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HE impression of the condition of the Church of
by the character and writings of Laurence Sterne receives some necessary modification from a study of the life and works of Jane Austen. Her father, the Reverend George Austen, held the two rectories of Deane and Steventon in Hampshire, having been appointed to them by the favor of a cousin and an uncle. He thus belonged to the gentry, and it seems likely that he entered the church more as a profession than a vocation. He considered that he fulfilled his functions by preaching once a week and administering the sacraments; and though he does not seem to have been a man of spiritual gifts, the decent and dignified performance of these formal duties earned him the reputation of a model pastor. His abundant leisure he occupied in farming the rectory acres, educating his children, and sharing the social life of his class. The environment of refined worldliness and good breeding thus indicated was that in which his daughter lived, and which she pictured in her books.
Jane Austen was born at Steventon on December 16, 1775, the youngest of seven children. She received her education-scanty enough, by modern standards—at home. Besides the usual elementary subjects, she learned French and some Italian, sang a little, and became an expert needlewoman. Her reading extended little beyond the literature of the eighteenth century, and within that period she seems to have cared most for the novels of Richardson and Miss Burney, and the poems of Cowper and Crabbe. Dr. Johnson, too, she admired, and later was delighted with both the poetry and prose of Scott. The first twenty-five years of her life she spent at Steventon; in 1801 she moved with her family to Bath, then a great center of