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Sterne is precisely the man for the position. He is a humorist—first quality both of parson and doctor—not to mention lawyer. He likes the country and the country folk. He is also, what few doctors are, a chemist, and knows in what way the elementary principles act upon each other. He has in his elaboratary salacine, asparagine, vauqueline, digitaline, even the diaboline which blows an hydraulic press to atoms. The saying of Raphël in Balzac's master-work—“ Faute de pouvoir inventer des choses, il paraît que vous en êtes réduits à inventer des noms”—applies not to Dr. Sterne. He is chemist and electrician; traces the elements through all their windings; can make a battery in a lady's thimble. "Being both chemist and humorist, two faculties which ought to coalesce in every man who dares call himself doctor, Sterne worked well. He had his cures for both mental and physical maladies. He looked after the young girls in Silchester parish, and gave them severe lectures if they precociously Airted. Perfectly fearless, and knowing that prevention is better than cure, he did his best to teach the village lout temperance in all things. He was the Squire's adjutant.
Concerning Silchester, there is probably nothing more to be said, except that it is a lovely village. But all villages are lovely. Man preposterously tries to achieve the hideous; but God covers his monstrosities with lichen and ivy, and makes the rain wash them and the sun embrown them; and so they gradually become what it is the fashion to call picturesque. This probably means—fit to make a picture of. It is the most conceited epithet in our language, for it patronizes the Creator.
What in the world would an archæologist say if the most important thing about Silchester were forgotten ? It has an immemorial wishing well. Clear water comes up into a granite basin, beneath a granite arch, Norman, or perhaps Saxon. It is the loveliest corner in the
world, woodland all round, and a mountain ash overhanging the well. So rapidly rises the water as to realize Coleridge's exquisite lines—
“Nor ever cease
And of course there is a legend. A maiden of the Silchesters, a thousand (more or less) years ago, met' beside this fountain a man faint with travel. He was too weak to reach the water, so as to quench his thirst. She not only aided him in his trouble, but brought him up to the house, and gave him food and wine. As he left, he said—“ Whoso wishes a true wish after drinking the water of that well, shall have what he wishes.”
And it is recorded that as he passed down the great avenue his stature expanded, and he looked like unto Joseph of Arimathea.
“Who is Silvia ? What is she
That all our swains commend her ?”
THE two children of the house of Silchester
I grew towards puberty in a way unusual. They learnt much which children never learn; they knew nothing of what other children are obliged to learn. The catechisms of Pinnock the intolerable, the use of the globes, the elements of Euclid, the questions of Richmal Mangnall, were unknown to them. Fortunate children, they learnt nothing but what their father and mother taught them by word of mouth. That being the case, it is pretty certain that their childish memories were not loaded with latitudes and longitudes and dates. Some years ago an old half-pay colonel, whose son (now himself a colonel) had been plucked in the examination for a direct commission, met the Commander-in-Chief on the steps of a club, and said,
“ Your Royal Highness, do you know where Louisville is ?
“Not I,” said the Duke.
“ Then it's a damned shame,” said the old soldier, “ that my boy should be plucked for not knowing what your Royal Highness doesn't know."
The young gentleman got his commission, and has since proved that he can fight, and make his men fight.
It seems absurd to load children's memories with facts and dates which can rarely be of use to them. The Squire, when he acted as schoolmaster to the children, taught them geography on the principle that Silchester was the centre