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Introduction to the Foreword for The House of Many Windows
By Dan Wichlan
This is the second installment of the "Complete Nonfiction of Jack London" and it deals with unpublished book introductions that London wrote.
The first of these is the foreword to the House of Many Windows. In 1906, J. Torrey Connor, an author who would later become the chairwoman of the fiction section of the California Writers Club and editor of "The Silhouette, a fiction magazine, contacted London. She asked London to write a forward for an experimental novel that was to be a collaborative effort with each chapter being written by a different author. London was intrigued by the idea and he wrote the following foreword in November 1906 from a synopsis of the novel written by Connor whose concept it was.
London never did see the finished novel. It was not finished until after his death. It was serialized in the "Oakland Tribune" beginning on March 19, 1922 with the first chapter written by John Northern Hilliard. By then the title of the book had changed to The Affair of the Soochow House and the combined work involved more than twenty different authors. The foreword that appeared at that time had been "updated" by Charmian London.
This short piece of writing is most noteworthy for the glimpse into London's philosophy of writing that is provided in the first paragraph. The "by-paths", "valleys of delight" and "promised lands" must represent the same kind of distractions that London mentally encountered as a solitary writer.
This original foreword is part of the Jack London collection at the Oakland Public Library.
Foreword to The House of Many Windows
By Jack London
There must be, of necessity, a certain "knack" in writing a story in collaboration, even when but two writers engage in the work. The temptation of each author to saunter down shaded by-paths of personal fancy, to linger in some Valley of Delight of his choosing, to mount heights and spy out his own particular Promised Land, is ever present. How much greater, then, the achievement, when a score or more writers, with no straying from the main road, arrive successfully at the Finis?
In the opening chapter the old paisano, Justo Prieto, takes the reader by the hand and introduces him to the long-forgotten Mexican-Californian town of San Sebastian, where strange things have come to pass. Mrs. Carbury, landlady of the new summer hotel on the bluff facing the sea, whose concern over the disappearance of Mary Alice Fitzpatrick, one of her guests, is evident, continues the story, to be followed by Joe, the stable boy, the last person to see Mrs. Fitzpatrick. Thus the story lengthens with the list of characters, each of whom, in his own proper person, relates his share in the mystery.
From the moment that Justo Prieto, kneeling in the dim old church of Nuestra Senora del Mar, sees that which his own eyes doubt, to the time when, with the writer, the reader enters the walled garden of the House of Many Windows and discovers who it is with face always covered that walks its hidden paths, the story marches straight to its goal.
Introduction to Foreword for Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist
By Dan Wichlan
In January 1912, London went to New York City make arrangements with the Century Company for publication of his novels and to make preparation for his voyage around Cape Horn during which he began work on The Mutiny of the Elsimore. While he was in New York, he was visited by Alexander Berkman, the infamous Russian revolutionary and anarchist.
Berkman had immigrated to the United States in 1888 where he continued his anarchist ways. He was arrested and convicted for the attempted murder of industrialist H. C. Frick after Frick made the public statement that he would rather kill striking workers than give in to their demands. Berkman shot Frick three times but Frick survived. Berkman served 14 years in the Allegheny penitentiary, where he claimed to have endured and witnessed many abuses of prisoners that he documented in his book, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist.
London was sympathetic to Berkman based both on his own prison experience in Buffalo, New York and on Berkman's support of the Russian proletariat. (London claimed afterward that it was his imprisonment in Buffalo and his witnessing of prisoner abuse that had made him a Socialist.) Therefore, he wrote the following introduction to Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, which is dated February 19, 1912. In the introduction, London expresses his support for Berkman's cause but criticizes his anarchist methods. London describes Berkman's assassination attempt as "silly" and Berkman as an inept assassin. Berkman was dissatisfied with London's criticism and asked him to revise the preface. London refused and Berkman did not use London's introduction.
