Jack London's “Credo”
I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them, I shall use my time.” – Jack London 1876-1916 Jack London was a man of adventure, a man of action and only he could have truly conceived such a dynamic and challenging credo as this. And only he, with his great physical strength, his intense intellect, and his turbulent spirit, could have successfully lived up to it. He died when he was only forty, but he accomplished more in this short lifetime than most men could in several lifetimes. "Born in San Francisco in 1876 Jack London grew up in a world witnessing the settlement of the last frontier. Gone forever were the proud days of the pioneer. The country was beset with economic and cultural changes that for decades were to play havoc with the traditional American way of life. It was a world in transition. The easygoing days of an economy dominated by agriculture were being replaced by the world of machine, the factory, and the financial titan. America in the late 1800s was a battleground for unscrupulous tycoons and robber barons. The Far West was torn apart by the struggles of the big railroad interests. Financial panics followed one after the other as the "Big Four" plotted and conspired to gain more money and power. The economy remained in a state of flux. And the people were the pawns. “The memory of Jack London's early life was etched and scarred by the bitterness of poverty.” The memory of Jack London's early life was etched and scarred by the bitterness of poverty. His family was continually on the move to find subsistence. At the age of ten the boy was on the street selling newspapers to supplement the family’s meager income. For fourteen years thereafter — until his first writing success at twenty-four — life was one vicious, downward cycle of toil, escape, toil, escape, toil. He became a "work beast" laboring in a cannery, a jute mill, a laundry, and shoveling coal in a power station. He worked for ten cents an hour, thirteen to fourteen hours a day, six and seven days a week. Is it any wonder that he saw life in terms of man's unending struggle against a ruthless nature? Is it any wonder that he saw in socialism a chance for the salvation of others as lost as he had once been? Is it any wonder that he hungered for knowledge and success that would lift him above the degrading plain of poverty? Look, then, to the formative years for a clue to the life and works of Jack London. There you will see the birth of that indomitable spirit which could eventually lead him only to a philosphy of individualism. In his heart and sympathies Jack London was a socialist; he could not forget the sufferings of his past. But in his mind and actions he struggled — he was an individualist — he could not forget his achievements. Throughout his life he struggled valiantly to reconcile these conflicting philosophies. While he did not live long enough to begin the autobiography his notes indicate he planned to write, we are fortunate that so much of his writing is autobiographical in nature. Oyster pirate, deep-sea sailor, hobo, Alaskan prospector, all these incidents in his life make fascinating reading. But most important of all Jack London's adventures was his struggle to become a writer. Without guidance, writing under almost impossible circumstances, for the most part educating himself, and faced with continual economic hardship, he stumbled and groped for three long years in the literary wilderness. In the beginning the rejection slips followed one another with monotonous regularity. Had he been a weaker man he might have succumbed. Certainly the odds were...
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