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Jane Austen
by [?]

The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed. Really happy people do not write stories–they accumulate adipose tissue and die at the top through fatty degeneration of the cerebrum. A certain disappointment in life, a dissatisfaction with environment, is necessary to stir the imagination to a creative point. If things are all to your taste you sit back and enjoy them. You forget the flight of time, the march of the seasons, your future life, family, country–all, just as Antony did in Egypt. A deadly, languorous satisfaction comes over you. Pain, disappointment, unrest or a joy that hurts, are the things that prick the mind into activity.

Jane Austen lived in a little village. She felt the narrowness of her life–the inability of those beyond her own household to match her thoughts and emotions. Love came that way–a short heart-rest, a being understood, were hers. The gates of Paradise swung ajar and she caught a glimpse of the glories within, and sighed and clasped her hands and bowed her head in a prayer of thankfulness.

When she arose from her knees the gates were closed; the way was dark; she was alone–alone in a little quibbling, carping village, where tired folks worked and gossiped, ate, drank, slept. Her home was pleasant, to be sure, but man is a citizen of the world, not of a house.

Jane Austen began to write–to write about these village people. Jane was tall, and twenty–not very handsome, but better, she was good-looking. She looked good because she was. She was pious, but not too pious. She used to go calling among the parishioners, visiting the sick, the lowly, the troubled. Then when Great Folks came down from London to “the Hall,” she went with the Rector to call on them too, for the Rector was servant to all–his business was to minister: he was a Minister. And the Reverend George Austen was a bit proud of his younger daughter. She was just as tall as he, and dignified and gentle: and the clergyman chuckled quietly to himself to see how she was the equal in grace and intellect of any Fine Lady from London town.

And although the good Rector prayed, “From all vanity and pride of spirit, good Lord, deliver us,” it never occurred to him that he was vain of his tall daughter Jane, and I’m glad it didn’t. There is no more crazy bumblebee gets into a mortal’s bonnet than the buzzing thought that God is jealous of the affection we have for our loved ones. If we are ever damned, it will be because we have too little love for our fellows, not too much.

But, egad! brother, it’s no small delight to be sixty and a little stooped and a trifle rheumatic, and have your own blessed daughter, sweet and stately, comb your thinning gray locks, help you on with your overcoat, find your cane, and go trooping with you, hand in hand, down the lane on merciful errand bent. It’s a temptation to grow old and feign sciatica; and if you could only know that, some day, like old King Lear, upon your withered cheek would fall Cordelia’s tears, the thought would be a solace.

So Jane Austen began to write stories about the simple folks she knew. She wrote in the family sitting-room at a little mahogany desk that she could shut up quickly if prying neighbors came in to tell their woes and ask questions about all those sheets of paper! And all she wrote she read to her father and to her sister Cassandra. And they talked it all over together and laughed and cried and joked over it. The kind old minister thought it a good mental drill for his girls to write and express their feelings. The two girls collaborated–that is to say, one wrote and the other looked on. Neither girl had been “educated,” except what their father taught them. But to be born into a bookish family, and inherit the hospitable mind and the receptive heart, is better than to be sent to Harvard Annex. Preachers, like other folks, sometimes assume a virtue when they have it not. But George Austen didn’t pretend–he was. And that’s the better plan, for no man can deceive his children–they take his exact measurement, whether others ever do or not–and the only way to win and hold the love of a child (or a grown-up) is to be frank and simple and honest. I’ve tried both schemes.