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Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative

Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative

by Richard Henry Dana Jr.

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Overview

n 1834, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., was just nineteen years old when he abandoned his life as a Harvard student to enlist as a seaman. Here is the awe-inspiring account of his travels from Boston, around Cape Horn, and to the California coast — an astonishing personal narrative brimming with unforgettable views of an arduous voyage. Vivid descriptions of fierce storms, close encounters with whales, bone-wrenching labor, and the ship's cruel captain mingle with discoveries of magical beauty and fascinating historical detail, including a rare portrait of California before the gold rush.
Originally written to expose "the life of a common sailor at sea as it really is," Dana's Two YearsBefore the Mast quickly became an American classic of maritime adventure. Crackling with realism, it remains one of the most eloquent and insightful depictions of life at sea in the early nineteenth century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486458021
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 06/05/2007
Series: Dover Maritime Series
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x (d)

About the Author

Gary Kinder is the author of Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. He lives in Seattle.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I

I am unwilling to present this narrative to the public without a few words in explanation of my reasons for publishing it. Since Mr. Cooper’s Pilot and Red Rover, there have been so many stories of sea-life written, that I should really think it unjustifiable in me to add one to the number without being able to give reasons in some measure warranting me in so doing.

With the single exception, as I am quite confident, of Mr. Ames entertaining, but hasty and desultory work, called “Mariner’s Sketches,” all the books professing to give life at sea have been written by persons who have gained their experience as naval officers, or passengers, and of these, there are very few which are intended to be taken as narratives of facts.

Now, in the first place, the whole course of life, and daily duties, the discipline, habits and customs of a man-of-war are very different from those of the merchant service; and in the next place, however entertaining and well written these books may be, and however accurately they may give sea-life as it appears to their authors, it must still be plain to every one that a naval officer, who goes to sea as a gentleman, “with his gloves on,” (as the phrase is,) and who associates only with his fellow-officers, and hardly speaks to a sailor except through a boatswain’s mate, must take a very different view of the whole matter from that which would be taken by a common sailor.

Besides the interest which every one must feel in exhibitions of life in those forms in which he himself has never experienced it; there has been, of late years, a great deal of attention directed toward common seamen, and a strong sympathy awakened in their behalf. Yet I believe that, with the single exception which I have mentioned, there has not been a book written, professing to give their life and experiences, by one who has been of them, and can know what their life really is. A voice from the forecastle has hardly yet been heard.

In the following pages I design to give an accurate and authentic narrative of a little more than two years spent as a common sailor, before the mast, in the American merchant service. It is written out from a journal which I kept at the time, and from notes which I made of most of the events as they happened; and in it I have adhered closely to fact in every particular, and endeavored to give each thing its true character. In so doing, I have been obliged occasionally to use strong and coarse expressions, and in some instances to give scenes which may be painful to nice feelings; but I have very carefully avoided doing so, whenever I have not felt them essential to giving the true character of a scene. My design is, and it is this which has induced me to publish the book, to present the life of a common sailor at sea as it really is,—the light and the dark together.

There may be in some parts a good deal that is unintelligible to the general reader; but I have found from my own experience, and from what I have heard from others, that plain matters of fact in relation to customs and habits of life new to us, and descriptions of life under new aspects, act upon the inexperienced through the imagination, so that we are hardly aware of our want of technical knowledge. Thousands read the escape of the American frigate through the British Channel, and the chase and wreck of the Bristol trader in the Red Rover, and follow the minute nautical manœuvres with breathless interest, who do not know the name of a rope in the ship; and perhaps with none the less admiration and enthusiasm for their want of acquaintance with the professional detail.

In preparing this narrative I have carefully avoided incorporating into it any impressions but those made upon me by the events as they occurred, leaving to my concluding chapter, to which I shall respectfully call the reader’s attention, those views which have been suggested to me by subsequent reflection.

These reasons, and the advice of a few friends, have led me to give this narrative to the press. If it shall interest the general reader, and call more attention to the welfare of seamen, or give any information as to their real condition, which may serve to raise them in the rank of beings, and to promote in any measure their religious and moral improvement, and diminish the hardships of their daily life, the end of its publication will be answered.

