Jack London – Prince of the Tramps
For many, all they know about Jack London is that he wrote dog stories. In fact, he did much more than that. Jack London was born January 12, 1876 and his life reads like an adventure novel.
Jack London was a passionate socialist, sometimes drunk and sometimes a prohibitionist, a sailor, a pirate, a gold prospector, a tramp, and of course, all of that makes him a vagabond.
London started out as a poor kid doing wage slavery in San Francisco but borrowed money to buy a boat and became the ‘Prince of the Oyster Pirates” before his boat sank. From there he joined the ‘Fish Patrol’ and then signed onto a schooner which took him to Japan.
Returning to the USA he again became a wage slave and then quit to become a tramp and marched across the country with unionists before getting arrested and thrown in jail for vagrancy.
To me, one of his best books is ‘The Road’ which details this period of his life. It’s also one of the hardest of his books to find.
London returned to San Francisco and attended Berkley before splitting for the gold fields of the Yukon. One would think that he spent a long time there, but six months of suffering was enough and he returned to California where he wrote his most famous books “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”
London was one of the original members of the Bohemian Club which met in the redwoods and included such figures as Ambrose Bierce and John Muir.
London started making money at writing and bought a ranch in California which became a vagabond camp of sorts from which he became a vehement socialist. (John Barleycorn).
Later he sank most of his fortune into building a ship called “The Snark” which he and his second wife sailed to Hawaii. When they tried to go further, the ship sank. This part of his life is detailed in Martin Eden.
On his ranch, London became an advocate of sustainable agriculture before most people ever knew what the term meant. He also began to drink more and more, which led to his sinking into awful depressions and ultimately probably to an early death.
London made many trips to Hawaii and was one of the first Californians to take up surfing. He learned the sport from the legendary Duke Kahanamoku! (Incidentally, I once met London’s grandson and great grandson on Kauai and they were typical California surfer dudes.)
Unfortunately, like many of the men of his day, Jack London had some ignorant racial views. He is often cited as a racist and the truth is that he was, but so was every other white man living at the time. London just happened to write his views and so is often singled out. He wrote some science fiction which is interesting, one is about China taking over the world by population and a war coming as a result. It seems to be a future that is coming to exist.
London died at the young age of forty years old of a morphine overdose. Some say it was suicide, but what is certain is that he was in extreme pain from illness which is why he had the morphine to begin with.
Jack London was an extraordinary vagabond.
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