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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Richard Henry Dana, Sr. (1787–1879)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
RICHARD HENRY DANA the elder, although he died less than twenty years ago, belonged to the first generation of American writers; he was born in 1787, in Cambridge, four years after Washington Irving. He came of a distinguished and scholarly family: his father had been minister to Russia during the Revolution, and was afterwards Chief Justice of Massachusetts; through his mother he was descended from Anne Bradstreet. At the age of ten he went to Newport to live with his maternal grandfather, William Ellery, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and remained until he entered Harvard. The wild rock-bound coast scenery impressed him deeply, and ever after the sea was one of his ruling passions. Only one familiar with all the moods of the ocean could have written ‘The Buccaneer.’ After quitting college he studied law, and was admitted to the Boston bar. Literature however proved the stronger attraction, and in 1818 he left his profession to assist in conducting the then newly founded North American Review. The critical papers he contributed to it startled the conservative literary circles by their audacity in defending the new movement in English poetry, and passing lightly by their idol Pope. Indeed, his unpopularity debarred him from succeeding the first editor. He withdrew, and began the publication of The Idle Man in numbers, modeled on Salmagundi and the Sketch-Book. His contributions consisted of critical papers and his novelettes ‘Paul Felton,’ ‘Tom Thornton,’ and ‘Edward and Mary.’ Not finding many readers, he discontinued it after the first volume. He then contributed for some years to the New York Review, conducted by William Cullen Bryant, and to the United States Review. In 1827 appeared ‘The Buccaneer and Other Poems’; in 1833 the same volume was enlarged and the contributions to The Idle Man were added, under the title ‘Poems and Prose Writings.’ Seventeen years later he closed his literary career by publishing the complete edition of his ‘Poems and Prose Writings,’ in two volumes, not having materially added either to his verse or fiction. After that time he lived in retirement, spending his summers in his seaside home by the rocks and breakers of Cape Ann, and the winters in Boston. He died in 1879.  1
  Dana’s literary activity falls within the first third of this century. During that period, unproductive of great work, he ranked among the foremost writers. His papers in the North American Review, as the first original criticism on this side of the Atlantic, marked an era in our letters. He was one of the first to recognize the genius of Wordsworth and of Coleridge; under the influence of the latter he wrote the poem by which he is chiefly known, ‘The Buccaneer.’ He claimed for it a basis of truth; it is in fact a story out of ‘The Pirate’s Own Book,’ with the element of the supernatural added to convey the moral lesson. His verse is contained in a slender volume. It lacks fluency and melody, but shows keen perception of Nature’s beauty, especially in her sterner, more solemn moods, and sympathy with the human heart. Dana was not so much a poet born with the inevitable gift of song (he would otherwise not have become almost silent during the last fifty years of his life), as a man of strong intellect who in his youth turned to verse for recreation.  2
  Though best known by his poems, he stands out strongest and most original as novelist. ‘Paul Felton,’ his masterpiece in prose, is a powerful study of a diseased condition of mind. In its searching psychologic analysis it stands quite apart from the more or less flaccid production of its day. He indeed could not escape the influence of Charles Brockden Brown, whom he greatly admired, and he in turn reached out forward toward Poe and other writers of the analytic school. One powerful story of Poe’s, indeed, seems to have been suggested by Dana’s work: the demon horse in ‘Metzengerstein’ is a superior copy of the Spectre Horse in ‘The Buccaneer.’ These stories were not popular in his day: they are too remote from ordinary life, too gloomy and painful; they have no definite locality or nationality; their characters have little in common with everyday humanity. His prose style however is clear, direct, and strong.  3
  Even after he ceased to write, he had an important influence on American letters by the independence of his opinions, his friendships with literary men, chief among whom was Bryant, and his live interest in the younger literature produced under conditions more favorable and more inspiring than he had known.  4
 
 
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