« ForrigeFortsæt »
“Oh, Mr. Morrison, may I see that paper a minute?" she asked with a sudden show of interest. He handed it to her with a grunt.
"Thank you," she said sweetly. She glanced over the page, turned it, turned the next, and found the "Society Column."
"Oh!" she exclaimed.
"Let's see what's doing in town!" Near the top of the column an item held my attention:
"We wish to correct a very unfortunate error in our last issue. Miss Anna McMasters Lee is engaged to Mr. John Wilton, of this city, and not to Mr. Courtney Strong. Mr. Wilton and Mr. Strong are camping together in the Adirondacks, a fact which caused our much regretted error.”
I got up and looked at Anna Lee. I could not think for a full sixty seconds. Her eyes turned innocently aside, as she rose, and looked up the wharf. Then I did what I think was one of the noblest acts of my life. I seized her hand and said: "Miss Lee, I congratulate you with all my heart, and I think my opinion with regard to your fiancé ought to be about as trustworthy as anybody's." The moment was a serious one to me. But she smiled at me, this time with her eyes, in which sparkled all the concealed mischief of an hour; and then, quite irrelevantly, I thought, she burst into peals of uncontrollable laughter, which rang clearly from the shore back again and again. And the funny part of it was, that I laughed too. John and Mrs. Lee came up to us, and we all laughed. And then I congratulated John.
George H. Soule, Jr.
JACK LONDON AND THE PRIMITIVE.
ROM the day when the first traveler spun his first yarn, people have delighted in tales of strange lands. There is a curious fascination about a country where the laws, manners, customs, and conditions are different from anything we have ever known. This it is which gave the travels of Herodotus their popularity among the men of Phrygia. This lends charm to the illusive kingdoms of Anthony Hope. And this in great part first attracts one to that bleak, primitive country "north of Fifty-three" of which Jack London has given us so striking a representation.
But, with the strangeness, the likeness between such a land as the Ruritania of "The Prisoner of Zenda" and London's Klondike stops short. He portrays no vague, romantic country chosen as a happy background for the free play of a daring fancy. It is not a background at all, properly speaking. The land dominates the stories. Mr. London does not tell us of events and individuals. The North itself is what he shows us, the madness-breeding loneliness of its empty stretches of snow, the silence of its black, Arctic night, the pitiless cold, the savage life of its peoples, and the primitive desires-hate, love, hunger, and greed-of the strong men who have dared to penetrate it.
No man could have so exactly caught the atmosphere of those frozen vastnesses unless there were a bit of the primitive in his own make-up. In Mr. London there is a great deal. The unrest of a long line of pioneer ancestors is in his blood. His father was a trapper, scout, and frontiersman. Jack London, himself, was born on a Californian ranch. Before he entered high school, at eighteen, he had been a salmon fisher, oyster pirate, and fish patrolman, sailed as far as Japan in various forecastles as able seaman, and served on a poaching sealer on the Russian side of Behring Sea. "I loved life in the open," he says, “and I toiled in the open at the hardest kinds of work, learning no trade but drifting along from job to job." Working his way by such means,
he entered the University of California in '97. But in that year came the discovery of gold in the Klondike, and, answering the call of his nature, he was one of the first to cross the Chilkoot Pass. He found no gold, but in the year he spent there, before scurvy drove him out, the spirit entered into and possessed him as thoroughly as the spirit of India ever possessed Kipling.
Thus inspired, it was inevitable that Mr. London's stories should be tragedies. Humor, save in the grotesque hyperbole of hunters' tales or that careless cynicism which comes from too intimate an acquaintance with sudden death, can find little place in a land where men are so desperately intent on the struggle for existence. Nor is it a setting that lends itself to love tales. People are too busy to be demonstrative. Self-sacrifice, indeed, there is, and a heroic faithful
ness to the ties of food and blanket. And few have used these themes more dramatically or realistically than Mr. London in such tales as "Grit of Women" and "The God of his Fathers." But he has nowhere given us anything like the conventional love story. Sentiment fits in neither with the spirit of the North nor the spirit of the man.
"The great short stories in the world's literary treasurehouse," he says, "seems all to depend on the tragic and terrible for their strength and greatness. Not half of them deal with love at all, and when they do, they derive their greatness not from the love itself, but from the tragic and terrible with which the love is involved. Stress and strain are required to sound the depths of human nature, and there is neither stress nor strain in sweet optimistic and placidly happy events."
"Strength" and "greatness" here he uses as practically synonyms. According to this standard, Mr. London's work should hold the highest place in American literature. It is brutally strong, there is no denying that, as strong as it is direct and simple. The sketch of the feeble Esquimau chieftain, abandoned by his tribe, with nothing but a small stock of fire-wood to hold off the eternal cold, and the grim
philosophy he works out as the inexorable circle of wolves closes in, make a tale elemental in its power. The bitter, implacable hatred of the dog Bâtard for Leclére, working out to its inevitable tragedy, is as real as it is terrible. At times, it is true, there is a crudeness about this force, an excess of brutality and physical horrors, a taint of ostentatious mortality, but primitive life is never pretty. And, like the army, it would seem, "it shpoils a man's taste for moilder things."
This overpowering taste for the primitive is nowhere more clearly shown in Mr. London's work than in his vivid pictures of brute life. Like Leclére, he seems to know "the subtle speech of the things that move, of the rabbit in the snare, the moody raven beating the air with hollow wing, the bald-face shuffling under the moon, the wolf like a gray shadow gliding betwixt the twilight and the dark.' He has not given us a dog from Buck down to the meanest husky that is not characteristically alive. But the less tamed they are the more graphically they are drawn. Bâtard, bristling, indomitable, half-wolf, is infinitely better than that sleek and sheltered Newfoundland, Curley. In Buck's splendid reversion to type, the latter stages, where the centuries of civilization are slipping from him, are much the most ably handled. And, finally, the character he has devoted the most care to in all his work is Wolf Larsen, a being less a man than a primordial fighting brute gifted with intellect and reasoning power. His creed is just that which a strong animal would evolve if it could think. "Life is a mess," he says. "It is like a yeast, a ferment, a thing that moves and may move for a minute, an hour, a year, or a 'hundred years, but that, in the end, must cease to move. The big eat the little, that they may continue to move; the strong eat the weak, that they may retain their strength. The lucky eat the most and move the longest, that is all."
Brute force, in other words, the law of the wolf-pack, the most primitive code of man! Mr. London would undoubtedly deplore such a creed as a working basis for society.
But the touch of elemental things has wakened in him that love of power which is somewhere in every man. Strength of character, strength of body, strength of will, strength of action, the mastering of circumstances, these are the qualities that move him and these are the things that he has put into his stories. Time may temper them with a little more delicacy and art. But at least he is sincere. The spirit of the man and of that great, primitive, and terrible country which he has known and loved breathe through every line that he has written.
J. S. Newberry.