Quotes from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea

Richard Henry Dana Jr. ·  458 pages

Rating: (10.7K votes)


“There is a witchery in the sea, its songs and stories, and in the mere sight of a ship, and the sailor's dress, especially to a young mind, which has done more to man navies, and fill merchantmen, than all the pressgangs of Europe.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“His is one of those cases which are more numerous than those suppose who have never lived anywhere but in their own homes, and never walked but in one line from their cradles to their graves. We must come down from our heights, and leave our straight paths for the by-ways and low places of life, if we would learn truths by strong contrasts; and in hovels, in forecastles, and among our own outcasts in foreign lands, see what has been wrought among our fellow-creatures by accident, hardship, or vice.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“The Californians are an idle, thriftless people, and can make nothing for themselves.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“They seem to be a doomed people. The curse of a people calling themselves Christian, seems to follow them everywhere;”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“Let him then have powers commensurate with his utmost possible need, only let him be held strictly responsible for the exercise of them. Any other course would be injustice as well as bad policy”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea



“Yet a sailor's life is at best, but a mixture of a little good with much evil, and a little pleasure with much pain. The beautiful is linked with the revolting, the sublime with the commonplace, and the solemn with the ludicrous.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“There is not so helpless and pitiable an object in the world as a landsman beginning a sailor's life.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“So quiet, too, was the sea, and so steady the breeze, that if these sails had been sculptured marble they could not have been more motionless. Not a ripple upon the surface of the canvas; not even a quivering of the extreme edges of the sail, so perfectly were they distended by the breeze. I was so lost in the sight that I forgot the presence of the man who came out with me, until he said (for he, too, rough old man-of-war’s-man as he was, had been gazing at the show), half to himself, still looking at the marble sails,— ``How quietly they do their work!”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“If California ever becomes a prosperous country, this bay will be the centre of its prosperity.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“September 22d, when, upon coming on deck at seven bells in the morning, we found the other watch aloft throwing water upon the sails; and, looking astern, we saw a small clipper-built brig with a black hull heading directly after us. We went to work immediately, and put all the canvas upon the brig which we could get upon her, rigging out oars for extra studding-sail yards, and continued wetting down the sails by buckets of water whipped up to the mast-head, until about nine o’clock, when there came on a drizzling rain. The vessel continued in pursuit, changing her course as we changed ours, to keep before the wind. The captain, who watched her with his glass, said that she was armed, and full of men, and showed no colors. We continued running dead before the wind, knowing that we sailed better so, and that clippers are fastest on the wind. We had also another advantage. The wind was light, and we spread more canvas than she did, having royals and sky-sails fore and aft, and ten studding-sails; while she, being an hermaphrodite brig, had only a gaff topsail aft. Early in the morning she was overhauling us a little, but after the rain came on and the wind grew lighter, we began to leave her astern. All hands remained on deck throughout the day, and we got our fire-arms in order; but we were too few to have done anything with her, if she had proved to be what we feared. Fortunately there was no moon, and the night which followed was exceedingly dark, so that, by putting out all the”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea



“work hard, live hard, die hard, and go to hell after all, would be hard indeed!”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“A dozen men are shut up together in a little bark upon the wide, wide sea, and for months and months see no forms and hear no voices but their own, and one is taken suddenly from among them, and they miss him at every turn. It is like losing a limb. There are no new faces or new scenes to fill up the gap. There is always an empty berth in the forecastle, and one man wanting when the small night-watch is mustered. There is one less to take the wheel, and one less to lay out with you upon the yard. You miss his form, and the sound of his voice, for habit had made them almost necessary to you, and each of your senses feels the loss.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“one of the finest sights that I have ever seen, was an albatross asleep upon the water, during a calm, off Cape Horn, when a heavy sea was running. There being no breeze, the surface of the water was unbroken, but a long, heavy swell was rolling, and we saw the fellow, all white, directly ahead of us, asleep upon the waves, with his head under his wing; now rising on the top of a huge billow, and then falling slowly until he was lost in the hollow between. He was undisturbed for some time, until the noise of our bows, gradually approaching, roused him, when, lifting his head, he stared upon us for a moment, and then spread his wide wings and took his flight.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“Monterey, as far as my observation goes, is decidedly the pleasantest and most civilized-looking place in California.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“We must come down from our heights, and leave our straight paths, for the byways and low places of life, if we would learn truths by strong contrasts; and in hovels, in forecastles, and among our own outcasts in foreign lands, see what has been wrought upon our fellow-creatures by accident, hardship, or vice. Two”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea



“know there are many men who, when a few cases of great hardship occur, and it is evident that there is an evil somewhere, think that some arrangement must be made, some law passed, or some society got up, to set all right at once. On this subject there can be no call for any such movement; on the contrary, I fully believe that any public and strong action would do harm, and that we must be satisfied to labor in the less easy and less exciting task of gradual improvement, and abide the issue of things working slowly together for good. Equally”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“A well man at sea has little sympathy with one who is seasick; he is too apt to be conscious of a comparison favorable to his own manhood.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“The sail being nearly all forward, it lifted her out of the water, and she seemed actually to jump from sea to sea. From the time her keel was laid, she had never been so driven; and had it been life or death with every one of us, she could not have borne another stitch of canvas.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“With all my imperfections on my head," I joined the crew, and we hauled out into the stream, and came to anchor for the night.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“There is no prettier sight in the world than a full-rigged, clipper-built brig, sailing sharp on the wind.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea



“A sailor's liberty is but for a day; yet while it lasts it is perfect.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“As has often been said, a ship is like a lady's watch, always out of repair.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“I thought of our situation, living under a tyranny; of the character of the country we were in; of the length of the voyage, and of the uncertainty attending our return to America; and then, if we should return, of the prospect of obtaining justice and satisfaction for these poor men; and vowed that if God should ever give me the means, I would do something to redress the grievances and relieve the sufferings of that poor class of beings, of whom I then was one. The”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“It was hurricane month, too, and we were just in the track of the tremendous hurricane of 1830, which swept the North Atlantic, destroying almost everything before it. The”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“A sailor never becomes interested in religion, without immediately learning to read, if he did not know how before; and regular habits, forehandedness (if I may use the word) in worldly affairs, and hours reclaimed from indolence and vice, which follow in the wake of the converted man, make it sure that he will instruct himself in the knowledge necessary and suitable to his calling. The religious change is the great object. If this is secured, there is no fear but that knowledge of things of the world will come in fast enough.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea



“Sailors will never be convinced that rum is a dangerous thing, by taking it away from them, and giving it to the officers; nor that, that temperance is their friend, which takes from them what they have always had, and gives them nothing in the place of it.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“By seeing it allowed to their officers, they will not be convinced that it is taken from them for their good; and by receiving nothing in its place, they will not believe that it is done in kindness. On the contrary, many of them look upon the change as a new instrument of tyranny.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“We must come down from our heights, and leave our straight paths for the by-ways and low places of life, if we would learn truths by strong contrasts; and in hovels, in forecastles, and among our own outcasts in foreign lands, see what has been wrought among our fellow-creatures by accident, hardship, or vice.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“For, with a ship's gear, as well as a sailor's wardrobe, fine weather must be improved to get ready for the bad to come.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea


“the book takes rank with those books which are bits of life rather than products of art.”
― Richard Henry Dana Jr., quote from Two Years Before the Mast: A Sailor's Life at Sea



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About the author

Richard Henry Dana Jr.
Born place: in Cambridge, Massachusetts, The United States
Born date August 1, 1815
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