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THE DOCTOR'S DAUGHTER.
BY "VERA." AUTHOR OF "HONOR EDGEWORTH"
"_O Tempora! O Mores!_"
Charles Dickens observes with much truth, that "though seldom read, prefaces are continually written." It may be asked and even wondered, why? I cannot say that I know the exact reason, but it seems to me that they may carry the same weight, in the literary world, that certain _sotto voce_ explanations, which oftentimes accompany the introduction of one person to another, do in the social world.
If it is permitted, in bringing some quaint, old-fashioned little body, before a gathering of your more fastidious friends, at once to reconcile them to his or her strange, ungainly mien, and to justify yourself for acknowledging an intimacy with so eccentric a creature, by following up the prosy and unsuggestive: "Mr. B----, ladies and gentlemen," or "Miss M----, ladies and gentlemen," with such a refreshing paraphrase as, "brother-in-law of the celebrated Lord Marmaduke Pulsifer," or, "confidential companion, to the wife of the late distinguished Christopher Quill the American Poet"--why should not a like privilege be extended the labour-worn author, when he ushers the crude and unattractive offspring of his own undaunted energy into the arena of literary life?
Mr. B----, without the whispered guarantee of his relative importance, would never be noticed unless to be riled or ridiculed; and so with many a meek and modest volume, whose key-note has never been sounded, or if sounded has never been heard.
We would all be perfect in our attributes if we could! Who would write vapid, savourless pages, if it were in his power to set them aglow with rare erudition, and dazzling conceptions of ethical and other abstract subjects? If I had been born a Dickens, _lector benevole_, I would have willingly, eagerly, proudly, favoured you with a "Tale of Two Cities" or a "David Copperfield;" of that you may be morally certain, however, it is no mock self-disparagement (!) that moves me to humbly acknowledge (!) my inferiority to this immortal mind. I have availed myself of the only alternative left, when I recognized the impossibility of rivalling this protagonist among the _dramatis personae_ of the great Drama of English Fiction, and have done something of which he speaks very tenderly and delicately somewhere in his prolific writings, one's "best." He says, "one man's best is as good as another man's," not in its results, (I know by experience), but in the abstract relationship which exists between the nature of the two efforts, and I am grateful to him for having thus provided against the possible discouragement of "small authorship."
In the subjoining pages, I offer to the world, a pretenseless record of the impressions, opinions, and convictions which have been, I may say, thrust upon me by a contact, which is yet necessarily limited, with the phases of every-day life.
That some of these reflections and conclusions should not meet with universal sympathy or approval, is not at all to be wondered at, when we consider how much more different, than alike, are any two human lives and lots. I do not ask my readers to subscribe to those tenets and opinions which may seem unreal and exaggerated to them, because of their different experience; I can only justify them in myself, by declaring them to be the outgrowth of my own personal speculations in the market of commonplace existence.
It has been my pleasure to probe under the surface of sorrow and song that makes the swelling, restless tide of human passions a strange and tempting mystery, even to itself; and though my pen may have failed to carry out the deep-rooted ambition of my soul, there is some comfort in the thought that I have made an effort; I have tried my young wings, with the hope of soaring upward: if they are yet too feeble to bear me, I am no more than the young eagle, and must rise again from my fall, to await a gathering confidence and strength that may, or may not, be in store for me.
A little mouse presumed to be the deliverer of a mighty lion, when this noble beast lay ensnared and entangled in a net; it was slow and tiresome work for the tiny benefactor to nibble now here, now there, wherever its small teeth could find a vulnerable or yielding spot: but a determination and decision of purpose, coupled with an undaunted and fearless perseverance, have given issue time and again to achievements even greater, though still less promising, than the undertaking of the little mouse in the fable, but for those who can yet take heart, in the face of possible failure, I think half the battle is won.
