JACK LONDON, EUCALYPTUS KING

In 1911, Jack London was fast becoming a local celebrity and Sonoma County’s second favorite adopted son, after Luther Burbank. The pages of the Santa Rosa newspapers were salted with more items about him than all previous years combined, which is a bit surprising because Jack and his wife, Charmian, really weren’t around here that much – except for a few weeks in the autumn, the pair followed their usual pattern of brief stays at “Wake Robin Lodge,” the Glen Ellen home of Charmian’s aunt, where they had a cottage and frequently entertained Jack’s retinue. The new interest from the newspapers was probably due in part to the changing times; the progressive era was in high gear by then and Jack’s enthusiasm for socialism no longer seemed so radical. Also, there was significant work at their expanding ranch even when the Londons were away; the Press Democrat, for example, was particularly interested in all the eucalyptus trees he was planting.

(RIGHT: Jack London on the porch at Wake Robin Lodge c. 1911. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The PD also took note of what he was building, undoubtedly hearing gossip that a big house was in the works. Yet the paper – which deserved praise for earlier debunking claims that London was fighting in the Mexican Revolution – bollixed up a simple item about construction activities that spring.

“Jack London Building a Fine Bungalow,” the headline read, explaining he was pouring a concrete foundation for a two-story house “on his place at Glen Ellen.” Now, Mr. or Ms. Armchair Historian might well hyperventilate at reading that news, believing it’s an understated announcement that serious work was underway on Wolf House. But according to Russ Kingman’s essential reference, “Jack London: a Definitive Chronology,” the concrete work was simply for an addition at Wake Robin Lodge. Confusing matters further, Jack and Charmian had just purchased the old winery property with the cottage where they would soon live and were talking about making some improvements. The PD reporter dumped the two events together into the same pot and stirred. What made that item noteworthy, however, was that London insisted he would only hire local workers. Given that it’s been decided that Wolf House burned down a couple of years later because careless workmen left oily rags piled together, perhaps his egalitarian interest in “patronizing the home folk” was the undoing of his great house.

(This is the second post about Jack London during 1911; an earlier article, “JACK LONDON’S EVIL TWINS,” described his ongoing problems with con artist impersonators and the Mexican Revolution rumors.)

Jack and Charmian spent that summer making a twelve-week road trip to southwest Oregon and back with a wagon and four-horse team – 1,500 miles, covering thirty miles on most days. That was actually a pretty good rate of progress; a recent article by Gaye LeBaron described the perils of North Coast roads in those days.

The trip was a working vacation; Jack wrote a number of inconsequential short stories which she typed up and mailed off to publishers from little towns along the road. It was also a much-needed getaway for the both of them. He missed adventuring out-of-doors and jawing with average folk; Charmian was determined to use the journey prove she was still his equal as an adventuring companion.

Their only child, Joy, had died almost exactly a year earlier, only 36 hours after birth. In her later memoirs, Charmian wrote that during this trip her “health was not the best; but I was wary to avoid giving any possible impression to Jack that I linked my lack of freshness in any way with maternal misfortunes. I had early discovered that the slightest suggestion of such a thing irritated him instantly and beyond sympathy.” Jack London, it seems, who was a staunch advocate of women’s rights in all things, “harbored a deep-rooted, resentful opinion that the majority of womenfolk held their men responsible for all the consequences of reproduction!” [emphasis hers] In the same section of the book, she brought up that Jack later ranted about “his superb ‘disgusts’ with the universe of which I was an important part.” He cooled down and she remarked “Jack’s retractions and apologies, generous if rare, were among the sweetest of the silken ties that bound us forever.” Although her memoirs are mostly hagiography, it’s to Charmian’s credit that she also included these unflattering views of London in her book.

Also significant about the Oregon trip are the snapshot photos (the Sonoma County Library has about twenty), many showing Yoshimatsu Nakata with the Londons. Only 22 at the time, the Hawaiian-Japanese Nakata (1889-1967) already had been with them for four years, ever since he was hired on as the substitute cabin boy for the ill-fated voyage of the Snark. His eight-year role in the London family history is rarely acknowledged and there are few, if any, other pictures of them all together, although he was a constant and indispensable companion to the couple until he entered dentistry school and married. He was usually described as their “valet” but Charmian’s memoir referred to him as “our loving and beloved shadow” and that “our loss of Nakata, to marriage and career, at the end of 1915, constituted more than a domestic flurry. He had nearly every prerequisite of the close and confidential servitor and it is hard to decide which suffered more from his absence, Jack or myself.”

