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Lot 174

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Jack London, The Cruise of the Snark Annotated Manuscript and Signed Check

Lot consists of 4pp 1st revision typed manuscript of The Cruise of the Snark with 50+ handwritten edits/words in Jack London's hand; along with a signed check dating from the era of the Snark's construction.

In the spring of 1907, Jack London (1876-1916), accompanied by his wife Charmian (1871-1955) and a small crew, set out for a modern maritime adventure aboard the Snark, their 45' long custom built sailboat. Over the next 2 years, the Londons would sail west and south across the Pacific Ocean, exploring Hawaii, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tahiti, Australia, and other tropical locales. London later recounted his travel experiences in a non-fiction illustrated account called The Cruise of the Snark, published by The Macmillan Company in New York in 1911.

These typed manuscript galleys correspond to pages 291-301 of London's final 1st edition of The Cruise of the Snark. This excerpt comprises the end of Chapter XV: "Cruising in the Solomons" and the beginning of Chapter XVI: "Bêche de Mer English." The portion treats the Londons' narrow escape from bushmen pirates, and the interesting linguistic phenomenon of bêche de mer. London delighted in learning this patois which functioned as a lingua franca in the South Pacific.

The galley proofs are oversized, measuring 9.25" x 12" on average overall, and have generously sized margins to accommodate handwritten author's edits. The pages are in very good to near fine condition with expected wear including paper folds, isolated light soiling, and some chipped edges. The manuscripts dates circa spring 1911.

London's edits throughout the manuscript are in pencil and blue pen. On the first page, London has twice corrected the spelling of the name of a Protestant missionary named Caulfeild, and swapped the word "on" for "of." On the following page, he has changed "pieces" to "piecee" (an example of bêche de mer dialect) and inserted a comma in the last paragraph of the page. London has corrected the spelling of "beef" and added "animals" to the same paragraph on the last page.

London also hand-inscribed captions to six incredible black and white photographs that would become Illustration 101-106: "Salt-water women on their way to market, Malu, Malaita"; "A Malaita Man"; "A Malaita 'Mary,'"; "Vella Lavella Man"; "From Fin Bori-Malaita"; and "A beau of Malaita." London drew arrows pointing to text blocks where he wished corresponding illustrations to appear. Other possibly publisher's edits in red are found throughout.

The manuscript pages correspond to the following published text found in The Cruise of the Snark. Areas affected by London's edits are in bold.

"--place, we disarmed the boat’s crew. This, incidentally, gave them both hands free to work for the vessel. The rifles were put in the charge of five of Mr. Caulfeild’s mission boys. And down below in the wreck of the cabin the missionary and his converts prayed to God to save the Minota. It was an impressive scene! the unarmed man of God praying with cloudless faith, his savage followers leaning on their rifles and mumbling amens. The cabin walls reeled about them. The vessel lifted and smashed upon the coral with every sea. From on deck came the shouts of men heaving and toiling, praying, in another fashion, with purposeful will and strength of arm.

That night Mr. Caulfeild brought off a warning. One of our recruits had a price on his head of fifty fathoms of shell-money and forty pigs. Baffled in their desire to capture the vessel, the bushmen decided to get the head of the man. When killing begins, there is no telling where it will end, so Captain Jansen armed a whale-boat and rowed in to the edge of the beach. Ugi, one of his boat’s crew, stood up and orated for him. Ugi was excited. Captain Jansen’s warning that any canoe sighted that night would be pumped full of lead, Ugi turned into a bellicose declaration of war, which wound up with a peroration somewhat to the following effect: “You kill my captain, I drink his blood and die with him!”

The bushmen contented themselves with burning an unoccupied mission house, and sneaked back to the bush. The next day the Eugenie sailed in and dropped anchor. Three days and two nights the Minota pounded on the reef; but she held together, and the shell of her was pulled off at last and anchored in smooth water. There we said good-bye to her and all on board, and sailed away on the Eugenie, bound for Florida Island.



Given a number of white traders, a wide area of land, and scores of savage languages and dialects, the result will be that the traders will manufacture a totally new, unscientific, but perfectly adequate, language. This the traders did when they invented the Chinook lingo for use over British Columbia, Alaska, and the Northwest Territory. So with the lingo of the Kroo-boys of Africa, the pigeon English of the Far East, and the bêche de mer of the westerly portion of the South Seas. This latter is often called pigeon English, but pigeon English it certainly is not. To show how totally different it is, mention need be made only of the fact that the classic piecee of China has no place in it.

There was once a sea captain who needed a dusky potentate down in his cabin. The potentate was on deck. The captain’s command to the Chinese steward was “Hey, boy, you go top-side catchee one piecee king.” Had the steward been a New Hibridean or a Solomon islander, the command would have been: “Hey, you fella boy, go look ’m eye belong you along deck, bring ’m me fella one big fella marster belong black man.”

It was the first white men who ventured through Melanesia after the early explorers, who developed bêche de mer English—men such as the bêche de mer fishermen, the sandalwood traders, the pearl hunters, and the labour recruiters. In the Solomons, for instance, scores of languages and dialects are spoken. Unhappy the trader who tried to learn them all; for in the next group to which he might wander he would find scores of additional tongues. A common language was necessary—a language so simple that a child could learn it, with a vocabulary as limited as the intelligence of the savages upon whom it was to be used. The traders did not reason this out. Bêche de mer English was the product of conditions and circumstances. Function precedes organ; and the need for a universal Melanesian lingo preceded bêche de mer English. Bêche de mer was purely fortuitous, but it was fortuitous in the deterministic way. Also, from the fact that out of the need the lingo arose, bêche de mer English is a splendid argument for the Esperanto enthusiasts.

