Richard Henry Dana III: An American Oarsman in England – Part I

Being Introduced in England

Writer, diarist and oarsman Richard Henry Dana, III.

11 November 2020

By Göran R Buckhorn

Richard Henry Dana, III, graduated from Harvard in 1874 and then began studying at Harvard Law School. He took a break from his studies July 1875 and went abroad to see the ‘world’, or at least some parts of it. He left Cambridge, Massachusetts, for England where his father had many friends. Having plied the oar at Harvard, visiting England would give young Richard a possibility to take a closer look at the ‘English stroke’.

In 1921, the American publisher Houghton Mifflin Company published the book Hospitable England in the Seventies – The Diary of a Young American 1875–1876 by Richard Henry Dana.

The Danas were a well-known American family, having in its ranks a long line of lawyers, politicians and writers. Richard Dana (1699-1772) was the father of Francis Dana (1743-1811), who was a signer of the Articles of Confederation and father of Richard Henry Dana, Sr., (1787–1879).

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., in 1842.

Dana senior’s son, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., (1815-1882) is the most famous of the clan being the author of the memoir Two Years Before the Mast, the classic sea tale where the author signed up as a merchant seaman, sailing from Boston in August 1834 on the two-masted brig Pilgrim to Alta California (then a part of Mexico). Wanting to come home sooner, Dana, Jr., signed up on another vessel, the Alert, which went around Cape Horn in the middle of the Antarctic winter. The Alert, with Dana onboard, reached Massachusetts in September 1836. Dana, Jr., received a poor deal from the American publisher when his Two Years Before the Mast came out in 1840: $250 and 24 copies of the book. The book sold 200,000 copies the first decade. The British publisher paid substantially more money when the book was published in Britain. Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick (1851), priased Dana’s book and said that his descriptions of Cape Horn ‘must have been written with an icicle.’

Having viewed how mistreated the seamen had been onboard the vessels, especially the Pilgrim, Dana, Jr., studied maritime law at Harvard Law School. In 1841, a year after he was admitted to the bar, Dana published The Seaman’s Friend, a standard reference on the legal rights and responsibilities of sailors. Dana also defended many seamen in court.

Richard Henry Dana, Jr.’s son, Richard Henry Dana, III, (1851-1931) was the author of Hospitable England in the Seventies. As many of his ancestors, Dana III studied at Harvard where he took up the oar. He was the captain and stroke of the Harvard crews of 1872, 1873 and 1874, winning over Yale in the 1872 and 1874 races.

At the winter term of 1873, Yale captain Bob Cook ’76 was given leave to go to England to study the English stroke. Cook mistrusted the American professional scullers who coached the university crews. The famous 1869 race in coxed fours between Oxford and Harvard proved the superiority of the English stroke when the Dark Blues beat the Crimson on the Putney to Mortlake course. (See also here.) Dana III would several times mention the 1869 race and the crews in his Hospitable England in the Seventies.

Yale oarsman Bob Cook, in 1876.

Though for his voyage across the pond, young Bob Cook was short of funds. His father refused to give him money for the trip, as he had also denied Bob, who grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania, money for an education. Bob’s mother had helped him to pay for his time at Andover and Yale and stepped in again to help him with his trip and expenses in England. Yale Boat Club, which was constantly struggling with money, managed somehow to raise $495 for the trip, and Bob and some of his friends raised another $295 through loans and pawning their furniture, Thomas C. Mendenhall wrote in his brilliant book The Harvard-Yale Boat Race 1852 – 1924 – and the coming of sport to the American College (1993).

While in England, Cook received his first proper rowing lesson, as Mendenhall wrote, from one of the finest oarsmen in England at this time, Francis S. Gulston of London Rowing Club. After a month on the Tideway, the American oarsman moved on to Cambridge and then Oxford to learn the English style at the universities. ‘Bob Cook was especially interested in the Boat Race of 1873. It was the first race in which both boats were equipped with sliding seats,’ Thomas C. Mendenhall wrote in The Harvard-Yale Boat Race.

When Cook returned to New Haven, the American newspapers reported about Yale’s new English stroke. Now using the sliding seat, Cook was mainly concerned about the combination of legs, back, shoulders and arms to get the most effective stroke. In April 1873, members of the Rowing Association of American Colleges elected Bob Cook as president. One of the decisions taken at the meeting was that professional oarsmen should no longer be used as coaches at the universities.

