While waiting for a taxi to the airport I scanned the wonderful old books lining the shelves at the London hotel I’d been staying in. I do this often when I have moments like this, it’s where the buried treasure is after all. I saw two books on a shelf at eye level that drew my attention; Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana Jr. and an old collection of English poems. I’d read Two Years Before The Mast several years ago at the recommendation of a friend who’s doing exactly that at the moment. I flipped through it quickly, saw the old stamps indicating it was a library book and smiled. Libraries were where I found most of my buried treasure before the Google and Amazon changed everything.
To this day my favorite discovery was an old copy of Typee by Hermin Melville pulled at random from a university library shelf in the fall of 1984. I was a freshman then, figuring out this college thing, and fascinated with the vast rows of books I could walk through. I picked up Typee and brought it to a reading nook and read the first couple of chapters, quickly falling in love with this other world. I’d return the book and come back again and again to it in the same fashion until I finished it, never checking it out (sadly not including my name on the stamp), but finishing it nonetheless. That friend who loaned me Two Years Before The Mast in turn took my recommendation to read Typee and now has a boat named Fayaway, a compelling character in the story.
That other book, the one on poetry? I opened to a completely random page in a completely random book in an old library book stuck on a hotel shelf in London….. so you know; random. And I read this:
Care-Charming Sleep, thou easer of all woes,
Brother to Death, sweetly thyself dispose
On this afflicted prince; fall, like a cloud,
In gentle showers; give nothing that is loud
Or painful to his slumbers; easy, light,
And as a purling stream, thou son of Night,
Pass by his troubled senses; sing his pain,
Like hollow murmuring wind or silver rain;
Into this prince gently, oh, gently slide,
And kiss him into slumbers like a bride! – John Fletcher
Fletcher died in 1625. Analogies between sleep and dying are common, and Fletcher dabbling with the concept in this poem/song from 400 years ago illustrates that. We all want to gently fall asleep, and given the choice we’d likely all wish the same for our final sleep. Poetry either grabs you or it doesn’t. I haven’t made up my mind on this one, which means it’s the latter. Not everything you pick up in a book is going to be buried treasure. If it were what would be the value anyway? But there’s something to chew on here anyway.
Two Years Before The Mast was written by a man named Richard Henry Dana Jr. after he left Harvard to regain his health after contracting measles. It’s a fascinating book that illustrates life onboard a merchant ship on a two year journey as they rounded Cape Horn to pick up cattle hides in California to haul back to Massachusetts. Seeing the book again prompted me to read a bit more about Dana, and I was struck by one part of his legacy. Dana Point, California is named after him. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Dana Point, but never made the connection to the book until today. It seems I found some buried treasure after all.