The World of Jack London

The Kempton-Wace Letters

From Herbert Wace to Dane Kempton


The Ridge,
Berkeley, California,
April 2, 19—.

SO you have met Hester's brother? Well, I have had an outing with Hester. She loves me well, I know, and I cannot but confess a thrill at the thought. On the other hand, well do I know the significance of that love, the significance and the cause. Notwithstanding that wonderful soul of hers, she is in no wise constituted differently from her millions of sisters on the planet to-day. She loves—she knows—not why; she knows only that she loves. In other words, she does not reason her emotions.

But let us reason, we men, after the manner of men. And be thou patient, Dane, and follow me down and under the phenomena of love to things sexless and loveless. And from there, as


the proper point of departure, let us return and chart love, its phases and occurrences, from its first beginnings to its last manifestations.

Things sexless and loveless! Yes, and as such may be classed the drops of life known as unicellular organisms. Such a creature is a tiny cell, capable of performing in itself all the functions of life. That one pulsating morsel of matter is invested with an irritability which, as Herbert Spencer says, enables it "to adjust the inner relations with outer relations," to correspond to its environment—in short, to live. That single cell contracts and recoils from the things in its environment uncongenial to its constitution, and the things congenial it draws to itself and absorbs. It has no mouth, no stomach, no alimentary canal. It is all mouth, all stomach, all alimentary canal.

But at that low plane the functions of life are few and simple. This bit of vitalised inorganic has no sex, and because of that it cannot love. Reproduction is growth. When it grows over-large it splits in half, and where was one cell there are two. Nor can the parent cell be called mother or father: and for that matter, the parent


cell cannot be determined. The original cell split into two cells; one has as much claim to parenthood as the other.

It lives dimly, to be sure, this mote of life and light; but before it is a vast evolution, Dane, on the pinnacle of which are to be found men and women, Hester Stebbins, my mother, you!

A step higher we find the cell cluster, and with it begins that differentiation which has continued to this day and which still continues. Simplicity has yielded to complexity and a new epoch of life been inaugurated. The outer cells of the cluster are more exposed to environmental forces than are the inner cells; they cohere more tenaciously and a rudimentary skin is formed. Through the pores of this skin food is absorbed, and in these food-absorbing pores is foreshadowed the mouth. Division of labour has set in, and groups of cells specialise in the performance of functions. Thus, a cell group forms the skinny covering of the cluster, another cell group the mouth. And likewise, internally, the stomach, a sac for the reception and digestion of food, takes shape; and the juices of the body begin to circulate with greater definite-


ness, breaking channels in their passage and keeping those channels open. And, as the generations pass, still more groups of cells segregate themselves from the mass, and the heart, the lungs, the liver, and other internal organs are formed. The jelly-like organism develops a bony structure, muscles by which to move itself, and a nervous system—

Be not bored, Dane, and be not offended. These are our ancestors, and their history is our history. Remember that as surely as we one day swung down out of the trees and walked upright, just so surely, on a far earlier day, did we crawl up out of the sea and achieve our first adventure on land.

But to be brief. In the course of specialisation of function, as I have outlined, just as other organs arose, so arose sex-differentiation. Previous to that time there was no' sex. A single organism realised all potentialities, fulfilled all functions. Male and female, the creative factors, were incoherently commingled. Such an individual was both male and female. It was complete in itself,—mark this, Dane, for here individual completeness ends.


The labour of reproduction was divided, and male and female, as separate entities, came into the world. They shared the work of reproduction between them. Neither was complete alone. Each was the complement of the other. In times and seasons each felt a vital need for the other. And in the satisfying of this vital need, of this yearning for completeness, we have the first manifestation of love. Male and female loved they one another—but dimly, Dane. We would not to-day call it love, yet it fore shadowed love as the food-absorbing pore fore shadowed the mouth.

As long and tedious as has been the development of this rudimentary love to the highly evolved love of to-day, just so long and tedious would be my sketch of that development. However, the factors may be hinted. The increasing correspondence of life with its environment brought about wider and wider generalisations upon that environment and the relations of the individual to it. There is no missing link to the chain that connects the first and lowest life to the last and the highest. There is no gap between the physical and psychical. From simple reflex


action, on and up through compound reflex action, instinct, and memory, the passage is made, without break, to reason. And hand in hand with these, all acting and reacting upon one another, comes the development of the imagination and of the higher passions, feelings, and emotions. But all of this is in the books, and there is no need for me to go over the ground.

