Jack London

All about Yaws: Jack London's "The Cruise of the Snark" Annotated Manuscript and Signed Check

All about Yaws: Jack London's The Cruise of the Snark Annotated Manuscript and Signed Check


Lot consists of 3pp 1st revision typed manuscript of The Cruise of the Snark with 45+ handwritten edits/words in Jack London's hand; along with a signed check dating from the era of the Snark's construction. Besides the value of these pages to literary enthusiasts, London scholars will also appreciate the subject matter of the manuscript since it anticipates London's death in 1916. London describes his treatment of the tropical disease yaws with mercury compounds, which modern physicians believe contributed to London's later kidney failure.


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 320-328 of London's final 1st edition of The Cruise of the Snark. In this excerpt from Chapter XVII: "The Amateur M.D.", London writes about home remedies for horrific diseases contracted in the Solomon Islands. The excerpt describes how London applied corrosive sublimate, or mercury chloride, to open cuts and sores. He, along with everyone else on the Snark, eventually suffered from yaws, a bacterial infection resulting in ulcers, joint pain, and fatigue, and this treatment was London's trusted panacea. In a recent article entitled “Jack London’s ‘chronic interstitial nephritis’: A historical differential diagnosis” (Pharos Medical Journal, Winter 2008), Drs. Andrew S. Bomback and Philip J. Klemmer speculated that London's death ten years after the Snark's voyage was probably caused in large part to his usage of mercury compounds as an alternative to antibiotics. The two doctors suggested that London's kidney problems were caused in part by mercury poisoning.


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 rust stains, chipped edges, and a few minor closed tears. The manuscripts dates circa spring 1911.


London's edits throughout the manuscript are in pencil and blue pen. On the first page, London has substituted the word "increasing" with "growing" and inserted a question mark and quotation marks near the bottom of the page. On page two, London has reversed the order of "means practically" to "practically means." London has deleted the phrase "a diversion" on the last page, and in the top right margin, written the following note to the printer: "make in small type."  


London also hand-inscribed three incredible black and white photographs that would become Illustrations 115-117: "Village of the Ete Ete - Ugi - Solomons"; "Charmian does some photographing"; and "The Snark's complement in the Solomons after we lost the cook and gained a German mate." The author drew arrows pointing to text blocks where he wished corresponding illustrations to appear. Other edits, possibly publisher's, 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.


"--dying man.  No smile and little intelligence illumined his face.  He was a sombre death’s-head, too far gone to grin.  He, too, had yaws, big ones.  We were compelled to drag him over the rail of the Snark.  He said that his health was good, that he had not had the fever for some time, and that with the exception of his arm he was all right and trim.  His arm appeared to be paralysed.  Paralysis he rejected with scorn.  He had had it before, and recovered.  It was a common native disease on Santa Anna, he said, as he was helped down the companion ladder, his dead arm dropping, bump-bump, from step to step.  He was certainly the ghastliest guest we ever entertained, and we’ve had not a few lepers and elephantiasis victims on board.


Martin inquired about yaws, for here was a man who ought to know.  He certainly did know, if we could judge by his scarred arms and legs and by the live ulcers that corroded in the midst of the scars.  Oh, one got used to yaws, quoth Tom Butler.  They were never really serious until they had eaten deep into the flesh.  Then they attacked the walls of the arteries, the arteries burst, and there was a funeral.  Several of the natives had recently died that way ashore.  But what did it matter?  If it wasn’t yaws, it was something else in the Solomons.


I noticed that from this moment Martin displayed a swiftly increasing interest in his own yaws.  Dosings with corrosive sublimate were more frequent, while, in conversation, he began to revert with growing enthusiasm to the clean climate of Kansas and all other things Kansan.  Charmian and I thought that California was a little bit of all right.  Henry swore by Rapa, and Tehei staked all on Bora Bora for his own blood’s sake; while Wada and Nakata sang the sanitary pæan of Japan.


One evening, as the Snark worked around the southern end of the island of Ugi, looking for a reputed anchorage, a Church of England missionary, a Mr. Drew, bound in his whaleboat for the coast of San Cristoval, came alongside and stopped for dinner.  Martin, his legs swathed in Red Cross bandages till they looked like a mummy’s, turned the conversation upon yaws.  Yes, said Mr. Drew, they were quite common in the Solomons.  All white men caught them.


“And have you had them?” Martin demanded, in the soul of him quite shocked that a Church of England missionary could possess so vulgar an affliction.


Mr. Drew nodded his head and added that not only had he had them, but at that moment he was doctoring several.


“What do you use on them?” Martin asked like a flash.


