Archive for Jack London

JackLondonCredo500

This article concludes a series that studied the life of Jack London, and especially his display of the Ancient Greek concept of thumos.

We hope you enjoyed our ten-part series on the life and thumos of Jack London. I know we enjoyed researching and writing it. I’ve never found another man’s story so fascinating and compelling. I’ve learned a lot about Jack and still want to learn more! I’d love to someday make a pilgrimage out to London’s former home in Glen Ellen, California (which is now a state park). That a man’s thumos can continue to burn and touch people well beyond the grave is truly a testament to the power of this force of soul.

Pondering the life of Jack London brings up many deep and interesting questions. Is a man with such high-pitched thumos almost destined to burn out (it’s hard to imagine Jack as a 70-year-old man, isn’t it)? Is it better to burn out than fade out? Is burning out selfish (Jack after all left behind a widow and two daughters)? If you’re going to burn out, would it better to do so in a more glorious way than poisoning your body (an unofficial motto of the Navy SEALs is to “live fast, die hard, and leave a good-looking corpse”)? Is ignorance really bliss or is it possible to attain vast knowledge and still retain your ideals? Would you rather experience all London did and die at 40, or double your lifespan but live a much more staid and mediocre life?

Every man will have different answers to these questions. I can only tell you of several of the takeaways I’ve personally gotten from tracing the ups and downs of Jack London’s life and the arc of his thumos.

Do more and be more. When reading London’s biographies and books, something deep within me, a hunger for something more, is greatly stirred – I just want to get out and explore! Jack described this stirring in himself as a voice at the back of his consciousness –“a curiosity, desire to know, an unrest and a seeking for things wonderful that I seemed somehow to have glimpsed or guessed.” By harkening to this call, Jack had some pretty amazing adventures and was able to commit with superhuman discipline to self-education and honing his craft as a writer. But even he himself said the voice came in a whisper to him, and I think oftentimes we have a hard time hearing it – and answering it — in our own lives. I know I do. Responsibilities pile up, fear gets in the way, we rationalize away our dreams and desires as silly or impossible to fulfill, and content ourselves with the ordinary.

“Such has been for me the best education in the world, and I look for it more and more. Man must have better men to measure himself against, else his advance will be nil, or if at all, one-sided and whimsical.” – Jack London

I know I’ll never be one-tenth as cool as Jack London – he was a one-of-a-kind character even in his own time – and his life honestly makes me feel pretty boring and inadequate! But in the best possible way. Measuring yourself against someone great doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily ever reach their level, but it can inspire you do better in your own place in the world – to make the most of whatever situation you are in. Jack London inspires me to read more, to work harder, and to figure out how I – a dad with plenty of obligations — can add more adventure to my own life.

Keep challenging yourself. London found that reaching the heights of success felt empty; his real joy came in the midst of his adventures and the godlike act of creating. His life really demonstrated to me how the journey and struggle is far more satisfying than the destination. Yeah, sounds like a bumper sticker, I know, but it’s truth. The recognition, fame, and money you get from reaching a high achievement does not bring lasting fulfillment. The reward is really in the striving – in the satisfaction that comes with stretching your mental and physical abilities to their limit, in having experiences that expand your soul, and in sensing yourself transform into a better man. Once you finish one challenge, you have to find a new one – even if it’s of a much different variety than the last.

Keep pushing. Like many success stories, London’s hardly moved in a straight line. He’d be stuck working in a factory, and then have a seemingly life-changing adventure, and then be back working at a factory, and then off on another adventure, only to return to the assembly-line once again. He received tons of rejections before magazines and publishers accepted his writing. But he always saw these setbacks as temporary. Instead of being discouraged, he kept looking for new opportunities and constantly worked to improve himself until he finally took off once and for all.

Take time to recharge. Another thing I gleaned from Jack is a greater understanding of the fact that while the white horse of thumos can certainly lead to greatness and success, if driven too hard and for too long, you risk weakening it and letting the dark horse of your appetites take control. I’m a huge proponent of working like hell to reach your goals and find success, and I’m happy when I’m hustling. But I have a really hard time knocking off and taking time to recharge – there’s no clear quitting time or hours at this kind of job and I could keep at it 24/7 if I wanted. Boy, did Jack and Charmian’s last conversation hit too close to home for me. Jack showed me that such a full-speed-ahead approach may work in the short-term, but you’ve got to pace yourself if you want to stick with something for the long haul. It’s all about the 20-Mile March!  

Hold onto your ideals. As Jack got older, he lost faith in the ideals that had fired his youth and animated his spirit. He felt that he knew too much, and by the end of his life he had become hollow and jaded. I do think that the more educated you become, the harder it gets not to fall victim to a deeply cynical outlook about people and life. Cynicism is like a cancer that starts small and then spreads to devour every bit of awe and sparkle and magic threaded throughout our existence. But I do think it’s possible to hold onto your ideals without burying your head in the sand. And not simply possible, but necessary. Every man needs a purpose – a set of beliefs rooted in his very core that he can full-throatily, wholeheartedly endorse – without apology, or wink, wink irony, or an endless list of caveats.

Heeding the seasons of thumos. One of the most interesting things to come out of studying Jack London’s life was reflecting on the way the “lifecycle” of thumos really mirrors that of the development of the brain.

A few months ago we did a two-part series on the importance of not wasting your twenties. We first talked about the unique powers and opportunities of the twentysomething brain, which include a propensity for deep passion, a keen curiosity about others and the world, and fearlessness in the face of risk (remind you of anything?). We explored the way these propensities mellow as your brain finishes developing and “setting up” in your mid-twenties, but explained that while your intensity dims, you become better able to plan, make decisions, process probability, set goals, and handle uncertainty. As you move into your thirties, the passionate part of your brain mellows while its executive functions strengthen.

That series has come to mind frequently as I’ve studied thumos and Jack London’s life, and it seems to me that the development of the brain and the nature of thumos are connected. The latter may not solely be a philosophical, metaphysical concept, but a neurological one as well. Just as your brain has seasons, your thumos does too, and it’s important to understand and take advantage of those seasons in their proper time. What we said about the brain is that it develops in such a way that the twenties are the ideal time for launching your passions, while the subsequent decades are best for then building what you launched. Or another way of looking at it is to say that the elements of drive, fight, and emotion of thumos are pitched highest in your youth, while its elements of decision-making, judgment, and steadfastness emerge more strongly as you age. The different elements of thumos come to the forefront at different times in your life, and they emerge precisely when you need them most.

