Two Years Before the Mast

Two Years Before the Mast

eBook - 2015
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This legendary account of a voyage around Cape Horn captures the majesty and misadventure of life at sea in the early nineteenth century. In 1834, nineteen-year-old Richard Henry Dana left Harvard University to enlist as a deckhand on a brig sailing from Boston to the California coast. For the next two years, he recorded the terrifying storms, awe-inspiring beauty, and dreadful hardships of the journey in a diary he would later expand into this riveting memoir of "the life of a common sailor at sea as it really is." Dana spares no detail in portraying the wretched conditions he endured and the cruelty of the ship's captain, but he also paints vivid, unforgettable pictures of natural wonders such as icebergs and schools of migrating whales. His descriptions of the missions and presidios of pre-Gold Rush California captured the imagination of the country when the book was first published in 1840, and they serve as valuable historical documentation to this day. An instant classic and inspiration for contemporaries such as Herman Melville, Two Years Before the Mast is one of the most remarkable and influential adventure stories in American literature. This ebook has been professionally proofread to ensure accuracy and readability on all devices.
Publisher: [Place of publication not identified] : Open Road Media, [2015]
Copyright Date: 015
ISBN: 9781504025195
Branch Call Number: 910.45 Da
Description: 1 online resource (190 pages)


From Library Staff

A Boston college boy naively signs on as a sailor aboard a whaling ship bound for California by way of Cape Horn--for his health. A top-selling memoir that inspired Melville. Also available as an eBook.

The narrative of the author's journey from Boston around the Cape Horn and landing at a port in the western coast of the United States. (catalog description)

The narrative of the author's journey from Boston around the Cape Horn and landing at a port in the western coast of the United States. A classic work of non-fiction that inspired Melville.

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Feb 22, 2018

Eddie Haskel (Ken Osmand) mentions this book while interviewing for a deckhand job on a fishing boat. After reading Over The Edge (Magellan's 1519 circumnavigation of the globe for the 1st time), The Plains Across (1840-1860 first wagon trains venturing to the west coast) This personal narrative of life @ sea by a 19 yr old in 1834 was great reading. I wondered why the Strait of Magellan wasn't navigated vs's going around the dangerous Cape Horn, but there is mention late in the book. Just imagine California's major cities, still under Spanish rule, yet not booming from the soon to be 1849 gold rush. We've really put a footprint since 184 yrs ago, take me back, if only for an evenings read.

Feb 02, 2018

One of the earliest books I´ve ever read, I have great memories of it.

Dec 29, 2017

Awesome book. Tremendous descriptive skills. Describes an adventure in the world of the 1830's that might as well have been to the ends of the Earth, which California effectively was. Wooden ships and iron men. From a personal standpoint, gives life to many places I know in California where I grew up, describing them before they grew into the California of today. I visited Santa Cruz Island a year ago, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Ventura/Santa Barbara. It is howt I imagine that the California that Dana saw and described in the book.

Jun 06, 2017

Two Years Before The Mast is an excellent memoir of life at sea at the beginning of the "Golden Age of Shipping" when tall ships sailed the world. It is followed by an account of the author's second trip to California, twenty years later, after it had vastly changed as a result of both American conquest and the California Gold Rush. I'd recommend Two Years, claimed to be the first book about life onboard, to anyone interested in seafaring life, social history, "a good rippin' yarn," or to any woman who wonders why men aren't great about expressing their feelings.

Richard Henry Dana Jr. was an eighteen-year-old Harvard student who had to cease his studies due to weak eyes caused by measles. Although from a monied family, rather than taking a "tour of the continent" (Europe) as many of his social class might, in 1833, Dana sailed to California as a common seaman, bunking "before the mast" (as opposed to the ship's officers and passengers, whose safer cabins were aft). He kept a diary of his experiences as his ship sailed on a return voyage from Boston to California, where its cargo of merchandise was sold to the Californios (California was still part of Mexico), then replaced with cowhides to be used for leatherwear. A long period of his voyage was spent off ship, loading hides in California.

Dana was a fine writer, and carries the reader along through seasickness, adventure, backbreaking labour, moments of leisure, long spells of boredom, and brutal injustice. He was a curious person, who picked up languages, including Hawaiian, from people around him, while absorbing a great deal about both the cultures that surrounded him and the lands his fellow sailors had seen. That being said, though he was liberal for his time, his attitudes toward people of other cultures can be offensive. Still, they were mild for a man of his time and place, when many sailors from the American South would have been slaves. As well, Dana has so little to say about the women he met on land, and so much about a particularly attractive man that one wonders if he was more attracted to males than females.

Because he kept diaries, Dana was able to provide detail often lacking from sea stories. Anyone familiar with sea songs has heard versions of the following floating verse:
"And when you sail
Around Cape Horn,
You'll wish to hell
You'd never been born."
The dangerous trip is often described in novels and movies. If you've seen "Master and Commander", you'll remember the British man-o'-war's crew climbing up the riggings like many monkeys during Antarctic blizzards. However, Dana, who rounded the Horn twice, describes working barehanded in ice and snow (frozen mittens were slippery and dangerous), in a shorthanded crew with only four or five on a watch (shift above deck), on a temperance ship with not even a warming tumbler of rum to look forward to, while dealing with a terrible toothache.

Dana wrote this book as an expose of the brutal treatment of sailors by captains and ship's officers, who were absolute despots at sea. He later became a lawyer, working for seamen's rights and for the freedom of escaped slaves. However, his book is often regarded today only as a document of life at sea. Dana's writing inspired many other writers, notably Herman Melville. Two Years Before The Mast has been edited so that today's editions use standard modern American spelling, so is easy to read. Furthermore, though there is considerable technical language, one can get the gist of his story without knowing a great deal about ships. Though the book is slow at times, as was the sailor's life, it's worth persisting for the return voyage around Cape Horn and home to Boston. You'll be nearly as happy as the ship's crew when they finally arrive in Boston Harbour.

Jan 20, 2017

Dana was a Harvard student who went to sea for two years and kept a journal, which he published as "Two Years Before the Mast." It was originally meant as a protest of the harsh conditions sailors endure, but it became much more than that: a travelogue, an autobiography, a valuable contribution to nautical literature. Melville, who would find his great theme at sea, was a fan. While some of Dana's observations about other races strike us as misguided, his commentary on California before it was a state are fascinating. My favorite line is "Californians are an idle, thriftless people, and can make nothing for themselves." So bashing California has a long history. Originally I was reading this because of its historical importance, but found it much more engaging and insightful that I expected.

Sep 02, 2013

An extraordinary gap year (2 in fact) in the 1830s when California was still part of Mexico.

Jul 03, 2012

A very interest biographical account of a seavoyage from Boston to California in the mid 1830's. Well written and gives a very good sense of what it must have been like to be a sailor in those days. I have read many seafaring adventure novels so it was quite interesting to read an informative true telling of a voyage. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys reading about sailing from this historical period.


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