DR. BREEN'S PRACTICE.*
IT is seldom that we have so pleasant a task as that of criticising the book now before us, for it is seldom indeed that we have the luck to come across one at once so amusing, so clever, and so absolutely inoffensive. When, to all these merits, we add the delightful fact of its being in one volume, it will be seen at once how deep our debt of gratitude to the author must be. It
is, unfortunately, very difficult to give a good idea of this clever novel in merely reviewing it, for the dialogue is throughout so rood, the characters, minor as well as principal, so ably sketched, and the slight plot so well guided and developed, that pages of quotation would be necessary, were we to quote all we should like, or try to give any fair idea of the quiet satire that runs through the volume. We can only hope to direct our readers' attention to it, by the sketch that we can give.
The title is intentionally misleading, for few would expect to
-find Dr. Breen a young and handsome woman, who, having, like many other girls, become convinced early in life that she shall never marry, has, in all simplicity and earnestness, adopted a vocation, and has graduated in a homoeopathic medical school in New York. She has no idea of taking any masculine tone in
her life, she wishes to work as a woman among women and children, and she is too genuinely simple-minded to have discovered how unfit she is, naturally, for the profession she has adopted. We are told, indeed, that she did not consider herself specially gifted for the work, but that she -looked upon it as a means of forming her own character and of being useful to others, and accordingly, when the story opens, we find her under circumstances peculiarly favourable for both these processes, having come to a small sea-side place in America, given as " Jocelyn's," with her mother, a sick friend whom Dr. Breen has taken charge of medically and financially for a time, and the friend's child. Of Mrs. Breen, we are told that,—
" She was an old lady, who had once kept a very vigilant con- science for herself, but after making her life unhappy with it for some threescore years, she now applied it entirely to the exaspera- tion and condemnation of others. She had never actively opposed her daughter studying medicine, but at every step after the decisive step was taken, she was beset with misgivings lest Grace was not fully alive to the grave responsibilities of her office, which she accu- mulated upon the girl in proportion as she flung off all responsibilities of her own."
The sick friend, Mrs. Maynard, can, perhaps, speak best for herself:— "'I'm not going to take more cold. I can always tell when I am. —I'm sure there's nothing to keep me out. That's the worst of these lonely places ; my mind preys upon itself. That's what Dr. Nixon always said. He said it was no use in air, so long as my mind preyed upon itself. He said that I ought to divert my mind all I could, and keep it from preying upon itself; that it was worth all the medi- cine in the world.'—' That's perfectly true.'—' Then you oughtn't to keep reminding me all the time that I'm sick. That's what starts my mind to preying upon itself, and when it gets going once, I can't .stop myself. I ought to treat myself just like a well person, that's what the doctor said.' "
Of course, Mrs. Maynard is an intolerable fool, and we sympa- thise with Mrs. Breen's weariness of her; but she is ill, friend- less, and Grace, though she has never liked her, and though she is fretted beyond self-control by her wilful folly, protects and
helps her as she did when they were at school. Mrs. Maynard is also trying to obtain a divorce from her husband,whom Grace has never seen, but, on Mrs. Maynard's information, she believes that he has treated his wife cruelly, and deserted her heart- lessly. Therefore, Grace's warmest sympathy is roused for her, and she tries to cure her bodily and protect her mentally from the criticisms of the other ladies at Jocelyn's. There do not seem to be any gentlemen there. Jocelyn's "has many natural advantages. The broad plateau is cooled by a breeze from the • Dr. Dresa's Practice. By William D. Howells, Author of "The Lady of the Arostook," " The Undiscovered Country," " Venetian Life," lc. London : Trtlbner and Co.
vast forests behind it, which comes laden with health and fresh- ness from the young pines ; the sea at its feet is warmed by the Gulf Stream to a temperature delicious for bathing :"—
" It is true that you reach it from the top by a flight of eighty steps, but it is easy enough to go down ; and the ladies go down every day, taking their novels or their needlework with them. They have various notions of a bath; some conceive that it is bathing to sit in the edge of the water and emit shrieks as the surge sweeps against them; others ran boldly in, and, after a moment of poignant hesita- tion, jump up and down half a dozen times, and ran out ; yet others imagine it better to remain immersed to the chin for a given space, looking towards the shore with lips tightly shut and the breath held. But, after the bath, they are all of one mind ; they lay their shawls on the warm sand, and spreading out their hair to dry, they doze in the sun in such coils and masses as the unconscious figure lends itself to. When they use from their beds, they sit in the shelter of the cliff, and knit or sew, while one of them reads aloud, and another stands watch to announce the coming of the seals, which frequent a reef near the shore in great numbers. '
Mrs. Maynard naturally finds this existence very dull, and on the unexpected appearance of a young man who had been an intimate friend of hers and of her husband's, she strikes up a flirtation with him, including moonlight walks and sitting out after dark, which scandalises all the other ladies in the hotel :—
" I presume,' said young Mrs. Scott, with a deferential glance at Grace, that the sun is good for a person with lung-difficulty ?' Grace silently refused to consider herself appealed to, and Mrs. Merritt said, Better than the moon, I should think.' Some of the others tittered, but Grace looked up at Mrs. Merritt, and said, 'I don't think Mrs. Maynard's case is so bad that she need be afraid of either.' ' Oh ! I am so glad to hear it,' rejoined the other. She looked round, but was unable to form a party. By twos or threes they might have liked to take Mrs. Maynard to pieces, but no one cares to make unkind remarks before a whole company of people. Some of the ladies even began to say pleasant things about Mr. Libby, as if he were Grace's friend."