Also included is a preface to the original introduction that London later wrote in which he criticizes Berkman's response and his treatment by the Socialist Party. This preface is undated but, based on the content, it must have been written after his resignation from the Party in March 1916 and during the last few months of his life. The preface talks about how the Party has "dismissed all memory" of him. It also succinctly states the issues that London had with the Party, much more clearly and specifically than his resignation letter — "the socialists and I disagreed about opportunism, class consciousness, ghetto politics, political slates and party machines". It depicts a very embittered London. London was apparently preparing to publish the introduction by writing this preface, perhaps as a barb to the Social Party, but, for whatever reason, he did not do so.
It is ironic that London's epiphany as a Socialist was the result of his abusive imprisonment in Buffalo, New York and that one of his last public statements divorcing himself from the Socialists revolves about the abusive imprisonment of Alexander Berkman.
Note the pre-Winston Churchill "blood, sweat and tears" quote in the last paragraph of the introduction.
London's preface and introduction are taken from a typewritten copy that is in the Special Collections of the University of Southern California. The original hand-written manuscript of London's introduction to Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist is in The Huntington's collection but that collection does not contain the later preface.
Foreword to Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist
By Jack London
Some years ago Alexander Berkman asked me to write an introduction to his "Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist". This is the introduction. I was na´ve enough to think that when one intellectually disagreed with an intellectual the only difference would be intellectual. I have since learned better. Alexander Berkman could not see his way to using my introduction, and got someone else to write a more sympathetic one for him. Also, socially, comradely, he has forgotten my existence ever since.
By the same token, because the socialists and I disagreed about opportunism, class consciousness, ghetto politics, political slates, and party machines, they, too, have dismissed all memory, not merely of my years of fight in the cause, but of me as social man, as comrade of men, as a fellow they ever embraced for having at various times written or said things they described as doughty blows for the Cause. On the contrary, by their only printed utterance I have seen, they deny I ever struck a blow or did anything for the Cause, at the same time affirming that all the time they knew me for what I was — a Dreamer.
I'm afraid I did dream some dreams about their brains, which now I find knocked into a cocked hat by their possession of the pitiful humanness that is the birthright of all sons of men.
My dream was that my comrades were intellectually honest. My awakening was that they were as unfair, when prejudice entered, as all the other human cattle entered to-day on the human race, etc
(The original introduction begins at this point.)
A socialist, writing an introduction to the autobiography of an anarchist, may seem a bizarre thing; yet be it known that this socialist, in the opposite intellectual camp from this anarchist, writes this introduction out of love and comradeship as wide as the human world is wide. So wide a love and comradeship that bridges the abysses of human thought, is bound to seem absurd and lunatic, not merely to the stupid, average, political human, but to the stupid, average, conventional Christian. And since this is so, Nietzsche's classic contention stands: "There was only one Christian: he died on the Cross".
If my brother do a silly thing, a wrong thing, a thing repugnant to me and my concepts, is he any the less my brother? Alexander Berkman is my brother. My arms are about him in comradeship, despite the silliness of his act, as I chance to judge it. In face of the remoteness and vastness of the infinitely complicated social processes which have been at work in the evolution of society since the formation of the first human group, the attempted assassination of Henry C. Frick, to my mind, seems solemnly silly. Yet, with Alexander Berkman, this solemnity, this willingness to sacrifice his own life and all his dreams for the ethical grandeur of his dream, for what he conceived to be the good of all his brothers in all the world, in a terroristic dead of microscopic unimportance, remains an incontestable human fact. It must be reckoned with; it must be understood by all of us if we are to understand the human world in which we live. And who will dare to say that there was the slightest touch of sordidness, of self-seeking, of desire for personal aggrandizement and length of days and increase of physical comforts and sensual delights in the motive of Alexander Berkman when he invaded Henry C. Frick's office on assassination intent.
There is a vital worthwhileness in this book. We who desire to know all that is knowable of our sociality, must understand not merely the laws of gravitation and chemical reaction, the program of the Republican Party, or the motives behind the Boston Tea Party and John Brown's invasion of Harper's Ferry; we must understand, also, the strange spirit that moves strange men who are strangely provoked by the ridiculous social conditions of their time - which is our time. Of all paradoxes, is there one that will exceed the paradox of our anarchists – men and women who so temperamentaly filled with love for their fellows and who are so temperamentally opposed to violence that they are moved to deeds of violence in order to bring about, in the way they conceive it, the reign of love and cosmic brotherhood?