The ancient Greeks recognized these different seasons of  a man’s thumos. They associated thumos most strongly with youth, but felt it operated throughout a man’s life. A perfect example of the different seasons of thumos can be seen in comparing Achilles in the Iliad and Odysseus in the Odyssey. Achilles was a young man, probably no older than 18 or 19, and was filled with fierce thumic anger and drive. He sought glory and honor above all else. And he got it. He just had to die in the prime of his life to obtain it.

Odysseus, on the other hand, was older. He had a family and kingdom back at home waiting for him. He didn’t care as much about glory as he did about getting back to his beloved Ithaca alive. Odysseus still had thumos; it just didn’t burn as white-hot as Achilles’, and he used it in a different way. It was with his thumic cunning and wiles that he was able to make wise decisions, outwit his foes, and return home to live a long and peaceful life.

If you were to ask me whom I identified with more 10 years ago, I would have told you Achilles. I was fiercely driven to reach my goals and become a success. But now that I’m 30, and have a family and a mortgage, I find myself relating to the man of many wiles more and more. My passion and drive for success have dimmed, while my desire to be a wise steward over what I have already gained has grown.

First a man becomes a warrior; then, if he survives the battle, he becomes a king. First thumos drives one to conquer, then it aids him in managing and growing what he has attained. Thumos is needed in each season, but in different ways.

I don’t think Jack London understood this. Or if he did understand it, he didn’t accept it. He kept flogging the drive component of this thumos that had pushed him to success in his twenties, well into his thirties, but to increasingly diminished returns. And he neglected to harness and train the wise decision-making and judgment elements of his thumos, letting what he had already gained slip away. His thumos was operating out of season – failing to harvest in the fall and planting fruitless seeds in the winter. He had thrived as the warrior, but could not transition into being the king.

Be a man. Manliness can be tough to define. But boy, we sure know it when we see it. It’s something easier to feel than to articulate. Despite his flaws, Jack London’s manliness leapt off every page he wrote, and that others wrote about him, with palpable force. Simply learning about him makes me want to be more of a man. Would we all be so privileged as to receive the kind of succinct tribute an old sourdough offered to London upon his death:

“I loved the man because—because he was a man; By the Turtles of Tasman, He was a man!”

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Farewell, Jack. Thanks for everything.

We’d like to end this series with our favorite piece of Jack’s writing, the one that perhaps best sums up the feeling of thumos that blazed through his life.

The selection comes from London’s fictional novel, The Iron Heel, published in 1908. The narrator, Avis Everhard, describes her husband Ernest, and shares his favorite poem, one which speaks to the infinite power and potential of man and the desire to live life to the fullest:

But he had pride. How could he have been an eagle and not have pride? His contention was that it was finer for a finite mortal speck of life to feel Godlike, than for a god to feel godlike; and so it was that he exalted what he deemed his mortality. He was fond of quoting a fragment from a certain poem. He had never seen the whole poem, and he had tried vainly to learn its authorship. I here give the fragment, not alone because he loved it, but because it epitomized the paradox that he was in the spirit of him, and his conception of his spirit. For how can a man, with thrilling, and burning, and exaltation, recite the following and still be mere mortal earth, a bit of fugitive force, an evanescent form? Here it is:

Joy upon joy and gain upon gain
Are the destined rights of my birth,
And I shout the praise of my endless days
To the echoing edge of the earth.
Though I suffer all deaths that a man can die
To the uttermost end of time,
I have deep-drained this, my cup of bliss,
In every age and clime—

The froth of Pride, the tang of Power,
The sweet of Womanhood!
I drain the lees upon my knees,
For oh, the draught is good;
I drink to Life, I drink to Death,
And smack my lips with song,
For when I die, another ‘I’ shall pass the cup along.

The man you drove from Eden’s grove
Was I, my Lord, was I,
And I shall be there when the earth and the air
Are rent from sea to sky;
For it is my world, my gorgeous world,
The world of my dearest woes,
From the first faint cry of the newborn
To the rack of the woman’s throes.

Packed with the pulse of an unborn race,
Torn with a world’s desire,
The surging flood of my wild young blood
Would quench the judgment fire.
I am Man, Man, Man, from the tingling flesh
To the dust of my earthly goal,
From the nestling gloom of the pregnant womb
To the sheen of my naked soul.
Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh
The whole world leaps to my will,
And the unslaked thirst of an Eden cursed
Shall harrow the earth for its fill.
Almighty God, when I drain life’s glass
Of all its rainbow gleams,
The hapless plight of eternal night
Shall be none too long for my dreams.

The man you drove from Eden’s grove
Was I, my Lord, was I,
And I shall be there when the earth and the air
Are rent from sea to sky;
For it is my world, my gorgeous world,
The world of my dear delight,
From the brightest gleam of the Arctic stream
To the dusk of my own love-night.

What did you take from learning about the life of Jack London? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Read the Entire Jack London Series:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Boyhood
Part 3: Oyster Pirate
Part 4: Pacific Voyage
Part 5: On the Road
Part 6: Back to School
Part 7: Into the Klondike
Part 8: Success at Last
Part 9: The Long Sickness
Part 10: Ashes
Part 11: Conclusion

JackLondonCredo500

This article is part of a series that studies the life of Jack London, and especially his display of the Ancient Greek concept of thumos.

Jack London might have lived a long and happy life – living comfortably off the fruits of his literary achievements, devoting himself to making his ranch a success, writing new works only when and if he felt like it, enjoying his family and friends, and continuing to travel the world. But the desires of his appetites — his dark horse — would keep this kind of healthy, balanced future ever out of reach.

Forever in the Hole

Jack did not become a writer because it was his great passion, but simply because he wanted to do something creative in his work, and writing provided such an outlet along with the financial independence he sought. It was a means to an end, and while he wasn’t a slave to those means, he struggled with managing the ends:

“I am writing for money…More money means more life to me. I shall always hate the task of getting money…I’d sooner be out in the open wandering around most any old place. So the habit of money-getting will never become one of my vices. But the habit of money spending, ah God, I shall always be its victim.”

