Advertisement

Two Years Before the Mast, Selected Quotes

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

This first quote is funny because it’s a westerner’s first glimpse of a catamaran, the type of boat I’m on.

It was here that I first saw one of those singular things called catamarans. They are composed of logs lashed together upon the water, the men sitting with their feet in the water; have one large sail, are quite fast, and, strange as it may seem, are trusted as good as sea boats.

I assure you that they’ve come a long way since being “logs lashed together.”

The rest of the quotes are about California in 1835-6. Dana spends more than a year going up and down the coast from San Diego to San Francisco, stopping in Monterey, San Pedro and Santa Barbara, gathering 40,000 hides to take back to Boston. California is Mexican territory at this point and the only inhabitants are the Indians and Mexican nationals. The missions are in a state of decay and the official serfdom of the Indians has been prohibited. There are also numerous other transient nationalities that live on all the merchant ships. Dana takes to liking the “kanakas” or Sandwich Islanders, or, as we know them, Hawaiians.

The Californians are an idle, thriftless people, and can make nothing for themselves. The country abounds in grapes, yet they buy, at a great price, bad wine made in Boston and brought round by us… Their hides, too, which they value at two dollars in money, they barter for something which costs seventy-five cents in Boston

In Monterey:

The houses here, as everywhere else in California, are of one story, built of adobes, that is, clay made into large bricks… The floors are generally of earth.

Nothing but the character of the people prevents Monterey from becoming a large town. The soil is as rich as a man could wish, the climate as good as any in the world, water abundant, and situation extremely beautiful.

On LA:

…about thrity miles in the interior was a fine plane country, filled with herds of cattle, in the centre of which was Pueblo de los Angeles–the largest town in California–and several of the wealthiest missions; to all of which San Pedro was the seaport.

San Francisco:

About thrity miles from the mouth of the bay, and on the south-east side, is a high point, upon which the presidio is built. Behind this point is the little harbour, or bight, called Yerba Buena, in which trading-vessels anchor, and, near it, the Mission of Dolores. There was no other habitation on this side of the bay, except a shanty of rough boards put up by a man named Richardson, who was doing a little trading between the vessels and the Indians… The next year Richardson built a one-story adobe house on the same spot, which was long afterwards known as the oldest house in the great city of San Francisco.

A small island, about two leagues from the anchorage, called by us “Wood Island,” and by the Mexicans “Isla de los Angeles,” was covered with trees to the water’s edge.

If California ever becomes a prosperous country, this bay will be the centre of its prosperity. The abundance of wood and water; the extreme fertility of its shores; the excellence of its climate, which is as near to being perfect as any in the world; and its facilities for navigation, affording the best anchoring-grounds in the whole western coast of America–all fit it for a place of great importance.

Dana returns 24 years later, after becoming somewhat famous for his book. He visits all the old Califonias who he met on his original journey.

I awoke in the morning, and looked from my windows over the city of San Francisco, with its storehouses, towers, and steeples; its courthoueses, theatres, and hostpitals; its daily journals; its well-filled learned professions; its fortresses and lighthouses; its wharves and harbour, with their thousand-ton clipper ships; more in number than London or Liverpool sheltered that day; itself one of the capitals of the American Republic, and the sole emporium of a new world, the awakened Pacific.

I have no excuse for attempting to describe my visit through the fertile and beautiful Napa Valley; nor even, what exceeded that in interest, my visit to old John Yount at his rancho, where I heard from his own lips some of his most interesting stories of hunting, and trapping, and Indian-fighting…

My visit after my return was to Sacramento, a city of about forty thousand inhabitants, more than a hundred miles inland from San Francisco, on the Sacramento, where was the capital of the State, and where were fleets of river steamers, and large inland commerce. Here I saw the inauguration of a governor…

The last quote, my favorite, describes the effect that living in San Francisco can have on a man:

Indeed, I found individuals, as well as public bodies, affected in a marked degree by a change of oceans, and by Californian life. One Sunday afternoon I was surprised at receiving the card of a man I had last known, some fifteen years ago, as a strict and formal deacon of a Congregational Society in New England. He was a deacon still, in San Francisco, a leader in all pious works, devoted to his denomination and to total abstinence–the same internally, but externally, what a change! Gone was the downcast eye, the bated breath, the solemn, non-natural voice, the watchful gait, stepping as though he felt himself responsible for the balance of the moral universe. He walked with a stride, an uplifted, open countenance, his face covered with beard, whiskers, and moustache, his voice strong and natural–and, in short, he had put off the New England deacon and become a human being.

Leave a Reply