Jack London’s London Journey Begins

Against all the advice of his friends and the authorities, Jack London purchases some dirty, frayed, working man’s clothes and sets forth on his journey, with some money seemed inside his singlet in case of emergency. He bids farewell to his friends and :

No sooner was I out on the streets than I was impressed by the difference in status effected by my clothes. All servility vanished from the demeanour of the common people with whom I came in contact. Presto! in the twinkling of an eye, so to say, I had become one of hem. My frayed and out-at-elbows jacket was the badge and advertisement of my class, which was their class.It made me of like kind, and in place of the fawning and too-respectful attention I had hitherto received, I now shared with them a comradeship. The man in corduroy and dirty neckerchief no longer addressed me as ‘sir’ or ‘governor’. It was ‘mate’, now- and a fine and hearty word, with a tingle to it, and a warmth and gladness, which the other term does not possess. Governor! It smacks of mastery, and power, and high authority – the tribute of the man who is under to the man on top. which is another way of saying that it is an appeal for alms.

This brings me to a delight I experienced in my rags and tatters which is denied the average American abroad. The European traveller from the States, who is not Croesus, speedily finds himself reduced to a chronic state of self-conscious sordidness by the hordes of cringing robbers who clutter his steps from dawn tis dark, and delete his pocketbook in a way that puts compound interest to the blush. In my rags and tatters I escaped the pestilence of tipping and encountered me n on a basis of equality. Nay, before they was out I turned the tables, and said, most gratefully, “Thank you, sir,” to a gentleman whose horse I held, and who dropped a penny into my eager palm. ….I found I had to be, if anything, more lively in avoiding vehicles, and it was strikingly impressed upon me that my life had cheapened in direct ratio with my clothes. When before, I inquired the way of a policeman, I was usually asked, “Buss or ‘ansom, sir?” But now the query became, “Walk or ride”? …

But there was compensation for it all. For the first time I met the English lower classes face to face, and knew them for what they were. when loungers and workmen, on street corners and in public houses, talked with me, they talked as one man to another, and they talked as natural men should talk, without the least idea of getting anything out of me for what they talked or the way they talked.

And when at last I made into the East End, I was gratified to find that the fear of the crowd no longer haunted me. I had become part of it. The vast and malodorous sea had welled up and over me, or I had slipped gently into it, and there was nothing fearsome about it – with then exception of the stoker’s singlet. [he had found it scratchy]

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