(RIGHT: Jack, Charmian and Yoshimatsu Nakata at an unidentified Oregon town on their way back to Sonoma County. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The Press Democrat also took the opportunity to run an article that presented a thumbnail profile: “Day by Day With Jack London” (transcribed below) was supposed to portray “the daily routine through which Jack London, novelist, goes through on his farm at Glen Ellen, ‘Wake Robin Lodge.'” Credited only to “a “metropolitan paper,” the article was actually excerpted from a Sunday feature in the San Francisco Call by Henry Meade Bland, which included similar miniatures of other writers as well. Like the article’s author, most of them were part of London’s bohemian circle sometimes called “The Crowd.”

But aside from the tease that Jack was “building a new residence…[which] will rise on a beautiful height overlooking a fertile valley,” Mr. Bland’s account of a typical day was rather, uh, bland. More interesting is the description of his writing habits left by Nakata in his reminisce, “A Hero to His Valet,” which was published in the Jack London Journal:

After he dressed, Mr. London would start to work. He had a certain way of writing, and it was the same every day. He has a cigarette in his left hand and a blunt fountain pen with a wire tube at the end–a stylograph. He always used this instead of a fountain pen. The idea is that he doesn’t have to watch the nib to see if it is turning to one side. When he is writing he is always humming something or singing. It is called “Redwing” [listen here]. He played that all the time on the phonograph on the Snark, and at home he still hums and sings it. Then he puffs a cigarette and writes some more and he does that for twenty minutes and then he gets up and takes a drink of Scotch whiskey. Then he eats a Japanese fish, the small white dried fish called creme iriko [anchovies] that they use for bait. He eats that once in a while and then writes. Every twenty minutes he counts the pages. he writes so big, I suppose there are a thousand words to about twenty pages. After he writes about an hour, he begins to count and then writes about twenty minutes again. About four or five times he does this, and then he figures he is finished with his work.

“Study, recreation and talk, with what he considers most important of all, the cultivation of eucalyptus, occupy the balance of his time,” wrote Bland and eucalyptus farming was the common thread that weaved through almost every article about London that appeared in the PD that year; “He will continue to plant the trees until he has 100,000 and they will cover a wide area of land,” another item stated. In letters earlier he mentioned fifty thousand were already growing and wrote a few months later that another 40,000 were added. Soon Beauty Ranch would be stinking like cheap menthol cough drops.

That year was about the peak of the eucalyptus boom, when otherwise sensible West Coast ranchers and farmers were convinced they could get rich quick via such eucalyptus plantations. It was believed that weedy eucalyptus trees were a miraculously fast-growing hardwood that could be used for lumber, railroad ties or almost any other purpose, including building fine furniture and constructing violins. But entrepreneurs like Jack London didn’t grasp its reputation was based on samples from Australian old-growth trees that were probably hundreds of years old; wood from younger trees had to be carefully milled and long seasoned, otherwise it was good for little more than firewood. It was exactly the opposite of a cash crop and additionally harmed the soil by driving out native species and sucking up its weight in groundwater. Lose-lose, no matter how you squinted at it.

London’s particular form of eucalyptus mania was that it would be in great demand for wharf pilings. He believed that the wood-boring worms that normally destroyed wharves wouldn’t touch eucalyptus because of its oil. He was wrong. The oil wasn’t a repellant at all.

Jack London was a savvy guy and certainly believed he had properly done his research; according to the chronology, he could recite data on the number of wharves destroyed annually by Limnoria and Teredo worms. How could he – and numerous other investors – be so wrong?