There was almost no time in Jack London’s life when he was not in debt, although this was not entirely due to profligate spending habits. Throughout his life he had felt duty-bound to take care of his family members, and his acquaintances as well. He supported his mother, his old wet nurse Mammie Jenny and her family, his nephew who had been abandoned by his stepsister, his ex-wife, and their two daughters, as well as Charmian and himself. Beauty Ranch also became a weigh station for every tramp and old sailor London had ever crossed paths with in his youth. Jack was known for his generous heart and hospitable spirit, and he welcomed all visitors with a night’s stay, a hot meal, and a few dollars in their pocket before they headed on their way. And then there were the letters anyone who reaches prominent success receives by the bucketful – requests for money for this or that cause or charity or need. London almost never turned such requests down.

But on top of these allocations of his funds, Jack also enjoyed blowing cash on all the good things in life. After a childhood of just getting by, it gave him great satisfaction to purchase the very best, top of the line version of everything from boxing gloves to saddles. He sunk literal boatloads of money into the yacht he intended to sail around the world, hiring a completely inept building manager for its construction who ended up making everything cost several times as much as it should have. He enlarged his ranch, buying up more land and expanding into different operations, even though the ones already started had yet to become profitable. Then there was the construction of what Jack hoped to be the centerpiece of the ranch — a 4-story, 2-million dollar, 15,000-square foot stone mansion: Wolf House. Designed to have the feel of a large cabin or lodge, the gem of the house for Jack was to be his large study that was set off from the rest of the house – a retreat where he could write undisturbed. Below it, connected by a spiral staircase, would sit the realization of Jack’s boyhood dream: a large library where he could store his massive collection of books.

Jack swelled with pride and excitement as he watched the Wolf House take shape each day. But paying the bills for it, along with the rest of his debts, was a constant scramble. He frequently wired his publisher in New York, pleading for an advance on his next book.

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To keep himself from getting too far into the hole, London had to constantly be generating income by writing new manuscripts. While writing had always been a commercial venture for him, it increasingly became a chore of bare necessity, as he turned out pot-boilers and hackwork he hoped would quickly sell. The drive of his thumos deserved a rest, but he was forced to keep flogging his white horse day after day, pushing it to continually produce. For a decade his fiery thumos had been game for such unrelenting effort, but the ceaseless toil began to take a grave toll.

A Spiritedness Extinguished

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In Plato’s allegory of the chariot, thumos acts as the seat of a man’s emotions and his lofty, noble ideals, and it is the source of feelings of delight and awe. Thumos and Reason are supposed to work together – intellect tempered with passion – to help a man progress through life. But as Jack’s white horse slowed to an exhausted trot, his Reason began to operate in isolation without this needed counterbalance.

There are some people who can plumb the very depths of knowledge and experience much of what the world has to offer and still hold onto their ideals, and others who find that such study and horizon-broadening makes them cynical and jaded. Jack was one of the latter. “I burned my fingers that time I clutched at the veils of Truth and rent them from her,” he said. Having been introduced to the stark realism of Nietzsche, Spencer, and Darwin in his youth, and read many more works of science and philosophy through the years, a view of life as strictly biological – a matter of primitive survival of the fittest – had come to dominate his worldview.

During his “Long Sickness,” Jack came to see his youthful ideals – belief in the desirability of recognition, the power of dreams and goals, the nobleness of sacrifice and altruism, the ineffable beauty of art and culture, the special nature of human love, and so on – as simply “fond illusions” that “keep the world spinning round.” These illusions — the Good, the Just, the Beautiful – Truths of the capital-letter variety that Plato championed – were irrational, false facades, veils of pretense used by modern civilization to hide the bald biological reality of existence. Such illusions were clung to by sentimentalists who believed in the immortality of the soul and a world of meaning; they were too cowardly to face the fact that there were no “higher” aims or morals, and that humans were just animals that operated solely from self-interest.

Jack could even admit that his beloved socialism was an illusion like all the rest. Yet at first he chose to hold onto it, and other “illusions” too, deciding he’d keep on believing in them anyway; he “knew the illusions were right” and that their uplifting effect on his outlook and attitude had helped pull him out of his Long Sickness. But holding onto ideals while at the same time conceding that they are in fact illusions is an effort that cannot long be sustained. As London lost his grip on his ideals, he came to agree more and more with his Sea-Wolf, who argued that life is “piggishness”:

“I believe that life is a mess,…It is like yeast, a ferment, a thing that moves and may move for a minute, an hour, a year, or a hundred years, but that in the end will cease to move. The big eat the little that they may continue to move, the strong eat the weak that they may retain their strength. The lucky eat the most and move the longest, that is all. What do you make of those things?” He swept his arm in an impatient gesture toward a number of the sailors who were working on some kind of rope stuff amidships. “They move; so does the jellyfish move. They move in order to eat in order that they may keep moving. There you have it. They live for their belly’s sake, and the belly is for their sake. It’s a circle; you get nowhere. Neither do they. In the end they come to a standstill. They move no more. They are dead.”

As Jack got older and his Reason increasingly trumped his ideals, he tried to keep his reading and studying to lighter subjects, in hopes it would alleviate his cynicism, or at least not deepen it:

“I pursued Truth less relentlessly, refraining from tearing her last veils aside even when I clutched them in my hand. I no longer cared to look upon Truth naked. I refused to permit myself to see a second time what I had once seen. And the memory of what I had that time seen I resolutely blotted from my mind.”

But hiding from knowledge could not be the answer and the cat could not be put back in the bag; the spiritedness and burning curiosity of Jack’s youth were gone.

Enter Stage Left: John Barleycorn

Jack had drank on and off throughout his life, taking part when fraternizing with other men on the “adventure path,” but feeling no need for it, and actually rather enjoying its absence, when it was unavailable, such as aboard the Sophie Sutherland or through the long Klondike winter. And he felt no urge to drink during the times when he was driving towards a new goal and glorying in the challenge of studying and writing. Of such periods he said: “I possessed too many fine faiths, was living at too keen a pitch… alcohol could not give me the fervors that were mine from ideas and ideals.”

But as Jack’s ideals and thumos faded, and his spirits flagged, John Barleycorn took hold of the reins of his dark horse and urged her on. His first move was to present himself as an antidote to Jack’s boredom in social situations, which had begun to be quite painful and acute as a result of his jadedness about life in general:

“I had climbed too high among the stars, or, maybe, I had slept too hard. Yet I was not hysterical nor in any way overwrought…I was merely bored. I had seen the same show too often, listened too often to the same songs and the same jokes. I knew too much about the box-office receipts. I knew the cogs of the machinery behind the scenes so well, that the posing on the stage, and the laughter and the song, could not drown the creaking of the wheels behind.

