An Autobiographical Sketch (1815-1842)

An Autobiographical Sketch (1815-1842)

An Autobiographical Sketch (1815-1842)

An Autobiographical Sketch (1815-1842)

Excerpt

On 17 December 1841, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. began to keep a journal. He had just entered his twenty-seventh year, and had been married less than four months; he had opened his own law office a year and a quarter earlier. He had published two books, and there was every indication that a highly successful career lay open before him.

In 1842 Dana wrote the autobiographical sketch which is here printed in its entirety for the first time. It was designed as a rounding-out of his journal; it filled in the background material, according to his own memory and selection, for that part of his life which antedated his daily notations of what had transpired.

It is curious that so little use has been made of Dana's journal, and particularly that his autobiographical sketch has not hitherto been printed. Charles Francis Adams drew heavily on the diary (as well as on Dana's correspondence) in writing his life of Dana which appeared in 1890. Indeed, the biography consists largely of selections from the journal, with links supplied by Adams. Several others have used passages from the sketch and journal, but the great mass of the material still lies fallow in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. That the papers of Dana will someday be printed in extenso seems inevitable: he is the Boswell of Boston, in a sense, and his journal, letters, and speeches provide a key to the social, literary, and political history of Massachusetts in the mid-nineteenth century.

The prose style of Dana's autobiographical sketch has the same qualities which are found in Two Years Before the Mast. Crisp, sinewy, and direct, the narrative flows swiftly and cleanly. At times, when the author hurried on to his next point, the record becomes almost telegraphic. There are evidences of at least two revisions by the author, made at widely posterior dates; but these interpolations are in the form of annotations and extensions--the general flow of the autobiography was never changed.

Apart from the vivid pictures we receive of educational experiences in the early years of the last century . . .

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