At the same time, at Harvard, captain Richard Dana III had also been working hard to improve the rowing style and not use professionals as trainers. ‘Dana’s solution was not to take a trip to England but to bring England to Cambridge [in USA] by revising an Oxford manual, to be called Principles of Rowing at Harvard,’ according to Mendenhall. Writing this, Mendenhall was obviously not aware of Dana III’s travels to England and the accounts he gave in Hospitable England of visiting both Oxford and Cambridge.

Like his father, Dana III took a break in his law studies at Harvard to take an ‘educational’ trip. However, unlike his father, who had lived before the mast, Dana III’s trip was in comfort and style. Dana III left for England in July 1875.

“Hospitable England” was published in 1921.

The three first diary entries in Hospitable England began with a daily weather report: July 14: RAIN!, July 15: RAIN again and July 16: MORE rain. The young American diary writer, who maybe did not expect to see rain in the middle of summer, then probably gave up on the weather or it actually stopped raining, though I am inclined to believe in the former.

In Hospitable England – though we must remember it is a diary and probably not written at first to be published – Dana III is a terrible namedropper. Every entry is a list of the people he visited or saw in England. His father, who had many friends in England, wrote him several letters of introduction to Lord That, Sir This and Lady Whathaveyou. Dana III wrote:

It is customary in England to leave a letter of introduction and one’s card with an address on it, without asking to see the person to whom one is introduced. This allows him to read the letter more at leisure and arrange for some future meeting, and especially in the crowded life of London, works far better and more satisfactory than trying to see strangers at the first call. July 15

Richard Henry Dana, Jr’s, letters open all doors for his son in England. Or as Dana III wrote in his diary on July 29: Everywhere I go my father’s name is a remarkably good introduction. And there is barely any day when young Dana III is not invited for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner or an after-dinner party. In his diary, he made notes on different English customs and later French etiquette compared to American manners:

What struck me most in the details was the absence of napkins at lunch, though it was what we [Americans] should call a heavy lunch, with soup, chicken and game, vegetables, fruit, wines, etc. It seemed strange that they should be so slow in changing their old customs, for, of course, a napkin is as necessary at a heavy lunch of this as at a dinner. July 18

Dana III discussed other different customs between the Englishmen and women and the Americans in this diary entry: should one eat a chicken bone with one’s hand (as in England) or cut off the meat on the bone with a knife (as in the U.S.) and how to place fork and knife? He wrote:

We [in the U.S.] usually place the fork at the left and the knife at right angles to it at the top. Here they put the knife on the right side of the plate, parallel to the fork (as we have since come to do in the “States”), and when I inadvertently changed it to the American way, out of habit, one of the waiters immediately took the knife and put it back. He was not going to tolerate any such outlandish custom in a great English house. July 18

While in London, Dana III visited the Parliament where he easily recognised some of the leading members from pictures in Punch magazine, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, whom Dana III heard at dinner parties was referred to as ‘Dizzy’. It was also at lunches and dinners, Dana III’s hosts, hostesses and their guests were eager to discuss the American Civil War, which, in 1875, ended only ten years prior and was still on many people minds. Dana III noticed that many of the English people he spoke to said that they had been on the Confederates side in the war, although the majority of them were against slavery. Other things that were brought up at these social occasions were the 1869 Alabama Claims, the so-called Greville Papers, and, in 1876, a more personal matter for the Dana family when President Ulysses S. Grant proposed Richard Henry Dana, Jr., as Minister (Ambassador) to Great Britain, a nomination that was defeated in the Senate by Dana, Jr.’s political enemies.

The CSS “Alabama” was secretly built at a shipyard in Liverpool for the Confederacy Navy. She was allowed to leave British port in 1862 to fight on the South side in the Civil War, despite the fact that Britain was said to be neutral. “Alabama” took more than 60 prizes before she was sunk by USS “Kearsarge” in June 1864 off Cherbourg, France.

Hospitable England in the Seventies is otherwise a deceiving title as Dana III not only travelled around in England but also in Scotland and visited the continent twice during his time abroad from the USA.