Chances are you can rummage through his bookshelves and find a copy of “Eucalypts Cultivated in the United States“, a 1902 bulletin from the U.S. Department of Agriculture which was filled with misinformation and outright lies. Start with the claims of curative powers; the author described eucalyptus leaves being used to dress wounds or made into a tea to cure bronchitis and other respiratory problems. Leaves would also purify “germ-infested matter” when they fell to the ground. The book states without qualification that eucalyptus “has been used for piles in several wharves on the Pacific Coast with very satisfactory results” and specifically, “the piers at Santa Barbara and at neighboring sea towns are maintained with piles of this Eucalypt.”

The latter statement was simply untrue. Santa Barbara had experimented with eucalyptus pilings back in the early 1890s and given up on the wood. And London certainly should have also read a more recent pamphlet from the California State Board of Forestry, “A Hand Book for Eucalyptus Planters“, which specifically warned against placing it in seawater: “It is attacked and ultimately destroyed by borers, notwithstanding contrary statements.” Still, the state foresters wrote, it was great wood when it came from “old, slow-grown trees cut during the winter and seasoned thoroughly.” Which completely defeated the notion of eucalyptus being a quick moneymaker. Again.

Even when their funds were low, Jack London kept dumping money into eucalyptus seedlings from W.A.T. Stratton’s nursery in Petaluma and the Eucalyptus Agency in Monterey; he apparently went to his grave in 1916 not realizing he had been duped and wasted a fortune. In her memoirs Charmian only wrote happily about what the trees meant to him. Remembering the spring of 1910 before the birth of their daughter, Joy, she fondly recalled, “…Not the least of our blisses was wandering in the eucalyptus ‘forest,’ not yet knee-high, dreaming of when they should some day be over our heads on horse-back. ‘They’ll only be a few months older than our boy!’ Jack would say.”

JACK LONDON BUILDING A FINE BUNGALOW

Jack London, the novelist, is to erect a fine bungalow on his place at Glen Ellen. Already work on the foundation has started and it will be of concrete. The best of material will be used in construction and the work will be done by day labor. The superintendent of the building is a San Francisco man, but Mr. London has declared that the labor shall be done by the men of Glen Ellen and vicinity, believing in patronizing the home folk, and in giving Glen Ellen the benefit of the money he spends. It will be a two story house and it will be an artistic home.

– Press Democrat, May 24, 1911
JACK LONDON ORDERS MANY EUCALYPTUS TREES

Jack London, the famous writer, has placed an order for 30,000 eucalyptus trees and delivery will be made in January, when the heavy rains have set in. The trees will be shipped to Glen Ellen, where Mr. London will set them out on his property and in a number of years expects to have a big grove.

He will continue to plant the trees until he has 100,000 and they will cover a wide area of land.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 23, 1911
DAY BY DAY WITH JACK LONDON
Incidents Marking Novelist’s Life at “Wake Robin Lodge” at Glen Ellen–1,000 Words Daily

A metropolitan paper has this to say concerning the daily routine through which Jack London, novelist, goes through on his farm at Glen Ellen, “Wake Robin lodge”:

Jack London is at last showing signs of forgetting the wanderlust and is settling down on the hill slopes of the ranch he has selected for his home. He is building a new residence at Glen Ellen, Sonoma county, in which he intends to continue the making of books with less strenuosity than heretofore. London’s home will rise on a beautiful height overlooking a fertile valley–a favorite location for California writers.

The author of “The Call of the Wild” has wandered in so many lands and domiciled among so many people, all for the intenser study of human nature, that it is a great joy for him to spend a few months on the ranch. His temporary abiding place is the Ames [sic] cottage. Wake Robin lodge, a homelike dwelling nestled among white and live oaks. His friends know him best when he swings at ease in a hammock on the shady creek bank. But whoever visits Wake Robin must be prepared to live a vigorous intellectual day, for the author of “The Iron Heel” feeds upon heavy brain pabulum, such as Nietsche, Schopenhauer and Henry George. He delights to have his company appreciate his favorites.

Every morning London goes into his den and holds to a strict regime of work. A thousand words a day is his literary task. This he ordinarily accomplishes between 7 and 12; but if the allotment is not done at noon, be writes after luncheon. Study, recreation and talk, with what he considers most important of all, the cultivation of eucalyptus, occupy the balance of his time.