So let me sum up with an analysis of that most exquisite of poets' themes, a maiden in love. In the first place, this maiden must come of an ancestry mastered: by the passion for perpetuation. It is only through those so mastered that the line comes down. The individual perishes, you know; for it is the race that lives. In this maiden is incoiporated all the experience of the race. This race experience is her heritage. Her function is to pass it on to posterity. If she is disobedient, she is unfruitful; her line ceases with her; and she is without avail among the generations to come. And, be it not forgotten, there are many obedient whose lines will pass down.

But this maiden is obedient. By her acts she will link the past to the future, bind together


the two eternities. But she is incomplete, this maiden, and being immature she is unaware of her incompleteness. Nevertheless she is the creature of the law of the race, and from her infancy she prepares herself for the task she is to perform. Hers is a certain definite organism, somewhat different from all other female organisms. Consequently there is one male in all the world whose organism is most nearly the complement of hers; one male for whom she will feel the greatest, intensest, and most vital need; one male who of all males is the fittest, organically, to be the father of her children. And so, in pinafores and pigtails, she plays with little boys and likes and dislikes according to her organic need. She comes in contact with all manner of boys, from the butcher's boy to the son of her father's friend; and likewise with men, from the gardener to her father's associates. And she is more or less attracted by those who, in greater or less degree, answer to her organic demand, or, as it were, organic ideal.

And upon creatures male she early proceeds to generalise. This kind of man she likes, that she does not like; and this kind she likes more


than that kind. She does not know why she does this; nor, with the highest probability, does she know she is doing it. She simply has her likes and dislikes, that is all. She is the slave of the law, unwittingly generalising upon sex-impressions against the day when she must identify the male who most nearly completes her.

She drifts across the magic borderland to womanhood, where dreams and fancies rise and intermingle and the realities of life are lost. A dissatisfaction and a restlessness come upon her. There seems no sanity in things, and life is topsy turvy. She is filled with vague, troubled yearn ings, and the woman in her quickens and cries out for unity. It is an organic cry, old as the race, and she cannot shut out the sound of it or still the clamour in her blood.

But there is one male in all the world who is most nearty her complement, and he may be over on the other side of the world where she may not find him. So propinquity determines her fate. Of the males she is in contact with, the one who can more nearly give her the completeness she craves will be the one she loves.


All of which is well and good in its way, but let us analyze further. What is all this but the symptoms of an extreme over-excitation and nervous disorder? The equilibrium of the organism has been overthrown and there is a wild scrambling for the restoration of that equilibrium. The choice made may be good or ill, as chance and time may dictate, but the impelling excitement forces a choice. What if it be ill? What if to-morrow a male who is a far better complement should appear? The time is now. Nature is not neglectful, and well she knows the disaster of delay. She is prodigal of the individual and is satisfied with one match out of many mismatches, just as she is satisfied that of a million cod eggs one only should develop into a full-grown cod. And so this love of the human in no wise differs from that of the sparrow which forgets preservation in procreation. Thus nature tricks her creatures and the race lives on.

For the lesser creatures the trick serves the purpose well. There is need for a compelling madness, else would self-preservation overcome procreation and there be no lesser creatures.


And man is content to rest coequal with the beast in the matter of mating. Notwithstanding his intelligence, which has made him the master of matter and enabled him to enslave the great blind forces, he is unable to perpetuate his species without the aid of the impelling madness. Nay, men will not have it otherwise; and when an individual urges that his reason has placed him above the beast, and that, without the impelling madness, he can mate with greater wisdom and potency, then the poets and singers rise up and fling potsherds at him. To improve upon nature by draining a malarial swamp is permitted him; to improve upon nature's methods and breed swifter carrier-pigeons and finer horses than she has ever bred is also permitted; but to improve upon nature in the breeding of the human, that is a sacrilege which cannot be condoned! Down with him! He is a brute to question our divine Love, God-given and glorious!

Ah, Dane, remember the first dim yearning of divided life, and the soils and smirches and frenzies put upon it by the spawn of multitudinous generations. There is your love, the


whole history of it. There is no intrinsic shame in the thing itself, but the shame lies in that we are not greater than it.



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