Local Writer’s Opinion of Novelist Jack London

This interview of Jack London appeared in The Garden Island in May 1915. The Rev. Lydgate and his family played host to the famous American author during London’s brief stay on Kaua’i when he accompanied a Congressional delegation visiting the island aboard an inter-island steamer.

I have been asked so many and such various questions about Jack London, that I have finally concluded to allay any remaining curiosity in the public manner. I may explain that I did not apply in advance for him or any other of my guests, but I am very grateful to the assigning power for the allotment they made to me.

When Mr. C. A. Rice introduced me to Mr. London, he remarked to him jocularly, “He will fill you to the brim with Hawaiian folk-lore!” Somewhat alarmed at the strain to which I felt that my hospitality would be put, I hastily threw in the warning: “Mr. London, if you never struck a dry spot before you’re struck it now!” I may have been mistaken, but it seemed to me that his countenance fell perceptibly whether it was the supply of the folk-lore, or the lack of drinks, I couldn’t say. However, he bore the deprivation very well.

I should say that he is about 40 years of age, though looking much younger, boyish-off hand, natural and unassuming. Not by any chance would you take him for the Prince of the world’s story tellers-rather for a drummer or a live insurance man or even a book agent, except that when you talk to him, you realize that he wouldn’t make his salt at any one of these professions: he is too modest!

In his talk, he is easy, natural, direct and simple, with a little hesitation at times as though he knew there was a better word if he could lay hold of it. There is no touch or the oratorical or the grandiloquent; no slightest recognition of an audience anywhere. More remarkable, perhaps, considering what he has come through, is the absolute freedom from slang and profanity. This must be the outcome of years of patient and faithful restraint.

Literature is the last thing, apparently, that he wants to talk about. If left to his own resources, he unfailingly drifted round to the interests and problems of his great ranch in California, “The Valley of the Moon,” where the difficulties of practical farming have been impressed on him, difficulties and problems that run through the wide range of our own sugar estate problems here; problems of labor, cultivation, fertilizers, rotations of crops, plant food, chemical constituents, etc.; subjects that carried me into such deep water that I immediately created a diversion by calling attention to the fine cloud effects over Haupu. He saw my limitation and dropped down to a lower level, and told how his sister really handled the ranch, and did it far better than he could. All he did really was to put up the money for it, but that was quite a problem, it took so much frankly, so far it had been a losing proposition, he had put in a great deal more than he had ever got out, or perhaps ever would, but they had one redeeming consolation, they were steadily improving the place and would leave the land in much better shape than they found it, for when they found it, it had been ruined by slovenly cultivation.

Next to the problems of ranching, come the experiences of deep sea sailing. A yachting trip in the “Snark” through the perils of the South Seas is one long trail of glory in his memory. With a local nature pilot at the mast head, himself at the bow with the lead and his wife at the wheel to pick a perilous way through the reefs and channels and currents, with danger on every hand, this had the thrill of a continuous adventure, all the more so when they out dared and out-ventured the native pilot, and sailed through places where he said they couldn’t.

One long dream was the trip ’round the “Horn” – 5 months of release from the burdens and restraints of civilization and conventional life. This was the chance for recovery, to make up lost time and lost ground in reading and study. He made a liberal provision on the basis of 3 books a day. Not that he would necessarily finish that many, but it was best to be on the safe side; there was always chance of accident or delay that might extend the voyage beyond the original expectations. He never allows himself to be separated from his books. He keeps one on hand all the time as a resource for any lull or delay in the program and this redeems many an hour that would otherwise be wasted.

Professionally, he works two hours a day, in the morning, rain or shine. Sundays or holidays, the only exception being when he is off on a trip like this Congressional outing and these little actions generally grow tiresome; he would be glad to get back to his work again. This two hours, or course, does not by any means, cover the whole of his activity. The business end of literature in these modern days, scattered as it is throughout the whole world, involves a lot of work in correspondence, etc. While he escapes as much of this as possible, he still finds that he has a great deal to do that is far from straight literature.

With his well known socialistic sympathies, it is not to be owndered that he is somewhat of a radical, or even consclast (iconoclast?) in literature. He holds very lightly to the accepted cannons and rules of literary practice. He claims that literature as made for man and not man for literature.

Common every day usage fixes the substance of language, and molds it into concrete forms as shall best meet its requirements, and then later, some linguistic observer codifies these forms into rules of grammar, and declares that this and this only, shall the thought be expressed. But language is progressive and just about that time, popular speech adopts some other form, that for the time being is slang or “bad grammar”, or “off color” and is therefore frowned on by the literary authorities, but popular usage keeps right on serenely and comes out ahead so absolutely that the rules must be altered; grudgingly to meet the actual conditions. And so it goes, over and over again, the literary authorities vainly endeavoring to hold ground that the popular will has abandoned, and finding that they must move up or be hopelessly left behind.

For generations we have been struggling over form “It is I” instead of “It’s me.” Of course I always said “it’s me,” but when I finally took formally to literature, and dressed up as it were, I felt that I must conform to the rules literary authorities vainly endeavoring to hold ground that the popular will has abandoned, and finding that they must move up or be hopelessly left behind.

Accordingly I devoted myself seriously to the correction of my speech. For years I struggled with myself until finally I got so I could say “It is I” easily unconsciously. And just about that time the popular will had prevailed, and “it’s me” is now admitted to be correct in spite of the grammarians by sovereign authority of the popular will.

“Ain’t” has gone through a similar experience.

“Speech is an instrument of expression, and may be used in every way that is found to be most effective. It is nonsense to tell me how I must use the English language, just as it would be nonsense to tell me how I must use an axe. That sort of thing is all right for children who are learning but the grown man who is familiar with his tool ought to be allowed to use it in whatever way he finds best, and if he has any originality he will.”

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