January 26, 2011

Dodge: Quick as a flash he saw his duty

One day, in Holland, a young boy was walking home when he heard the sound of trickling water. Looking for its source, he noticed that in the dike near him was a small hole. The leak in the dike, he knew, could enlarge and cause "a terrible inundation" of water.

Quick as a flash he saw his duty... The boy clambered up the heights until he reached the hole. His chubby little finger was thrust in, almost before he knew it. The flowing was stopped! "Ah!" he thought, with a chuckle of boyish delight, "the angry waters must stay back now! [The town] shall not be drowned while I am here!"

The boy stays all night, preventing the dike from breaking and flooding the town. The story comes from Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland, a book published in 1865 by Mary Mapes Dodge. It was an instant best-seller and was illustrated by artists like F. O. C. Darley, Thomas Nast and, later, N. C. Wyeth.

Dodge was born in New York on January 26, 1831. Like many other women writers, her pursuit of a literary career came from a need to support her familty, particularly after the death of her husband when she was 28. Though she became a prolific writer, her popularization of the boy who used his finger to stop a leak became her most enduring work. She focused on writing for children, even serving as the first editor of the popular children's publication St. Nicholas Magazine beginning in 1873. As editor, she successfully solicited the works of writers like Louisa May Alcott, Charles E. Carroll, and Joel Chandler Harris.

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