A modern man shines a flashlight on a bearded barbarian. The modern man is actually a thief, Dave Slotter, intent upon stealing from the vast country estate of wealthy businessman James Ward. As he walks Ward's grounds, however, Slotter stumbles upon a strange wild man and is forced to flee for his life. Little does Slotter suspect that the barbarian is Ward, who, as London's narrator says, "was two men, and chronologically speaking, these men were several thousand years or so apart." One of Ward's selves is modern, the other a "Teutonic barbarian." By day Ward works in a San Francisco firm, where he is senior partner; as night comes on, he becomes "an uncouth, wife-stealing savage of the dark German forests," "a vagabond anachronism," "a crude, rude savage creature who, by some freak of chance, lived again after thrice a thousand years," a man of extraordinary strength. Ward is even aware of this older self during daylight hours, so much so that in college he had sung ancient Saxon chants for his startled philology professor: "Professor Wertz proclaimed it no hog-German, but early German, or early Teuton, of a date that must far precede anything that had ever been discovered and handed down by the scholars."
The plot of "When the World Was Young" was one of a number of story ideas sold to London by the young Sinclair Lewis in 1910 and 1911. Lewis's title for the plot was "The Garden Terror." See Franklin Walker, "Jack London's Use of Sinclair Lewis Plots, Together with a Printing of Three of the Plots," The Huntington Library Quarterly 17 (Nov. 1953): 59-74.Alexander Nemerov