hair I ever barbered," which I gathered that he had been old Barber Smith of San Francisco approached across the water by the declared of John's luxuriant mane London heirs to lend a hand in fight thirty years later. Like Jack's, John's
wide-set, gray-blue, dancing eyes and turned to and helped Anna Jane clear sweeping ways were not to be resisted up after them. In quite another setby mortal woman. What mattered it ting, half a century later, Jack London to him, when kind called to kind, that said to me: Anna Jane's father was his employer “When we are married, much as I and a rich man? He was the owner love an open house, if I cannot afford of profitable farm-lands, stockholder servants, we 'll live in tents, so there in the Wheeling Bridge property, and can't be any entertaining. No domesan investor in various other lucrative tic drudgery for wife of mine. It 's schemes that were bringing fortunes your life and my life, first. Our need to foreseeing men of Hugh Cavett's of each other lies in different ways type. Besides, over and above the than circumscribed domesticity.” love that drew the man and maid so Very congenial seem to have been quickly together, was not the comely John and Anna Jane. "No one ever girl John's very ideal of a capable saw Jane angry or disagreeable," reads country-house mistress?
the yellowed fragment of a letter, “nor
John London cross or harsh. He was § 4 always protecting some one.”
A rovAfter the wedding John London ing spirit characterized the London came to live for a time in the big house, strain, and Anna Jane appears to have where he began the founding of his been in nowise backward in aiding and own line, a generous contribution of abetting its development in her spouse.
. eleven olive-branches, some sprouting From the fact that she is not mentwin-buds, to the family tree. He was tioned in Hugh Cavett's will, and by absent frequently, sent out, I gather, other data, one is led to conclude that by his father-in-law on business con- he had settled her portion upon her nected with the railroad. If the elder before she and John presently went man was outraged at all by the forth- adventuring up through Wisconsin right methods of the young couple in with an eye for an abiding-place, matters matrimonial, evidently he thence drifting down to Illinois, where made the best of the situation and John's mother, a remarkable woman, advanced the unexpected son-in-law managed her own stock-farm. Five in line with his abilities. Moreover, sons she gave to the Civil War; meanthe sedately arriving yearly babies, while she continued to develop her beginning with Tom and Mary, could holdings. not fail to erase any last vestige of When John London enlisted in the their grandfather's possible pique. War of the Rebellion, it was from a
John London's lifelong gallantry is Missouri farm, and he, with one of his illustrated by a little incident that lungs out of action as the result of a took place upon his home-coming from combined siege of pneumonia and one of these trips. Finding his bride smallpox, left behind him Anna Jane overstrained by the housewifely labor with seven children. At the close of of entertaining for weeks a full com- the war, taking his family, he migrated plement of relatives, he expressed his to a quarter section of government solicitude by dismissing the whole land in Muscatine County, Iowa, near tribe, stating his reasons, and then the town of Moscow. When his wife was discovered with consumption, as two friends, Mr. and Mrs. Chase, John arranged affairs so that he could who, in return for their expenses to devote himself to her, and it fell in California, were to assume the care of with their mutual dreams to play at Charles and his two little sisters. gipsying. For two years they moved And John never again saw Iowa. over the prairies in a “schooner,” and Charles grew rapidly worse, and died during this time John came into pleas- eleven days after he looked upon his ant contact with the Pawnees, by first ocean. The widower disposed of
. whom he swore stoutly to his dying the farm, and with the proceeds estabday. “Play fair with an Indian,” lished himself in a contracting busihe held, "and you can trust him with ness in San Francisco. Meantime he anything, anywhere. It's wrong placed Eliza and Ida in the Protestant treatment that 's made sly devils Orphan Asylum on Haight Street, payof 'em.”
ing for their living and tuition. Eliza With the redskins this born out- London has always averred that the doors man hunted and trapped racoons period spent in the quaint, moss-grown and other prairie game, and in bee- stone home was the happiest of her hunting proved of keener sight than life, and with the tenaciousness of a the aborigines in following to its honey devoted nature she had soon fastened store the flight of a homing worker. her shy affection upon one of the Later, when the Indians were camping teachers. Next she came to nourish a near the farm, John branded his stock, fond hope that her beloved papa would and, unlike some of his neighbors, · share her own adoration for “teacher,” never lost a single head to any ma- and bring to his girls a new mother. rauder. Play the game squarely, was But she was doomed to secret sorrow his philosophy, and you stand to win. and tears, for papa, although never
blind to a pretty face and womanly § 5
traits, was even then under the influEarly in the seventies John London ence of a wholly different person. found himself bereft of his mate, and Many a smart beau of that winsome with an exceptionally large family to light-opera star of the long ago, Kate consider. One of the sons, Charles, Castleton, will smile with awakened had been injured playing our national memories to learn that a sweet friendgame, a ball catching him in the chest, ship existed between the lovable young and his father conceived a plan where singer and the big, quiet, long-bearded by he might leave the remaining man from the Middle West who had youngest folk-three of the eleven had such a way with him. But it was not died—temporarily with the older sis- she, and another ardent desire of the ters and willing neighbors, while he wee Eliza, who still wore a ring her struck out farther West in the hope of idol had sent her, went glimmering with benefiting the ailing boy. All was the first; for the lady of her father's satisfactorily worked out, when John second choice in life was not beautiful. weakened to the wailing of Eliza and And Eliza, who did not consider lovely Ida, hardly more than babies. At the her own small, expressive face, with last moment a rearrangement was ef- its deep-blue, black-lashed London fected that included the pair, as well eyes, worshiped beauty, and little