Voyage into Manhood

Two Years Before the Mast

After contracting measles before his junior year at Harvard College, Richard Henry Dana Jr. suffered from ophthalmia, leaving his eyes too irritated to pursue his studies. Believing “plenty of hard work, plain food, and open air” could solve that problem, he decided to serve on the merchantman Pilgrim bound for California. The story he tells in Two Years Before the Mast, published in 1840, offers not only the first account of life on a sailing ship from the perspective of a common seaman but also the memoir of a man who chose a grueling adventure when he could have achieved the same end as a passenger. In that adventure, he found his purpose in life: to serve as a legal advocate for seamen.

As an...


is a retired secondary teacher of English and philosophy. For forty years he challenged students to dive deep into the classics of the Western canon, to think and write analytically, and to find the cultural constants reflected throughout that literature, art, and thought.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #68, Spring 2024 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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