This volume collects three sea-going travel narratives by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., that span 25 years of maritime history, from the age of sail to the age of steam.
Suffering from persistent weakness in his eyes, Dana left Harvard at age 19 and sailed from Boston in 1834 as a common seaman. Two Years Before the Mast (1840) is the classic account of his voyages around Cape Horn and time ashore in California in the decade before the Gold Rush. Written with an unprecedented realism that challenged the romanticism of previous maritime literature, Dana's narrative vividly portrays the daily routines and hardships of life at sea, the capriciousness and brutality of merchant ship captains and officers, and the beauty and danger of the southern oceans in winter. Included in an appendix is "Twenty-Four Years After" (1869), in which Dana describes his return to California in 1859-1860 and the immense changes brought about by American annexation, the frenzy of the Gold Rush, and the growing commerce of "a new world, the awakened Pacific."
Dana first visited Cuba in the winter of 1859 while the possible annexation of the island was being debated in the U.S. Senate. To Cuba and Back (1859) is his entertaining and enthusiastic account of his trip, during which he toured Havana and a sugar plantation; attended a bullfight; visited chuches, hospitals, schools, and prisons; and investigated the impact on Cuban society of slavery and autocratic Spanish rule.
Journal of a Voyage Round the World, 1859-1860 records the 14-month circumnavigation that took Dana to California, Hawaii, China, Japan, Malaya, Ceylon, India, Egypt, and Europe. Written with unflagging energy and curiosity, the journal provides fascinating vignettes of frontier life in California, missionary influence in Hawaii, the impact of the Taiping Rebellion and the Second Opium War on China, and the opening of Japan to the West, while capturing the transition from the age of sail to the faster, smaller world created by the steamship and the telegraph. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (4)
Excellent Edition of an American Classic
In addition to being an enthralling story of a trip around the Horn aboard a merchant ship during the age of sail, Dana also gives us an intimate view of California before the gold rush opened it up to the world, and transformed it beyond recognition. Dana gives us an eye witness account of California as it was when it was a sleepy, remote, outpost of Mexico. His accounts of San Diego, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco will take you back to a time when these places were small collections of adobe dwellings built around the missions. The California coast was a completely wild and untamed country, except for these small settlements and a few outlying ranches. He talks about the people, their customs, how they lived and celebrated life, what they wore, the kind of people he found living there. It is all fascinating, especially if you happen to be from California or are familiar with the region today.
I would like to reiterate the praise for this particular Library of America edition of Dana's excellent book. You may be able to find a cheaper edition, but this one is really very nice. It has a strong tight binding, uses high quality paper, and the font is a pleasure to read. Also, there is anavy blue ribbon book marker sewn into the binding that is very convenient and attractive. The dust jacket is strong, with a high gloss coating, and on the back there is a painting of the brig Pilgrim.
All in all this book makes a superb presentation, something that is a pleasure to own, or that you would be proud to offer as a gift.
Keep it right beside Moby Dick
I owned this book 20 years ago, and never forgot it; and must have it on my great literature of the sea shelf. If you have never read this book, you will discover why it deserves to sit right beside Mellville and Joseph Conrad tales of the sea. The thing that sets this book apart -is that so many tales of the sea sold so well, for so long, publishers were reluctant to add another... much for the same reason amovie producer might be reluctant to produce another cowboy story today. "Broken Trail" with Robert Duvall, and Thomas Haden Church was just such a compelling cowboy movie to end all cowboy movies ( hopefully not! ).
Well THIS Saga at Sea was also just such a compelling story...expecially since it was 'verismo'...every word true!; and an astounding literary acheivement.
It makes "There Will be Blood" a study in "post modern, demoralizing, have fun torturing, beating, and bludgeioning to death an evangelist barf bucket" by comparison, literary wise.
This was back when Artists actually had to have command of all aspects of drawing, compositon, perspective, color theory, and an extremely high level of aesthetic sensibility and intuitive feel for pure , true beauty in order to be called a "master". This is literature as you have not experienced it in two generations, and may never experience again with post modernism dominating the scene as it is today. Anyone besides me notice how all cars look alike, whether it is a kids' low end Kia, or an insufferable elitists' Lexus?... there is no readily discernabledistinction at all between the two ! These "ants" get in line and trudge back home likea non descript herd of wildebeestsfrom their meaningles life in a cubicle to their non decript sea of endless, grey half million dollar homes, no more unique than the "projects" of the inner city; so they can thenend their wretched excuse for lives in a cubicle ; be buried, and never be heard from or even missed by anyone inparticular. Only Larry the Cable Guy will make it into the history books from our "era". Buy this book, kick back, and drink deeply of what life was like, once upon a time, back when publishers required actual writing skills from their writers! Oh...and be certain to have a dictionary by your side. You maybe surprised to discover that there are more than 50 words in the King's English! "Pellucid Sky " "Orlop Deck?"...?"..."Perfidy?"..."Topgallant?"...anyone?