When I was in company I was less pleased, less excited, with the things said and done. Erstwhile worth-while fun and stunts seemed no longer worth while; and it was a torment to listen to the insipidities and stupidities of women, to the pompous, arrogant sayings of the little half-baked men. It is the penalty one pays for reading the books too much, or for being oneself a fool. In my case it does not matter which was my trouble. The trouble itself was the fact. The condition of the fact was mine. For me the life, and light, and sparkle of human intercourse were dwindling.”

Jack saw no solution outside the bottle: “And now we begin to come to it. How to face social intercourse with the glamour gone? John Barleycorn!” Alcohol helped him enjoy himself more and act as a pleasing host and guest.

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For a time, Jack’s drinking was limited to social situations, but his mind eventually made a leap: if John Barleycorn could heighten his enjoyment of parties and dinners, why not let it heighten his happiness in other areas as well? He recounts this heartbreaking turning point:

“I remember one day Charmian and I took a long ride over the mountains on our horses. The servants had been dismissed for the day, and we returned late at night to a jolly chafing-dish supper. Oh, it was good to be alive that night while the supper was preparing, the two of us alone in the kitchen. I, personally, was at the top of life. Such things as the books and ultimate truth did not exist. My body was gloriously healthy, and healthily tired from the long ride. It had been a splendid day. The night was splendid. I was with the woman who was my mate, picnicking in gleeful abandon. I had no troubles. The bills were all paid, and a surplus of money was rolling in on me. The future ever widened before me. And right there, in the kitchen, delicious things bubbled in the chafing dish, our laughter bubbled, and my stomach was keen with a most delicious edge of appetite.

I felt so good, that somehow, somewhere, in me arose an insatiable greed to feel better. I was so happy that I wanted to pitch my happiness even higher. And I knew the way. Ten thousand contacts with John Barleycorn had taught me. Several times I wandered out of the kitchen to the cocktail bottle, and each time I left it diminished by one man’s size cocktail. The result was splendid. I wasn’t jingled, I wasn’t lighted up; but I was warmed, I glowed, my happiness was pyramided. Munificent as life was to me, I added to that munificence. It was a great hour —one of my greatest. But I paid for it, long afterwards, as you shall see. One does not forget such experiences, and, in human stupidity, cannot be brought to realize that there is no immutable law which decrees that same things shall produce same results. For they don’t, else would the thousandth pipe of opium be provocative of similar delights to the first, else would one cocktail, instead of several, produce an equivalent glow after a year of cocktails.”

At first London limited his drinking to his leisure time, keeping his mornings when he worked and wrote soberly sacrosanct. But then he began to enjoy a drink during his writing sessions, and soon felt the need for a cocktail right after waking up.  It wasn’t long before he was drinking all the time. London was unhappy with his intensifying need for alcohol and the rising strength of his dark horse. He knew that despite the illusions of happiness and high living alcohol provided him, there would be a steep price to pay:

“This is not a world of free freights. One pays according to an iron schedule–for every strength the balanced weakness; for every high a corresponding low; for every fictitious god-like moment an equivalent time in reptilian slime. For every feat of telescoping long days and weeks of life into mad magnificent instants, one must pay with shortened life, and, oft-times, with savage usury added.”

Jack would argue with the “White Logic” – the mollifying voice alcohol produced in his head — trying to fight against its enticements:

“I know you for what you are, and I am unafraid. Under your mask of hedonism you are yourself the Noseless One and your way leads to the Night. Hedonism has no meaning. It, too, is a lie, at best the coward’s smug compromise.”

Yet the Noseless One – death — continued to win out.

A Superman Falls to Earth

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In Jack’s late thirties, he suffered a streak of terrible luck. He and Charmian tried for a child together; their first died just a few hours after it was born, the second ended in a miscarriage. His ranch was damaged by weather and insects. He suffered an appendicitis. And in a singularly horrible twist of fate, his magnificent, newly finished Wolf House – which had been two years in the making — burned to the ground just days before he and Charmian were set to move in. London bore of all these setbacks stoically. But each one further broke his spirit.

London’s physical health deteriorated as well. By age 37, the strong, ready-for-anything body of his youth of which he had taken so much pride had become bloated and creaky – old before its time. His formerly fit waistline had expanded, his joints ached from rheumatism, and he was stricken with uremia – kidney failure. Doctors pleaded with him to change his habits, but he refused to alter course. He continued to chain-smoke 60 Russian Imperials a day, gorge himself daily on two nearly raw ducks (his favorite meal), and enjoy the regular company of John Barleycorn. He was constantly fatigued and in pain, and when kidney stones arose to deepen his suffering, he added morphine to his arsenal of self-medications.

As London approached forty, his dark horse had taken command of his soul, and his defeated white horse had fallen back. In his youth, thumos had led the way, propelling him on unforgettable adventures and to the heights of success, while pulling his appetites into line with its stride.  Now it was the dark horse that was in control — the white horse that was forced to do its bidding. Jack’s appetites urged him to spend beyond his means, which compelled him to constantly write to generate income, and pushed an already exhausted thumos to the point of collapse. Without the strength of thumos motivating him towards exploration and noble aims, the dark horse’s desires for the short-term numbness and pleasures of drink and drug took center stage. Meanwhile, stripped of thumos’ companionship, Jack’s Reason operated in isolation – ever turning back on its own thoughts, and failing to pay attention to and rein in the dark horse’s impulses. Jack’s chariot, which had once flown so high, became disastrously unbalanced, and plummeted to earth.

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Charmian recounts their last conversation on the night Jack died:

“He picked up two wooden box-trays of reading matter that he had brought with him, and lifted them to the table on which stood his almost untasted supper.

‘Look,’ he said, his voice low and lifeless, ‘see what I’ve got to read to-night.’

‘But you don’t have to do it, mate,’ I said, trying to stir his spirit. ‘Always remember that you make all this work and overwork for yourself, and it must be because you choose to do it rather than to rest. My ancient argument, you know!’

There followed a colloquy upon relative values, and then he stood up abruptly, came around the small table, and flung himself on the couch into my arms.