A limited vocabulary means that each word shall be overworked. Thus, fella, in bêche de mer, means all that piecee does and quite a bit more, and is used continually in every possible connection. Another overworked word is belong. Nothing stands alone. Everything is related. The thing desired is indicated by its relationship with other things. A primitive vocabulary means primitive expression, thus, the continuance of rain is expressed as rain he stop. Sun he come up cannot possibly be misunderstood, while the phrase-structure itself can be used without mental exertion in ten thousand different ways, as, for instance, a native who desires to tell you that there are fish in the water and who says fish he stop. It was while trading on Ysabel island that I learned the excellence of this usage. I wanted two or three pairs of the large clam-shells (measuring three feet across), but I did not want the meat inside. Also, I wanted the meat of some of the smaller clams to make a chowder. My instruction to the natives finally ripened into the following “You fella bring me fella big fella clam—kai-kai he no stop, he walk about. You fella bring me fella small fella clam—kai-kai he stop.”

Kai-kai is the Polynesian for food, meat, eating, and to eat: but it would be hard to say whether it was introduced into Melanesia by the sandalwood traders or by the Polynesian westward drift. Walk about is a quaint phrase. Thus, if one orders a Solomon sailor to put a tackle on a boom, he will suggest, “That fella boom he walk about too much.” And if the said sailor asks for shore liberty, he will state that it is his desire to walk about. Or if said sailor be seasick, he will explain his condition by stating, “Belly belong me walk about too much.”

Too much, by the way, does not indicate anything excessive. It is merely the simple superlative. Thus, if a native is asked the distance to a certain village, his answer will be one of these four: “Close-up”; “long way little bit”; “long way big bit”; or “long way too much.” Long way too much does not mean that one cannot walk to the village; it means that he will have to walk farther than if the village were a long way big bit.

Gammon is to lie, to exaggerate, to joke. Mary is a woman. Any woman is a Mary. All women are Marys. Doubtlessly the first dim white adventurer whimsically called a native woman Mary, and of similar birth must have been many other words in bêche de mer. The white men were all seamen, and so capsize and sing out were introduced into the lingo. One would not tell a Melanesian cook to empty the dish-water, but he would tell him to capsize it. To sing out is to cry loudly, to call out, or merely to speak. Sing-sing is a song. The native Christian does not think of God calling for Adam in the Garden of Eden; in the native’s mind, God sings out for Adam.

Savvee or catchee are practically the only words which have been introduced straight from pigeon English. Of course, pickaninny has happened along, but some of its uses are delicious. Having bought a fowl from a native in a canoe, the native asked me if I wanted “Pickaninny stop along him fella.” It was not until he showed me a handful of hen’s eggs that I understood his meaning. My word, as an exclamation with a thousand significances, could have arrived from nowhere else than Old England. A paddle, a sweep, or an oar, is called washee, and washee is also the verb.

Here is a letter, dictated by one Peter, a native trader at Santa Anna, and addressed to his employer. Harry, the schooner captain, started to write the letter, but was stopped by Peter at the end of the second sentence. Thereafter the letter runs in Peter's own words, for Peter was afraid that Harry gammoned too much, and he wanted the straight story of his needs to go to headquarters.

“Santa Anna"

“Trader Peter has worked 12 months for your firm and has not received any pay yet. He hereby wants £12.” (At this point Peter began dictation). “Harry he gammon along him all the time too much. I like him 6 tin biscuit, 4 bag rice, 24 tin bullamacow. Me like him 2 rifle, me savvee look out along boat, some place me go man he no good, he kai-kai along me.


Bullamacow means tinned beef. This word was corrupted from the English language by the Samoans, and from them learned by the traders, who carried it along with them into Melanesia. Captain Cook and the other early navigators made a practice of introducing seeds, plants, and domestic animals amongst the natives. It was at Samoa that one such navigator landed a bull and a cow. “This is a bull and cow,” said he to the Samoans. They thought he was giving the name of the breed, and from that day to this, beef on the hoof and beef in the tin is called bullamacow."

In addition to the hand-corrected manuscript is an unnumbered check inscribed overall and signed “Jack London” on the payee line. Issued from the Central Bank of Oakland, California on June 29, 1905 in the amount of $20.79 payable to "Smith Bros.” The plain cream check is stamped in blue and maroon recto and verso, and bears a x-shaped cancellation mark at left center. In very good to near fine condition, with minor loss to the left edge. Check measures 6.5" x 2.875".

London's check recipient may have been Smith Brothers, Inc., a firm that sold books, paper products, artist supplies, picture frames, and office furniture including typewriters. Smith Brothers' storefront was located on 13th Street northwest of downtown Oakland, California.

Jack London must have required an inexhaustible supply of writing materials, if one considers the considerable output produced over his short lifetime. In the year 1905 alone, London published one novel, one essay, three short stories, and three poems. The beloved author must have also responded to lots of fan mail.

Jack London grew up in Oakland, California. He attended elementary school through high school there, and studied at a local waterfront bar named Heinold's First and Last Saloon; the proprietor later lent him tuition money to Berkeley.

Jack London wrote dozens of poems, short stories, essays, and novels over a prolific career curtailed by chronic ill-health. With income generated from adventure classics like Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906), London was able to purchase a ranch and outfit the Snark.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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