Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, a Story of Life in Holland

By M. E. DODGE. New York : James O’Kane.
HANS BRINKER is a charming domestic story of some three hundred and fifty pages, which is addressed, indeed, to young people, but which may be read with pleasure and profit by their elders. The scene is laid in Holland, a land deserving to be better known than it is ; and the writer evinces a knowledge of the country, and an acquaintance with the spirit and habits of its stout, independent, estimable people, which must have been gathered not from books alone, but from living sources.
Graphically, too, is the quaint picture sketched, and with a pleasant touch of humor. We all know the main features of Dutch scenery ; but they are seldom brought to our notice with livelier effect. Speaking of the guardian dikes, Mrs. Dodge says : —
“ They are high and wide, and the tops of some of them are covered with buildings and trees. They have even fine public roads upon them, from which horses may look down on wayside cottages. Often the keels of floating ships are higher than the roofs of the dwellings. The stork chattering to her young on the house-peak may feel that her nest is lifted out of danger, but the croaking frog in neighboring bulrushes is nearer the stars than she. Water-bugs dart backward and forward above the heads of the chimney-swallows, and willow-trees seem drooping with shame, because they cannot reach as high as the reeds near by. .... Farm-houses, with roofs like great slouched hats over their eyes, stand on wooden legs with a tucked-up sort of air, as if to say, ‘ We intend to keep dry if we can.’ Even the horses wear a wide stool on each hoof to lift them out of the mire. .... Men, women, and children go clattering about in wooden shoes with loose heels ; peasant-girls, who cannot get beaux for love, hire them for money to escort them to the Kermis; and husbands and wives lovingly harness themselves, side by side, on the bank of the canal, and drag their pakschutyts to market.
“ ‘ One thing is clear,’ cries Master Brightside, ' the inhabitants need never be thirsty.’ But no, Odd-land is true to itself still. Notwithstanding the sea pushing to get in, and the lakes pushing to get out, and all the canals and rivers and ditches, there is, in many districts, no water fit to swallow ; our poor Hollanders must go dry, or drink wine and beer, or send inland to Utrecht and other favored localities for that precious fluid, older than Adam, yet young as the morning dew.”
The book is fresh and flavorous in tone, and speaks to the fancy of children. Here is a scene on the canal : —
“ It was recess-hour. At the first stroke of the school-house bell, the canal seemed to give a tremendous shout, and grow suddenly alive with boys and girls. The sly thing, shining so quietly under the noonday sun, was a kaleidoscope at heart, and only needed a shake from that great clapper to startle it into dazzling changes.
“Dozens of gayly clad children were skating in and out among each other, and all their pent-up merriment of the morning was relieving itself in song and shout and laughter. There was nothing to check the flow of frolic. Not a thought of schoolbooks came out with them into the sunshine. Latin, arithmetic, grammar, all were locked up for an hour in the dingy school-room. The teacher might be a noun if he wished, and a proper one at that, but they meant to enjoy themselves. As long as the skating was as perfect as this, it made no difference whether Holland was on the North Pole or the Equator ; and as for philosophy, how could they bother themselves about inertia and gravitation and such things, when it was as much as they could do to keep from getting knocked over in the commotion ? ”
There is no formal moral, obtruding itself in set phrase. The lessons inculcated, elevated in tone, are in the action of the story and the feelings and aspirations of the actors. A young lady, for example, has been on a visit to aid and console a poor peasantgirl, whom, having been in deep affliction, she found unexpectedly relieved. Engrossed by her warm sympathy with her humble friend, she forgets the lapse of time.
“Helda was reprimanded severely that day for returning late to school after recess, and for imperfect recitation.
“ She had remained near the cottage until she heard Dame Brinker laugh, and heard Hans say, ‘Here I am, father!’ and then she had gone back to her lessons. What wonder that she missed them ! How could she get a long string of Latin verbs by heart, when her heart did not care a fig for them, but would keep saying to itself, ' O, I am so glad ! I am so glad ! ’ ”
The book contains two things, — a series of lifelike pictures of an interesting country and of the odd ways and peculiarities and homely virtues of its inhabitants ; and then, interwoven with these, a simple tale, now pathetic, now amusing, and carrying with it wholesome influences on the young heart and mind.