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Odds and ends from staff and contributors.


✥ Recently, for Another Publication, Peter Hitchens wrote a moving reflection on the Book of Common Prayer. We happened to read Mr. Hitchens’s essay just after leafing through the published edition of Barbara Pym’s letters, which contains what must surely be the most Anglican sentence ever written: “The new Archbishop of Canterbury has a lovely lap for a cat.”

The archbishop in question is, of course, Michael Ramsey. (This is only the second funniest thing in Pym’s correspondence—in a letter to Philip Larkin she describes John Lennon as looking “like a very plain middle-aged Victorian female novelist,” which is in fact exactly what he looked like.) Every bit as much as the Prayer Book and the King James Bible, Pym and her novels belong to what Pope Benedict XVI referred to as the “Anglican patrimony,” but which might be better referred to as the “greater Anglicanism.”

What is the greater Anglicanism? The Prayer Book and the Bible are only the two most brilliant jewels in its crown. There are also the Caroline divines, the controversialists and devotional writers of the Oxford Movement, Herbert, Bishop King’s “Exequy,” Law’s Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, Dr. Johnson, Jane Austen, Trollope’s delightful novels of clerical life, the ghost stories of M.R. James, Auden, and even Philip Larkin. Then there are those delightful but almost forgotten books, the Knott Missal and the Parson’s Handbook of Percy Dearmer. There is W.M. Ramsay, the great champion of the historicity of Saint Luke’s writings, and Richard Laurence, the Hebraist and scholar of Enochian literature. There are Austin Farrer and Frederic Farrar, the non-juror John Johnson, the unfortunate William Dodd (the so-called “Macaroni Parson”), Atterbury, Tillotson, South, Seed, Sherlock, Smallridge, Ogden, all those more or less forgotten sermon writers. Henry VIII himself belongs to the very heart of English Catholicism, as the author of the familiar translation of the Pater Noster. Then there is the music. From the anthems of the sixteenth century down to the endless shelves of Argo LPs from the 1970s.

The Church (as Martin Mosebach once put it in an essay on Nicolás Gómez Dávila) should be regarded not “as simply one of several Christian confessions, but as the great collecting tank of all religions, as the heiress of all paganism, as the still living original religion.” Into this great loving cup into which so much has been poured, the “old wine” of the Church of England is still detectable.

✥ When reading Keith Houston’s Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator (Norton, pp. 384, $32.50), one gets the impression that many of the last century’s largest leaps in gadgetry owe themselves to inventors absolutely desperate to make calculators. For years, combining literally anything with a calculator would help it sell. The most popular example is probably the calculator watch (of which I am a religious wearer), but companies such as Casio got much wilder. In 1979, the company released the VL-1, the first mass-market synthesizer. This was impressive in its own right, but Casio billed a “calculator mode” as its selling point. That same year, Casio released the QL-10 calculator, which doubled as a cigarette lighter (a perfect gift for a nicotine-addicted accountant). My favorite of all these is Sharp’s ELSI Mate EL-8048, which combined a calculator and an abacus, a feat Houston declares a “glorious redundancy.”

Of course, no one really thinks about pocket calculators anymore, in large part because their use is so pervasive. Houston writes that it is best to describe the calculator as having “sublimed,” a term from science fiction meaning that it simply moved to a higher plane of existence, no longer shackled by physical form. That is to say that you can’t use your phone, your computer—pretty much any electronic device—without also using a calculator.

