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The Parent's Assistant Stories for Children   By: (1767-1849)

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[Illustration: 'I thought I saw ' poor Franklin began. P. 61.]

THE PARENT'S ASSISTANT or, Stories for Children





First printed with Illustrations by Chris Hammond 1897. Illustrated Pocket Classics 1903.


Once when the present writer was a very little girl she suffered for a short time from some inflammation of the eyes, which prevented her from reading, or amusing herself in any way. Her father, who had just then returned from the East, in order to help her to pass the weary hours began telling her the story of the 'Forty Thieves,' and when he had finished, and had boiled down the wicked thieves in oil, and when she asked him to tell it all over again, he said that he would try and find something else to amuse her, and looking about the room he took up a volume of the Parent's Assistant which was lying on the table, and began to read aloud the story of the 'Little Merchants.' The story lasted two mornings, and an odd, confused impression still remains in the listener's mind to this day of Naples, Vesuvius, pink and white sugar plums of a darkened room, of a lonely country house in Belgium, of a sloping garden full of flowers outside the shutters, of the back of a big sofa covered with yellow velvet, and of her father's voice reading on and on. When she visited Naples in after days she found herself looking about unconsciously for her early playfellows.

Not only Francisco and Piedro, but all those various members of the Edgeworth family who play their parts in fancy names and dresses in Miss Edgeworth's stories, became her daily familiar companions from that day forth.

Many of the stories in the Parent's Assistant were written in a time when wars and rumours of wars were in the air; these quiet scenes of village life were devised to the sound of clarions. Rebels were marching and countermarching; volunteers were assembling; husbandmen, throwing away their spades, were arming and turning into soldiers; the French were landing in Ireland. 'I cannot be a Captain of Dragoons,' writes Miss Edgeworth, 'and it would not make any of us one degree safer if I were sitting with my hands before me.' So she quietly goes on with her stories. One or two of them were written at Clifton, and very early in her career an illustrated edition had been suggested by the publishers. A young Irish neighbour, with a taste for the fine arts, was asked to make the drawings to these stories, and it was this lady, Miss Beaufort, the daughter of the Rector of Colon, who afterwards became the fourth Mrs. Edgeworth. Not long after his third wife's death in 1797, Mr. Edgeworth wrote a letter to Dr. Darwin at Lichfield, in which he gives him various items of family news. He writes of portraits (Dr. Darwin, Mr. Thomas Day, and Mr. Edgeworth, had all sat for their portraits); he writes of Upas trees, of frozen frogs, of farming and rack rents; of pipes for hot houses to be heated by stable dung, of speaking machines, and finally in a postscript he announces the fact of his being engaged to be married for the fourth time, 'to a young lady of small fortune and large accomplishments, much youth, some beauty, more sense, uncommon talents, more uncommon temper, liked by my family, loved by me.'

These were stormy times for Ireland: a few days after the letter was written, a conspiracy was discovered in Dublin, and the city was under arms. Mr. Edgeworth set out immediately to join the Beauforts, who were there. The true hearted daughter now admires her father for urging on the marriage. 'Instead of delaying, as some would have advised, my father urged for an immediate day. He brought his bride home through a part of the country in actual insurrection.'

There is a grim story of the new married pair on their way to Edgeworthstown passing the suspended corpse of a man hanging between the shafts of a cart... Continue reading book >>

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