Perhaps it is right here that we catch the clew to their futility, put our hands on the pulse of their unpractical inability to put an end to violence by the perpetration of deeds of violence. For it must be granted that the anarchists do not know how to kill. A fatal inefficiency, coupled with possession of the most marvelous devices for taking life, prevents them from succeeding more than very rarely in their sanguinary efforts for the regeneration of the world. The stupidest sailor or common laborer, with a practical mind, can vastly more successfully eliminate an undesirable fellow being than can the anarchist, despite his knowledge of the books and all his fine frenzy for human betterment.
"I am a revolutionist first, man afterwards", Berkman says of himself. Very true, and very well it was for Henry C. Frick that the man with a full revolver who opened fire on him at point blank range was a revolutionist who had been too busy thinking about the world to learn the practical affairs of the world. The average farmer boy of our Western country, or average delivery boy of the streets of New York, would have made a better job of it than did Berkman. But then, the average farmer boy and average delivery boy are average and do not want to kill anybody for the sake of the people. Some conventional politicians, down in Kentucky, only the other day determined to kill a man by the name of Goebel. They shot him from so far away that never could be legally determined the identity of the one who pulled the trigger. But these men were average, practical men, possessing neither aversion to violence nor dream of the people. It is truly so that too much thought leads to inaction, or, rather, to inability for action.
And yet, not entirely explained is the violent anarchist reiterating his slogan of the propaganda of the deed. He remains a grim interrogation mark. He questions society in red. Likewise he is a social product. Society makes him, and the student of society must explain him. Hence, the value of this autobiography of Alexander Berkman, who takes us behind the scenes, opens his brain and his innermost heart-thoughts to us as he expounds the passion of his reasoning that propelled him forth in a wild attempt on the life of a steel king's lieutenant.
Nobody has understood this thing. The whole affair is replete with misunderstanding. Berkman, by his own confession, admits that he failed to understand the people. The people certainly failed to understand him. To the Homestead strikers he was an alien interloper from New York. Even the prisoners in jail failed to understand his deed. "You ain't no Pittsburgh man", the prisoner who had killed his business partner and who was waiting trial, tells him. "What did you want to butt in for? It was none of your cheese." Jack Clifford, another murderer, sympathizes with Berkman. "Too bad you didn't kill him", says genial Jack Clifford. "Some business misunderstanding, eh?"
And I, for one, having read this autobiography, still fail to understand. That is, I glimpse Berkman's revolt clearly, but I cannot grasp the utility nor rationality of his act. Yet much of understanding, glimmering and vague, may be gleaned from these pages, of the soul of the propagandist by deed, Alexander Berkman, which may enable us to understand somewhat the souls of other propagandists by deed.
And right here appears the value of this autobiography. It is a human document of anything but mean proportions. No one, unafraid of life and desiring to know life, can afford to miss this book. It is a chunk of life, torn out raw and bleeding. It sickens one with its filth, and degradation, and cruelty, with its relentless narration of the evil men do to men. It smells from the depths. Very well; then the depths are here. They are facts. We, who desire to be masters of life, must cope with these facts. No society in which we would live can be right in which these facts remain facts. We who would build the house beautiful for mankind must attend to the sanitation. We must smell all smells if we would remedy smells and make clean and pure the atmosphere of the house in which we live.
Berkman was very young, very naîve, when he went forth to do propaganda by deed. Also, he was hag-ridden by ideas and ideals and without contact with the real world. For instance, he came to blows with his dearest chum, the Artist, because, forsooth, the latter was so sybaritic as to spend twenty cents on a single meal, the first meal in two days. "We, the most intimate friends, actually came to blows. Nobody would have believed it. They used to call us the Twins. He had outraged my most sacred feelings. To spend twenty cents for a meal! It was not mere extravagance: it was positively a crime, incredible in a revolutionist. Even now — two years have passed — yet a certain feeling of resentment remains with me. What right had a revolutionist to such self-indulgence? The movement needed aid; every cent was valuable. To spend twenty cents for a single meal! True, it was his first meal in two days, and we were economizing on rent by sleeping in the parks. His defense was unspeakably aggravating: he had earned ten dollars that week — he had given seven into the paper's treasury. I had no patience with such arguments. They merely proved his bourgeois predilections. One could exist on five cents a day. Twenty cents for a single meal! Incredible. It was robbery."