Table of Contents

Chapter I.
Departure
First Impressions
Ship's Duties
Chapter II.
First Impressions
Ship's Duties
Chapter III.
Ship's Duties
Chapter IV.
Sundays At Sea
Trouble on Board
Land Ho
A Pampero
Cape Horn
Chapter V.
Cape Horn
A Visit
Chapter VI.
Loss Of a Man
Chapter VII.
Superstitions
Juan Fernandez
Putting the Vessel In Order
Chapter VIII.
Painting
Daily Life
Point Conception
Chapter IX.
Santa Barbara
Beach-Combing
A Southeaster
Chapter X.
A Southeaster
Passage Up the Coast
Chapter XI.
Passage Up the Coast
Monterey
Chapter XII.
Monterey
Chapter XIII.
Monterey
A British Sailor
Santa Barbara
Chapter XIV.
Hide Droghing
Discontent
San Pedro
Flogging
Chapter XV.
Flogging
Night On Shore
State of Things On Board
San Diego
Chapter XVI.
Liberty-Day On Shore
Chapter XVII.
San Diego
Desertion
San Pedro Again
Easter Sunday
Chapter XVIII.
Easter Sunday
Italian Sailors
San Juan
San Diego Again
Life on Shore
Chapter XIX.
Sandwich-Islanders
Hide-Curing
Wood-Cutting
Coyotes
Rattlesnakes
Chapter XX.
New Comers
People at the Hide-Houses
Leisure
Pilgrim News from Home
Pilgrim Occupations on the Beach
California and its Inhabitants
Chapter XXI.
California and its Inhabitants
Chapter XXII.
Life on the Beach
The Alert
Chapter XXIII.
New Ship and Shipmates
A Race
My Watchmate, Tom Harris
San Diego Again
Chapter XXIV.
A Descent
A Hurried Departure
A New Shipmate
Chapter XXV.
Rumors of War
A Spouter
Sudden Slipping for a Southeaster
To Windward
A Dry Gale
Chapter XXVI.
San Francisco
Monterey Revisited
Chapter XVII.
Monterey Revisited
A Set-to
A Decayed Gentleman
A Contrabandista
A Fandango
Chapter XVIII.
A Victim
California Rangers-Beach-Combers
News From Home
Last Looks
Chapter XXIX.
Loading for Home
A Surprise
Last of an Old Friend
The Last Hide
A Hard Case
An Anchor, for Home!
The Alert and California
Homeward Bound
Chapter XXX.
Homeward Bound
Our Passenger, Professor Nuttall
Homeward Bound
Chapter XXXI.
Bad Prospects
First Touch of Cape Horn
Iceburgs
Temperance Ships
Lying-Up
Ice
Difficulty on Board
Change of Course
Straits of Magellan
Chapter XXXII.
Ice Again
Disappointment
Cape Horn
Land Ho!
Chapter XXXIII.
Cracking On
Progress Homeward
A Fine Sight
Fitting Ship
By-Plane
Chapter XXXIV.
An Escape
Equator
Tropical Squalls
Tropical Thunder-Storm
Chapter XXXV.
A Reef-Topsail Breeze
Scurvy
A Friend in Need
Preparing for Port
Gulf Stream
Chapter XXXVI.
Soundings
Sights About Home
Boston Harbo
Leaving the Ship
Twenty Four Years After432

Reading Group Guide

1. Discuss Dana's motives for the voyage. What do you feel was the predominating factor in his decision to undertake such a journey? What were the risks involved, and how serious do you feel they were? What is your view of Dana's momentous choice?

2. What do you make of Dana's attitude toward religion, and religious instruction? Do you agree or not? Why? Is his a perspective that is anachronistic, or not?

3. How does social class play a role in the book? Discuss the implications of Dana's background. How did it affect his experience on the ship? Did you find it important, or inconsequential?

4. What is your opinion of the book's stark realism? Does Dana have an agenda in writing the book? If so, what is it? Do you think the experience was a positive one for Dana, or not?

5. What is the role of nature and the outdoors for Dana? How does he view the American West? How does his voyage attest to his view of the outdoors? Does this view change throughout his experience on the ship? If so, how?

6. Discuss the contrasts between Captain Thompson and Captain Faucon. How do their leadership skills differ? Who is more effective, and why? Discuss Dana's book on a political level. What do his portrayals of each captain reveal?

7. Discuss the considerable shift in Dana's perspective as evidenced in 'Twenty-Four Years After.' How do you account for this change? Do you agree or disagree with the author's decision to replace the original final chapter with this later account? Why or why not?

Foreword

1. ?Discuss Dana?s motives for the voyage. What do you feel was the predominating factor in his decision to undertake such a journey? What were the risks involved, and how serious do you feel they were? What is your view of Dana?s momentous choice?

2. ?What do you make of Dana?s attitude toward religion, and religious instruction? Do you agree or not? Why? Is his a perspective that is anachronistic, or not?

3. ?How does social class play a role in the book? Discuss the implications of Dana?s background. How did it affect his experience on the ship? Did you find it important, or inconsequential?

4. ?What is your opinion of the book?s stark realism? Does Dana have an agenda in writing the book? If so, what is it? Do you think the experience was a positive one for Dana, or not?

5. ?What is the role of nature and the outdoors for Dana? How does he view the American West? How does his voyage attest to his view of the outdoors? Does this view change throughout his experience on the ship? If so, how?

6. ?Discuss the contrasts between Captain Thompson and Captain Faucon. How do their leadership skills differ? Who is more effective, and why? Discuss Dana?s book on a political level. What do his portrayals of each captain reveal?

7. ?Discuss the considerable shift in Dana?s perspective as evidenced in ?Twenty-Four Years After.? How do you account for this change? Do you agree or disagree with the author?s decision to replace the original final chapter with this later account? Why or why not?

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Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
TizzzieLish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A journey from Boston around South America, then traveling the west coast of California before it was part of America - they were buying hides and selling goods.#14 on the National Geographic Adventure list of ¿The 100 greatest adventure books of all time¿I read it aloud some years ago with my son when he was in 7th grade. Well written, though sometimes we got stuck in the description of the rigging - our copy would have benefited from a diagram of the ship's rigging. Since we were living in California it was very interesting to read about the early history of Los Angeles and other coastal cities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago