No, adventure is not dead, and in spite of the steam engine and of Thomas Cook & Son. When the announcement of the contemplated voyage of the Snark was made, young men of "roving disposition" proved to be legion, and young women as well - to say nothing of the elderly men and women who volunteered for the voyage. Why, among my personal friends there were at least half a dozen who regretted their recent or imminent marriages; and there was one marriage I know of that almost failed to come off because of the Snark.
Every mail to me was burdened with the letters of applicants who were suffocating in the "man-stifled towns," and it soon dawned upon me that a twentieth century Ulysses required a corps of stenographers to clear his correspondence before setting sail. No, adventure is certainly not dead - not while one receives letters that begin:
"There is no doubt that when you read this soul-plea from a female stranger in New York City," etc.; and wherein one learns, a little farther on, that this female stranger weighs only ninety pounds, wants to be cabin-boy, and "yearns to see the countries of the world."
The possession of a "passionate fondness for geography," was the way one applicant expressed the wander-lust that was in him; while another wrote, "I am cursed with an eternal yearning to be always on the move, consequently this letter to you." But best of all was the fellow who said he wanted to come because his feet itched.
There were a few who wrote anonymously, suggesting names of friends and giving said friends' qualifications; but to me there was a hint of something sinister in such proceedings, and I went no further in the matter.
With two or three exceptions, all the hundreds that volunteered for my crew were very much in earnest. Many of them sent their photographs. Ninety per cent. offered to work in any capacity, and ninety-nine per cent. offered to work without salary. "Contemplating your voyage on the Snark," said one, "and notwithstanding its attendant dangers, to accompany you (in any capacity whatever) would be the climax of my ambitions." Which reminds me of the young fellow who was "seventeen years old and ambicious," and who, at the end of his letter, earnestly requested "but please do not let this git into the papers or magazines." Quite different was the one who said, "I would be willing to work like hell and not demand pay." Almost all of them wanted me to telegraph, at their expense, my acceptance of their services; and quite a number offered to put up a bond to guarantee their appearance on sailing date.
Some were rather vague in their own minds concerning the work to be done on the Snark; as, for instance, the one who wrote: "I am taking the liberty of writing you this note to find out if there would be any possibility of my going with you as one of the crew of your boat to make sketches and illustrations." Several, unaware of the needful work on a small craft like the Snark, offered to serve, as one of them phrased it, "as assistant in filing materials collected for books and novels." That's what one gets for being prolific.
"Let me give my qualifications for the job," wrote one. "I am an orphan living with my uncle, who is a hot revolutionary socialist and who says a man without the red blood of adventure is an animated dish-rag." Said another: "I can swim some, though I don't know any of the new strokes. But what is more important than strokes, the water is a friend of mine." "If I was put alone in a sail-boat, I could get her anywhere I wanted to go," was the qualification of a third - and a better qualification than the one that follows, "I have also watched the fish-boats unload." But possibly the prize should go to this one, who very subtly conveys his deep knowledge of the world and life by saying: "My age, in years, is twenty-two."
Then there were the simple straight-out, homely, and unadorned letters of young boys, lacking in the felicities of expression, it is true, but desiring greatly to make the voyage. These were the hardest of all to decline, and each time I declined one it seemed as if I had struck Youth a slap in the face. They were so earnest, these boys, they wanted so much to go. "I am sixteen but large for my age," said one; and another, "Seventeen but large and healthy." "I am as strong at least as the average boy of my size," said an evident weakling. "Not afraid of any kind of work," was what many said, while one in particular, to lure me no doubt by inexpensiveness, wrote: "I can pay my way to the Pacific coast, so that part would probably be acceptable to you." "Going around the world is THE ONE THING I want to do," said one, and it seemed to be the one thing that a few hundred wanted to do. "I have no one who cares whether I go or not," was the pathetic note sounded by another. One had sent his photograph, and speaking of it, said, "I'm a homely-looking sort of a chap, but looks don't always count." And I am confident that the lad who wrote the following would have turned out all right: "My age is 19 years, but I am rather small and consequently won't take up much room, but I'm tough as the devil." And there was one thirteen-year-old applicant that Charmian and I fell in love with, and it nearly broke our hearts to refuse him.
