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.
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,