In introducing a second effort to the public, I feel called upon to avail myself of the opportunity it affords me, of thanking many readers for the kindness and consideration extended to my first. It was kind of them to have dwelt at length upon its few redeeming traits, and to have touched lightly and gently upon the cruder and more faulty ones; it was kind of them to have taken into account every circumstance which had any bearing upon the nature of the work: to have alluded to the youth and inexperience of the writer. It was kind, even of those who took it upon themselves to aver, not in the hearing of the authoress herself, but elsewhere, that the composition was far from being original. This latter verdict would have been the highest tribute of all to the talent and erudition of the authoress, had they who uttered it been capable or responsible judges of literary merit. Being of that class, instead, who feel it urgent upon them to say something, however garrulous or silly, when a local topic agitates their immediate sphere, the authoress has not much reason for hoping that their intention was really to flatter her maiden effort, by purposely mistaking it for the work of an older, and abler hero of the quill; however, if it might have been worthy of a maturer mind and more powerful pen, in their eyes, a high compliment is necessarily insinuated, even there, for the humble writer.
If the present story can lighten the burden of an idle hour of sickness or sorrow; if it may shorten the time of waiting, or distract the monotony of travel; if it may strike a key-note of common sympathy between its author and its reader, where the shallow side of nature is regretfully touched upon; if it may attract the potent attention of even one of those whose words and actions regulate the tone and tenor of our social life, to the urgency of encouraging, promoting and favouring the principles of an active Christian morality, whose beauty lies, not in the depths or vastness of its abstract conceptions, but in its earnest, humble, and tireless labours for the advancement of men's spiritual and temporal welfare--if it may do any one of these things, it shall have more than realized the fond and fervent wish of the author's heart: it shall have reaped her a golden harvest for the tiresome task she has just accomplished, and shall have stimulated anew her every energy, to associate itself more strongly and ardently than ever, with the cause which struggles for men's freedom from the fetters of a sordid and tyrant worldliness.
Five-and-thirty years ago, before many of my fair young readers were inflicted with the burdens of life, there came into this great world, under the most ordinary and unpretending circumstances, a helpless little baby girl: a dear, chubby, little thing, who at that moment, if never afterwards in the long and intricate course of her mortal career, looked every jot as interesting and as promising of a possible extraordinary destiny as did the little being who, some years before that, opened her eyes for the first time upon the elegant surroundings of a chamber in Kensington Palace; and neither the Princess Louise of Sachsen-Koburg, nor Edward the Duke of Kent, were any more elated or gratified over the grand event which came into their lives on the twenty-fourth of May, in the year of Our Lord 1819, than Amey and Alfred Hampden were on the eighth of December, 185-, at the advent of this little stranger into their humble home. Buried in baby finery, this unsuspecting new-comer slumbered contentedly in a dainty cot. The room was silent and darkened, the bright morning sunshine being shut out by the heavy curtains which were carefully drawn across the window: there was a ring of rare contentment in the crackle and purr of the wood-stove, that filled a remote corner of the room with its comfortable presence: and the sustaining spirit of wedded love, was as pronouncedly omnipresent as befitted the interesting occasion.
Thus, so far as the eye of those who prognosticate from existing circumstances could see, there was every prospect of comfort and happiness in the dawning future, for this passive little bundle of humanity lying in state in her neatly furnished basket-cradle; whether it pleased his reverence Father Time, or not, to subscribe thus obligingly to the wishes of a concerned few, is a secret which my pen can best tell.
So strangely do the destinies of men and women resolve themselves out of every day circumstances, that philosophers and moralists, with their choicest erudition, are ofttimes puzzled over the solution of a mysteriously chequered life, which they will not allow was guided by the most natural and common-place accidents of existence.
That there are certain premises, from which the tenor of a yet unlived life can be more or less accurately anticipated, no one will deny. There are certain surroundings, certain particular circumstances, that, from time immemorial have never failed to produce certain infallible results; but, these abnormal pauses, and unforeseen interruptions, that, time and again, have made of human lives the very thing against which appearances were guarding them, are, it may be providentially, held outside of the range of man's moral vision, and screen themselves in ambush along either side of the seemingly smooth vista, that spans the interval for certain individual human lives, between time and eternity.
Such a high-sounding title as predestination, seems to lose much of its potent charm when we take an interesting existence into our hands, to dissect it, and analyse it, and reduce it to a rational origin. Like decades of heterogeneous pearls, a human career with all its varied details, glides through the fingers of the moral anatomist, each fraction standing out by itself, suggesting its own real or relative importance, yet associating itself ever with the rest, making of the whole a more or less intricate, and, at best, a very uneven chain.
When we consider that all the bewildering throng around and about us
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