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Mildred Criss (Mrs. G.L. Catlin)

BOOKS! With all the books in my background I certainly should write far better ones than I do. My mother wrote books, her mother wrote books, and when my father, Thomas Ball Criss married my mother, Helen Huntington Gates, who is a niece of Collis P. Huntington, my father did a great deal toward cataloging Mr. Huntington's famous New York library. My father's own library contained many treasures, such as the first volumes to be printed on the Caxton, Planti, Aldine and Elzivir presses, and a first edition of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary. My father's library in Orange, New Jersey, where I was born on October 6, 1890, was the only school room that I knew until after I was sixteen. Before I could read, I was allowed to dust the precious volumes and I learned my ABC's from Ainsworth's Tower of London, another first edition, illustrated by George Cruishank. My father also bound books, and in his third floor bindery of our home in Orange, my special privilege was to attend to the glue pot-an evil smelling, large iron pot in which special glue was boiled for very special purposes.

My education, in the strict sense of the word, began when I entered Hollins College, Virginia, a most memorable day for me and for the faculty. They did not know what to do with me. I was prepared for Sophomore classes in English, but alas, I was decidedly shaky in the multiplication table-and still am. Mr. Criss had his own convictions about education. He believed in teaching a child in a way that would stimulate a desire to learn and keep on learning, and he felt that forcing distasteful subjects on a pupil might crush a perfectly natural cagerness to understand more and more of what life was all about. I have only one objection to my father's theory and that is, I am woefully lacking in many things which the average child learns in the sixth and seventh grades, and I have to waste a good deal of time digging into a dictionary, an encyclopedia and an atlas.

There was much about Hollins to like, but the place troubled me. At the time I did not know why. I know now that I did not know how to study undcr prcssure, and I am sure that I was not in the least inspired by the religious atmosphere which was 'anything but Catholic. Brought up as an Episcopalian-rather casually I fear, but with a sense that God was Love-I resented the idea that to please God, one had to be just a bit gloomy. Perhaps, my impressions werc entirely wrong. Maybe I did not know how to adjust myself to much that was strange to me. However, thanks to a poem or two and the tireless interest of a Professor Cummings, I took the prize in literature, which pleased and fattened my inordinate ego.

Instead of returning to Hollins after my first year there, I went to finish my education at Mlle. La Salle's Pension in Geneva, Switzerland, where I learned to speak French and to love the French people.

In 1911 I married Benjamin Floyn McGuckin, whose father was Professor of History and Mathematics at the City College of New York. More books! Professor McGuckin was one of the most delightful, gentle and cultured of men. I learned a great deal from him and we were always the dearest of friends. He had been born and bred in an atmosphere of agnosticism and his family had lived in no other, but Professor McGuckin died in the arms of our dear old Irish laundress, a devout Catholic, and his last words were, "Dear God."

Aside from slender volumes of poetry-one published by Mr. George Haven Putnam as a gracious way in which to show his gratitude to me for having rescued him from a mountainous surf on Long Island-my first books to be published were the result of spending many summers abroad with my son, William Criss McGuckin. His happy discovery that foreign children were not foreign at all, and the good that came from the relationship between them, made me eager to write books about foreign children for American boys and girls. Betty Lee in Paris, Malou, Martine and Michel, The Red Caravan and Madeleine's Court represent those early endeavors. As my son grew up, my books grew up too. The older ones are, Mary Stuart (Young Queen of Scots), Isabella (Young Queen of Spain), Pocahontas (Young American Princess). And now that I am a grandmother I seem to be,writing an even older book, which includes the entire life of the Dom Pedro II of Brazil.

The first World War! As a result of its horrors, I began to take a very real interest in religion and took it upon myself to teach the Bible. Curiously enough little girls, big girls, poor girls, rich girls, hardworking women and society women came to my classes. In the dark a good deal about what I was teaching, I taught and taught. One evening, after my pupils had gone, when there had been questions which I had not been able to answer, I cried. In came the dear old ignorant, but all-knowing, Irish laundress, who put her arms about me and said, "Don't you be feeling bad. Faith'en just go to Father Casey and he'll be after tellin' you what to teach, and it'll be Truth." It was and I knew it.

It was about this timc that I had the good fortune to meet Abbe Ernest Dimnct and Doctor Selden Delaney, Rector of St. Mary's Anglican Church in New York. Abbe Dimnet taught me how to study, what to study, Doctor Delany and I thrashed out the Anglicans' claim about Apostolic Succession and we dispensed with it. I joined the Catholic Church in the Christmas season of 1928 and Doctor Delany soon became a priest.

On July 17, 1929, my marriage was annulled on the grounds of Disparity of Worship, in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York. My son became a Catholic during his Freshman year at Harvard. In 1934 I married George L. Catlin whose eleven-year-old daughter Carmelita had lost her Spanish mother, a Catholic and a great pianist.

And it must be said that in the work which I am doing at present, I am in need of the friendly guidance of my publishers, Messrs. Dodd, Mead and Company, especially that which Miss Dorothy Bryan offers. I count a great deal on the encouragement given to me by my son. He enlisted in the Army as a Private shortly after Pearl Harbor and is now a Lieutenant in the Mountain Infantry. I also depend on the kindly and extremely intelligent intcrest of my step-daughter Carmelita, who is hard at work in the services of transcontinental air line, and on the cooperation of my husband, now a Reserve Officer in the Navy, who tirelessly corrects idiotic mistakes in my manuscripts.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Miss Criss's books include Isabella, Young Queen of Spain, 19'}), Dodd; Pocahontas, roung Amencan Princess, 1943, Dodd, and Mary SIU01't, Young Queen of Scots, reprinted, 19'}4, Dodd; Dom Pedro of Brazil, 1945, id.

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

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