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This volume collects three sea-going travel narratives by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., that span twenty-five years of maritime history, from the age of sail to the age of steam.
Suffering from persistent weakness in his eyes, Dana left Harvard at age nineteen and sailed from Boston in 1834 as a common seaman. Two Years Before the Mast (1840) is the classic account of his voyages around Cape Horn and time ashore in California in the decade before the Gold Rush. Written with an unprecedented realism that challenged the romanticism of previous maritime literature, Dana’s narrative vividly portrays the daily routines and hardships of life at sea, the capriciousness and brutality of merchant ship captains and officers, and the beauty and danger of the southern oceans in winter. Included in an appendix is “Twenty-Four Years After” (1869), in which Dana describes his return to California in 1859–1860 and the immense changes brought about by American annexation, the frenzy of the Gold Rush, and the growing commerce of “a new world, the awakened Pacific.”
Dana first visited Cuba in the winter of 1859 while the possible annexation of the island was being debated in the U.S. Senate. To Cuba and Back (1859) is his entertaining and enthusiastic account of his trip, during which he toured Havana and a sugar plantation; attended a bullfight; visited churches, hospitals, schools, and prisons; and investigated the impact on Cuban society of slavery and autocratic Spanish rule.
Journal of a Voyage Round the World, 1859–1860 records the fourteen-month circumnavigation that took Dana to California, Hawaii, China, Japan, Malaya, Ceylon, India, Egypt, and Europe. Written with unflagging energy and curiosity, the journal provides fascinating vignettes of frontier life in California, missionary influence in Hawaii, the impact of the Taiping Rebellion and the Second Opium War on China, and the opening of Japan to the West, while capturing the transition from the age of sail to the faster, smaller world created by the steamship and the telegraph.
LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.
About the Author
Thomas Philbrick is professor emeritus of English at the University of Pittsburgh.