‘Mate-Woman, Mate-Woman, you’re all I’ve got, the last straw for me to cling to, my last bribe for living. You know. I have told you before. You must understand. If you don’t understand, I’m lost. You’re all I’ve got.’

‘I do understand,’ I cried. ‘I understand that there’s too much for you to do, and that you’re straining too hard to get it done. Are you so bound on the wheel that you cannot ease up a little, both working and thinking? You are going too fast. You are too aware. And you are ill. Something will snap if you don’t pull up. You are tired, perilously tired, tired almost to death. What shall we do? We can’t go on this way!’

The green shade was well down over his face, and I could not see his eyes. But the corners of his mouth drooped pathetically. Poor lad, my poor boy—he was, indeed, tired to death.”

Jack London never woke up from his sleep that night and died on November 22, 1916. He was 40 years old. A popular myth developed that London committed suicide. In truth, no one will ever really know what killed him. The doctor who examined him put “uremia” on the death certificate as the cause of death. A morphine overdose may have contributed to, or caused his death, but whether it was intentional or accidental is again impossible to say. Some scholars even think it was in fact lupus that did him in.

Having studied and wrote of the man intensely for the last few months, I do not personally think he killed himself. Yet he was not anxious about holding onto life either, and deliberately prolonging it was not a priority. This was, after all, the man who said he’d “rather be ashes than dust.” He told Charmian he wanted to live to be 100, but he had never been scared of death and would not have likely bemoaned his early demise. For someone who had pushed himself so hard in life, he saw death as a “sweet rest,” telling Charmian: “Think of it!—to rest forever! I promise you that whensoever and wheresoever Death comes to meet me, I shall greet Death with a smile.”

Read the Entire Jack London Series:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Boyhood
Part 3: Oyster Pirate
Part 4: Pacific Voyage
Part 5: On the Road
Part 6: Back to School
Part 7: Into the Klondike
Part 8: Success at Last
Part 9: The Long Sickness
Part 10: Ashes
Part 11: Conclusion

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Sources:

Wolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L. Haley 

Jack London: A Life by Alex Kershaw

The Book of Jack London, Volumes 1 & 2 by Charmian London (free in the public domain)

Complete Works of Jack London (all of London’s works are available free in the public domain, or you can download his hundreds of writings all in one place for $3, which is just plain awesome)

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Jack London followed up the resounding success of The Call of the Wild with two more popular novels: The Sea-Wolf and White Fang. He continued to publish numerous short stories, articles, essays, and poems in magazines across the country as well. Now thirty years old, he was the highest paid writer in the country and a national celebrity. All the rich and famous, the movers and shakers, wanted to meet him, to dine with him, to have him attend their parties.

As Jack rubbed shoulders with society’s upper crust – ladies and gentlemen who would not have even looked in his direction just a few years before — he expected to feel elation. Everything he had worked for was finally his. Yet what he experienced instead was utter emptiness. He looked around and saw only “sycophants, well-dressed, well-mannered and glib.” He had thought that rising to the top of his profession would fulfill that aching for greatness that had been urging him on since boyhood. But he realized, with a rising sense of panic, that fame and recognition did not satisfy:

“The things I had fought for and burned my midnight oil for had failed me. Success — I despised it. Recognition — I was appalled by their unlovely mental mediocrity. Love of woman — it was like all the rest. Money — I could only sleep in one bed at a time, and of what worth an income of a hundred porterhouses a day when I could eat only one?”

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Jack London had come to a realization experienced by many who spend years focusing all their energies on a singular goal: the climb can be far more satisfying than the summit itself. Astronauts and Olympic athletes often become depressed after they return from space or win a medal. After devoting years of their life to reaching that achievement, they are then faced with a new challenge: navigating a featureless landscape and the yawning question of “What now?” So it was with London. He fell into a dark depression, which he termed his “Long Sickness.” For the first time in this vital man’s life, the world felt repulsively hollow. And while his thoughts did not turn to John Barleycorn as a solution to his gnawing emptiness during this time, he obsessed about something far more serious: “my revolver, the crashing eternal darkness of a bullet.”

Four things would ultimately pull Jack out of his Long Sickness: his passion for Socialism, the land, physical exercise, and his soulmate.

Recovering from the Long Sickness

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Of the all the ideals Jack had once held in his youth, only his socialist political views continued to burn within him:

“It can be seen how very sick I was. I was born a fighter. The things I had fought for had proved not worth the fight. Remained the People. My fight was finished, yet something was left still to fight for—the People…the People saved me. By the People was I handcuffed to life. There was still one fight left in me, and here was the thing for which to fight.”

Jack threw himself with “fiercer zeal into the fight for socialism,” passionately stumping for it in speeches and in his writing. Although his publishers warned him that his rhetoric was a turn-off to a large segment of the population, and would cost him a good deal of money (perhaps in the hundreds of thousands of dollars), Jack persisted in crusading for his beloved cause. Doing so helped him maintain a sense of purpose and provided an outlet with which to keep the embers of his thumos smoldering.

Even more beneficial, however, was finding the next great challenge of his life: ranching. Thumos is not designed to run full throttle day in and day out, but rather to gallop along steadily, waiting to be called up to full service in certain seasons when all of its energy, fight, and drive are needed. To recover from such taxing seasons, men throughout history have found it wise to give their thumos some pasturage – quite literally — by turning to the land and to nature. Think of Cincinnatus returning to the plow he had left behind after being summoned from his farm to don his senatorial toga and then successfully leading the Romans in battle. Or George Washington’s desire to leave public life behind and retire to Mount Vernon after commanding the Continental Army. Even modern day soldiers have found nature to be an effective curative in healing the trauma of war. Working the land can be restorative for a man’s spirit, while at the same time offering him the challenge of pitting himself against the elements of nature. It allows him to exercise his thumos, but to do so in a steady, calming way that doesn’t exhaust it in the same way that human battles do, and brings satisfactions different than the honor and awards of the civilized world.

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Jack and his pigs at Beauty Ranch.

