Biographical Note

Two years before the mast were but an episode in the life of ...
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Biographical Note

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, and honesty.

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 with honor.

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. Had conditions been those of to-day, he would naturally
have drifted into some field of scholarly research,--political science
or history. As it was, he entered law school, which, in 1840, he left
to take up the practice of his profession. But Dana had not the tact,
the personal magnetism, or the business sagacity to make a brilliant
success before the bar. Despite the fact that he had become a master
of legal theory, an authority upon international questions, and a
counsellor of unimpeachable integrity, his progress was painfully slow
and toilsome. Involved with his lack of tact and magnetism there was,
too, an admirable quality of sturdy obstinacy that often worked him
injury. Though far from sharing the radical ideas of the
Abolitionists, he was ardent in his anti-slavery ideas and did not
hesitate to espouse the unpopular doctrines of the Free-Soil party of
1848, or to labor for the freedom of those Boston negroes, who, under
the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, were in danger of deportation to the

His activity in the latter direction resulted in pecuniary loss, social
ostracism and worse; for upon one occasion he was set upon and nearly
killed by a pair of thugs. But Dana was not a man to be swerved from
his purpose by considerations of policy or of personal safety. He met
his problems as they came to him, took the course which he believed to
be right and then stuck to it with indomitable tenacity. Yet,
curiously enough, with none of the characteristics of the politician,
he longed for political preferment. At the hands of the people this
came to him in smallest measure only. Though at one time a member of
the Massachusetts Legislature, he was defeated as candidate for the
lower house of Congress, and in 1876 suffered the bitterest
disappointment of his life, when the libellous attacks of enemies
prevented the ratification of his nomination as Minister to England.

Previous to this he had served his country as United States District
Attorney during the Civil War, a time when the office demanded the
highest type of ability and uprightness.
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940012366573
  • Publisher: SAP
  • Publication date: 3/22/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,228,876
  • File size: 405 KB

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