Lot 8080: Jack London Correspondence Archive

RR Auction

2015-08-21 10:57:24


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Lot 8080: Fascinating archive of correspondence between Jack London and his friend Spiro Orfans chronicling a complicated relationship over the course of six years, with the material from the author comprising an ALS, eight TLSs, and a signed photo; London's letters consist of seventeen pages all together. Also includes nine letters from London's wife Charmian to Orfans, one unsigned and one stamped typed letter from Jack London, three letters from his secretary, and retained drafts and carbon copies of Orfans's responses. Included as well are eight unsigned original candid photographs. An immigrant from Greece who arrived on the west coast in 1908, Orfans was inspired to write to London after reading his 1909 novel Martin Eden. London responded with an invitation to his ranch, where Orfans soon visited—in a 1917 newspaper interview with Orfans, he said that on his first visit to London's home he intended to stay for three days but ended up spending eight weeks. Orfans continued to visit every summer for weeks at a time. In the same article Orfans credits London with all the progress he has made since arriving in America, and the headline calls him London's 'protege.' Like others of his day, London adopted the concepts behind social Darwinism and held racialist tendencies that are often implicit in his work. London's beliefs are attributed to several factors—the popularity of these theories within his generation, his experiences in raising and breeding livestock, anxiety about his own mixed heritage—and they become the subject of his later correspondence. In light of London's misinformed views, Orfans's Greek heritage introduced a conundrum difficult for London to rectify and he begins a war of words attacking his close friend from all fronts, criticizing everything from his intellect to his behavior while attributing it all to his ethnicity. These later letters present a paradox, as all seem intensely cruel and brutal but sometimes sarcastic or written in jest, while others—beneath their harsh shells—portray London as a mentor attempting to mold Orfans into the hypermasculine ubermensch espoused in his writing.The signed photo depicts Jack and Charmian at the fishpond located in front of their cottage on Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen, California, 3.75 x 2.75, signed and inscribed on the reverse in fountain pen by both Jack and his wife, "To Spiro, from his friends in the valley of the moon—Charmian" and "Jack London." All of the letters from Jack are signed "Jack London," with two also initialed "J. L." A selection of the letters follows:The earliest is a TLS, November 21, 1910, invites Orfans to visit at his ranch, in part: "Let me tell you how keenly I appreciate your letter. It means more to me than the kind appreciation of one thousand critics…when you do get down on the Coast here, Mrs. London and I would be most glad to have you come and visit us on the ranch. Then we can get together and talk like the devil…In reply to your questions. I have no knowledge of any language except my own. Have never studied Greek nor Latin, and so would be unable to give you any other term than 'woman' to define woman or to define an advanced woman."The ALS, August 22, 1913, in full: "Dreadfully rushed. No time to write. Yours was a bully letter. Run up during the latter half of Sept. First half of September I should be running around to agricultural fairs." A typed notation at the top, initialed by his wife, "C. K. L.," reads: "Our new home burned last Friday night, so we are full up with troubles of our own!" In reply to Orfans's offer to help, Charmian responds in a TLS of September 5, 1913: "Many, many thanks for your kind sympathy and offer of your own 'brawn' to help us…We cannot possibly build again for one or two years; no money to do so…So there will be no need for your generously-offered help." On the date of this letter, August 22, the famous Wolf House being built by London—a 26-room mansion in Glen Ellen, California—burned to the ground. It was nearly complete and they were planning to move in soon when disaster struck, and Charmian later wrote that the 'razing of his house killed something in Jack, and he never ceased to feel the tragic inner sense of loss.'TLS, two pages, January 25, 1916, in part: "God abhors a mongrel. In nature there is no place for a mixed-breed. The purest breeds, when they are interbred, produce mongrels. Breed a Shire stallion to a Thoroughbred mare, and you get a mongrel. Breed a pure specimen of greyhound to a pure specimen of bulldog, and you get mongrels. The purity of the original strains of blood seems only to increase the mongrelization that takes place when these strains are interbred or cross-bred. Consult the entire history of the human world in all past ages, and you will find that the world has ever belonged to the pure breed and has never belonged to the mongrel. I give you this as a challenge: Read up your history of the human race…There's no use in your talking to me about the