January 6, 2010

Death of Dana, Jr.

Richard Henry Dana, Jr. died on January 6, 1882. He was 66 years old. Though his career was varied — he was a sailor, a writer, and a lawyer — he is known predominantly from one book: Two Years Before the Mast, published in 1840.

The book was inspired by two years at sea, which the Boston Brahmin took to avoid Harvard temporarily (and with a hope to repair worsening eyesight). Serving as a common sailor rather than taking the European Grand Tour expected of wealthy individuals, he was disturbed by the plight of his fellow seamen. His book, a memoir of his two years on board the Pilgrim, was written to draw attention to the poor conditions at sea. Dana Point in California was named in honor of the author.

Dana continued fighting on land as well. While an undergrad at Harvard, he was suspended for six months for supporting a student protest. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he fought for an eclectic range of clients, including the fugitive slave Anthony Burns.

He also represented doctor William T. G. Morton, who was fighting for official recognition as the discoverer of the anesthetic properties of ether. Interestingly enough, it was a dentist who applied ether to Frances Appleton Longfellow, wife of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as the first woman to give birth under anesthesia. Her daughter, Fanny Jr., did not survive past infancy. However, another daughter of the Longfellows, "Edith with the golden hair," married Richard Henry Dana III.

Dana Jr. traveled to Rome, Italy, at the end of his life. It was there that he contracted influenza and died in 1882, having outlived his father and namesake, himself a famous poet and critic, by slightly less than three years.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read that poem since undergrad, and it means so much more now that I am a parent. Thank you for reminding me of it. And what an interesting connection. What a fighter!