The People of the Abyss

Jack London

Jack London (Photo credit: ex_magician)

The People of the Abyss by Jack London. In 1902, author Jack London of Call of the Wild fame journeyed to London on assignment as a war correspondent to cover the Boer war. He was on his way to South Africa where he might have met Winston Churchill, two years his senior, also working as a correspondent. Similar professions and similar writing ability, the two men could not have been more different. Churchill was born with a whole silver service, spoon, knife and fork, in his mouth while London was born poor and remained in debt his entire life because of his generosity to friends and acquaintances. London’s assignment to South Africa was cancelled, and since he was already in London, he decided to go undercover in London’s East End to see how the poor really lived. A change of clothes was all he needed since by 1902, London had lived rough for all of his 26 years.

London was a socialist when socialism was reviled everywhere by capitalism and its minions. If you read The People of the Abyss, you will be horrified at how England treated its poor, its elderly and its sick. No Social Security, no Medicare and no Affordable Care Act. The elderly relied on their children for care in their old age. If you had no children to care for you or they predeceased you, you were out of luck. Shelters for the poor demanded work from the able-bodied, were overwhelmed by the numbers seeking shelter, and provided inadequate food. The poor were not allowed to sleep on the streets or in parks at night and must walk from shelter to shelter since they could not seek shelter in the same place for more than two nights running. Australia had a similar system during the Great Depression where state assistance could only be obtained if the applicant kept moving from one town to another. Kyle Tennant in The Battlers tells that story eloquently.

London reports what he saw in a clear, straight-forward style and what he describes is just awful, my word, not his. The residents of East London were paid a pittance for physical labor. Once past their prime, they were replaced by younger and stronger workers, frequently immigrants from a healthier lifestyle in rural areas. London blamed the fact that 25% of Londoners died destitute on the capitalist system that he saw as heartless. Workers were drained of their vitality and then discarded. Crowding, poor food, lack of shelter and disease quickly disposed of excess population. The poor lived an average of 30 years; better-off Londoners lived to age 55. It was social Darwinism at its worst. For additional information about the life of Jack London, I recommend Irving Stone’s loving biography, Jack London: Sailor on Horseback.

According to Jack London, the poor in England were worse off than the poor in the United States, but by how much, he does not say. It was the Gilded Age in the US, and the GOP are intent on maintaining the 1% during this, the second Gilded Age. The question before the American voter is, will we accept this state of affairs?


Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Benjamin Disraeli, former Prime Minister of England in the late 19th century, lies could be classified as lies, damned lies or statistics. Those who use them, I would classify as liars, damned liars or scoundrels; statistics being the last refuge of scoundrels. I would put Mitt Romney in the last category, scoundrels, because of his fluent use of statistics to mislead. He continues to refuse to release his tax information, and he and Paul Ryan promote the Ryan budget without being specific about how they plan to balance the budget without the use of pixie dust. Mitt’s promises fall under the category of glittering generalities lacking any and all specificity. Can we take Romney at his word? No way.

Mark Twain

A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain t...

A portrait of the American writer Mark Twain taken by A. F. Bradley in New York, 1907. See also other photographs of Mark Twain by A. F. Bradley taken in March 1907 in New York on Mark Twain Project Online. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

England has William Shakespeare, the most quoted writer in english, and we have Mark Twain, the second most quoted writer in english. Twain’s english is closer to our modern english and is therefore easier to understand IMHO. As a student, I much preferred to read Twain’s works; Shakespeare was a chore in school.

These are two of the quotable sayings of Twain’s. “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” I still remember my first visit to San Francisco in June, 1963. I drove into town in a rented convertible from Sacramento. As I approached the city on Interstate 80, the temperature dropped steadily. Finally, I stopped and raised the convertible’s top. I was never to put it down again for the four days I spent there.

A second Twain saying, “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the  truth is putting its shoes on.” And that was before the internet and FOX News. I enjoy Twain’s sayings so much because they are usually short and make their points memorable using humor.

Mark Twain was also the author of The Gilded Age, which I am reading now for the first time. Since many are labeling the present day the Second Gilded Age, I decided to read it and I will write about it when I finish.

Marigold Hotel

Jaipur - Jantar Mantar - Laghu Samrat Yantra

Jaipur – Jantar Mantar – Laghu Samrat Yantra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday evening my wife and I joined about two dozen others to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie. Seven English retirees travel to Jaipur, India to live in the Marigold Hotel to ease their retirement finances or for other reasons. The seven are not acquainted until they meet on the trip to India. When they arrive, they are disappointed to find that the brochures on which they relied were grossly misleading. Six of the group struggle to make the best of the situation while one woman deserts her husband to return to England because she cannot cope.

The character played by Judi Dench seeks employment in an Indian call center. She is hired to teach the call center employees about how the calls are received in England and how to improvise on their scripts. The movie ia a comedy and a heart-warming story of humanity. At the end, there was scattered applause from some in the audience. I find that applause for a movie is rare, and I joined in.


English: A bunch of Razor Wire atop a chain li...

Image via Wikipedia

England exiled its criminals to the US, and after the American Revolution, they sent them to Australia. At the time, crime was thought to be inherent or genetic; if you committed a crime, you could not be rehabilitated. In essence, you and your descendents carried a fatal stain in the blood that could never be eradicated. The journey to Australia was a long one and many prisoners died en route if they had no friends to help them prepare for the journey. The fortunate ones carried citrus with them to prevent scurvy.

In Wildness and Razor Wire, Ken Lamberton demonstrated how important friends and family still are to surviving the prison experience. Today, it is the poor and minorities who compose the overwhelming majority of the prison population because they cannot afford qualified legal help and because the war on drugs is fought primarily against them. Our present attitude towards criminals has changed little from England’s attitude 250 years ago. All that has really changed is that we lock people in cells here rather than exile them to a foreign country.

Please see Smart on Crime | Tough on crime | Prison Reform