London had been relentlessly driving the white horse of his thumos towards success for nearly a decade. It was tired and so was he. He was also drained by the strain of being in the public eye and dealing with the constant criticism of his work and personal life. He “grew tired of cities and people” and being surrounded by what increasingly felt like the grating superficialities of modern life. Jack called the city a “man trap,” and all he wanted “was a quiet place in the country to write and loaf in and get out of Nature that something which we all need, only the most of us don’t know it.” So in 1903 Jack bought 1,000 acres of land in Sonoma Valley – his Beauty Ranch. As Charmian put it, because of his “disheartenment with human beings, both in the mass and as individuals in the main, he turned to the soil to save himself.” London intended to create a true working ranch and successful business enterprise. He planned for stands of eucalyptus trees, a giant barn, a blacksmith shop, two grain silos, and a pig enclosure for herds of swine. As his biographer put it, Jack was “always at his best when setting himself seemingly impossible tasks,” and “he threw himself body and soul at this new challenge.” “I am trying to master this soil and the crops and animals that spring from it,” Jack said himself, “as I strove to master the sea, the men, and women, and the books, and all the face of life that I could stamp with my ‘will to do.'”

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Jack looks over the Valley of the Moon at his ranch in Glen Ellen, California.

In addition to the exercise he got managing his ranch, London also found that bouts of purposeful physical activity of all sorts lifted his spirits greatly. He took joy in riding horseback over his land, hiking over its hills, and swimming in its watering holes. He boxed, and fenced, and shot guns. He practiced diving — working on his forward and backwards somersaults, walked on his hands to strengthen his arm muscles, and rode his bike out into the countryside. With his good friends, he tramped through the woods, roughhoused, and flew kites. At night they would sit around the campfire reading and talking, and would then fall asleep under the stars. He bought a stout sloop, The Spray, and would spend weeks living aboard the boat and sailing around the bay. Jack wrote to a friend about his new regimen: “It is Voltaire, I believe, who said: ‘The body of an athlete and the soul of a sage; that is happiness.’”

If fighting for socialism, working the land, and getting out and exercising, began his “convalescence” from depression, it took “the love of woman to complete the cure and lull my pessimism asleep for many a long day.”

The Final Piece to His Happiness: Jacks Meets His Mate-Woman

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Jack and Charmian

Jack believed that were two types of females: Mother-Woman and Mate-Woman. The former was pure, sweet, and domestic – well-suited to raising children. The latter was strong, clever, lusty, and full of life – the kind of woman London could see partnering up with primal man in the primitive days of yore.

Jack’s first wife was a Mother-Woman. When he was 24 and his writing career was just beginning to take off, he tied the knot with Bess Maddern. When it comes to successfully guiding the chariot of one’s soul, the charioteer should let reason guide his thumos, which is the seat of love and emotion. But reason shouldn’t entirely usurp the role of the white horse. Young Jack had gotten the idea into his head that love was too unstable an emotion on which to build a marriage, and that a man should take a wife on purely rational grounds. He felt the restraint of marriage would add further steadiness to the life of discipline he was creating for himself at the time and would make him a more “wholesome” man. Jack did not love Bess, and she did not love him, and both openly acknowledged that fact. They liked each other well enough, he thought Bess would be a good mother, and he figured those two things would form a sufficient enough foundation for a lifetime of marital happiness.

Jack and Bess conceived two daughters together but it did not take long for London to realize he had made a big mistake. She was indeed the doting mother he had imagined, but she had no time or interest in anything outside of their children – Jack’s ideas, hobbies, friends, and, most dishearteningly, his sexual advances. Jack was a highly virile man who had enjoyed many a fling in his youth and scoffed at what he felt were society’s overly prudish views of sex. But Bess was not interested in sexual exploration or even basic intercourse, which even within the bounds of marriage she saw as debase. Sex was thus a rarity for the couple. Jack described Bess to friends as “a gossip, mean-spirited, and cold as the Klondike,” and felt as though he were suffocating in the relationship.

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Jack and Charmian sit on the yacht they were building in hopes of sailing it around the world.

As Jack’s marriage to Bess dissolved, he met his perfect match, his Mate-Woman: Charmian Kittredge. Charmian worked independently as a stenographer, and was everything Bessie, and most other women of the day, was not. Her contemporaries described her as unattractive, but Jack was smitten with this woman who was able to keep up with his need for physical and intellectual stimulation. Charmian was sexually uninhibited, far from demure, and would not get hysterical when things took a turn for the dangerous or the simply annoying. As such, she made the perfect travel partner and adventure companion. She sailed, hiked, rode horses, and even boxed with Jack throughout their marriage. She was well-read and well-educated and became his helpmate professionally – transcribing and editing his writings. In his Mate-Woman, Jack found “a rare soul…who never bored me and who was always a source of new and unending surprise and delight.”

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Jack and his Mate-Woman plan their voyage.

Plato believed that communion with one’s lover was essential to growing back the wings of your horses when your chariot had fallen to earth, and it was Charmian that at last pulled Jack out of his Long Sickness. Together they found new ways to satisfy London’s hunger for adventure and challenge. In 1907, they took off in a yacht on what they hoped to be a seven-year voyage around the world. Jack wished to get away from public life altogether, and to test himself again in a new endeavor. He taught himself navigation and piloted the yacht on the open water to Hawaii, the Solomon and Marquesas Islands and several small islands in between, where they encountered primitive and even cannibalistic tribes. Unfortunately, because of an incredibly severe sunburn Jack developed in Hawaii, when he discovered the new sport of surfing and obsessively rode the waves until burnt to a crisp, and an equally severe case of psoriasis that swelled his hands to twice their size, the couple had to cut their voyage short. Jack recuperated in Australia, and then he and Charmian sailed back home, arriving two years after they had shipped out.

In 1912, three years after returning from their last big adventure, Jack and Charmian signed on as crew to one of the last remaining tall ships sailing the ocean which was carrying cargo on a five-month journey from New York, around Cape Horn at the tip of South America, and finally up to Seattle. Together the couple worked, talked, read (Jack brought along 50 books), and made love. Jack spent much time in the high perch of the mizzen-top mast, reflecting on life. In the mornings he wrote his 1,000 words and Charmian typed them up.

london and charmian on snark

Ranching, loving, and adventuring, London remembered these times as ‘”far and away” the happiest of his life. “Life went well with me,” he said. “I took delight in little things. The big things I declined to take too seriously.”

But it was not, sadly, a happiness that would last. Despite his efforts to pull out of his depression, Jack’s balanced hold on his thumos and his appetites would remain tenuous. He would soon lose his grip on them, leading to an ascension in power of his dark horse, a tragic imbalance in the forces of his soul, and an early demise.

