Lucille Papin Borden
HALF FRENCH, half British by descent, my forbears
came to this country from Brittany and Cornwall in the early
1600's. A Crusader ancestor, Sir John Trenowyth, lies buried
in Falmouth's little church of Saint Michael Penkivil, across
the river Fal from the beautiful Cornish city. My paternal great-great-grandfather
was the Marquis Pierre Liguest de Laclede, commissioned by Louis
XV to come to America and found a city to be named for the King.
This he did, but he named it for another King Louis of France,
Louis IX, and called it Saint Louis.
It was there that I was born,
and for the most part educated at the Sacred Heart Convent, Maryville,
now a college affiliated with the Saint Louis University, which,
a few years ago, gave me the degree of Bachelor of Literature.
In 1898 I married Gerald Borden.
We have travelled all over the United States, Canada, and Europe,
living for months at a time in Rome, Assisi, Florence, Venice,
London and the English country, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France,
Switzerland. We stayed often in Bavaria, in Oberammergan, in
the happy days of the Passion Play. And sometimes when there
was no play, living in the house of Anton Lang, Christus of the
play for three decades.
We disliked the rest of Germany;
went to it, to see it, but rarely returned to any one place.
In Maine, up on Mount Desert
Island, at the edge of Frenchman's Bay, so close to the water
that when the tide is in I can drop a pebble from my balcony
into the splashing waves, lies "Anchorhold," our summer
home, named for the Anchorholds so exquisitely described by Enid
Dinnis in several of her medieval stories. In her book called
Anchorhold Miss Dinnis might have been describing our
cottage. It lies in an acre of land, a white house at the rim
of the sea. It is trimmed in green, and has a light shining in
a window for ships. Alas, the light is darkened now and the window
is dim, and more than one poor little fisherman's boat around
the great bend that touches the open ocean, has made surrender
its catch to an undersea monster without mercy.
"In the house there is
a room for the Lord God." Anchorhold's little chapel is
always ready to receive those who come to the early blessed Sacrifice.
Beside it is a room always kept sacrosanct for whatever chaplain
may come. While we have had a Provincial of the Franciscan Capuchin
Order from England, on his visitation to the English foundation
in this country, a Bishop, a Rector of Saint Patrick's Cathedral
in New York, and a number of secular priests, those who come
for the most part are the Capuchin Friars of the English Province,
situated in Providence, Rhode Island. Their monastery is called
Saint Francis Friary. Incidentally, we are both members of the
Third Order of Saint Francis.
My husband was created Private
Chamberlain of Cape and Sword, by his Holiness, Pope Pius X.
Through his services, we grew to know the Pope better than most,
and loved him devotedly. He gave me his own little silver pencil,
one he had used for many years. I have always felt it to be a
great help in the writing I have done. All the books I have written
up to 1938 are in the Vatican Library. Once Pope Pius XI said
to me, apropos of my books: "sempre meglio-toujours mieux-always
better." And he added: "You must continue the Apostolate."
Later on, when the present Holy Father was Cardinal Secretary
of State, myself and my husband, who had been made a Knight of
Malta, were dining at a lovely Roman villa, on the eightieth
birthday of Cardinal Gasparri, former Secretary of State. Obviously
Papal timbre, Cardinal Pacelli was interesting, and interested,
delighted, like all the rest at sight of the beautiful picture
made by the old Cardinal bending over the big solitary candle
on the first American birthday cake he had ever seen.
A few years later, Cardinal
Pacelli, who had become Pius XII, sent me the Pontifical decoration
"Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice."
