Except for the vague impression of a heavily built, benignly gruff, occasionally encountered man with short silver hair, I cannot claim to remember my great-uncle Tom very well. Tom Royden was, I understand, an English country doctor of the old school with a lady friend down the road, a flourishing practice, a keen interest in songbirds, and a shrewd understanding of the practice of medicine that owed as much to common sense as to science. I can remember, just, being told of his death in 1966 (I was eight), and the flock of cheeping, singing, and trilling folk that moved into our house shortly thereafter.

Not so long later, four bulky, musty volumes turned up at home, each stamped with a different date from the first decade of the twentieth century, each smelling of sixty years. Battered and fine, their covers embossed with cowboys, Vikings, and other examples of the formidably tough, they had...


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