||Richard H. Dana
||Richard Henry Dana Jr.
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 1, 1815 into a family of
colonist of the early 17th century, Dana enrolled at Cambridge College
after having gone to a private school overseen by the poet and philosopher
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Suffering from ophtalmia he was advised to rest for a while. Instead
of treating himself to a long voyage as a passenger he chose for
a berth on a merchant vessel that was bound for the coast of California.
Without further knowledge and not exactly knowing what to expect
he shipped as a common sailor on the brig Pilgrim that took him
around Cape Horn to the other side of the North American continent
then under Mexican rule.
Having spent almost a year in the hide-droghing trade between the
bay of San Francisco and San Diego and having made acquaintance
with the native culture he returned to Boston, where he, two years
after his departure, picked up his studies at Harvard law school.
The time as a sailor on an American sailing ship had made deep impressions
on the student. They lead not only to the publication of his classic
"Two Years Before the Mast";
it also lead to a strong commitment of the lawyer to the cause of
the seafaring community. As his son explains his father had had his
own experience of injustice as a young school boy. The ill treatment
and exposure of the men at sea was just another reason for him to
use his means as a professional to speak up for those who were socially
In spite of his political and social commitment and although he
was a fervent traveler and the son of a poet and critic he did not
publish much. Among his few books - such as "The Seaman's Friend:
Containing a Treatise on Practical Seamanship", "To Cuba
and Back", and "Journal of a Voyage Round the World"
- "Two Years..." not only stands out by far as a vivid
description of life at sea at the dawn of the steamship era. It
also takes us to a sleeping California waiting to be woken up by
the riotous noise of the modern times.
Dana died in january 1882 in Rome where he was working on a book
on international law.