Mr. Libby—we must protest, by the way, against such an atrocious name, for the hero of a novel—is most guiltlessly unconscious of the part he is made to play ; but Grace believes the worst of him, and snubs him persistently to the best of her power. Her grave, stern remonstrances with her friend are met and countered in the way in which any clever woman can be countered who treads in any degree outside the beaten track of womanhood :-
"'I never undertook the care of you socially. You are nearly as old as I am, and you have had a great deal more experience of life than I have.' Mrs. Maynard sighed deeply in assent. Bat if you will provoke people to talk of you, you must expect criticism. I shall have to be plain, and tell you that I can't have them sneer- ing and laughing at any one who is my guest. I can't let you defy public opinion here.'—' Why, Grace, you defy public opinion yourself a good deal more than I do, every minute.'—' I ? How do I defy it ?' demanded Grace, indignantly.—' By being a doctor.' Grace opened her lips to speak, but she was not a ready person, and she felt the thrust. Before she could say anything, Mrs. Maynard went on : There isn't one of them that doesn't think you much more scandal- ous than if you were the greatest flirt alive. But /don't mind them, and why should you "
Grace may well complain to her mother,-
"' I have the satisfaction of knowing that whatever people think of Louise's giddiness, I'm a great deal more scandalous to them than she is, simply because I wish to do some good in the world, in away that women haven't done it usually Talk about men being obstacles ! It's other women. There isn't a woman in the house that wouldn't sooner trust herself in the hands of the stupidest boy that got his diploma with
me, than she would in mine. Louise knows it and I've no influence with her about her conduct, because she understands per- fectly well that they all consider me much worse. She prides her- self on doing me justice. She patronises me. She tells me that I'm just as nice as if I hadn't "been through all that." ' Grace rose, and a laugh, which was half a sob, broke from her."
An unguarded expedition on the water, ending in a ducking, makes Mrs. Maynard really alarmingly ill ; and, as might be expected, she loses all confidence in Grace's medical powers, and ultimately requests to have another doctor, and that her husband may be brought. Grace believes herself to be respon- sible for the illness, and in an agony of conscientious misery makes herself a slave to every whim of Mrs. Maynard's, and would break down altogether, but for the help and friendliness of the supposed reprobate, Walter Libby. From him, too, she learns for the first time to think well of Mr. Maynard, whom,
to her amazement, she now hears of as a devoted husband, who would never have left his wife but by her wish. Another doctor—a man, of course—is called in, and as Grace, singularly enough, does not seem to have realised before that an allo- pathic physician would refuse to consult or to act with a homceopath, she is turned into a mere nurse, and allowed no opinion whatever on the case. This, however, she regards as
an expiation of her fault; she does her work admirably, and has no idea that Walter Libby's presence is in any way a comfort to her, till, in an unguarded moment, she surprises him into a proposal, which is completely unexpected by her, and which, on the spur of the moment, she declines. They agree that he must go away as soon as Mr. Maynard, who has been telegraphed for, arrives, which lie does in a couple of days, and finds his wife just over the real crisis of the illness, and decidedly con- valescent; and Grace's belief in her friend is finally demolished by seeing how readily he assumes the care of his wife, who, on her part, is delighted to see him again. He nurses her tenderly, and explains the secret of their married life to Grace, when he tells her :-
" It's going to come out all right in the end, and I reckon I've got to help it along. Why, I suppose every man's a trial at times, doctor.' —' I daresay. I know that every woman is,' said the girl.—' Is that so ? Well, may be, you're partly right You see, an incom- patibility is a pretty hard thing to manage. You can't forgive it like a real grievance. You have to try other things, and find out there are worse things, and then you come back to it, and stand it'"
How Grace, less and less needed by the Maynard party, begins to find life more and more trying, and reproaches herself as the cause of all her troubles ; how, to her unbounded surprise, the rough, harsh physician who had laughed at her and set her aside, suddenly becomes an ardent and very determined lover on her hands ; how her dread of him opens her eyes to her own feel- ings for Walter Libby; how that young man opportunely "puts in an appearance," and after showing incredible stupidity for half an hour, is made to understand his own happiness ; and how we finally take leave of Mrs. Libby, carrying on her medi- cal work in the way which the author evidently thinks the only safe one for any woman,—under her husband's guidance,—all this, and much more, which we sincerely regret not having space to quote at length, we counsel our readers to study for them- selves ; and we may wind up with Mrs. Maynard's last and, perhaps, best speech. It is made on hearing of Grace's engage- ment :-
"'What's going to become of all your high purposes ? You can't do anything with them when you're married. But you won't have any occasion for them, that's one comfort.'—' It's not my idea of marriage, that any high purpose will be lost in it: —' Oh, it isn't any- body's, before they get married. I had such high purposes, I couldn't
rest. I felt like hiring a hall, as George says, all the time.' Oh,
yes, George and I have had a good deal of light let in on us.' 'It would have been easy enough to get a divorce, and George wouldn't have opposed it; bat I looked at it in this way, that the divorce wouldn't have put us back where we were, any way, as I had supposed it would. That's the worst of getting married ; you break into each
other's lives And I just concluded that there could not be any trial that wouldn't be a great deal easier to bear, than getting rid of all yoar trials ; and I just made up my mind that if any divorce was to begot, George Maynard might get it himself; a temporary separation was bad enough for me, and I told him so, about the first words I
could speak We've found out that we can't marry and then be- come single, any more than we could die and come to life again. And don't you forget it, Grace ! You don't half know yourself now. You know what you have been, but getting married lets loose all
your possibilities Oh, you'll have need of all your good principles, I can tell you ; and if you've a mind to do anything practical in the way of high purposes, I reckon there'll be use for them all.' "