My heart almost stood still waiting the answer.  By that answer my professional medical prestige stood or fell.  Martin, I could see, was quite sure it was going to fall.  And then the answer—O blessed answer!


“Corrosive sublimate,” said Mr. Drew.


Martin gave in handsomely, I’ll admit, and I am confident that at that moment, if I had asked permission to pull one of his teeth, he would not have denied me.


All white men in the Solomons catch yaws, and every cut or abrasion practically means another yaw.  Every man I met had had them, and nine out of ten had active ones.  There was but one exception, a young fellow who had been in the islands five months, who had come down with fever ten days after he arrived, and who had since then been down so often with fever that he had had neither time nor opportunity for yaws.


Every one on the Snark except Charmian came down with yaws.  Hers was the same egotism that Japan and Kansas had displayed.  She ascribed her immunity to the pureness of her blood, and as the days went by she ascribed it more often and more loudly to the pureness of her blood.  Privately I ascribed her immunity to the fact that, being a woman, she escaped most of the cuts and abrasions to which we hard-working men were subject in the course of working the Snark around the world.  I did not tell her so.  You see, I did not wish to bruise her ego with brutal facts.  Being an M.D., if only an amateur one, I knew more about the disease than she, and I knew that time was my ally.  But alas, I abused my ally when it dealt a charming little yaw on the shin.  So quickly did I apply antiseptic treatment, that the yaw was cured before she was convinced that she had one.  Again, as an M.D., I was without honour on my own vessel; and, worse than that, I was charged with having tried to mislead her into the belief that she had had a yaw.  The pureness of her blood was more rampant than ever, and I poked my nose into my navigation books and kept quiet.  And then came the day.  We were cruising along the coast of Malaita at the time.


“What’s that abaft your ankle-bone?” said I.


“Nothing,” said she.


“All right,” said I; “but put some corrosive sublimate on it just the same.  And some two or three weeks from now, when it is well and you have a scar that you will carry to your grave, just forget about the purity of your blood and your ancestral history and tell me what you think about yaws anyway.”


It was as large as a silver dollar, that yaw, and it took all of three weeks to heal.  There were times when Charmian could not walk because of the hurt of it; and there were times upon times when she explained that abaft the ankle-bone was the most painful place to have a yaw.  I explained, in turn, that, never having experienced a yaw in that locality, I was driven to conclude the hollow of the instep was the most painful place for yaw-culture.  We left it to Martin, who disagreed with both of us and proclaimed passionately that the only truly painful place was the shin.  No wonder horse-racing is so popular.


But yaws lose their novelty after a time.  At the present moment of writing I have five yaws on my hands and three more on my shin.  Charmian has one on each side of her right instep.  Tehei is frantic with his.  Martin’s latest shin-cultures have eclipsed his earlier ones.  And Nakata has several score casually eating away at his tissue.  But the history of the Snark in the Solomons has been the history of every ship since the early discoverers.  From the “Sailing Directions” I quote the following: “The crews of vessels remaining any considerable time in the Solomons find wounds and sores liable to change into malignant ulcers.”


Nor on the question of fever were the “Sailing Directions” any more encouraging, for in them I read: “New arrivals are almost certain sooner or later to suffer from fever.  The natives are also subject to it.  The number of deaths among the whites in the year 1897 amounted to 9 among a population of 50.” Some of these deaths, however, were accidental.


Nakata was the first to come down with fever.  This occurred at Penduffryn.  Wada and Henry followed him.  Charmian surrendered next.  I managed to escape for a couple of months; but when I was bowled over, Martin sympathetically joined me several days later.  Out of the seven of us all told Tehei is the only one who has escaped; but his sufferings from nostalgia are worse than fever.  Nakata, as usual, followed instructions faithfully, so that by the end of his third attack he could take a two hours’ sweat, consume thirty or forty grains of quinine, and be weak but all right at the end of twenty-four hours.


Wada and Henry, however, were tougher patients with which to deal.  In the first place, Wada got in a bad funk.  He was of the firm conviction that his star had set and that the Solomons would receive his bones.  He saw that life about him was cheap.  At Penduffryn he saw the ravages of dysentery, and, unfortunately for him, he saw one victim carried out on a strip of galvanized sheet-iron and dumped without coffin or funeral into a hole in the ground.  Everybody had fever, everybody had dysentery, everybody had everything." 


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 July 13, 1905 in the amount of $5 payable to "Lionel H. Leadan.” The plain cream check is stamped in purple, pink, and blue recto and verso, and bears an x-shaped cancellation mark at center. In very good to near fine condition, expected light folds. Check measures 6.5" x 2.75".


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.



Item: 66076

Price: $1,500.00
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