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In a way, the best thing for a writer is misfortune In that regard, Richard Henry Dana, Jr got lucky.A young Harvard man, he signed on as a common seaman aboard the brig Pilgrim, bound for California from Boston, to help improve his health Had it been smooth sailing over benign seas under a wise and beneficent captain, with good food and a leisurely stay on California beaches, we likely would never have heard of Dana.But, thanks to the treacherous and icy waters of Cape Horn, a power hungry captain keen on flogging his men on slight pretence, a year of hard labor hauling hides in anarchic California still part of Mexico in 1834, the year Dana sailed , and shipboard living conditions that today s Supreme Court would find cruel and unusual, Dana and his work have remained icons in American literature and history To wit, re living conditions When he and his shipmates mistakenly believe war has broken out with France and they might be captured and spend time in a French prison, they view the prospect as a pleasant break from their hard routines and shipboard incarceration Part of the lasting success of this book lies in its rich complexity part memoir of a privileged youth s right of passage into full manhood part sociological treatise on the people and politics of Mexico part polemic and muckraking journalism exposing the indignities, injustices and virtual slavery suffered by merchant sailors part technical manual on sailing part travel narrative and part detailed history of commerce on the high seas circa 1835.For example We learn much about mizenmasts, marlinespikes, and the how to of sailing a brig , perhaps, than a landlubber cares to know We see a California without streets or, for that matter, firm laws, but with a rigid Mexican social hierarchy of criollos, mestizos, and Indians the last often literal slaves as well as a smattering of Yankees, Hawaiian sailors, drunks, deadbeats, murderers, and rogues We are given the particulars of a booming hide trade the tanning, hauling, and loading in which Dana is forced to participate We glimpse the endless work of the common seaman and the absolute power of ship captains, which, in the case of the Pilgrim s skipper, culminates in a mean spirited tyranny We share a perilous winter passage around Cape Horn and the Straits of Magellan, through great, iceberg littered fog banks, driving rain and snow, and mean seas, where the perpetually sodden and frigid seamen must negotiate pitching iced decks and rigging to perform their never ending, life threatening tasks We view avarice, duplicity, ignorance, and cruelty, albeit leavened by loyalty, generosity, friendship, and perseverance In that way, and , Dana s tale is a microcosm of the human condition a seemingly endless and at times pointless journey on a small ark afloat in perilous seas, filled with ceaseless toil yet anointed with sublime natural beauty.Dana s descriptions of the seas, skies, and landscapes often turn poetic In fact, most all the language of Two Years Before the Mast tends toward the formal and writerly For despite it being a journal of a common seaman, Dana is an uncommon jack tar, with a Harvard education, bourgeois manners, and Boston connections that keep him, just barely, from spending another two years in California hauling hides Some of his not so well connected mates, from whom he always keeps a distance, at least in his mind and in his journal, were not so lucky The reader never forgets Dana s Boston background, as he spouts Latin and quotes English poets Although this book was the first to give us a seaman s, not the captain s, point of view, the language is not that of a seaman, and it will be another 45 years before Huck Finn comes to free us all from formal Boston English.Though nominally an American, Dana exhibits a tone, demeanor and delicacyEnglish than Yank A possible influence his lawyer father, who argued for an American monarchy and a House of Lords This delicacy also leads Dana to omit from his narrative most anything that might cast him in a common light such as his consorting with Indian prostitutes in California.But Dana s great fortune as a writer was, seemingly, his misfortune as a gentleman Upon returning to Boston, he graduated first in his class at Harvard, became a celebrity with the publication of Two Years Before the Mast in 1840, married, and became a prosperous Boston lawyer However, he never seemed to settle into a life of propriety, as if inoculated against it on his rough and formative two year voyage This unresolved inner conflict apparently resulted in a series of nervous breakdowns, which he cured with long sea voyages.Yet we sense this conflict between his upper crust snobbery and his genuine affection for the rigorous life and his vigorous shipmates seething beneath the surface throughout his journal We see a young man made over by his experience a patrician who, in his heart, becomes a common sailor, but one who never comes to relinquish his previous social status and persona.For most memoirs to succeed, the reader must be convinced that the author has set off on a sincere sojourn of personal discovery, to find his or her true self Here, in Two Years Before the Mast, we see that discovery take place before our eyes, even if the author never fully admits it. Mr Richard Dana Jr or Dana as his shipmates called him, is a man I would like to know Based on his autobiographicalTwo Years Before the Mast, a recounting of his 1834 1836, seagoing adventures aboard the Pilgrim outbound and Alert return , Mr Dana was a popular, hard working, man s man able to tell a tale While attending Harvard, he contracted measles weakening his eyesight, choosing to become an ordinary seaman on a two year voyage to California then the farthest hinterlands for his recovery This wasn t the only odd well to me anyway medicinal prescription used back then either How does a teaspoon of raw potatoes and onions beaten to pulp, administered every hour and held in one s mouth as long as