By Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
With an introduction and notes by
Homer Eaton Keyes, B.L.
Assistant Professor of Art in Dartmouth College
Crowded in the rank and narrow ship, -
Housed on the wild sea with wild usages, -
Whate'er in the inland dales the land conceals
Of fair and exquisite, O! nothing, nothing,
Do we behold of that in our rude voyage.
California and her Missions
Diagram of Ships
Explanation of Diagram
Two Years Before the Mast
Twenty-Four Years After
Two years before the mast were but an episode in the life of
Richard Henry Dana, Jr.; yet the narrative in which he details the
experiences of that period is, perhaps, his chief claim to a wide
remembrance. His services in other than literary fields occupied
the greater part of his life, but they brought him comparatively
small recognition and many disappointments. His happiest
associations were literary, his pleasantest acquaintanceships
those which arose through his fame as the author of one book.
The story of his life is one of honest and competent effort,
of sincere purpose, of many thwarted hopes. The traditions
of his family forced him into a profession for which he was
intellectually but not temperamentally fitted: he should have
been a scholar, teacher, and author; instead he became a lawyer.
Born in Cambridge, Mass., August 1, 1815, Richard Henry Dana, Jr.,
came of a line of Colonial ancestors whose legal understanding and
patriotic zeal had won them distinction. His father, if possessed
of less vigor than his predecessors, was yet a man of culture and
ability. He was widely known as poet, critic, and lecturer; and
endowed his son with native qualities of intelligence, good breeding,
After somewhat varied and troublous school days, young Dana entered
Harvard University, where he took high rank in his classes and bid
fair to make a reputation as a scholar. But at the beginning of his
third year of college a severe attack of measles interrupted his
course, and so affected his eyes as to preclude, for a time at least,
all idea of study. The state of the family finances was not such as to
permit of foreign travel in search of health. Accordingly, prompted by
necessity and by a youthful love of adventure, he shipped as a common
sailor in the brig, Pilgrim, bound for the California coast. His
term of service lasted a trifle over two years - from August, 1834,
to September, 1836. The undertaking was one calculated to kill or cure.
Fortunately it had the latter effect; and, upon returning to his native
place, physically vigorous but intellectually starved, he reentered
Harvard and worked with such enthusiasm as to graduate in six months
Then came the question of his life work. Though intensely religious,
he did not feel called to the ministry; business made no appeal;
his ancestors had been lawyers; it seemed best that he should follow
where they had led.