But it must not be imagined that most of my volunteers were boys; on the contrary, boys constituted a very small proportion. There were men and women from every walk in life. Physicians, surgeons, and dentists offered in large numbers to come along, and, like all the professional men, offered to come without pay, to serve in any capacity, and to pay, even, for the privilege of so serving.
There was no end of compositors and reporters who wanted to come, to say nothing of experienced valets, chefs, and stewards. Civil engineers were keen on the voyage; "lady" companions galore cropped up for Charmian; while I was deluged with the applications of would-be private secretaries. Many high school and university students yearned for the voyage, and every trade in the working class developed a few applicants, the machinists, electricians, and engineers being especially strong on the trip. I was surprised at the number, who, in musty law offices, heard the call of adventure; and I was more than surprised by the number of elderly and retired sea captains who were still thralls to the sea. Several young fellows, with millions coming to them later on, were wild for the adventure, as were also several county superintendents of schools.
Fathers and sons wanted to come, and many men with their wives, to say nothing of the young woman stenographer who wrote: "Write immediately if you need me. I shall bring my typewriter on the first train." But the best of all is the following - observe the delicate way in which he worked in his wife: "I thought I would drop you a line of inquiry as to the possibility of making the trip with you, am 24 years of age, married and broke, and a trip of that kind would be just what we are looking for."
Come to think of it, for the average man it must be fairly difficult to write an honest letter of self-recommendation. One of my correspondents was so stumped that he began his letter with the words, "This is a hard task"; and, after vainly trying to describe his good points, he wound up with, "It is a hard job writing about one's self." Nevertheless, there was one who gave himself a most glowing and lengthy character, and in conclusion stated that he had greatly enjoyed writing it.
"But suppose this: your cabin-boy could run your engine, could repair it when out of order. Suppose he could take his turn at the wheel, could do any carpenter or machinist work. Suppose he is strong, healthy, and willing to work. Would you not rather have him than a kid that gets seasick and can't do anything but wash dishes?" It was letters of this sort that I hated to decline. The writer of it, self-taught in English, had been only two years in the United States, and, as he said, "I am not wishing to go with you to earn my living, but I wish to learn and see." At the time of writing to me he was a designer for one of the big motor manufacturing companies; he had been to sea quite a bit, and had been used all his life to the handling of small boats.
"I have a good position, but it matters not so with me as I prefer travelling," wrote another. "As to salary, look at me, and if I am worth a dollar or two, all right, and if I am not, nothing said. As to my honesty and character, I shall be pleased to show you my employers. Never drink, no tobacco, but to be honest, I myself, after a little more experience, want to do a little writing."
"I can assure you that I am eminently respectable, but find other respectable people tiresome." The man who wrote the foregoing certainly had me guessing, and I am still wondering whether or not he'd have found me tiresome, or what the deuce he did mean.
"I have seen better days than what I am passing through to-day," wrote an old salt, "but I have seen them a great deal worse also."
But the willingness to sacrifice on the part of the man who wrote the following was so touching that I could not accept: "I have a father, a mother, brothers and sisters, dear friends and a lucrative position, and yet I will sacrifice all to become one of your crew."
Another volunteer I could never have accepted was the finicky young fellow who, to show me how necessary it was that I should give him a chance, pointed out that "to go in the ordinary boat, be it schooner or steamer, would be impracticable, for I would have to mix among and live with the ordinary type of seamen, which as a rule is not a clean sort of life."
Then there was the young fellow of twenty-six, who had "run through the gamut of human emotions," and had "done everything from cooking to attending Stanford University," and who, at the present writing, was "A vaquero on a fifty-five-thousand-acre range." Quite in contrast was the modesty of the one who said, "I am not aware of possessing any particular qualities that would be likely to recommend me to your consideration. But should you be impressed, you might consider it worth a few minutes' time to answer. Otherwise, there's always work at the trade. Not expecting, but hoping, I remain, etc."
But I have held my head in both my hands ever since, trying to figure out the intellectual kinship between myself and the one who wrote: "Long before I knew of you, I had mixed political economy and history and deducted therefrom many of your conclusions in concrete."