Greeks. There are not any Greeks. You are not a Greek. The Greeks died two thousand years ago, when they became mongrelized. Just because a lot of people talk the Greek language, does not make those people pure Greeks. Because a lot of people talk Italian, does not make them Roman. The Greeks were strong as long as they remained pure. They were possessed with power, achievement, culture, creativeness, individuality. When they mongrelized themselves by breeding with the slush of conquered races, they faded away, and have played nothing but a despicable part ever since in the world's history…Read up your history. It is all there on the shelves…You know how I am. I talk straight out. When I am asked to hit straight from the shoulder, I hit straight from the shoulder. It is now up to you to come back at me on the very question at issue." This portion of the letter reveals London's misguided views on racial superiority and eugenicist leanings, but the language used is interesting within his body of work—Buck, the hero-dog of his most famous story, The Call of the Wild, was indeed a "mongrel."He goes on to offer advice on relationships: "As regards a letter of introduction to Mrs. Walling, you compel me to confession…after a number of disastrous experiences in introducing in this way young men to Mrs. Walling, even in the days before she was Mrs. Walling, I swore a solemn oath that never again would I give a letter of introduction to any one to her. The darn cusses all fell in love with her, and most of them acted like fools, and by their conduct compelled me to swear this oath. Not even for you Spiro, loving you as I do, will I break this oath. If you have the backbone of an anemic and the guts of a louse, when you get to New York you will hustle an acquaintance with her yourself, if you want it strongly enough. And, in conclusion, let me repeat—you know the straight talker I am—that no matter how straight-out and savagely I talk, my hand rests no less warmly upon your shoulder, and that only you can be offended by me, and that you cannot offend me."In a lengthy TLS, four pages, March 22, 1916, London writes, in part: "You are a fool…You are a fool, because, amongst many other things, you are not a philosopher, and try to ape the philosopher. This is the first and last sign of a fool. You prove that you are not a clear thinker, you prove that you have no homogeneity of blood in you, you prove that you have a base heterogeneity of blood in you when you treat me the way you do…And you think you are anything but what you are, and what you are is not a Greek, ethnologically considered. The Greeks died over two thousand years ago. If you only really read up on your history, you would find out what you are. You who come along, fawning and lick-spittling at my feet, kissing my hand, saying that you are a disciple of my great God-Almightiness of intellect, and have read all that I have written and swallowed it whole, and assert that I am the most magnificent and wonderful human-thinking creature that ever came down the pike—you do all this, as you have done from my first contacts with you, and then, because you have happened to have read one of my latest novels [The Mutiny of the Elsinore], proceed to get in and worry me, and challenge me, and ding-dong at me, for me to tell you what I really meant in said latest novel, and I finally patiently come through and tell you what every written word of mine has uttered from my first book I ever published. Read 'The Son of the Wolf' short-story in my very first book, entitled The Son of the Wolf. Read the dedication in that book. Find there that I laid down the very principle that I have ever continued to lay down…Because you are a boob, because you are the stupid thing that you are, because only at this late date you learn what my printed stuff has always stood for, you come back and call me a quack and a hypocrite, and a thrower of bull. In reality you crucify yourself upon your own colossal stupidity—the cross is all the stuff you have ever read and have never grasped." The dedication London references in The Son of the Wolf reads, 'To the sons of the wolf who sought their heritage and left their bones among the shadows of the circle.'In the same letter, he again offers advice on romance: "What do I care that the paramount reason why you do not make love to another man's wife is, not because it is against one of the Commandments, but because you couldn't look that man in the eye and tell him to go to hell if you felt like it. You silly slush! Let me give you a tip: After you have successfully loved and possessed another man's wife is the very time you can look that man in the eye and tell him to go to hell." He concludes by discussing Lord Byron's involvement in the Greek War of Independence: "You dare to quote Byron to me…Byron wrote in his diary: 'The worst of the Greeks is that they are such damned liars.' He thought he was talking about the Greeks. In reality he was talking about the mongrel descendants compounded out of the many breeds of the Greeks…Well, you claim you are a glorious Greek. How have you treated this white man me? I never sought