The recent election of the new Chancellor of Oxford University—or was it the prospect of another July undisturbed by fireworks?—reminded me of the letter I received from a Cambridge friend last summer, when I was living in Oxford. I quote it with minor deletions.
"Warm greetings to the Latin Quarter of Morris-Cowley, and happy Fourth of July. I hope you are celebrating. My own preference lies more with the Third than the Fourth of July, for I think it more American to be preparing for tomorrow than to celebrate yesterday. Nonetheless, I shall both prepare and celebrate next week if you tell me that you are coming to Cambridge, which you should do.
"According to Vladimir Nabokov, who came up in 1919 by way of the Crimea and Creece, the residual property of Cambridge, 'which many a solemn alumnus has tried to define,' is the constant awareness one has 'of an untrammelled extension of time.' The same feeling did not escape me at Oxford, so I attribute the difference between the two to other things. Henry James maintained that 'a stray savage is not in the least obliged to know the difference,' but a difference there is, and I am curious to hear what Andrei Navrozov will make of it.
"My views on the matter are definite. No amount of development will ever make of Cambridge more than a village, whereas Oxford is a steamy industrial Gehenna between 9 and 5. Oxford without...