Here, in its way, is one of the best, as it is the briefest, that I received: "If any of the present company signed on for cruise happens to get cold feet and you need one more who understands boating, engines, etc., would like to hear from you, etc." Here is another brief one: "Point blank, would like to have the job of cabin-boy on your trip around the world, or any other job on board. Am nineteen years old, weigh one hundred and forty pounds, and am an American."
And here is a good one from a man a "little over five feet long": "When I read about your manly plan of sailing around the world in a small boat with Mrs. London, I was so much rejoiced that I felt I was planning it myself, and I thought to write you about filling either position of cook or cabin-boy myself, but for some reason I did not do it, and I came to Denver from Oakland to join my friend's business last month, but everything is worse and unfavourable. But fortunately you have postponed your departure on account of the great earthquake, so I finally decided to propose you to let me fill either of the positions. I am not very strong, being a man of a little over five feet long, although I am of sound health and capability."
"I think I can add to your outfit an additional method of utilizing the power of the wind," wrote a well-wisher, "which, while not interfering with ordinary sails in light breezes, will enable you to use the whole force of the wind in its mightiest blows, so that even when its force is so great that you may have to take in every inch of canvas used in the ordinary way, you may carry the fullest spread with my method. With my attachment your craft could not be UPSET."
The foregoing letter was written in San Francisco under the date of April 16, 1906. And two days later, on April 18, came the Great Earthquake. And that's why I've got it in for that earthquake, for it made a refugee out of the man who wrote the letter, and prevented us from ever getting together.
Many of my brother socialists objected to my making the cruise, of which the following is typical: "The Socialist Cause and the millions of oppressed victims of Capitalism has a right and claim upon your life and services. If, however, you persist, then, when you swallow the last mouthful of salt chuck you can hold before sinking, remember that we at least protested."
One wanderer over the world who "could, if opportunity afforded, recount many unusual scenes and events," spent several pages ardently trying to get to the point of his letter, and at last achieved the following: "Still I am neglecting the point I set out to write you about. So will say at once that it has been stated in print that you and one or two others are going to take a cruize around the world a little fifty- or sixty-foot boat. I therefore cannot get myself to think that a man of your attainments and experience would attempt such a proceeding, which is nothing less than courting death in that way. And even if you were to escape for some time, your whole Person, and those with you would be bruised from the ceaseless motion of a craft of the above size, even if she were padded, a thing not usual at sea." Thank you, kind friend, thank you for that qualification, "a thing not usual at sea." Nor is this friend ignorant of the sea. As he says of himself, "I am not a land-lubber, and I have sailed every sea and ocean." And he winds up his letter with: "Although not wishing to offend, it would be madness to take any woman outside the bay even, in such a craft."
And yet, at the moment of writing this, Charmian is in her state-room at the typewriter, Martin is cooking dinner, Tochigi is setting the table, Roscoe and Bert are caulking the deck, and the Snark is steering herself some five knots an hour in a rattling good sea - and the Snark is not padded, either.
"Seeing a piece in the paper about your intended trip, would like to know if you would like a good crew, as there is six of us boys all good sailor men, with good discharges from the Navy and Merchant Service, all true Americans, all between the ages of 20 and 22, and at present are employed as riggers at the Union Iron Works, and would like very much to sail with you." - It was letters like this that made me regret the boat was not larger.
And here writes the one woman in all the world - outside of Charmian - for the cruise: "If you have not succeeded in getting a cook I would like very much to take the trip in that capacity. I am a woman of fifty, healthy and capable, and can do the work for the small company that compose the crew of the Snark. I am a very good cook and a very good sailor and something of a traveller, and the length of the voyage, if of ten years' duration, would suit me better than one. References, etc."
Some day, when I have made a lot of money, I'm going to build a big ship, with room in it for a thousand volunteers. They will have to do all the work of navigating that boat around the world, or they'll stay at home. I believe that they'll work the boat around the world, for I know that Adventure is not dead. I know Adventure is not dead because I have had a long and intimate correspondence with Adventure.