For more than a year the Snark, the “two-master” in which he sailed the south seas, was his home, yet even while on the broad seas, save when storms kept him and his crew busy, he kept up his literary work.

The London library is most interesting to the visitor. Besides a working quoto of books it contains photographs and curios gathered from every part of the globe, from the mummified head of a South American Indian to a toy book with which he plays a practical joke on the unsuspecting.

The loyal Californian finds satisfaction in the intention of the Londons to make California an abiding home. It is well known that Bret Harte, the novelist’s predecessor in the art, wrote nothing after he deserted the coast equal to the work done here. It is felt by many that Edwin Markham. who forsook Berkeley hills for metropolitan New York, might return to his old haunts, much to the advantage of his muse. In fact, Markham keeps promising himself a home in the west once more. London, lover of the out of doors, knows what the home land has done for him and holds to it as ths kingdom of his heart’s desire.

– Press Democrat, November 25, 1911

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JACK LONDON’S EVIL TWINS

Jack London was a pretty busy fellow in early 1911, what with his leading the revolution in Mexico and all.

That February, newspaper readers around the country learned the famous novelist and outspoken socialist was fighting to overthrow the Mexican government. “JACK LONDON LEADS ARMY OF MEXICAN REBELS,” a headline in the San Francisco Post proclaimed. “Jack London Reported at Head of Mexican Insurrecto Band,” the Los Angeles Times declared and London was the “first of hundreds of American socialists to assist the rebels,” readers of the Des Moines News were told. “Jack London, the novelist, has invaded Mexico and is spreading death and destruction and hell and smoke with his trusty pencil,” reported the Dallas Times-Herald. London was also said to have been arrested and being held in a border town (Washington Post) and was wounded in combat (San Francisco Call).

Not a bit of that was true, but a Mexican-American labor activist from Los Angeles named Simon Berthold and about sixteen other gringos, joined by a couple of dozen Mexican insurrectos and all only armed with a few old rifles and revolvers, had indeed captured the border town of Mexicali while firing only a single shot. This surprising victory in their quixotic campaign drew scores of Americans to join their ranks in the following days.

The virulently anti-labor LA Times – which relished calling union members “anarchic scum” and worse – was quick to exaggerate the importance of Mexicali. According to the paper it wasn’t about the Mexican Civil War at all, but was really a stalking horse by U.S. radicals plotting to turn Baja California into an independent socialist republic on America’s doorstep. “BANDITS SACK MEXICALI,” was the first Times headline, then later, “HOBOS AND CRIMINALS FLOCK TO STANDARD OF ‘INSURGENTS.'” The latter article called the rebels a “chicken thief band…most of the revolutionists are either Mexican criminals or mongrel Americans who have good reasons for not risking their presence again on American soil.”

It was that article that inspired Jack London to pen a short letter “To the dear, brave comrades of the Mexican Revolution:”

We Socialists, anarchists, hobos, chicken thieves, outlaws, and undesirable citizens of the United States are with you heart and soul.  You will notice that we are not respectable. Neither are you.  No revolutionary can possibly be respectable in these days of the reign of property.  All the names you are being called, we have been called.  And when graft and greed get up and begin to call names, honest men, brave men, patriotic men and martyrs can expect nothing else than to be called chicken thieves and outlaws.  So be it.  But I for one wish there were more chicken thieves and outlaws of the sort that formed that gallant band that took Mexicali. I subscribe myself a chicken thief and revolutionist.

The letter was read at the regular Saturday night meeting at the Los Angeles Labor Temple in support of the revolutionaries. Two days later, the first stories appeared about London being a combatant.

As with the previous item about a juvenile delinquent supposedly being sentenced to live and study with Luther Burbank, it fell to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat to debunk the story by simply knocking on a door and asking if it were true. No, London said, he had not been fighting or wounded or arrested in Mexico – but he thought “Jack London” might be the culprit. Our Glen Ellen novelist, it seemed, had a doppelganger.

For years, London told the PD, he had heard about a lookalike passing himself off as the famed author, tricking fans into hosting the impostor to free meals, lodging, and who knows what else. “I lost track of him last fall,” London said. “I presume he has gone on down into Mexico for excitement and gotten into trouble and is using my name to assist him to get free.”

