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second dignity

Dignity in this case signifies rank. But it is uncertain exactly how to construe what this rank might be. It could be that Walton was offered the position of second mate. But, depending on the size of the ship, it could have been an even more imposing rank than that. In the terms Walton will employ about his own command in the ensuing letter, the second dignity would be, after the captain's lieutenant, the master of the ship (Letter 2.3).