Read the Entire Jack London Series:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Boyhood
Part 3: Oyster Pirate
Part 4: Pacific Voyage
Part 5: On the Road
Part 6: Back to School
Part 7: Into the Klondike
Part 8: Success at Last
Part 9: The Long Sickness
Part 10: Ashes
Part 11: Conclusion

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Sources:

Wolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L. Haley 

Jack London: A Life by Alex Kershaw

The Book of Jack London, Volumes 1 & 2 by Charmian London (free in the public domain)

Complete Works of Jack London (all of London’s works are available free in the public domain, or you can download his hundreds of writings all in one place for $3, which is just plain awesome)

 

 

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This article is part of a series that studies the life of Jack London, and especially his display of the Ancient Greek concept of thumos.

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.” –Jack London, The Call of the Wild

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Jack London’s most popular novel, The Call of the Wild, is a tale of a domesticated dog, Buck, who is thrust into the wilderness. He is forced to learn the brutal rules of a new world and how to mush mightily in front of a dogsled, and eventually breaks away to become the leader of a wild wolf pack. Jack said it was a story of “the dominant primordial beast,” and as such it is his story as well. Like Buck, Jack would pass through a crucible of difficulty, learn to thrive and delight in the harness of discipline, and harken to the deep-seated call to become the best of the best. He would outwork everyone else to earn a position at the head of the pack through skill and prowess and fight.

Jack’s fight began soon after he returned from the Klondike. After months of sitting in the “White Silence” of the Great North, pondering what he wanted out of life, he had returned home committed to either becoming a writer or perishing in the attempt.

Forging a Life of Discipline

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London sat down at his desk, pulled out his old typewriter, and resumed the life of iron-clad discipline he had embraced while studying for his collegiate entrance exams, which, if you’ll remember, consisted of 5am wake-up calls and 19-hours of daily toil.

Though he had been living in the wilderness for the last year, Jack did not chafe at returning to being holed up in a room from sunup to sundown. One of the things London’s friends marveled at was this great dichotomy of his character – how he could take his unfettered spirit, his fierce thumos, and channel it at will into a rigidly disciplined, unwavering drive for success. As his friend Anna Strunksy put it:

“His standard of life was high. He for one would have the happiness of power, of genius, of love, and the vast comforts and ease of wealth. Napoleon and Nietzsche had a part in him…and it was by the force of his Napoleonic temperament that he conceived the idea of incredible success, and had the will to achieve it. Sensitive and emotional as his nature was, he forbade himself any deviation from the course that would lead him to his goal. He systematized his life. Such colossal energy, and yet…He lived by rule. Law, Order and Restraint was the creed of this vital, passionate youth.”

Yet while London was an ardent “disciple of regular work,” this did not mean that such self-mastery came naturally to him. “Temperamentally,” Jack said, “I am not only careless and irregular, but melancholy.” “Still,” he added, “I have fought both down.” One way he mastered his penchant for irregularity was establishing a fixed goal of writing at least a thousand words every day, six days a week (sometimes on Sundays and holidays too). He wrote to a friend: “I am sure a man can turn out more and much better in the long run, working this way, than if he works by fits and starts.” London would keep this habit of writing 1,000 words a day for the rest of his life, no matter his physical or mental conditions – whether he was tired, sick, hung-over, traveling aboard a ship rocking violently in a storm, vacationing in Hawaii, or covering a war in Japan. It especially did not matter whether he was feeling “inspired” on a given day; London thought the idea of creative inspiration was bunkum – the complaint of its absence an excuse of the lazy and cowardly. Success in writing, or any other vocation, London argued, was all about effort and willpower – “digging” as he liked to put it:

“A strong will can accomplish anything…There is no such thing as inspiration and very little genius. Dig, blooming under opportunity, results in what appears to be the former, and certainly makes possible the development of what original modicum of the latter one may possess. Dig is a wonderful thing, and will move more mountains than faith ever dreamed of. In fact, Dig should be the legitimate father of all self-faith.”

A large part of Jack’s own digging and refinement process involved studying the work of other great writers (Rudyard Kipling in particular) with an eye towards improving his own. Besides developing one’s philosophy of life, Jack considered this kind of study of one’s “mentors” the second great key to success in life. He described his own process through his fictional alter ego, Martin Eden:

“Reading the works of men who had arrived, he noted every result achieved by them, and worked out the tricks by which they had been achieved — the tricks of narrative, of exposition, of style, the points of view, the contrasts, the epigrams; and of all these he made lists for study. He did not ape. He sought principles. He drew up lists of effective and fetching mannerisms, till out of many such, culled from many writers, he was able to induce the general principle of mannerism, and, thus equipped, to cast about for new and original ones of his own, and to weigh and measure and appraise them properly. In similar manner he collected lists of strong phrases, the phrases of living language, phrases that bit like acid and scorched like flame, or that glowed and were mellow and luscious in the midst of the arid desert of common speech. He sought always for the principle that lay behind and beneath. He wanted to know how the thing was done; after that he could do it for himself. He was not content with the fair face of beauty. He dissected beauty in his crowded little bedroom laboratory…and, having dissected, and learned the anatomy of beauty, he was nearer being able to create beauty itself.”

After London had soaked his brain with the elements of great writing he admired, he set about trying to create his own. Jack sought to develop a different style from the popular fiction of the time — work that was full of the “the fancies and beauties of imagination…an impassioned realism, shot through with human aspiration and faith.” He endeavored to capture “life as it was, with all its spirit-groping and soul-reaching left in.”

Day after day London refined his style and dug through his brain, pulling out memories of the raging waves of the Pacific and the harsh cold of the Klondike. He feverishly banged out essays, articles, poems, short stories, and serialized fiction on his rickety typewriter. Except for “breaks” to visit the library, “he wrote prolifically, intensely, from morning till night, and late at night.” Just as Buck learned to pull sleds in the Klondike, Jack “worked faithfully in the harness, for the toil had become a delight to him.” “Life was pitched high” he wrote in Martin Eden. “The joy of creation that is supposed to belong to the gods was his.”