Fascinating true adventures at sea and in foreign cultures told by a fine writer
Reading this terrific volume from the wonderful Library of America (we all owe this essential not-for-profit publisher our support) was one of the most fun reads I have had in quite awhile.Richard Henry Dana, Jr. was a terrific writer and these autobiographical books of his journeys at sea are more interesting and full of adventure than most books of fiction.No wonder they sold so well during his lifetime and beyond.You should get this volume and enjoy reading about life as a working sailor at sea on a sailing ship (and as a passenger on steamers in the later books) during the middle portion of the nineteenth century.It is fascinating.Really!
Dana's father received a law degree from Harvard and eventually closed his practice in favor of his literary leanings.It is natural, then, that Dana would also become educated at Harvard and develop into a very fine writer.After his sophomore year he contracted measles, which affected his eyesight and forced him to leave Harvard because he could not read.Not wanting to add to his father's financial difficulties (when is a publisher of a literary journal not in financial distress?), he joins the crew of a ship called the "Pilgrim" and it is his journal of his two years "before the mast" (ordinary sailors lived in the front of the ship) that became the international sensation.
The author's great gift is to observe keenly the detail that makes his life aboard the ship compelling to us as readers.Almost anyone attempting such a task would convey the boredom and drudgery of such a life without being able to see what would interest people who had never been to sea.How they eat, what the tasks are, how the sails work, what is the relation between the crew and the officers, what happens when a sailor dies and how are his belongings disposed of, and hundreds of pages of interesting stuff.Just one little detail among many that struck me.There was an incident when they suspected they were being chased by a pirate ship and were struggling to maintain distance from the suspected vessel.The captain has the men pouring buckets of water on the sails and once I read it, I understood why.The author doesn't explain why because it would have been obvious to sailors.However, to me in the 21st century, I would never have conceived of pouring water on the canvas to make it hold more wind.
And this is what is so important about the books today.It is an eyewitness account of a real world that has all but vanished.You can see that when he wrote his later books on his trip to Cuba and his journey circumnavigating the globe, that the world described of California in the 1830s was already vastly different by 1859.His observations of the places he visits are compelling and full of just the right details.Hawaii, China, Japan, India, Egypt, and more come to life in fascinating ways.
"Two Years Before the Mast" was purchased by Harpers for $250 and sold hugely.The very helpful chronicle of Dana's life included in this volume estimates that Harpers earned $10,000 by 1842 and $50,000 during the 28 years the firm held the copyright.However, don't feel badly for Dana, he sold the foreign rights, made good money as a speaker, and was in demand as a writer of other books.
I strongly recommend this book.While it certainly has a different role for us than it had for its contemporary readers, its opening us to a world gone bye gives us new insights into our own world, our history, and thereby our own lives.
Just have a dictionary handy for the nautical terms and other word usages that have changed since those days.Or have a couple of web pages handy on sailing ships.The book has notes that explain some things that one can't find in dictionaries, but even learning this new vocabulary is fascinating.In reading material on the web to learn more about what I was reading in the book, I learned how an anchor is drawn up and into the hold.The cable that goes around the capstan and the rest of that rigging is tied to the chain of the anchor with temporary nippers.This work was done by boys with small and quick hands and this is why we call boys nippers.
It is especially nice to read the words of someone who actually lived the material in this book rather than having it filtered and interpreted for me by some modern writer.However well intentioned a modern writer or historian might be, they will end up distorting the world in which Dana lived.His ability to write so well gives us a vehicle for seeing his world as he lived in.What a treat!
This is a wonderful edition of these books and the Library of America makes them a delight to hold, read, and have on your shelf (after you read them).
A welcome and strongly recommended addition to both academic and community library collections
Richard Henry Dana, Jr. was a 19th century author whose writings about his experiences as a common seaman on a merchant ship were immensely popular. Now The Library of America has compiled his writings into a single volume under the knowledgeable editorship of Thomas Philbrick (Professor Emeritus of English, University of Pittsburgh). The writings include "Two years Before the Mast & Other Voyages: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea"; "To Cuba and Back: A Vacation Voyage"; and "Journal of a Voyage Round the World, 1859-1860". Enhanced with a Chronology, "Note on the Texts", and "Notes", Dana is printed on acid free paper and is a welcome and strongly recommended addition to both academic and community library collections.
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