My first three attempts at
being the literary lion I had been led to believe I might be,
were dismal failures. The first had to do with the Mississippi
River. My father, a writer of great ability, had presented me
with a diary in the hope something worthwhile might be evolved,
between Saint Louis and New Orleans. Now there was much that
might have been done with the material at hand. A first journey
down the mightiest stream in our country, the old Anchor Liner,
"City of Saint Louis," with its swashbuckling paddle
wheel at the stern, roustabouts on the lowest deck, glad and
ready to "rag" for pennies tossed from above. There
was the little house on the bridge where the pilot spun stories
for hours and told that a phantom ship had passed in the night,
there was a genuine Show Boat with which the "Saint Louis"
almost collided, searchlights from both vessels illuminating
a group of actors in the bow as well as the little party of close
friends on the City, gathered to watch them and to toss cigarettes
across the nearby railings. There was a flood, the worst that
had been for forty years, with little houses floating down the
river, a small family picked off one of the roofs, a whole forest
of trees showing only tops above the swirling waters. There was
a landing at the third story of a warehouse in Vicksburg, and
a terrified Negro who fell off the gangplank and was so frightened
he turned a strange shade of white. Then, the plantations, and
wheelbarrows filled with flowers rolled on to the boat by current
beaux, and rose-wreathed cottages, levees kept from flooding
by sandbags, and a New Orleans with Joseph Jefferson playing
Rip Van Winkle as he had never played it before.
All that. And yet, I have been
curiously allergic to the keeping of a diary. I do it, even now,
but it is the only writing I find forced and a task. And yet-with
every day of living and everything that happens absorbingly interesting,
I would not give it up. But the book turned out to be a hopeless
botch. My father said nothing, made no comment. Years later,
long years, after I had married, and after the publication of
my first two romances, my mother said one day: "When you
came back after your first trip to New Orleans and gave your
father the diary, he read it, sighed, and told me it was a great
disappointment: She will never be a writer."
Then there was the little episode
of the "Centurion," a romance of the time of Christ
written by Sir Adolphe Routhier of Quebec. I made a translation,
fair, far from perfect. There was one phrase I could not master.
In spite of explanations on the part of the old gentleman, in
spite of being entirely familiar with French, the sense of it
did not come to me. My husband and I at the time were staying
at "Hauterive" summer residence of the Routhiers on
the Saint Lawrence River. One night I went to bed utterly discouraged.
At two o'clock in the morning, like a flash of lightning, the
bewildering phrase cleared in my sleep. I woke, went to my desk
and wrote it down for fear of losing it by morning. A little
before eight, I started to the chapel for Mass, as Sir Adolphe
came slowly down the stairway, sad and discouraged. I went to
him and repeated the phrase as it had come to me. He was so delighted
that he beamed and kissed me on both cheeks. So that failure
slipped into the past.
When I wrote The Gates of
Olivet it was refused. "Too much war." "Oh,
that's simple enough," answered the writer of this first
book, "I'll change it." So the actual destruction of
a French hospital in 1914 was changed to an airplane accident
along the perilous Cotes de Saufterre, where my husband and I
with the friend whose plane it was, were wrecked the Spring before
on our way down to the Eucharistic Congress in Lourdes. The book
was returned to Macmillan, published, and has had reprintings
almost every year since it appeared in 1920.
It was during 1914-1918 World
War that I wrote my first short story to console those who had
suffered through the flail and the pain of conflict. I had seen
the anguish of France, the tragic sorrow of England. My husband
and I had stood for hours on the "Islands" of the boulevards
of Paris, watching those brave little poilus march by in their
red and blue baggy trousers, coats that did not know the first
meaning of adjustment to the shoulders that carried them. After
weeks of war work in Paris, a difficult crossing to England and
strenuous service on the then Prince of Wales' committee for
the families of men in the armed forces, my husband and I returned
to America. While running a club for soldiers and sailors, working
on a plan given me by Major General Leonard Wood for activities
in the camps, I wrote "The Road to Christmas Night."
It was returned with thanks. Whereupon I changed the name and
sent it hurtling back to the magazine that had refused it. It
was accepted at once published, and copied in a number of smaller
publications as the years rolled by. It was starred by O'Brien
in the Best Short Stories of that year. A Boston publisher
seeing it, wrote asking if I had an available novel ready. I
had never thought of writing a novel, but answered that the book
would be in shape in about six months.
It took a little longer than
that, the company failed and closed its doors. At the advice
of an old friend, Winston Churchill, whose books Macmillan had
always published, I took The Gates of Olivet to them.
They have remained my only publishers through all the years.