It was actually worse than that; widow Charmian London later wrote he was plagued by a legion of ersatz Jacks:

…Still others led girls astray, and many the piteous letters, addressed to places where Jack had never set foot, or when the pair of us were on the other side of the world, begging restitution for anything from stolen virtue to diamonds. Jack tried to get in touch with these floating impersonators, promising safe departure if they would only come to the Ranch and entertain him with their methods. But even when his letters never returned, there were no replies. While we were honeymooning in Cuba, according to one side of a correspondence that came into Jack’s possession, a spurious J. L. was carrying on an affair with a mother of several children in Sacramento, California.

The evildoing identical twin is a familiar theme in bad fiction, of course, and it’s to London’s credit he never once used that plot device, despite being somewhat an expert on the subject.

More about Jack London’s 1911 adventures in a following post.

LONDON READS OF MEXICAN ARREST WITH AMUSEMENT
Author at Home in Glen Ellen While Double Suffers

The telegraphic accounts of the wounding and arrest of Jack London, the novelist, a well-known resident of Glen Ellen, came as a great surprise to many of his friends in Sonoma county. Even Mr. London himself was greatly surprised, as he was at home on his ranch near Glen Ellen, when the news reached him Sunday.

London returned from an extended visit in Los Angeles a week or ten days ago, and after spending a week in Oakland and San Francisco returned to the ranch in Sonoma county Saturday evening. Great was his surprise on reading the papers Sunday morning to see the article relating to his having been injured and arrested charged with violation of the Mexican neutrality laws while the United States District Attorney and United States Marshal at Los Angeles had gone to investigate the case.

Mr. London denied to a Press Democrat representative Monday night that he had been in Mexico, or desired to [illegible microfilm] said London. “I have been in Oakland and San Francisco for several days and returned home to the ranch Saturday night. I was naturally interested and amused by the press dispatches Sunday.

“The report is due to a double I have. I first discovered the fact several years ago when through correspondence and press clippings I located the man in Tennessee. This man has represented himself as Jack London and I have letters from people who had entertained him for a week believing he was the author. By the letters of people interested and newspaper clippings received from time to time I have been able to trace his movements.

“After leaving Tennessee he went to Arkansas, thence to Oklahoma, Indian Territory and finally to Arizona, where I lost track of him last fall. I presume he has gone on down into Mexico for excitement and gotten into trouble and is using my name to assist him to get free.”

Conductor George E. Andrews of the Southern Pacific local between Vallejo and Santa Rosa recalled having had London as a passenger Saturday night and Arthur Luc who came up on the train from Sonoma recognized him as a fellow passenger.

Mr. London is now engaged in a series of short stories for the Cosmopolitan and working his ranch. He is setting out 30,000 young eucalyptus trees on the ranch as a part of his plan to reforest a large section of his holdings.

– Press Democrat, February 21, 1911

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JACK LONDON’S UNHAPPIEST YEAR

What’s worse than watching your dream house burn down? Jack London could answer that: Having leprosy or some disease unknown.

By April 1909, it had been two years since Sonoma County had heard much about its most famous adopted son. New novels still appeared every year, but they weren’t being written around here; Jack and his wife, Charmian, were on a round-the-world “honeymoon” cruise on his 42-foot ketch-rigged sailboat, the Snark.

London had commissioned his custom-designed sailing ship not long after they were married in 1905 and happily settled in Glen Ellen. Construction took over a year, and their launch was further delayed for a few days when the Snark was impounded until an invoice for about $250 was settled. It was a trivial matter but it drew the attention of the Press Democrat, which penned an April 23, 1907 editorial implying London was trying to ship out without paying his bills: “Jack London failed to get away on his much advertised voyage Sunday as per printed schedule, a number of rude and unappreciative tradesmen having libelled [sic] his little vessel at the last moment for goods and supplies furnished. London appears to have the true literary disregard for things commercial….” Why the PD chose to give London such a nasty and unnecessary send-off is anyone’s guess.

