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Richard Henry Dana

Date de naissance: 1. août 1815
Date de décès: 6. janvier 1882

Richard Henry Dana, Jr. est un avocat, homme politique et auteur américain. Il est l'auteur de Two Years Before the Mast , racontant le récit de ses voyages maritimes.

Il est né en 1815 dans une famille bourgeoise du Massachusetts . Âgé de 19 ans, alors qu'il a entamé des études de droit à l'université Harvard, Richard Henry Dana tombe malade. Pour se refaire une santé, il décide d'embarquer comme simple marin sur un brick chargé de ramener une cargaison de peaux de bœufs de la lointaine Californie. Le voyage durera deux ans.

Reprenant ses études, il se spécialisera dans le droit maritime et la défense syndicale des matelots, alors exploités non seulement par les capitaines et armateurs, mais aussi par les crimps et autres shangaïeurs.

Anti-esclavagiste dans l'âme, il défendra en justice plusieurs esclaves fugitifs.

Il sera à l'origine des règles internationales de barre et de route établissant la priorité des voiliers sur les navires à propulsion mécanique.

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Sa pratique juridique très idéaliste lui rapporte peu et le conduit au surmenage, c'est pourquoi il se lance en 1859 dans un tour du monde comme passager sur divers navires, qui durera 433 jours et le fera passer par Panama, la Californie, la Chine, l'Inde, l'Égypte, la Grèce et l'Italie, puis finalement New York .

Il sera pressenti pour être l'avocat de référence du gouvernement américain dans les Alabama claims, grand procès aux enjeux économiques énormes intenté par le gouvernement nordiste victorieux de la Guerre de Sécession contre le gouvernement britannique.

La Grande-Bretagne, soucieuse d'alimenter en coton ses filatures avait financé en sous main des corsaires sudistes à la pointe de la technique navale comme le célèbre CSS Alabama du capitaine Semmes qui fit des ravages dans la flotte de commerce nordiste.

Les Alabama claims sont le premier exemple connu d'un recours à une cour d'arbitrage internationale siègeant en pays neutre .

Cependant ses prises de position politiques le disqualifieront de cette charge en faveur de son compatriote, ami et néanmoins opposant politique de Boston, Charles Francis Adams.

De même, malgré l'appui du Président Ulysses Grant, sa nomination comme ambassadeur des États-Unis en Grande-Bretagne sera rejetée par le Sénat en 1876.

Citations Richard Henry Dana

„The past was real. The present, all about me, was unreal, unnatural, repellent. I saw the big ships lying in the stream… the home of hardship and hopelessness; the boats passing to and fro; the cries of the sailors at the capstan or falls; the peopled beach; the large hide houses, with their gangs of men; and the Kanakas interspersed everywhere. All, all were gone! Not a vestige to mark where one hide house stood. The oven, too, was gone. I searched for its site, and found, where I thought it should be, a few broken bricks and bits of mortar. I alone was left of all, and how strangely was I here! What changes to me! Where were they all? Why should I care for them — poor Kanakas and sailors, the refuse of civilization, the outlaws and the beachcombers of the Pacific! Time and death seemed to transfigure them. Doubtless nearly all were dead; but how had they died, and where? In hospitals, in fever climes, in dens of vice, or falling from the mast, or dropping exhausted from the wreck "When for a moment, like a drop of rain/He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan/Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown." The lighthearted boys are now hardened middle-aged men, if the seas, rocks, fevers, and the deadlier enemies that beset a sailor's life on shore have spared them; and the then strong men have bowed themselves, and the earth or sea has covered them. How softening is the effect of time! It touches us through the affections. I almost feel as if I were lamenting the passing away of something loved and dear — the boats, the Kanakas, the hides, my old shipmates! Death, change, distance, lend them a character which makes them quite another thing.“

—  Richard Henry Dana Jr.

Twenty-Four Years After (1869)

„Referring to a professor aboard ship: This passenger — the first and only one we had had, except to go from port to port on the coast — was no one else than a gentleman whom I had known in my smoother days, and the last person I should have expected to see on the coast of California — Professor Nuttall of Cambridge. I had left him quietly seated in the chair of the Botany and Ornithology Department at Harvard University, and the next I saw of him, he was strolling about San Diego beach, in a sailors' pea jacket, with a wide straw hat, and barefooted, with his trousers rolled up to his knees, picking up stones and shells… I was often amused to see the sailors puzzled to know what to make of him, and to hear their conjectures about him and his business… The Pilgrim's crew called Mr. Nuttall "Old Curious," from his zeal for curiosities; and some of them said that he was crazy, and that his friends let him go about and amuse himself this way. Why else would (he)… come to such a place as California to pick up shells and stones, they could not understand. One of them, however, who had seen something more of the world ashore said, "Oh, 'vast there!… I've seen them colleges and know the ropes. They keep all such things for cur'osities, and study 'em, and have men a purpose to go and get 'em… He'll carry all these things to the college, and if they are better than any that they have had before, he'll be head of the college. Then, by and by, somebody else will go after some more, and if they beat him he'll have to go again, or else give up his berth. That's the way they do it. This old covery knows the ropes. He has worked a traverse over 'em, and come 'way out here where nobody's ever been afore, and where they'll never think of coming."“

—  Richard Henry Dana Jr., livre Two Years Before the Mast

This explanation satisfied Jack; and as it raised Mr. Nuttall's credit, and was near enough to the truth for common purposes, I did not disturb it.
Source: Two Years Before the Mast (1840), p. 267

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