That threatened fiasco overcome,
I flung myself into a story of the Rome I had loved all my life-just
as all my life I have loved Lourdes. The Candlestick Makers
begins in New York, and goes on to Italy where many of the
characters are real people in disguise. One of these, Diana Travers,
so pleased one of the publishers that he asked me to bring her
back in another book. So she appears again in From Out Magdala.
With the experience of many other writers of romance, I have
found it is better to create my background, then let the characters
assume their own parts. All I have to do is to watch them, and
record what they do.
Gentleman Riches, a story of the Cornish country for
the most part, is founded on the actual life history of an old
friend. Sing to the Sun is the result of long and happy
days, year after year spent on the hilltops of the most beautiful
valley in all the world, the Umbrian Valley, sanctified by the
undying romance of God's troubadour, "the little poor man
In 1925, Pope Pius XI being
on the throne, Rome was crowded with White Russians. The Bolsheviks
had established an Embassy there that somehow filled one with
horror when passing the doors that concealed so much that was
antagonistic to the Christian mind.
On a day in Spring the Holy
Father said Mass at Saint Peter's for the refugees-Catholic and
Orthodox alike. I was taken ill there, and for a month was allowed
to see only three people be- side husband The three were Cardinal
Ceretti, former nuncio from the Vatican to Paris, Father
McGarigle, secretary to Monsignor D'Herbigny on whose head -the
Red Russians had put a price, and an old friend, grand-daughter
of General Williamb Tecumseh Sherman, Eleanor Fitch. -
Easter came, and I was allowed
to be taken for Mass to a small chapel in the Oriental Institute,
chapel that had formerly belonged t9 the Russian Orthodox Church,
but, like the Institute was converted to Catholicity. There,
somehow, during the Mass, the story of Russia came crowding about
me from all four windowless walls-like arms, or a sort of suffocation.
Silver Trumpets Calling was the result of this Springtime
In the Starforth Trilogy, the
first book of the series, White Hawthorn hovers
about the doctrines of sin and grace. The scene is laid in the
Italy of Petrarch and Boccaccio, the, heroine Fiorenra. The second
volume, Starforth, is an attempt to paint a correct picture
of Mary Tudor, whose life-is woven into a romance concerned with
what Father Robert Hugh Benson calls
the Deformation period in England. King's Highway, last
of the series is a story of the early formation of the southern
states of America-with a short incursion into Canada-and a great
deal about the Indians.
Once-In Palestine was written as a simple prelude to
Christmas and Holy Week. The first, an intimate little account
of Our Lady and the tender drama of Bethlehem. The second, the
triumphant tragedy of Calvary. In writing the preface to this
book, Father Cuthbert, the famous Franciscan Capuchin historian
writes; "An artistic fantasy, an imaginative reconstruction,
gathering up and enveloping at once the Scriptural story and
its mystical implications . . . the fantasy reveals and does
not distort the truth and beauty of the authentic story itself."
The next book published, The
Shining Tree, is just a Christmas tale showing that even
the New York the world considers cold and unfeeling, has a heart
sufficiently warm to take unto itself all types of men and women
from heights to depths, provided sympathetic understanding is
given opportunity to bring the blossom of human kindness up to
From the Morning Watch is a series of rather wandering thought,
not unlike the meditations of Once-In Palestine.
As possible suggestions to
young Catholic writers, there might be about three. Study the
best authors. My closest friends in my youth were Charles Dickens,
Louisa Alcott, William Makepeace Thackeray, Agnes
Repplier. The last especially for perfect English. A little
later, there were Father Robert Hugh Benson's
wonderful Catholic books. A second suggestion is-and it is more
than a suggestion-never write a word that could injure an immortal
soul. Remember the "millstone." Then-write, write,
write. And keep your sense of humor vitally alive in your own
heart and before your public. If you like fantasies, and fairies,
read Enid Dinnis. She is an incomparable
artist, a faithful and devoted friend. R. I. P.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Mrs. Borden's stories, all issued by
Macmillan, include Gates of Olivet, 1932; Silver Trumpets
calling, 1931; Sing to the Sun, 1934; Starforth, 1937; The King's
Highway, 1941; The Shining Tree, 1942; and the biography,
Francesca Cabrini, 1945.
published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig,
Third Series, 1945.