Much has been told about the voyage of the Snark; both Charmian and Jack later wrote more than one book about the adventure. Little appeared in the news for the next two years except small items that the ship was overdue in Hawaii, and a few months later feared lost because it was more than a month late arriving in the Marquesas Islands. These false alarms aside, there were serious problems on the Snark that went unreported. It ended up as a hospital ship, with Jack London as its extremely enthusiastic and extremely unknowledgeable doctor in residence.

This chapter of London’s book “The Cruise of the Snark” is gruesome reading. While they were in waters around the Solomon Islands, everyone including London became seriously ill with something or other. A few had malaria, one of the crew with the deadly form known as blackwater fever; festering lesions and yaws were common, which London treated by wrapping wounds in a painfully-burning poultice made with mercuric chloride. When that ran out, he experimented treating injuries with boric acid and Lysol, but kept no record of what and how much of the toxic chemicals were used to treat anyone, including himself. Many believe this exposure contributed to his early death.

The deciding factor to end the voyage was when his arms and hands turned silver colored and the skin roughened and began peeling off. Fearing he had contracted an usual form of leprosy, they headed to Sydney, Australia for medical care, where London spent the first months of 1909. Doctors there reportedly said nothing in the literature described his condition, which included bizarre symptoms; he wrote later, “There were times when my toe-nails, in twenty-four hours, grew as thick as they were long.” Later, doctors presumed that his condition had been a combination of psoriasis, pellagra and malaria, but more recently it has been noted that his many symptoms fit a diagnosis of lupus.

Hoping that a return to California sunshine would provide a cure, he and Charmian departed on a tramp steamer after selling the Snark. News that London had abandoned his quest in less than two years brought cheer to the Press Democrat, which sneered in an I-told-you-so editorial: “The undertaking had an unpromising look from the start…It may have been, and probably was, the discomfort of his quarters that affected the stories he wrote while on his unfinished cruise; for they were certainly far below his previous standard.”

But while the ship with Jack and Charmian aboard was approaching the U.S., London discovered he was being accused of plagiarism. The trouble arose over his latest novel, “The Iron Heel,” about a dystopic future ruled by a super-wealthy oligarchy called, um, the “Oligarchy,” that believed in the “Divine right of Capitalists” (London larded it on thick at times). In chapter seven, the character Bishop Morehouse makes a speech denouncing the hypocrisy of the church for neglecting the poor while spending lavishly on itself. After the novel appeared, Irish journalist Frank Harris wrote in the London weekly “Vanity Fair” that the Bishop’s speech was almost a word-for-word copy of a piece he had written in 1901 for a humor magazine. Harris demanded a portion of London’s profits from the book.

London’s defense was, yeah, he had plagiarized, but he didn’t know anything about this Harris guy – he believed he was exposing an actual confession of pious guilt by the real Bishop of London. He stated the essay was found in an American newspaper where it was published as fact. “I was what we call a sucker,” London responded in a letter to the weekly. “But Mr. Harris, instead of gaily crying, ‘Sucker!’ gravely cried, ‘Thief!’…The laugh is on me. I confess to having been fooled by Mr. Harris’s canard.”

Many papers nationwide published something on the controversy, as London was such a popular figure. Almost all garbled the story badly, often in ways to incriminate London for his socialist leanings: He supposedly called himself a sucker for being caught in the act; that he believed he had the right to rip off the work of others; that he actually had plagiarized a speech made by the real Bishop of London. The local Santa Rosa Republican offered an oddly clueless defense that every writer plagiarizes, by accident or no. (In this era the Press Democrat – and especially the Republican – were shamelessly cribbing stories from each other.)

The controversy was forgotten by midsummer, but from posthumously published correspondence we learn that the matter wasn’t over. Harris called him a liar and demanded an apology for the plagiarism, while London demanded an apology for being called a liar. The feud didn’t even end when London died seven years later, as the bounder Harris wrote widow Charmian to claim the last word. Nice fellow.

Sick as he still was, Jack London was never a man lacking optimism, and now his focus was upon building a grand lodge. While on the steamer back to America, he wrote a friend in Glen Ellen, and the PD summarized the letter: “Upon his return he expects to carry out some notable improvements on the place, among them being the erection of a fine home for himself and wife…” What would be called “Wolf House,” of course, burned down as soon as it was completed, destroying that dream as well.

