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Rev. Alexander J. Cody, S.J.

IT IS HARD for me to go back to the first time when I started writing, but I can quite vividly recall a thick red-covered composition book. I was somewhere about the age of ten. The pages of that book were filled with my big, boyish, vertical, and not always vertical, penmanship that ran on in a series of Western episodes that threatened to be endless. All vestiges of any plot have long since been forgotten, but the heroine, I remember, was always given the name of my favorite aunt, and the villains, unblushingly, were given the names of my boyhood enemies. The number of villains waxed and waned according to the neighborhood sessions of peace or war. Most generally there were sessions of war.

A long interval comes after this until my entrance into freshman class at Santa Clara College. There I learned the art of composition and literary appreciation by the hard way of analysis and imitation. It was drudgery, as any apprenticeship to a worthwhile perfected achievement must be, and a drudgery long drawn out, with so many revisions and so many re-writings laid upon my original text that the craftiest of literary sleuths could not ferret the original out. Some of those multi-corrected papers I have used in the earlier days of my own teaching, that the would-be writers of my own English classes would know that their final clarity of thought and their final filing of phrases had not yet been reached. One or two of those authors from my college freshman days I have not dared to look in the face since, not so much for what they did to me as for what I did to them. However, Addison and I still meet, via the Roger de Coverly papers, in an annual friendly ceremony for auld lang syne. And Milton, also, in his L'Allegro and Il Penseroso and his masque of Comus. These poems gave joy, then as now, in their matchless cameos and their rich tapestry of the Renaissance. Though I wrote a little at verses, almost lisping in numbers for the numbers came, I toted about with me for a long time a college imitation of Comus as my first ambitious attempt at authorship. At this late date, I can admit, unabashed and quite understandingly, that nothing came of it.

Aside from random verses in college magazines the first publication came in a series of short essays on the American poets that appeared in the Northwest Progress. They were very copycattish in their criticism, had but a transitory value, and. died an early literary death. The one personal gain was a cherished first acquaintanceship with Madison Cawein.

The real impetus came later with the encouragement and aid of four persons in particular. To these four, any later literary success that may be mine, is mostly due. First, Father Edward Garesche, S.]. At the time he was busy with a little Sodality Bulletin in nowise as pretentious as the Queen's Work and he invited me to make contribution. Twelve five-hundred-word articles were contributed in all, which taught me economy and value of words and stern selection of salient details. Father John Corbett, S.]., comes next. At that time he was editor of the Messenger of the Sacred Heart and when his tenure of office ceased he graciously handed my cause on to his successor Father Charles Mullaly, S.J. The kindly interviews of one summer expanded into a gracious correspondence over many years that resulted in a series of stories appearing in the Messenger under his editorship and the editorship of Father Mullaly. The stories evidently pleased, for appreciative letters came to me from all parts of the country, mostly from the rank-and-file Catholic homes, with questions on description that fitted bits of their own neighborhood, and questions on character delineation that (flatteringly) could have been patterned on themselves or on the person next door. With the arrival of these letters came the further compliment of syndication through the various Catholic newspapers of the United States. One story even found its way into a book on practical aids for Catholic teachers. All of this was but a verification of what Father Mullaly had written in one of his many notes of commendation, "You have the touch that will please."

I found a great joy in the writing of those stories. They sharpened my observation of persons and scenes, made me in some instances almost photographic though ever with the saving grace of light dispelling shadows and silhouettes of spirit above the too, too solid flesh. They held the joy, too, of my first imaginative character walking off an independent old man. Roscrans in those stories began as a mere type, a marionette where I pulled all the strings and, as ventriloquist, did all the talking. There came the story where he walked out on me, slammed the door in my face, took the street turning of his own choosing and said as he went what he wanted to say. It was my great moment of storydom. Dickens, I recalled in my brief exultation, used to slink down the London streets shadowed by his literary progeny. Some of those Mssenger stories I later salvaged in a slim volume entitled The City Dusk.

