I love naming things. I’ve named my car (Happiness Runs), my favorite picnic blanket (McIntosh) and our wireless portable speaker (Hank, for Henry Mancini, of course.) My guitar is Gilbert and my ukulele is Cordelia. Every time we acquire a new animal I spend days happily mulling over just exactly what they’re meant to be called–and every time I light on it the knowledge comes with a certain settling of confirmed instinct. The exception might be the case of my cats (who generally have literary names but also include my black-cat-Oxford-scholars, Magdalen and Balliol), for, as T.S. Eliot is faithful to remind us, cats name themselves. At any rate, they are tolerant of my designations–or, at least, they all come running when I rattle off a a string of, “Josephine-Lucy-Pip-Wemmick-Oliver-Maudie-Balliol!” at suppertime. My sheep and goats have Shakespearean names (much as we love Harry Potter, I’m constantly having to tell people that our Hermione’s namesake hails from “A Winter’s Tale”, not The Sorcerers Stone), and my female Pyrs seem to have acquired the tradition of being called after Roman goddesses.
(Only one true misfire, and that was in the naming of my rooster, Margot. I’m sure it’s easy to imagine the circumstances surrounding that misappellation, and the consternation that resulted when Margot got bigger than all “her” sisters and started crowing! He’s very bitter, and takes it out on me at every opportunity. But the fact remains: if I’m generally good at naming, I’m very bad at re-naming.)
So when I started turning over names for my beautiful 19th century book presses, I felt confident that the right idea was dancing around at the fringes of my mind, just waiting to seize me (not the other way around). When it did, I looked up the passage thus invoked and read it with a smile of satisfaction. Yes, that was just exactly what I was after…
It came from Dorothy Sayers’ novel, The Nine Tailors. Set in the fens of East Anglia, this book is as much a rhapsody over the high art of change ringing as it is a deliciously complex mystery. I remembered the way Sayers described the bells of Fenchurch St. Paul in such vivid-but-tender language that their tones leapt off the page with an exquisite cacophony of genuine personality. It’s one of those passages that makes my heart beat faster, it’s so fraught with the life-affirming sense of “selving” one finds in the poetry of G.M. Hopkins, and the bold strokes of an author in command of her craft and in love with her subject.
The bells gave tongue: Gaude, Sabaoth, John, Jericho, Jubilee, Dimity, Batty Thomas and Tailor Paul, rioting and exulting high up in the dark tower, wide mouths rising and falling, brazen tongues clamouring, huge wheels turning to the dance of the leaping ropes. Tin tan din dan bim bam bom bo–tan tin din dan bam bim bo bom–tan dan tin bam din bo bim bom–every bell in her place striking tuneably, hunting up, hunting down, dodging, snapping, laying her blows behind, making her thirds and fourths, working down to lead the dance again. Out over the flat, white wastes of fen, over the spear-straight, steel-dark dykes and the wind-bent, groaning poplar trees, bursting from the snow-choked louvres of the belfry, whirled away southward and westward in gusty blasts of clamour to the sleeping counties went the music of the bells–little Gaude, silver Sabaoth, strong John and Jericho, glad Jubilee, sweet Dimity and old Batty Thomas, with great Tailor Paul bawling and striding like a giant in the midst of them. Up and down went the shadows of the ringers upon the walls, up and down went the scarlet sallies flickering roofwards and floorwards, and up and down, hunting in their courses, went the bells of Fenchurch St. Paul.
Dorothy Sayers, The Nine Tailors
Don’t you just love that? Doesn’t it make you want to leap to do what you’re uniquely made for, pealing out the story of your life like a bell with its own tongue and tone, all the while ringing in glad concert with other bells? Perhaps my mind is just odd enough to connect a description of change ringing plunked in the middle of a murder mystery, Hopkins’ “As kingfishers catch fire,” and the equipment (and, consequently, the work) of my own little bookshop–but in my mind it’s a golden thread, gathering a host of sweet longings into a bundle of meaning and purpose.
At any rate, it’s a long-winded explanation of why I’ve named my presses after church bells. After languishing in a dark basement for who-knows-how-long, these book presses are finally doing exactly what they were made to do–and so am I. Book binding, for me, is a facet of a larger calling that’s too untame for names and labels–it’s part of an overarching vocation of words and relationships and the cultivation of beauty that I can’t really describe but I know it’s sunk its hook in my heart. And that calling, of course, is meant to lose itself in the glorious Love Song that’s been pealing over human history since the foundation of the world.
When I sit down to write a poem, or share about a book I love, or sew a stack of collated signatures into a text block, something deep within me chimes out: Whát I dó is me: for that I came! And, with Gospel-backed audacity, I dare to affirm G.M. Hopkins’ assertion that a human being fully “selved” in Christ can’t help but reveal Christ in the ordinary equipment of a unique life.
So, without further ado, allow me to present Gaude (pronounced “Gaudy”) and Dimity:
And in addition to these lovely dames, we have a newcomer: an early 20th century Multigraph guillotinepaper cutter. I never knew that I could be so excited over 500 lbs of steel! But when Philip showed it to me on Craigslist, my heart was utterly gone. I had to have it for my shop–it was the very cutter I’d been dreaming of for five years. We got a fantastic deal on it, and the nice man we bought it from was tickled to learn that I would actually be using it. This thing goes through book board like butter, and will add a tremendous layer of efficiency to my processes. Please join me in welcoming Batty Thomas to the shop:
(And let me just add that it took two days, the brains of an engineer, and three people to get this bad boy up the stairs and down the hall into my shop. Many thanks to my brother-in-law for helping us along a rather harrowing journey. I was so sore the next morning I could hardly move!)
And so, the work is underway once more. I’m currently stitching the signatures on Jubilee, the sewing press, after marking them up for sewing on Jericho, the lying press. Each book consists of 20 signatures (folded packets of 16 pages each), which are hand-sewn onto cotton tapes. The next step is to tip in the illustrations and endpapers, and then glue on the mull–which is what holds the text block firmly together within the book board covers. After that, they’ll all pay a visit to Batty Thomas and be trimmed down before the covers are attached. Then they will be dressed in a lovely pale green book cloth, with gilted titles and a beautiful full-color paste-down cover illustration (more of my sister’s work–I cannot wait for you to see it!).
It’s a long, slow process. But I love it. Thanks for sharing the journey with me.
Soli Deo Gloria.