A chapter ends, a new chapter begins. The Press Democrat’s attitude towards London would soften after 1909, as he began establishing himself as a respectable local farmer and rancher. London wrote more about the Valley of the Moon and dipped into his Sonoma County life. Take this snippet of casual dialogue from “Burning Daylight,” the novel he wrote after returning from the voyage: “Say, it’s only twelve miles to Santa Rosa, and the horses are fresh…We’ll cut across by Bennett Valley…it’s nearer that way.” It’s a throwaway line that would be cut by most editors, although for those of us familiar with that landscape it evokes strong images of place. But even if the reader doesn’t know Sonoma from Sonora, Mexico, it works because the words are real, and something you can imagine he said a thousand times. More than anything else, what Jack London wrote was authentic.

(Obl. Comstock House connection: London and Wilson Finley, father of Helen Comstock, were drinking buddies, according to family legend.)

PLAGIARISM

Jack London has just been charged with misappropriation of literary goods. Some such accusation has been made against London before, and it maybe that he is not over-squeamish as to where he gets the material out of which he weaves his tales. Yet this indiscriminate browsing about occasionally in other people’s fields is an imperfection from which few who write for fame or bread are free. All that there is to write about has been worked over and over again by generations of writings until there is nothing left that is not old and hackneyed. In fact there are no new ways of even treating old subjects any more. What a gullible public takes to be originality is only a clever and not very close imitation of that quality. In short, originality consists in being able to conceal the fact of your not having any. And this practice of rehashing goes back a good long distance, if we are to believe Kipling’s jingle verse, which tells how
“Homer smote his blooming lyre and sang from sea to sea.
And the stuff he used he went and took the same as you and me.”
This, of course, is done unconsciously, or rather subconsciously. Many a man exultantly proclaims to the world what he thinks is a new as slang, but which was in fact discovered for the thousandth time by some person whose carcass the very worms have had for years and years and years.

But this phase of plagiarism, if plagiarism it be, is universally indulged in, and hence a legitimate thing. The plagiarism, however, that is plagiarism, is the theft of another’s style or to put it more euphoniously, the copying of somebody else’s words verbatim without the acknowledgment of them by quotation marks. This is the one unpardonable offense that a writer can commit.

[..]

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, April 17, 1909

Jack London has abandoned his cruise of the southern seas, which had been planned to fill seven years. The undertaking had an unpromising look from the start. A twenty-five foot vessel is a small craft for any ocean voyage that is to last more than a day or two. London is an experienced sailor, and ought to have known better than to imagine he could live seven years in such a space with several other companions, and preserve enough of comfort and peace to make literary work possible, It may have been, and probably was, the discomfort of his quarters that affected the stories he wrote while on his unfinished cruise; for they were certainly far below his previous standard.

– Press Democrat editorial, April 29, 1909

JACK LONDON WILL BUILD FINE HOME
Will Make a Number of Improvements on His Place Near Glen Ellen–Johnson Gets Letter.

Thomas Johnson, the well known resident of Glen Ellen, has received a letter from his old-time friend, Jack London, the novelist. During Mr. London’s long absence abroad he had sent Mr. Johnson frequent communications telling of the progress of his travels abroad.

The latest news Mr. Johnson has received comes from Panama, where London has been visiting for sometime on his homeward trip to this country. He expects to return home about July 1.

As is well known, London owns some land near Glen Ellen, which he purchased from Robert Potter Hill. Upon his return he expects to carry out some notable improvements on the place, among them being the erection of a fine home for himself and wife and several cottages for friends. He will also build a $5000 reservoir and pumping plant on the farm. London is very much infatuated with the beautiful Sonoma Valley. Near Glen Ellen is “Wake Robin Lodge,” the country home of Mrs. London’s aunt, Mrs. Ninetta Eames, herself a writer of some note. Upon their return to this state Mr. and Mrs. London will spend a considerable portion of their time on their place near Glen Ellen.

– Press Democrat, June 3, 1909

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