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Two Years Before the Mast

Richard Henry Dana

Book Overview: 

It is the story of a sailor's life from the forecastle, not a captain, nor a passenger, but a regular hand. The book was a great favorite with the jack tar of Dana's day. Even those who haven't the faintest idea what reefing topsail is, or which is starboard and which larboard, will find it an engaging story of an era long past told in simple narrative style.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . front of it, which they often do in fine weather, they usually wear a small scarf or neckerchief of a rich pattern. A band, also, about the top of the head, with a cross, star, or other ornament in front, is common. Their complexions are various, depending—as well as their dress and manner—upon their rank; or, in other words, upon the amount of Spanish blood they can lay claim to. Those who are of pure Spanish blood, having never intermarried with the aborigines, have clear brunette complexions, and sometimes, even as fair as those of English women. There are but few of these families in California; being mostly those in official stations, or who, on the expiration of their offices, have settled here upon property which they have acquired; and others who have been banished for state offences. These form the aristocracy; inter-marrying, and keeping up an exclusive system in every respect. They can be told by their complexions, dress, manner, and also by their . . . Read More

Community Reviews

Second Reading: April 11, 2014

Two Years Before the Mast is somewhat unique in that my enjoyment of this book is mostly related to the fact that this book exists. I say this as a native Californian with roots that reach back into Mexico. Two Years provides a snapshot of one point along my ancestral p

In a way, the best thing for a writer is misfortune. In that regard, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. got lucky.

A young Harvard man, he signed on as a common seaman aboard the brig Pilgrim, bound for California from Boston, to help improve his health. Had it been smooth sailing over benign seas under a wise

This book made me cry multiple times, but not for the direct subject matter. I think there were just a few too many references to the California coast described in enough detail that the effect was to pry out long-lingering ghosts haunting the coastline of my own isle of denial. his descriptions are

“The utmost was required of every man in the way of his duty.”

“Two Years Before The Mast” was not always an enjoyable read for me, but overall it was a good one, and maybe even a necessary one. Published in 1840, this book is the account of Richard Henry Dana, a Harvard graduate, who spent two years

this book is absolutely essential for anyone who has any desire of stepping off the quarterdeck of his historical fiction (O'Brien novels) and heading down to the focs'l to hear about sailing traditional ships from the men who were actually sweating lines, heave-yo-ho-ing, and climbing the rigging

Two years from the life of Richard Henry Dana, Jr., did not go as anyone, including Dana himself, would have expected. For a young Boston gentleman of good family, a Harvard scholar, to sail “before the mast” as a common sailor on a merchant ship would have seemed unthinkable: it simply wasn’t done!

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