Two Years Before the Mast
In 1834, a Harvard student enlisted as a common seamanthe result was this adventure classic. Crackling with realism, it offers memorable views of a dangerous voyage, vividly describing storms, whales, an insane captain, excruciating hardships, and magical beauty, as well as fascinating historical detail, including a portrait of California before the gold rush....more
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 ...more
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 c ...more
White Jacket was, of course, at least partially inspired by this book, and after reading "Two Years" I can certainly see the influence reflected in Dana's work.
This book has, essentially, two scenes that are varied throughout the book. The first scene is "life on board the 19th century clipper s ...more
I recall how Dana records the loss of their first crewman off South America; this, from a small crew, perhaps 15? I should re-read. Then I recall the great joy of t ...more
Two Years Before the Mast is somewhat unique in that my enjoyment of this book is mostly related to the fact that this book exists. I say this as a native Californian with roots that reach back into Mexico. Two Years provides a snapshot of one point along my ancestral past.
It's truly fortunate that Dana, a member of the educated professional class of the early 1800s, decided to remedy his eye fatigue by taking one of the lowest working class positions of the time: a ...more
I had heard that this book was an exposé of the harsh conditions that sailors faced at the time, and that it was partly responsible for helping to improve those conditions. For this reason, ...more
They head around the Cape and spend a few years trading along the California coast. Probably the best written account of Pre-Gold rush California, it's fascinating to read his descriptions of singing whales along side their boats, old Monterrey, San Fransisco, his ...more
While studying law ...more
Upon his return, he wrote the book to, in part, counter the popular, romanticized ideas of life at sea. Dana said that most sea literature of the time was written from the perspective of an officer or captain, and wanted to point out that the view from the forecastle was quite different. He set out to show the reality of the ...more
I read this a few years ago and was just reminded of it by a sailing metaphor in the boo ...more
Dana was a well-educated student; he temporarily took up a sailor's life due to trouble with his eyes, hoping that two years of rest from reading and writing would help them recuperate. The story d ...more
The nautical details might seem dense to those of us who aren't sailing experts, but I still preferred the sections about shipboard life to the ones on California. Some of the California details were interesting enough, especially Dana's time living with a grou ...more
Dana was a contemporary and neighbor to Emerson and was a great influence on Melville. This was one of the first books to chronicle the life of a sailor on board a 19th century merchant ship. There is much about the operational details of a sailing ship, totally inco ...more
Leaving America he sails on the Pilgrim and its voyage heads from Boston to South America and around Cape Horn to California where he spends a season in San Diego preparing hides. He then boards the Alert for the return journey as the Pilgrim was not due to return for another 12 months.
The book is written in the language of the day at at times can be quite formal c ...more