James Fallows of The Atlantic on Rhythm, Reception and the Book of Common Prayer
I am not a believing, spiritual person, but from first consciousness until age 17 I spent so much time at Episcopal church services with the “old style” Cranmer liturgy that even now I can recite very long passages by rote. The same is of course true for people exposed to the standard holy texts in most religions: prayers in Hebrew, the old Latin mass, Sutras and Vedas, the Islamic call to prayer, and so on. The distinctive aspect of the Cranmer liturgy is that it is in English — and a particular form of stately English whose wording may seem antique but whose rhythms retain a classic beauty. I wouldn’t, and can’t, write the same way. Yet passages like those after the jump have stuck in my mind as the pure idea of how sentences should be paced, should repeat for emphasis yet also vary, should end.
And now I learn from Ben Schwarz that this is a completely clichéd observation! He reviews a new study of Cranmer’s work and says:
Brian Cummings, the editor of this volume, rightly asserts that the language of The Book of Common Prayer “has seeped into the collective consciousness more profoundly than that of any other book written in English, even the Bible.” … [I]t shaped the inner life and branded the tongue of the English-speaking peoples. Its phrases and rhythms did not merely enter the language. They largely defined the language.
Do you agree that the old BCP “branded the tongue of English-speaking peoples”? Has any book written in English been more influential in this regard?