When Dana III visited Scotland, he called on Lord Young, who was a Senator of the College of Justice, whom Dana III had met in London and who had invited the American to his home in Edinburgh. It was after a visit in Lord Young’s home in 28 Morary Place that Dana III wrote down the first connection to rowing in his diary during his stay in Britain. After he mentioned that Lord Young had 14 children, Dana III wrote: I met there a Miss Goldie, sister of the famous Cambridge University stroke oar [John Goldie], said to be the best there ever was in that University. August 18

Dana III’s visit to Scotland became news in the papers. He wrote in his diary on August 24, In the Dundee “Advertiser” was a notice of my visit to Dundee, speaking of me as the son of the popular writer of “Three Years Before the Mast” [sic] and the grandson of Dana, the American poet.

Dana III came back to table manners in his diary when he visited the Duke and Duchess of Argyll at Inverary Castle in Scotland. Sitting down to dinner in the evening was also the Duke and Duchess’s son, Marquess of Lorne, and his wife, Princess Louise, who was the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. About Princess Louise, Dana III wrote: September 1 She is good-sized, well developed, with a German cast of face, and a slight German accent. Her r’s are guttural, for example, instead of lingual. Her table manners are not at all German.

Of course, one can wonder if that meant her table manners were good or bad – but it was meant as a compliment! Writing about the Princess’s pleasant manners, the following day, Dana III wrote that he fell a bit in love with Princess Louise September 2. Later on, he wrote in his diary that the Princess was happily married to her husband, John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne. They might have been happy at this time, four years after they got married, in 1871, but their marriage would become childless and unhappy.

Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, married to the Marquess of Lorne.

Then Dana III went to Glasgow to take a train back to London. He was not impressed by the Scottish city:

What little I saw of Glasgow was depressing, indeed. The city was dirty and smoky, and I never saw so many drunken people about as I did that evening, both men and women, drunk and dead drunk, sitting or lying on the sides of streets. September 6

From London, Dana III took the afternoon train to Honiton, Devonshire, to visit Lord and Lady Coleridge. After supper and an evening chat with Lord Coleridge, who was the great-nephew of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dana III was shown to his room. He went to bed but woke up in the middle of the night with a feeling that he was not alone in the room. He opened his eyes and could clearly see a silhouette by the dressing table. He wrote:

I listen intently, and in a moment I hear a grating sound as of a chair moved along the carpet. […] I try to pretend I am asleep, but my heart is pounding like a triphammer and my breath comes and goes so fast and so noisily that I know I am betraying myself. I can’t any longer feign sleep, and I fear the burglar or insane person or whoever it may be that is in the room will rush on me. [Dana III jumps out of bed, found some matches, breaks two, but managed to light the third one] and then call, “Now, sir!” expecting to see before me at least a stalwart burglar, but to my amazement and horror the room is empty. September 7

Dana III examined the room, but no one was there. He even found the door locked from the inside. Dana III did not remember that he had locked the door. Just then he heard a dog in the garden baying and growling. Was it the ghost of the toothless mastiff of Coleridge’s “Christabel,” answering the midnight clock with “Sixteen short howls not overloud”? September 7 Had Dana III had a ghost in his room?

A few days later, Dana III went on a walk with Bernard Coleridge, Lord Coleridge eldest son, who had graduated from Oxford that year. Dana III wrote:

[W]e found a common topic in rowing, for he was captain of his college boat and I captain and stroke of the Harvard University crew; he was too light to make the Oxford Varsity boat. The sliding seats had only recently been adopted in the great races, and he and I talked over the development of this stroke which has practically been the same at both Oxford and Harvard. Harvard first used the slides in 1872 and Oxford in 1873. September 10

When it came to the dates on the sliding seat, Dana III was correct. However, Yale used a sliding seat of sorts already in the American Boat Race in 1870, and both Oxford and Cambridge used sliding seats in the 1873 Boat Race. (Among the boat clubs at Oxford, Pembroke College BC was the first club to use the sliding seat, in the Fours in 1872.)

Jean Béraud’s “Le Boulevard St. Denis, Paris”, 1875.

Dana III left England on 25 September 1875 and travelled to Paris, Rome, Athens, Cairo and Constantinople. While in France, he got an outing in Marseilles. Dana III wrote:

[…] Took a row with an old boatsman about the harbor. I found it hard to understand him, for he spoke provincial French and used many nautical terms […] December 16

Dana III was back in England on 16 May 1876 and arrived at Oxford two days later.

Part II will continue tomorrow with Richard Henry Dana III’s days in Oxford.

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