possible, strike you as a cure for scurvy, for a patient in the very last stages When you are desperate, you do what you have to, right view spoiler It worked hide spoiler I read part of this in Jr HS, then all of it after I graduated from college my Shakespeare teacher 38 plays in the full year course asked me, as he read it, why so much reference to the lee scuppers For a beginning sailor like me, an easy answer those are the drains that fill because of the heel of the boat away from windward By the way, sailor s usage for going wrong, say gambling blown hard to Lee I recall how Dana records the loss of their first crewman off South America this, from a small crew, perhaps 15 As soon as they got on deck after the news, the sailor s clothes were auctioned No time for sentiment onboard, as RHD says Then I recall the great joy of their tea and molasses, or after reefing the topsail, some grog with rum The weather around Cape Horn was abysmal, with big seas and sleet and snow, but they were on their way to pick up hides dropped down from the high coast of Santa Barbara Dana observes that if the Californians ever learn to make shoes, their services will no longer be required shipping hides, taking them around Cape Horn to New England to be made into shoes, which are then shipped around Cape Horn to be sold to the Californians Dana observes that Spanish Californian culture is not workers there are the upper class owners, then the servants and slaves of other ethnicities A century earlier, John Adams in Galicia observes that the only ones thriving are the clerics of numerous churches, convents etc The fear of the captain and mates, the appreciation of the cook and his tea, the hard work and danger aloft these remain with me fifty years after reading Dana On my only trip to the coast south of L.A., I did get down to Dana Point, CA where I was impressed how the mock up of the brig Pilgrim was even smaller than I envisioned. this book is absolutely essential for anyone who has any desire of stepping off the quarterdeck of his historical fiction O Brien novels and heading down to the focs l to hear about sailing traditional ships from the men who were actually sweating lines, heave yo ho ing, and climbing the rigging to furl the royals before a gale dana passes the equator four times over the two years that he is a merchant mariner sailing to, the then mexican owned california, to load his ship with hides bound for boston s leather factories the narrative style is straight forward and matter of fact dana hardly lets his bias sit between the reader and the tale filled with technical sail handling language the amateur mariner might choose to read up on square sail theory before reading or merely depend upon his imagination dana provides a vivid description of pre U.S california and the hide trade that provided americans with their first contacts with the pacific coast not the western colonization or the gold rush and some supplementary essays by dana show, upon his return 10 or so years later how the settlements thrived around the embryonic ports of san franscisco, san diego, etc ultimately, an engaging travel narrative, providing a particular flavor for the modern equivalent of the author in the matter of fact 1st person narrative characteristic of the genre before twain. Two Years before the Mast is a captivating account of Richard Henry Dana, Jr s service as a common sailor on a voyage from Boston to the California coast in the early 1830s The long expositions on the technical aspects of navigation under canvas may not be of interest to those without familiarity with maritime life, but his personal narrative of daily life aboard a sailing vessel and the work of the cowhide trade in early California make the book worthwhile Two Years before the Mast is an excellent non fiction counterpart to the novels of Patrick O Brian and Captain Marryat s Mr Midshipman Easy I recommend it to those with an interest in nautical life in the days of sail. This book made me cry multiple times, but not for the direct subject matter I think there were just a few too many references to the California coast described in enough detail that the effect was to pry out long lingering ghosts haunting the coastline of my own isle of denial his descriptions are never quite up to the par of his literary contemporaries, but the detail leaves any California lover desperately lamenting the irretrievable passage of those first rough and tumble times that modern man first began journeying to that area of the world.Dana s description of first arriving in San Francisco made me shiver, and I still get goosebumps thinking about it The complete and utter irretrievability of that outpost wilderness fills me with somethingthan sadness and something less than rage The book itself is a fascinating look at pre gold rush California, and Dana treats the California coastline and journey there and back from Boston as a sort of seafaring pioneer narrative it is cast in plain terms and he calls things as he sees them the concept of an intelligent, thoughtful voice penning such a journey, as opposed to what I would assume might typically be the voice of an ignorant, uneducated sailor, gives the story a fresh slant as the journey progresses on, there are moments where Dana s amusement with the whole situation wears quite thin and the reality of the possibility in becoming a career sailor inches just too close to reality for his comfort it is in these moments that his true humanity shines through This is an excellent read for any twentysomething who is still not convinced of what their life and career should look like. This book didn t give me the thrill I was hoping for it s not exactly The Perfect Storm A True Story of Men Against the Sea Just as much time is spent on land as at sea, engaged in the hides trade, visiting with Spanish and Indian locals, riding horses, attending wedding fandangoes Dana s writing is missing some vital spark There is also so much sailing and ship equipment terminology that entire paragraphs