Little Books of St. Nicholas

No doubt you Catholics out there have occasionally felt deprived, by not having grown up reading Victorian inspirational tales for kids. Well, thanks to, feel deprived no more!

There’s a whole series of St. Nicholas books, all by the euphoniously and repetitiously named Francis Browning Drew Bickerstaffe Drew. This gentleman apparently was eventually ordained, as he began writing as the Rev. Francis Drew.

Oremus: or,  Little Mildred is the tale of an English village girl raised by a squire father who doesn’t particularly believe in God. An English Catholic family lives nearby, and Mildred learns faith from them. Naturally, all sorts of things ensue. (Naturally, this includes some kind of illness or disability for a major character, so that’s not even a spoiler!)

This book is hugely didactic, but it does have some good stuff in it. For example, when Mildred learns to pray, she doesn’t receive any magical good consequences from it. She becomes more patient, but her brothers don’t magically stop being mean. It ends up being surprisingly complicated for a kids’  book of this sort. Also, the novelist has some fun with anti-Catholicism, as the atheist father’s cussedness makes him extremely impatient with slurs on anything “papist” his daughter is doing. A lot of the flaws are those of a first novel.

The later the books get in the series, the better the writing gets.

Credo; or, Justin’s Martyrdom is a story for much older kids. In fact, it’s an Oxford story about Anglo-Catholics. All sorts of theological terms come up. Ave Maria; or Catesby’s Story is a sequel dealing with a young Catholic boy from the previous book, as he goes off to boarding school and has to learn to live with Protestants and dispel prejudice.

Ora pro Nobis; or, Tristram’s Friends is the tale of a Cornish rector who raises a shipwrecked Catholic boy too young to know his name or family.

The UK’s National Archives say that the good father was born in 1858, died in 1928, and served as a “Roman Catholic Chaplain to the Forces”. Time’s June 16, 1928 obituary page is more revealing:

Mgr. Count Francis Browning Drew Bickerstaffe-Drew, 70, famed Catholic prelate, author (Rosemary, A Roman Tragedy, etc., written under the name of John Ayscough), private Chamberlain in 1891 to Pope Leo XIII, and to Pius X in 1903, four times decorated for service as a War chaplain; in Salisbury, England.

So our guy made good! Here’s some other stuff he wrote pseudonymously:

John Ayscough’s Letters to His Mother During 1914, 1915, and 1916. War letters. (1919)

First Impressions in America. Nonfiction travel and commentary. (1921)

Levia-Pondera. Essays. (1913)

Mariquita: A Novel. (1922)

San Celestino: An Essay in Reconstruction. Historical novel about Pope St. Celestine V and his wanderings.

Pages from the Past. A memoir. (1922) has a ton more.


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