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by [?]

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The contrast between the “singing-robes and the overalls of Journalism” is true and striking. Good and true writing no magazine or newspaper editor will blue-pencil. But “fine” writing is a different thing–a style that is conscious of itself, a style in which the thought is commonplace and the language studied and ornate, every judicious editor will blue-pencil. Downrightness and sententiousness are prime qualities; brevity, concreteness, spontaneity–in fact, all forms of genuine expression–help make literature. You know the genuine from the spurious, gold from pinchbeck, that’s the rub. The secret of sound writing is not in the language, but in the mind or personality behind the language. The dull writer and the inspired writer use, or may use, the same words, and the product will be gold in the one and lead in the other.

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Dana’s book [“Two Years Before the Mast”] is a classic because it took no thought of being a classic. It is a plain, unvarnished tale, not loaded up with tedious descriptions. It is all action, a perpetual drama in which the sea, the winds, the seamen, the sails–mainsail, main royal, foresail–play the principal parts.

There is no book depicting life on the sea to compare with it. Lately I have again tried to find the secret of its charm. In the first place, it is a plain, unvarnished tale, no attempt at fine writing in it. All is action from cover to cover. It is full of thrilling, dramatic scenes. In fact, it is almost a perpetual drama in which the sea, the winds, the storms, the sails, and the sailors play their parts. Each sail, from the smallest to the greatest, has its own character and its own part to play; sometimes many of them, sometimes few are upon the stage at once. Occasionally all the canvas was piled on at once, and then what a sight the ship was to behold! Scudding under bare poles was dramatic also.

The life on board ship in those times–its humor, its tedium, its dangers, its hardships–was never before so vividly portrayed. The tyranny and cruelty of sea-captains, the absolute despotism of that little world of the ship’s deck, stand out in strong relief. Dana had a memory like a phonographic record. Unless he took copious notes on this journey, it is incredible how he could have made it so complete, so specific is the life of each day. The reader craves more light on one point–the size of the ship, her length and tonnage. In setting out on the homeward journey they took aboard a dozen sheep, four bullocks, a dozen or more pigs, three or four dozen of poultry, thousands of dressed and cured hides, as well as fodder and feed for the cattle and poultry and pigs. The vessel seemed elastic; they could always find room for a few thousand more hides, if the need arose. The hides were folded up like the leaves of a book, and they invented curious machinery to press in a hundred hides where one could not be forced by hand. By this means the forty thousand hides were easily disposed of as part of the home cargo.

The ship becomes a living being to the sailors. The Alert was so loaded, her cargo so steved in, that she was stiff as a man in a strait-jacket. But the old sailors said: “Stand by. You’ll see her work herself loose in a week or two, and then she’ll walk up to Cape Horn like a race-horse.”

It is curious how the sailors can’t work together without a song. “A song is as necessary to a sailor as the drum and fife are to the soldier. They can’t pull in time, or pull with a will, without it.” Some songs were much more effective than others. “Two or three songs would be tried, one after the other, with no effect–not an inch could be got upon the tackles, when a new song struck up seemed to hit the humor of the moment and drove the tackles two blocks at once. ‘Heave round, hearty!’ ‘Captain gone ashore!’ and the like, might do for common pulls, but in an emergency, when we wanted a heavy, raise-the-dead pull, which would start the beams of the ship, there was nothing like ‘Time for us to go!’ ‘Round the corner,’ or ‘Hurrah! Hurrah! my hearty bullies!'”