would go by where I had to guess what was going on, since the language didn t really help me The nice sectional drawings of the hulls of the Pilgrim and Alert were helpful, showing the cabin, steerage, tween decks, and forecastle.A few things struck me 1 Most of the sailors sewed their own clothes for the return voyage, including tarpaulins and hats The edition I read contained a photo of Dana s white duck sailor suit Martha Stewart would be proud 2 Who knew that it took 10 12 men six weeks to load 40,000 hides on board The sheer amount of time two years and labor involved in getting the hides back to the east coast is astonishing 3 On the return trip the men are so starved for fruits and vegetables that after stopping to procure some onions and potatoes from a passing ship, they eat the raw onions like apples and nothing ever tasted so delicious 4 Dana and his fellow sailor friend Benjamin Stimson who I gather is an ancestor of the statesman Henry L Stimson are slumming They re Harvard boys among mostly uneducated sailors Dana s classmates included James Russell Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Dana would eventually graduate at the head of his class My edition contained a photo of the Dana residence in Harvard Yard, and it s very impressive large, white, elegant Later William James and the Harvard President, Conant, would live there Yet Dana befriends a fellow sailor, uneducated but brilliant, who bests him in their arguments about the Corn Laws and other topics 5 I m in awe of how insanely clean sailing ships were kept I want a 19th century sailor to clean my house for me every week.I wasinterested in the crew s encounters with historical context than in the seafaring itself The ship is completely disconnected from news of the outside world when they do get letters from home, they re already six months old So when in 1836 Dana gets his hands on some newspapers from the city of Mexico, he is bewildered to see Taney Roger B referred to as Justicia Mayor de los Estados Unidos What had become of Marshall John , he wondered Was he dead, or banished Dead Then, in September 1836, they encounter the brig Solon near Bermuda and ask its men who is President They respond, Andrew Jackson But thinking the old general could not have been elected a third time, we hailed again, and they answered, Jack Downing, and left us to correct the mistake at our leisure Must be an inside joke *Download Book ⇱ Two Years Before the Mast ⇩ Two Years Before The Mast Is A Book By The American Author Richard Henry Dana, Jr Written After A Two Year Sea Voyage Starting In While At Harvard College, Dana Had An Attack Of The Measles, Which Affected His Vision Thinking It Might Help His Sight, Dana, Rather Than Going On A Grand Tour As Most Of His Fellow Classmates Traditionally Did And Unable To Afford It Anyway And Being Something Of A Non Conformist, Left Harvard To Enlist As A Common Sailor On A Voyage Around Cape Horn On The Brig Pilgrim He Returned To Massachusetts Two Years Later Aboard The Alert Which Left California Sooner Than The PilgrimHe Kept A Diary Throughout The Voyage, And After Returning He Wrote A Recognized American Classic, Two Years Before The Mast, Published In , The Same Year Of His Admission To The Bar This book is, I suppose, something of a family favorite It was a favorite of my father s and became one of mine as well R H Dana was a student at Harvard in the 1830s who, following an illness which compromised his eyesight and forced an extended leave from study, signed on as a rank and file seaman aboard a merchant vessel bound to California via the arduous passage around Cape Horn The book is delightful both as a portrait of life at sea in the days of sail and as a sketch of California as it was before the Gold Rush of 1849 I traveled to California for the first time shortly after reading this book, and Dana s account greatly enriched the experience One of the high points of that trip was a visit to the mission of Santa Barbara and its beautiful old fountain, from which Dana had watered his own horse during an excursion ashore some 160 years prior. Historically unique and surprisingly readable first person account of life at sea on a merchant vessel 1834 36, sailing from Boston, around Cape Horn and up and down the undeveloped, cowhide disgorging California coast Most versions also include an equally interesting Afterward, in which the now 40something author returns to California in 1859, post statehood and post Gold Rush Having heard the book s title referenced for years, I d always assumed it was a fictional adventure tale, but, no, it s a first person memoir Surprisingly modern in some ways in other respects, disturbingly old fashioned As far as I know, there are no other contemporary books in English with as much detail on California during the years between Mexican independence and USA statehood And, as Dana himself explains, details on merchant ships grueling and often merciless conditions during the Age of Sail from the perspective of the common sailor were not, and are not, widely available.Beyond this broad overview, there s a lot to unpack and assess here, considering that this is both a literary work very popular in its day and for decades after as well as a primary source with a mostly trustworthy but not perfectly reliable narrator My five stars aren t because the book is perfect, but because of its uniqueness, and because the text in past present context offers rich analytical opportunity Maybe I ll get to a longer analysis soon, but if not, give the book a try As mentioned, I expected it to a skimmable slog, but was surprised to, for the most part, actually enjoy it It s old enough to be in the public domain, so Kindle, EPUB and other electronic versions can be gotten for free or cheap in many places I got a 99c Kindle version Paradoxically, reading this 19thC text via an e reader app is probably the best way to do it, because you can use the built in dictionary function to look up much of the archaic and nautical terminology.