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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Jack London (1876–1916)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Leland Hall (1883–1957)
 
A GREAT deal of Jack London’s writing is autobiographical. It will come as no surprise to one who has read him that the author was himself a poor boy, that he spent years among rough strong men, who had to fight against both nature and man to keep alive, and that the working of the law of the survival of the fittest remained for him the most glorious and the most interesting spectacle the world has to offer. He had great sympathy with the poor, with whom he had lived; but the socialism which he preached was never convincing, for most of his work is a reduction of all human issues to the test of sheer brute strength, of primal values which have little to do with society.  1
  If he is not convincing in the process of this reduction, once he has brought all down to the arena he can stage a thrilling show. There is some variety: primitive man, dogs and wolves, fair-skinned prize-fighters, and sea captains who could have put Samson to shame. There are always terrific poundings, violent smells, roars and groans of fury, and blood flowing from a hundred wounds and staining the ground red. Though one may get very quickly a surfeit of this brutality, the spectacle goes on day and night, never relaxed, always terrific, always surprising. Jack London has inexhaustible power and vitality.  2
  Thanks to these qualities ‘The Call of the Wild’ (1903) roused the attention of the reading public over a great part of the world. In this story of a dog who, snatched from peaceful domestic surroundings and set down in the frigid wilderness of Alaska, becomes once again the splendid primal beast from which his race had sprung, Jack London is at his best. It was written early in his career as an author. In the novels and stories which rapidly followed he attained here and there a similar excellence; but he never surpassed it, nor was he ever again so successful in the handling of a novel as a whole. One wonders why, and the reason is not far to seek.  3
  So long as he dealt with life in the open and with the struggles of men among men, his power and vitality stood him in good stead. The conduct of life which he has recorded in ‘The Call of the Wild’ and in the first parts of ‘The Sea Wolf’ and of ‘Burning Daylight’ is reducible to the test of brute strength. But social intercourse and the influence of sensibilities responsive to what we call beauty cannot be measured by such a test. Perhaps these things are not worth cherishing. Well and good: to be true to the primal in us let us give them over. But this is what Jack London was unwilling to do. The result is an unpleasant mixture. While on the one hand he purposely bent his energies to make the refinements of life seem puny and not a little contemptible, on the other he showed more and more towards these very refinements a sort of subservience which is not the more congruous for being patronizing.  4
  Perhaps he never grasped the full significance of these amenities. At any rate he was at his worst in the analysis of character, especially of women, and in the sentimental preaching of a romantic socialism. But he was invariably powerful when he wrote of the primal in man and beast. Though one suspects a deliberate too much laying on of realism, there is none the less something hearty and bracing in most of what he has written of life in the open amidst fierce elements, with all that it entails of titanic struggle. He knew this side of life at first hand. And he was always a master of spirited narration. That mastery was born in him, a precious and, in these days, a rare gift. He was at his best in all ways when his story carried him along. Then his characters sprang out of the page in action, his descriptions became vivid, and his style ran along strong and free. At such moments, one recognizes in him some of the elements of greatness. Always something, perhaps much, of what his work lacks in discrimination is made up for in sheer vitality and exuberance.  5
  A few facts of his life may be mentioned. He was born in San Francisco in January, 1876. As a boy he was oftener at work on the ranches of California or round the watertfront than in school. Later he fitted himself for the university, but was able to study there less than a year. In 1897 he joined the rush of gold seekers to the Klondike. He had always wanted to write, and on his return from Alaska he turned his experience there into literary copy. Two volumes of short stories and ‘The Call of the Wild’ brought him into prominence. Thereafter he wrote steadily, up to the time of his death (November 22nd, 1916). He was war correspondent during the Russo-Japanese war; and few years went by that he did not give rein in some way to his ever adventurous spirit. In addition to the novels already mentioned, some of the best known are: ‘Before Adam,’ ‘Martin Eden,’ ‘Smoke Bellew,’ and ‘White Fang.’ He wrote many volumes of short stories, some of which are excellently done, and some essays of mediocre character.  6
 
 
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