The Soul of Jack London
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
- The Soul of Jack London (july 1926, Rider & Co. [UK])
- The Soul of Jack London (1933, Southern Publishers Inc. [US])
- The Soul of Jack London (august 1952, Psychic Book Club [UK])
Prefatory letter by Arthur Conan Doyle
LETTER FROM SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE TO MISS F. R. SCATCHERD
Jack London was ranked by many critics during his life-time as a mere writer of sensations, but I was always of the opinion that he really had such an equipment of mind, energy and actual experience as few authors have had the good fortune to possess. I discerned also that in his deep and complex nature which different forces were fighting to control, there was a purely mental one which led him to the darkness of materialism, and an idealistic one which urged him to the heights. I am sure that even now his work has not received its full recognition and that anything concerning him will be of great interest in days to come. Therefore I welcome Mr. Payne's book, which you have kindly allowed me to see in manuscript, and I regard it as an extraordinarily lucid analysis of the man and his work — such an analysis as only a very acute brain informed with much actual personal knowledge could have made. It will always hold a place of its own — a decisive place, I imagine, in the discussions as to London's work and character.
The psychic part is naturally of deep interest to me. The MS. was accompanied, you will remember, by a covering letter from which I gather that Mr. Payne has himself passed on, but that Mrs. Payne, whom Jack London called "Aunt Netta," had forwarded the manuscript and written the letter. In this letter the writer, who certainly gives the impression of a woman of candour and character, assures you that the personal allusions in the script were such that there could be no possible doubt that it was really Jack London who was communicating. These allusions were said to be so personal and intimate that they could not be reproduced.
Such an assertion will, of course, influence those who know the lady, but they will leave the general public cold. What is of much greater general interest is the evidence derived from the style of those extracts which are quoted. No one who has any instinct for literature or ear for the rhythm of prose, could deny that some of these possess the graphic, explosive force which was so characteristic of Jack London at his best : "They are new sounds to the ears familiar with my old materialistic yawp, but it is I, Jack London, and no other." "Death caught me unawares. I had no opportunity to watch his approach. He snapped me up when my face was not turned his way." "I am looking at death from the other side, the tame friendly side of him," ending at last in "Whether I wish it or not I am to be Jack London through all the infinitudes. What am I ? A soldier of the endless march."
Personally I am not surprised at Jack London's reappearance. Holding the knowledge which you share with me, I was aware that a strong soul dying prematurely with many earth interests in its thoughts, would be very likely to come back. But especially would this be the case for Jack London since he was a man of great resolution and dynamic force, or he could never have achieved such an adventure as the return to earth. So convinced was I of this that I took the liberty a year or so after his death to write to his widow and to point out to her the overwhelming evidence of such possibility, and the fact that of all men her husband was the most likely to take advantage of it if the right conditions were afforded. Mrs. London received my intrusion with courtesy, but I am not aware that any practical steps were taken toward this end. They seem now to have come from the other side.
I hope that the MS. will be published, and that it will find its place as one more brick in the huge monument of proof which is now growing so large, that even the blindest of mankind can hardly make a pretence of not recognizing it.
Yours very sincerely,
A. CONAN DOYLE.
July 1, 1925.