During this same period, too, I branched out into other types of writing. Some articles on the religious brotherhood having run serially in Our Sunday Visitor were gathered into a brochure under the original title They Also Serve. The brochure filled an evident and nationwide need, for sincere appreciation came from the reverend Provincials of the various Orders, but the most flattering appreciation came from Europe in authorized Flemish and French versions. Articles on American Indian themes, too, began to appear in the Indian Sentinel whose managing editor, Miss Inno McGill came forward as another sponsor for my literary advance. For a number of years many letters passed between us with helpful criticism, tidbits of literary lore and much enthusiasm for my verse that appeared over my own name and over a nom de plume in many of the Catholic magazines

It was my poems that brought me the fourth person to help me forward in my literary quest. That person was Sister M. Ignatia of the Sisters of Mercy at Manchester, N. H., the editor of the Magnificat. Sister M. Ignatia was not only a constructive critic but far more a fairy and a cloistered godmother to myself and to many others more known than I in the realms of American Catholic letters. Most of these poems have since been gathered together and put out in book form. Children of a writer's brain just as children of a parent's flesh have their own individualities and endearments. So have these four books. Our Lady Courtesy contains the prize winning poem in the Fourth Marian Poetry Contest sponsored by the Queen's Work in 1920, and a sonnet on Sergeant Joyce Kilmer that in its first printing elicited a letter from the soldier poet's mother. "There have been almost countless poems. . . to his memory, but none have touched me as yours has done, and from the depths of a sad but proud heart I thank you again." With that prized letter began a long friendship with the elder Kilmer household. God's Loohing-Glass brought contacts with Ednah Aitkens and Charles D. South. Enchanted Casements took care of other contacts and garnered a veritable sheaf of magazine and newspaper appreciation so laudatory that I was embarrassed at the high names of those mentioned as my literary kin. It was all very nice and I was very thankful, but I knew that blood relationship was out and adoption questionable. Peddler of Beauty found further appreciation and much encomium in the poetry magazine Spririt, particularly for a section of a Rondeau sequence. This fourth book, too, furthered a literary, and much more than a literary friendship, with Brother Leo, F.S.C., of. St. Mary's College, Sister M. Madeleva, C.S.C., Mr. Frank Spearman and that fine Catholic actress of the cinema, Una O'Connor. The poems in some shape or other have continued to find favor down a decade of years, for hardly an anthology season goes by but some letter arrives with a request to re-print. The last in a growing procession of anthologies is that by Rev. James M. Hayes, In Praise of Nuns. It is a glorious company to be in and compensates for the occasional less glorious company in the literary caravan, where, at times, I have unwittingly found myself.

But sister M. Ignatia gave me other valued assistance beside the valued first assistance to my verse. She admitted into her magazine three of my one-act plays and a whole phalanx of familiar essays. The essays ultimately found their way into two volumes entitled Gardens and Grottos and Tarts and Cheese Cake. Sister M. Madeleva, at the time stationed at St-Mary-on-the-Wasatch, near Salt Lake City, hastily wrote that she brought them to her English classes "with a particular first hand pride," and later in a letter concluded, "I want God to make your soul daring to think, your heart dauntless to experience, and your pen strong for superlative work in His Name." Brother Leo commented in a note to a mutual friend: "Tarts and Cheese Cake affords me perfect diet; thereon I laugh and grow fat: and perhaps, even, I shall grow wise. It's a bully little book and I don't mean maybe." That title of Tarts and Cheese Cake (a phrase taken from one of Dryden's plays) has always provoked gales of refreshing laughter from the very first day when the heavy burdened expressman arrived at the University of San Francisco and looked in vain for a large and very pretentious kitchen to dispose of his load of cook books. Reviews uniformly were most favorable, as of essays 'in the fine tradition of English letters.' I began to feel, that, perhaps, I could-distantly-bow to Charles Lamb, and-momentarily, and tentatively, and dubiously-hobnob with E. V. Lucas.

Later writings of a more religious nature took place in the shape of three volumes, one of occasional sermons, the other two of occasional conferences. At present the editing of Sodality pamphlets, now stretched into seven bound volumes and given over in great part to the American high school boy's literary and, principally spiritual self-expression, consumes much of the leisure that could otherwise go into one's own literary creation. However, all writing on a strictly belle letters basis has not been given over entirely: one or other manuscript is in formation and awaiting the propitious hour of a reading public's serenity and a printer. For Father Talbot, S.]., has been so gracious as to put my name on his list of American Catholic Authors, and I am holding on tenaciously, even if it be in a lower place.

Writing for Catholic magazines is an excellent training for the aspiring Catholic author. Whatever it may have been in our grandfathers' time, the writing for Catholic magazines today will not pickle to piety. A high standard of technique, clear thinking and elevated thinking are required, that, in a like proportion, or even in any proportion at all, will not be demanded anywhere else.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Father Cody's books include (poems) Enchanted Casements, God's Looking Glass, and Our Lady Courtesy; (prose) Gardens and Grottos, Paths of Peace, and Vessels of Election.

Originally published by Walter Romig in The Book of Catholic Authors Volume Three, copyright 1945

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