Dial Essays (1840)
Two Years Before the Mast
Two Years before the Mast. A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea.
New York: Harper and Brothers. 12mo. pp. 483.
This is a voice from the forecastle. Though a narrative of literal, prosaic truth, it possesses something of the romantic charm of Robinson Crusoe. Few more interesting chapters of the literature of the sea have ever fallen under our notice. The author left the halls of the University for the deck of a merchant vessel, exchanging "the tight dress coat, silk cap, and kid gloves of an undergraduate at Cambridge, for the loose duck trowsers, checked shirt, and tarpaulin hat of a sailor," and here presents us the fruits of his voyage. His book will have a wide circulation; it will be praised in the public prints; we shall be told that it does honor to his head and heart; but we trust that it will do much more than this; that it will open the eyes of many to the condition of the sailor, to the fearful waste of man, by which the luxuries of foreign climes are made to increase the amount of commercial wealth. This simple narrative, stamped with deep sincerity, and often displaying an unstudied, pathetic eloquence, may lead to reflections, which mere argument and sentimental appeals do not call forth. It will serve to hasten the day of reckoning between society and the sailor, which, though late, will not fail to come.