December 10, 2017
Jack London's Cash FlowOn this day in 1913, the flamboyant and very American Jack London wrote a letter to six of the most famous writers of the day -- a list which included Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells -- to ask them what rates they were paid for their "stuff." Fifteen years earlier, London had been a beginning writer with a stack of over 400 rejection slips skewered five feet high on a wire in his room. He was now a prolific, best-selling author, but it had been a decade since The Call of the Wild, and "Wolf" had a voracious lifestyle: a custom-built ketch for his round-the-world voyage; a 1400-acre "Beauty Ranch" in the Sonoma hills for the utopian agricultural community he was developing; a nearly-completed mansion, "Wolf House," and a policy of extending hospitality or hand-outs to all; a taste for venture capitalism, and the instincts of Mark Twain for hopeless schemes. London's own estimate was that he needed $100,000 a year to keep his projects, his philanthropy, and his personality going.
He would die ten books and not quite four years later, aged forty-two. At times he would say that he was worn out by use and disaster, but at other times he would rejoice that "my old-time punch" was still there. This was writing punch now, not the kind that lay behind telling Ambrose Bierce, just a few years before, "I'll tie your breastbone in knots if you start anything," or telling a California judge, in a letter reprinted across America, that "someday, somehow, somewhere, I am going to get you." Both of these taunts were drinking-related, and he continued to drink – less than before, though more than the hardly-at-all described in John Barleycorn. This autobiographical novel was the biggest hit of his last books, and the toast of the Prohibition movement for its chronicle of imbibing too much "white logic." The book also elegizes London's physical decline in golden, Buck terms:
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