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Two Years Before the Mast Paperback – January 29, 2013
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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 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 coasts of certain California ports. 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.
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
Richard Henry Dana set out on a voyage that would take him from Boston, Massachusetts, to a California that few could identify with today. At the latter, there was no-one there! Well, not many. San Diego, for instance, was a sleepy little harbour; at least it was until his and other ships from time to time put in there, when the serious business of loading hides for Boston got under way. He even spent about six months ashore, preparing hides. Dana found even San Francisco's beautiful harbour almost devoid of human activity. Not that he would have considered that an unusual state, for he was not to know what lay ahead for it. Los Angeles was a town of 20,000 souls. And this was not so long ago: 1832-34. Crikey! Only 100 years before I was born!
The scruffy lightweight little ship Pilgrim took him round Cape Horn; seemingly without much incident, for he makes no big deal of that phase of his voyage. But we do learn from him, in amazing detail, of the day-to-day workings of, not only this vessel, but also of the Alert, the smartest ship on the Boston-California run in which he served on the return leg of his voyage. He has the ability to put us on board with himself, as if we were of the crew itself. I could feel the rope in my hands and below my feet, as I sped, with frozen fingers, to the topmost yard. I felt the cold blasts off icebergs of the Southern Ocean. I sweated in the tropic. I witnessed a brutal flogging by one captain, and suffered the indifference and wile of an uncaring other. All of this, as he an ordinary seaman, a choice he made, rather than as a passenger, which he could easily have afforded to be.Read more ›
He returns to Boston aboard another hide vessel of the same employer in 1836, publishing his account of this voyage in "Two Years Before the Mast" in 1840. This work was the first authentic maritime narrative yet written, and created a new genre of English literature. It influenced Herman Melville in writing "Moby Dick" and walked off the shelves during the California gold rush, as the only travel narrative on California in existence. It is a classic of American literature.
J. E. Sharwarko, Jr.
It can be repetitious and technically repetitious but that is part of what makes it absorbing. In addition,
I was raised in California and the description of pastoral California in the 1830's is excellent. It was the
one book he needed to write and we are wealthier for it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A very interesting portrayal of life aboard ship in the 1800s. The men were treated worse that slavesPublished 3 hours ago by William K.
Excellent writing and a fascinating eye-witness account of sailing around Cape Horn and up the coast of S. Read morePublished 3 days ago by Roxanne
An incredible look at the history of California before the gold rush.Published 2 months ago by George
Well written book. Hard to read in some cases, because of the arcane terminology used to describe all the sails & the tasks that had to be performed to get them changed according... Read morePublished 4 months ago by MurrayH77
This book, having been written prior to the Civil War and the Gold Rush, is an interesting history of early Mexican controlled California along with the difficulties at arriving... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Joseph E. Smith
InTeresting. But difficult to read for a non sailor.Published 5 months ago by Archdiocese Of Newark Myers
Truly enjoyed the scenes at sea. What was really fun was the picture of California at that time, specifically the trade taking place between the US and what was then part of... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Heather Wakelin