you out. I have given you much. You sought me out…At the end of it all you have behaved toward me as any alleged modern Greek peddler has behaved toward the superior races he has contacted with anywhere all over the world. You weak, spineless thing. One thing remains to you. Get down on your hams and eat out of my hand. Or cease forever from my existence."TLS, two pages, May 31, 1916, in part: "You more than surprise me by verifying the correctness of my diagnosis of you as a mongrel…to meet you upon your own low basis, I am going to make you feel easier by accepting your proposition to pay me for board and lodging. When I told you I had given you much, it never entered my head, at the time, to think of you as so abominably low as to imagine for a moment that I had anything in mind except things of the spirit and intellect that I had given you. But so low are you, so stupid, abysmal mongrel, that you think I referred to board and lodging. As I say, I am going to accede to your proposition and accept what you estimate to be the price of twelve weeks' board and lodging…On top of all this, I will tell you something: That your windy words and cheap mongrel bluff mean nothing, and you are just as I described you—so weak and spineless that you won't pay me, even according to your own proposition, one penny of the bill for board and lodging." London's last letter to Orfans, two pages, October 19, 1916, in part: "Whenever I hear a man saying 'Honest to God,' 'Believe me,' 'I am telling the truth,' whenever I hear a man talking that way I conclude he is not telling the truth. In your case, when I see you repeatedly using the one favorite phrase of vituperation on your list, namely 'you chunk of bluff,' I can only conclude that you are continually advertising your own weakness. This weakness is bluff…Please remember that only a mongrel can mistake vituperage for logic."Orfans's reply was the last letter he wrote to London and is present as a retained carbon copy, three pages, November 18, 1916, in part: "That vituperation is not logic is very true. But logic is a very elastic term and when our immediate ego is especially concerned, we are apt to stretch it to suit our case…Here are we running around in a circle, stepping and counter stepping upon each others egotistic toes with bawl and howl and getting no where in particular…Since each one claims to be right while hurling charges and anathemas at the other, let us have a third party decide that for us…If this verdict pronounces me as the delinquent then I am willing to apologize to you most humbly, but should it pronounce you I expect you to do the same." Years later Orfans wrote in the margin of this letter: "As I read this letter over twenty one years later I regret that Jack died three [sic: four] days later. He was a fine man although a little oversure of himself when he dealt with a 'lesser mortal' like me…I feel and always did that it was better if he lived and I lost forty arguments with my right hand to boot." The correspondence between Orfans and Charmian London continues after Jack's death, with his widow writing an ALS on December 5, 1916: "Really, I've felt sorry for you time & time again, lately, because of your late unpleasantness with Jack—which, after all was an intellectual unpleasantness. He never was really angry, temperamentally, about it. Your failing, in the whole start of the thing, was your own temperamental inability to keep on a mind basis, and not get your feelings hurt…Jack never hated or even disliked you, Spiro. You outraged what he called his Arithmetic—and anyone who did that 'got his.' That was all."Spiro insisted on making good on his promise to pay room and board for his stays at the ranch, something Charmian addressed in a TLS of May 12, 1917: "Please consider this letter a receipt in full for any outstanding board…The payment of such, if I remember rightly, was your own suggestion, and Jack, in heat of argument, took you up…He merely took you up, and, I believe, let you state your own terms." The eight unsigned original candid photographs included range in size from 3.5 x 5.25 to 7.5 x 5.25, with four depicting Jack and Charmian London together and four of Jack, with images of him on his horse at Glen Ellen, fencing with Spiro, and at Guadalcanal.In overall very good to fine condition. As a whole this archive is tremendously interesting for scholars and laymen alike, portraying a side of London that has only recently begun being explored by critics. His letters are rife with excellent quotes and filled with desirable content that at once reveal both his intellect and his folly. Their chronology is also of interest, with a change in tone and increase in negativity after the burning of Wolf House—one of the most devastating moments of London's adult life. London became increasingly depressed, ornery, and alcoholic as he neared the end of his days, and these letters demonstrate this downward spiral. An overall outstanding archive of great literary importance. RR Auction's Remarkable Rarities Auction 461 Monday, 28th September 2015 Estimate: $8000-10000
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