Top positive review
on 19 June 2016
I'd not read this book until recently. American classics were part of my school diet - Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in particular, but not this one. The author dropped out of college and took ship in a bid to get his health back. Tough way to do it; they went around the Horn to California where the task was dressing and compressing cowhides as the return cargo. It's an adventure all the way to California, where I found the repetition of what they did with hides in need of editing, before his eventual return. Time-wise, he was on the Californian coast in 1836 and heard about the fall of the Alamo there. One fascinating encounter is with a retired sea captain with whom he has a conversation about the advances in sailing ships since the old dude retired some fifteen years earlier. The beaches and creeks he worked hides on were long gone in his lifetime, built over by San Diego and San Francisco, which he mentions visiting in later years. And the San Francisco he saw is long gone too, what with the earthquake and the fire. He gives a lot of detail of the daily grind on ship where there is always something to do, make, mend, repair, paint, tar, splice or clean. He comes across as one who got stuck into whatever task he was given and eventually manages to get as good at it as the crew; men who seem quite tolerant of this bookish, sickly youth from the start and proud to have known him by the end. He went on to be a lawyer, an abolitionist and one who stood tall for the rights of others - seamen, slaves or free. His book became an instant hit when published, being one of the very few (at the time) reference books about California.