Surely it is not too much to say that there a few more sweetly terrible passages in the literature of revolution. Yet, so unpractical was Berkman that he could not realize that a well nourished revolutionist is a more efficient revolutionist. Just as he failed in these simple, practical adjustments, so did he fail in his attempt on the life of Henry C. Frick and in the attempt on his own life in the police station. He was too much the fevered thinker, too little the practical man, to bring off a successful suicide. Stupid, ordinary folk achieve suicide every day. It is so dreadfully simple a thing to do. Yet Berkman failed to do it. And so the inevitable query arises: How can a type of man, too unpractical to be able to kill another man at point blank with a modern revolver, too unpractical to be able to kill himself with a successfully concealed capsule of modem poison — how can such a type of man be able to build another social order, establish a radically new and working relationship between the millions of common men and women?
Next to knowing the mind of an anarchist, perhaps the greatest value of this book lies in its bald, matter-of-fact narration of the unthinkable cruelty and lunatic management of our prisons. I, too, know our prisons and have worn the stripes and marched the lockstep, and I can vouch for the truth of the prison conditions described by Berkman. "Forty percent of the population is discovered in various stages of tuberculosis, and twenty per cent insane," he says of his own prison. "The death rate from consumption is found to range between twenty-five and sixty percent." The convicts and the guards in all our prisons know this. The public only does not know — the huge, amorphous unthinking and uncaring public.
"New faces greet me in the cell-house. But many old friends are missing. Billy Ryan is dead from consumption; Pasquale and Ben have become insane; Little Nat, the Duquesne striker, has committed suicide. In sad remembrance I think of them, grown close and dear in the years of mutual suffering. Some of the old timers have survived, yet broken in spirit and health. Praying Andy is still on the range, his mind is clouded, the lips silently moving in prayer. Old Alec Millain, the oldest man in the prison in the point of service, and the most popular lifer, has had his pardon refused by the Board. The police authorities are aware of his innocence . . ." So writes Berkman on his return to the cell-house after a prolonged burial in solitary, and there is no need to continue the excerpt. It reads like a report from some monstrous hell, rather than from a civilized prison-house of the twentieth century.
The blind, brute cruelty of man to man! The wild-animal management by our kind of the sick of our kind! Here, in the stinging indictment of these mad and stupid conditions, is to be found much of the greatness of this book. It is a hard, warm, human challenge of our inability to apply to the affairs of society the wisdom and the facts that are in all our books hibernating on our countless library shelves. Yet, outside these same pages, from the inside, if you please, can be found nowhere more illuminating flashes of the innate sweetness, and kindliness, and nobility, of human nature.
There is no apology in this book, nor for this book. It is society that must apologize. This book is real; it is true; it is a great human document. There is no discounting. It has occurred, Its blood and sweat and bitter tears have occurred. Its cruelties, and misunderstandings, and stupidities, and vilenesses have been perpetrated. Its thoughts have been thought. No man, in the august connotation of the word MAN, can question the nobility of these thoughts. They are incontestably a part of life. They exist. Here they are, stinging and flaming. We must know them if we are to know society of which we are a part and the whole of which is the sum of all of us.
Introduction to the Foreword to Two Years Before the Mast
By Jack London
I am going to defer on publishing the original foreword to Two Years Before the Mast because, even though it remains unpublished due to an oversight on the part of London's publisher, George Brett. Brett failed to include London's original preface in Richard Henry Dana's book but he did arrange to have it published as a review of that book in the "New York Independent" on December 14, 1911 under the title "A Classic of the Sea". This version was later collected both in the Human Drift and No Mentor But Myself.
London made minor changes to the beginning of his original preface to reposition it as a review but it is essentially the same.
The next installment of London's unpublished nonfiction will include his previously unpublished poetry.
Contact Dan Wichlan