The Sting of Rejection

Unfortunately, the joy he sent out into the world was not reciprocated. Each time he placed a new piece inside an envelope and sent it off to newspapers, magazines, and journals around the country, his heart would swell with hopes that it would be accepted. And each day as he opened his mailbox to see yet another round of rejection notices, his heart would sink. One editor even took the time to write that the quality of his work was such that he really ought to find a different profession. Jack would try to shake off the constant rebuffs, place the rejection notices in a file and the returned manuscripts in a pile of “retired” work, and then begin pounding at his typewriter once more.

Yet, months of rejections coupled with his merciless work schedule slowly began to take their toll – exhausting him both mentally and physically. His skin grew pallid from a lack of fresh air and sunlight. He had to pawn many of his possessions to buy food, and still found himself in debt with the grocer. His cheekbones became more pronounced and his muscles withered as he tried to get by eating as little as possible. His energy and optimism dropped along with his weight, and at times he felt he should give up altogether — not just writing, but life itself. What depressed him most was how lonely he felt – he had no one to help him with his writing or even to simply offer encouragement. As he wrote in a letter to a friend:

“Nor has anybody ever understood. The whole thing has been by itself. Duty said ‘Do not go on; go to work.’ So said others, though they would not say it to my face. Everybody looked askance; though they did not speak, I knew what they thought. Not a word of approval, but much of disapproval. If only some one had said, ‘I understand.’ From the hunger of my childhood, cold eyes have looked upon me, or questioned, or snickered and sneered. What hurt above all was that they were some of my friends—not professed but real friends. I have calloused my exterior and receive the strokes as though they were not; as to how they hurt, no one knows but my own soul and me… for good or ill, it shall be as it has been—alone.”

In spite of all this failure, and as we have seen, true to his character, London would poke at the embers of his determination and find the will to continue striving. He concluded the letter above by saying:

“So be it. The end is not yet. If I die I shall die hard, fighting to the last, and hell shall receive no fitter inmate than myself.”

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Success Begins to Make Itself Known

Still, as a hedge against the potential of failure, and to please the family and friends who told him to quit this fruitless writing business and get a “real” job, he took the civil service exams and passed with flying colors. The manager of the post office called to offer Jack a position as a mail carrier. London was conflicted. He had just turned 23 and his friends were settling down, getting married, and starting good professions. Being a mailman would bring decent, steady pay, and his family needed money. He considered continuing to write, but doing so just as a hobby instead. Most sobering of all, he had to face the fact that in his five months of trying, and in sending out almost 50 manuscripts, he had only succeeded in having one piece published, and that in a magazine for children. But his mother, surprisingly, encouraged him to turn the job down – to finally take a chance on his own dreams after years of dutifully supporting the family. They would get by, she told him. So he rejected the offer. London would have no plan B, no back-up day job if success was not soon forthcoming. He would put all of his chips into becoming a writer.

At last, six months after returning from the Klondike, Jack received news that his gamble might just pay off. The Overland Monthly agreed to publish London’s “To the Man on Trail,” and then also accepted “The White Silence.” Jack’s fresh, virile style began to attract notice. “I would rather have written ‘The White Silence,’” the literary critic of The San Francisco Chronicle confessed, “than anything that has appeared in fiction in the last ten years.” The Overland Monthly requested six more of Jack’s articles. They’d paid just $7.50 per piece for them, but as the premier literary journal of the West – one that was read by many movers and shakers in the publishing industry – the deal promised beneficial exposure.

London’s real break came in November 1899, when the Atlantic Monthly decided to publish “An Odyssey of the North.” This piece broke the dam, and at last the publishers came calling. London signed a deal with Houghton Mifflin to put together a collection of his short stories: The Son of the Wolf. After facing so many rejections, the positive reviews brought the sweet music of vindication to Jack’s ears: “These stories are realism, without the usual falsity of realism,” praised The New York Times. “You cannot get away from the fascination of these tales,” The San Francisco Chronicle effused. The public loved Jack’s punchy, muscular prose, and felt as though his stories stirred something long dormant within them. As they read of his protagonists pitting their mettle against the elements of nature, they felt their own call to the wild – a keen desire to have an adventure themselves.

Finally, A Dream Realized

In three years of “studying immensely and intensely,” Jack had made himself into a full-time writer, and more opportunities came his way. A month after The Son of the Wolf was released, Cosmopolitan (which at this time was a well-regarded magazine for the whole family) offered him a plumb position as editor and staff writer. London turned it down without hesitation. Like Buck, after gathering strength in the discipline of the harness, he desired to exercise that strength with minimal restraint and full independence. As he wrote to a friend, “Of course I shall not accept it. I do not wish to be bound…I want to be free, to write of what delights me, whensoever and wheresoever it delights me. No office work for me; no routine; no doing this set task and that set task. No man over me.”

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Over the next few years, Jack continued to sleep but five hours a night (“There was so much to learn, so much to be done… I blessed the man who invented alarm clocks”) and his profile continued to rise as he successfully published numerous articles and several short story collections and novels. His books sold decently, but were not blockbusters. Stratospheric success would arrive with the 1903 publication of The Call of the Wild. Jack had intended it to be another of his short stories, “but it got away from me, and instead of 4,000 words it ran 32,000 before I could call a halt.” The novel became an instant classic. Its story reverberated through a society anxious that it had become too refined, too civilized, too domesticated and had lost its rugged, pioneering spirit. Such a theme has pricked the hearts of each succeeding modern generation, and the book has been in print continuously for over a century, sold millions of copies, and become the most widely read of the American classics.

Now 27 years old, Jack London had reached the pinnacle of the literary world. By venturing more and fearing less, by working longer and harder than anyone else, he had overcome his humble past and risen head and shoulders above his peers. By harnessing his thumos, and embracing his identity as the lone wolf, he had made himself stronger and more powerful than the average man. The same thrill of dominance that enlivened Buck coursed through him as well:

“When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack.”

Read the Entire Jack London Series:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Boyhood
Part 3: Oyster Pirate
Part 4: Pacific Voyage
Part 5: On the Road
Part 6: Back to School
Part 7: Into the Klondike
Part 8: Success at Last
Part 9: The Long Sickness
Part 10: Ashes
Part 11: Conclusion

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Sources:

Wolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L. Haley 

Jack London: A Life by Alex Kershaw

The Book of Jack London, Volumes 1 & 2 by Charmian London (free in the public domain)

Complete Works of Jack London (all of London’s works are available free in the public domain, or you can download his hundreds of writings all in one place for $3, which is just plain awesome)