Richard Henry Dana - Life Stories, Books, and Links
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Picture of Richard Dana, author of Two Years Before the Mast; nineteenth century American Literature
Image: Richard Henry Dana
Richard Henry Dana
(1815 - 1882)

Category:  American Literature
Born:  August 1, 1815
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Died:  January 6, 1882
Rome, Italy
Related authors:
Herman Melville
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Richard Henry Dana - LIFE STORIES
8/14/1834     Richard Dana, Before the Mast
On this day in 1834, nineteen-year-old Richard Dana boarded the merchant brig, Pilgrim for the Boston-California return voyage that would become Two Years Before the Mast. His 1840 book, written with a desire to tell in "a voice from the forecastle" of the ordinary seaman's life, was an immediate international hit.
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Living with Cannibals and Other Women’s Adventures
by Michele Slung
Sailing Alone Around the World
by Joshua Slocum
The Worst Journey in the World, Antarctic, 1910-1913
by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Two Years Before the Mast
by Richard Dana
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Harvard Magazine
Find a 1998 article titled "Richard Henry Dana - Brief life of a versatile lawyer: 1815-1882" which explores the author's life, adventures, and works. Includes commentary on Dana's views of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

"He wrote, he said, 'to present the life of a common sailor at sea as it really is,' and, true to his purpose, his spare, factual language portrays the sailors of the day as leading lives of killing labor in harsh conditions, subject to the absolute rule of ships' officers whose authority, should it become cruel, had no restraint or remedy. ... Nevertheless, despite the hardships of the life it describes, Dana's book is full of its author's delight in the sea and in sailing ships. By its very sobriety and devotion to fact, Two Years creates a vision of life at sea that has proved irresistible to sailors and landsmen both for generations."
Online Books Page
Find electronic texts of Two Years Before the Mast and Poems and Prose Writings.
Perspectives in American Literature
Find an extensive bibliography of works by and about Dana, including literary criticism and analysis.
The Maritime Advocate
Read an article which traces Dana's career aboard the Pilgrim, and his later involvement in Maritime disputes as the legal champion of downtrodden seafarers.

"The conditions aboard Pilgrim sickened Dana so much that he hastened back to Boston on another vessel. His eyesight had improved and he completed his Harvard education, becoming a leader of the American bar and an expert in maritime and international law. ... Dana's books made him very popular among seafarers. His Boston law office was soon frequented by clients in duck trousers and tarpaulin hats, smelling of tar, salt water and strong tobacco. Seaman came to the small law office to seek counsel from this former deckhand, and Dana brought suit on behalf of his clients against corrupt pursers, dishonest shipmasters and brutal mates."
The Plough Boy Journals of Lewis Monto
Offers a collection of resources which document aspects of early 19th century American whaling. Includes excerpts and diagrams from important historical texts by Monto, Thomas Beale, Richard Dana, Charles Darwin, Herman Melville, Jules Verne, and others, and a lengthy commentary on Dana's life and works:

"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."
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February 21, 2018
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