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Jane Austen
by [?]

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It was a very happy family that lived in the Rectory at Steventon from Seventeen Hundred Seventy-five to Eighteen Hundred One. There were five boys and two girls, and the younger girl’s name was Jane. Between her and James, the oldest boy, lay a period of twelve years of three hundred and sixty-five days each, not to mention leap-years.

The boys were sent away to be educated, and when they came home at holiday time they brought presents for the mother and the girls, and there was great rejoicing.

James was sent to Oxford. The girls were not sent away to be educated–it was thought hardly worth while then to educate women, and some folks still hold to that belief. When the boys came home, they were made to stand by the door-jamb, and a mark was placed on the casing, with a date, which showed how much they had grown. And they were catechized as to their knowledge, and cross-questioned and their books inspected; and so we find one of the sisters saying, once, that she knew all the things her brothers knew, and besides that she knew all the things she knew herself.

There was plenty of books in the library, and the girls made use of them. They would read to their father “because his eyesight was bad,” but I can not help thinking this a clever ruse on the part of the good Rector.

I do not find that there were any secrets in that household or that either Mr. or Mrs. Austen ever said that children should be seen and not heard. It was a little republic of letters–all their own. Thrown in on themselves for not many of the yeomanry thereabouts could read, there was developed a fine spirit of comradeship among parents and children, brothers and sisters, servants and visitors, that is a joy to contemplate. Before the days of railroads, a “visitor” was more of an institution than he is now. He stayed longer and was more welcome; and the news he brought from distant parts was eagerly asked for. Nowadays we know all about everything, almost before it happens, for yellow journalism is so alert that it discounts futurity.

In the Austen household had lived and died a son of Warren Hastings. The lad had so won the love of the Austens that they even spoke of him as their own; and this bond also linked them to the great outside world of statecraft. The things the elders discussed were the properties, too, of the children.

Then once a year the Bishop came–came in knee-breeches, hobnailed shoes, and shovel hat, and the little church was decked with greens. The Bishop came from Paradise, little Jane used to think, and once, to be polite, she asked him how all the folks were in Heaven. Then the other children giggled and the Bishop spilt a whole cup of tea down the front of his best coat, and coughed and choked until he was very red in the face.

When Jane was ten years old there came to live at the Rectory a daughter of Mrs. Austen’s sister. She came to them direct from France. Her name was Madame Fenillade. She was a widow and only twenty-two. Once, when little Jane overheard one of the brothers say that Monsieur Fenillade had kissed Mademoiselle Guillotine, she asked what he meant and they would not tell her.

Now Madame spoke French with grace and fluency, and the girls thought it queer that there should be two languages–English and French–so they picked up a few words of French, too, and at the table would gravely say “Merci, Papa,” and “S’il vous plait, Mamma.” Then Mr. Austen proposed that at table no one should speak anything but French. So Madame told them what to call the sugar and the salt and the bread, and no one called anything except by its French name. In two weeks each of the whole dozen persons who sat at that board, as well as the girl who waited on table, had a bill-of-fare working capital of French. In six months they could converse with ease.