I’ve found that the language of “subliming” is useful when thinking about the role most digital technology plays in our lives. For instance, I own a Brother Deluxe 750TR, a mechanical typewriter that uses a classic ribbon and arm system to type. The user must strike every key with great force, giving the arm enough power to leave a mark on the page. The typewriter cannot be programmed, meaning the user must manipulate the page with a combination of the internal mechanisms and his hands. This requires practice. I also own a Panasonic KX-E400, an electric typewriter without a screen that requires the user to read a one hundred fifty–page start manual in order to use basic functions. It uses a daisy wheel system, giving the operator a slight latency from his button press to the actual letter appearing on the paper. Users must learn how to set margins, tab locations, and spacing through a series of esoteric button presses without visual aid. A very powerful machine to be sure, but one with a steep learning curve. I’m currently writing this on an AlphaSmart Neo 2, an anachronistic little device from 2007 that’s nothing more than a keyboard and a tiny L.C.D. screen. It was developed to teach schoolchildren how to type. But the point here is that for me these are essentially toys. Like everyone else, I’ve surrendered to unthinking ease: when I write, it’s usually in my notes app.

People with my cast of mind love to grouse about digital technology’s overweening presence in our lives. But of course there will always be room for the unsublimed—more, in fact, than for those who don’t understand manual technology. I went to high school with a guy who once calculated his trajectory to the moon in a space travel simulation using only a slide rule. He now works as an aerospace engineer at Boeing. That’s more than most of us can say. Ask anyone who teaches for a living, especially college students, how often he’s had to tell someone born after 2000 how to save a Word document. Or scroll online and discover how many “digital natives” actually think this stuff is magic. It’s A Canticle for Leibowitz all over again. Though only a lonely few now understand the old forms, they are still with us, present within the new.

—Shadrach Strehle

✥ I haven’t entered it for nearly a decade, but the house I lived in for most of my childhood continues to appear in my dreams. I lived there from when I was four until I got married at twenty-two. It is not particularly special in any way: a ranch-style house in Longmont, Colorado, on a quiet street with good neighbors, the house itself solid and cozy. When I got married, I wasn’t sad to leave. I assumed I could always go back.

But when my first child was about eight months old, my parents moved to Hillsdale, Michigan, where we all still live today. Suddenly, the place I had known as home for nearly twenty years I could no longer legally enter without permission. What was “our place” was now someone else’s, and I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye. I wish I could have lain one more time on the floor of my room and gazed at the glow-in-the-dark stars and planets I stuck to the ceiling in middle school.

I do not tend to be overly sentimental. My German blood usually chokes any hint of extreme emotion before it can bloom. So I did not mourn for my childhood home consciously, but my subconscious dwells on it anyway. At least one time a week—sometimes two or three—I dream about that house, so much so that it has become the main location of my dreams. These generally follow one of several patterns, as dreams do: I am trying to get somewhere (usually high school) and I am late, I am trying to pack up for a vacation and can’t fit everything in my suitcases, or I am visiting the house to see what changes the new owners have made (often so extensive that they’d be impossible in real life).

What these scenarios say about me and my neuroses—worrying about punctuality, owning too many things, disliking change—is irrelevant. Instead I wonder: Why do the majority of my dreams feature that house? Why not the house I live in now, where my children are growing up? Why not the college campus where I work?

There must be something fundamental about the house that is lodged deep inside me: safety, the past, a starting point. I don’t know. I find myself torn between gratitude that I still get to “see” the inside of the house and sadness that I can’t actually go inside anymore. Whenever we visit Colorado, we make a point to drive by. Maybe one day the new owners will notice me and invite me in.

—Maria Servold

✥ In lieu of a bedtime story, we present a short selection from Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar and Father Christmas:

Pointing out the way to Babar, the sparrows lead him across the big bridge over the river. “We’re almost there,” they call. “We usually find him around here, he sleeps under the bridges.”

“Well, well, that is strange,” thinks Babar.

“There he is! There he is!” cry all the little sparrows together. “He’s over there next to that fisherman casting his line.”

Babar, still a bit astonished at this old fellow’s odd appearance, greets him and says: “Excuse me, Sir. But are you really the true Father Christmas, the one who brings toys to all the children?

“Alas, no,” answers the old man. “My name is Lazzaro Campeotti. I am an artist’s model and my friends the artists have nicknamed me Father Christmas. Now everybody calls me by that name."

Very much disappointed, Babar strolls thoughtfully along the river banks.

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