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The Letters of Jane Austin


[iii]
PREFACE.
The recent cult for Miss Austen, which has resulted in no less than
ten new editions of her novels within a decade and three memoirs
by different hands within as many years, have made the facts of
her life familiar to most readers. It was a short life, and an
uneventful one as viewed from the standpoint of our modern times,
when steam and electricity have linked together the ends of the
earth, and the very air seems teeming with news, agitations,
discussions. We have barely time to recover our breath between
post and post; and the morning paper with its statements of disaster
and its hints of still greater evils to be, is scarcely out-lived, when,
lo! in comes the evening issue, contradicting the news of the
morning, to be sure, but full of omens and auguries of its own to
strew our pillows with the seed of wakefulness.
To us, publications come hot and hot from the press .
Telegraphic wires like the intricate and incalculable zigzags of the
lightning ramify above our heads; and who can tell at what
moment their
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darts may strike? In Miss Austen's day the tranquil, drowsy,
decorous English day of a century since, all wa s different. News
travelled then from hand to hand, carried in creaking post-wagons,
or in cases of extreme urgency by men on horseback. When a
gentleman journeying in his own "chaise" took three days in going
from Exeter to London, a distance now covered in three hours of
railroad, there was little chance of frequent surprises. Love,
sorrow, and death were in the world then as now, and worked their
will upon the sons of men; but people did not expect happenings
every day or even every year. No doubt they lived the longer for
this exemption from excitement, and kept their nerves in a state of
wholesome repair; but it goes without saying that the events of
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