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Richard Henry Dana (1815 – 1882)


American lawyer and politician best known for his classic book Two Years Before the Mast.
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Richard Henry Dana
As we made the high point off San Diego, Point Loma, we were greeted by the cheering presence of a lighthouse. As we swept round it in the early morning, there, before us, lay the little harbor of San Diego, its low spit of sand, where the water runs so deep; the opposite flats, where the Alert grounded in starting for home; the low hills, without trees, and almost without brush; the quiet little beach; but the chief objects, the hide houses, my eye looked for in vain. They were gone, all, and left no mark behind. I wished to be alone, so I let the other passengers go up to the town, and was quietly pulled ashore in a boat, and left to myself. The recollections and the emotions were all sad... and only sad.
Dana quotes
We bore round the point toward the old anchoring ground of the hide ships, and there, covering the sand hills and the valleys... flickering all over with the lamps of its streets and houses, lay a city of one hundred thousand inhabitants. The dock into which we drew, and the streets about it, were densely crowded with express wagons and handcarts... Though this crowd I made my way, along the well-built and well-light streets, as alive as by day, where boys in high-keyed voices where already crying the latest New York papers. When I awoke in the morning, and looked from my windows over the city of San Francisco, with its storehouses, towers, and steeples; its courthouses, theaters, and hospitals, its daily journals, its well-filled learned professions, its fortresses and lighthouses; its wharves and harbor... when I saw all these things, and reflected on what I once saw here, and what now surrounded me, I could scarcely keep my hold on reality at all, or the genuineness of anything.
Dana
Passing round Point Conception, and steering easterly, we opened the islands that form, with the mainland, the canal of Santa Barbara. There they are, Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa, and there is the beautiful point, Santa Buenaventura; and there lies Santa Barbara on its plain, with its amphitheater of high hills and distant mountains. There is the old white mission with its belfries, and there the town, with its one-story adobe houses, with here and there a two-story wooden house of later build; yet little is it altered the same repose in the golden sunlight and glorious climate, sheltered by its hills; and then, more remindful than anything else, there roars and tumbles upon the beach the same grand surf of the great Pacific... the same bright-blue ocean, and the surf making just the same monotonous, melancholy roar, and the same dreamy town.




Dana Richard Henry quotes
Thou little bird, thou dweller by the sea,
Why takest thou its melancholy voice,
And with that boding cry
Why o'er the waves dost fly?
O, rather, bird, with me
Through the fair land rejoice!
Dana Richard Henry
The past was real. The present, all about me, was unreal, unnatural, repellent. I saw the big ships lying in the stream... the home of hardship and hopelessness; the boats passing to and fro; the cries of the sailors at the capstan or falls; the peopled beach; the large hide houses, with their gangs of men; and the Kanakas interspersed everywhere. All, all were gone! Not a vestige to mark where one hide house stood. The oven, too, was gone. I searched for its site, and found, where I thought it should be, a few broken bricks and bits of mortar. I alone was left of all, and how strangely was I here! What changes to me! Where were they all? Why should I care for them poor Kanakas and sailors, the refuse of civilization, the outlaws and the beachcombers of the Pacific! Time and death seemed to transfigure them. Doubtless nearly all were dead; but how had they died, and where? In hospitals, in fever climes, in dens of vice, or falling from the mast, or dropping exhausted from the wreck "When for a moment, like a drop of rain/He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan/Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown." The lighthearted boys are now hardened middle-aged men, if the seas, rocks, fevers, and the deadlier enemies that beset a sailor's life on shore have spared them; and the then strong men have bowed themselves, and the earth or sea has covered them. How softening is the effect of time! It touches us through the affections. I almost feel as if I were lamenting the passing away of something loved and dear the boats, the Kanakas, the hides, my old shipmates! Death, change, distance, lend them a character which makes them quite another thing.
Richard Henry Dana quotes
It had been the winter of 1835-6 that the ship, Alert, in her voyage for hides on the remote and almost unknown coast of California, floated into the vast solitude of the bay of San Francisco. All around was the stillness of nature. One vessel, a Russian, lay at anchor there, but during our whole stay not a sail came or went. Our trade was with remote missions, which sent hides to us in launches manned by their Indians... Over a region far beyond our sight there was no other human habitations, expect that an enterprising Yankee, years in advance of his time, had put up, on the rising ground above the landing, a shanty of rough boards, where he carried on a very small retail trade between the hide ships and the Indians. On the evening of Saturday, the thirteenth of August, 1859 (I again sailed into) the entrance to San Francisco, (now) the great center of worldwide commerce.
Richard Henry Dana
On the morning of January 11th, 1860, I passed, for the eighth time, through the Golden Gate... As the shores of California faded in the distance, and the summits of the Coast Range sank under the blue horizon, I bade farewell yes, I do not doubt, forever to those scenes which, however changed or unchanged, must always posses an ineffable interest for me.
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