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Once More to the Lake

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A collection of wisdom, a focus on the internal

E. B. White on the Nature and Complexity of New York City


"On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy."

"[A] reason I like the city better than the country," wrote accustomed New Yorker Andy Warhol in his propulsive capsule of personal philosophy,  "Is that in the city everything is geared to working, and in the country, everything is geared to relaxation. I like working better than relaxation."

Such is the person we find in New York City: the urgent doer. Everything is being done all the time with purpose, if not expediency. And the resultant neurosis, like Warhol's, or existential drama, like that of Patti Smith or Dorothy Parker, is borne alongside wild cab rides and excellent take-out.

Can we ever blazon our mark on this City, Parker seems to ask once, or does it merely mark us?

If I should labor through daylight and dark, Consecrate, valorous, serious, true, Then on the world I may blazon my mark; And what if I don’t, and what if I do? From Dorothy Parker's "Philosophy"

Like Parker, American essayist Elwyn Brooks "E. B." White (July 11, 1899 – October 1, 1985)  wrote for fifty years at The  New Yorker   E. B. White might easily be a name you've heard but cannot place (my husband informed me he suffered such, so I thought I better explain).       White is best-known for the children's classics, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little . He also updated the work of his former writing professor at Cornell, William Strunk, to create Strunk & White's  Elements of Style.   Check out the illustrated The Elements of Style by fellow New Yorker Maira Kalman . and offers us this slice of the metropolis:

On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city's walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town. From E. B. White's "Here is New York"

The idea of this collection of strangers sits well with me and most inhabitants would agree it is a city of anonymity.

And yet, there are boundaries to that privacy, that isolation.

New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation; and better than most dense communities it succeeds in insulating the individual (if he wants it, and almost every body wants or needs it) against all enormous and violent and wonderful events that are taking place every minute. Since I have been sitting in this miasmic air shaft, a good many rather splashy events have occurred in town. A man shot and killed his wife in a fit of jealousy. It caused no stir outside his block and got only a small mention in the papers. I did not attend. Since my arrival, the greatest air show ever staged in all the world took place in town. I did not attend. From E. B. White's "Here is New York"

As White notices, we have immunity to things outside our boundaries. But not always. The results can be grand (see Rebecca Solnit's study of human intervention and compassion in the face of disaster ) or repetitively grating. White addresses the latter:

New York has changed in tempo and in temper during the years I have known it. There is greater tension, increased irritability. You encounter it in many places, in many faces. The normal frustrations of modern life are here multiplied and amplified—a single run of a cross-town bus contains, for the driver, enough frustration and annoyance to carry him over the edge of sanity: the light that changes always an instant too soon, the passenger that bangs on the shut door, the truck that blocks the only opening, the coin that slips to the floor, the question asked at the wrong moment..." From E. B. White's "Here is New York"

New York City was White's residence, a place he understood thoroughly (like filmmaker Sidney Lumet or poet Grace Paley ) but never called "home."

As a result, his portrait of this inimitable city is diverse and complex. He seems to ask, is New York a thing or an atmosphere? Should we give it qualities of personhood? Does it inhale and exhale? How do we engage?

essays of E. B-xs. White

Essays of E. B. White present the dry humor and self-effacing ploy of an English author (he wasn't) and the loving detail of a highly observant and philosophical man (he was). It is also stepping apart to give us something universal about place.

White's essay about the 1939 World's Fair set in Queens and false thoughts on the poisoned promises of the future - something by its essence never arrives and is always anticipated - could be republished every fifty years on the hour.

It is all rather serious-minded, this World of Tomorrow, and extremely impersonal. [...] When the night falls in the General Motors exhibit and you lean back in the cushioned chair (yourself in motion and the world so still) and hear (from the depths of the chair) the soft-electric assurance of a better life—the life which rests on wheels alone—there is a strong, sweet poison which infects the blood. I didn't want to wake up. From E. B. White's "The World of Tomorrow"

Illustration by Maira Kalman from Kalman's book

My favorite piece in Essays of E. B. White is "Good-Bye to Forty-Eighth Street," an essay about leaving New York for good. White tears through all of the little collections that amass in homes—"as much paraphernalia as an aircraft can hold," the things we've made precious by caring . What to get rid of, what to keep, disposing of the indispensable.

It is an essay about abandonment , of things, of city, of self.

I kept hoping that some morning, as by magic, all books, pictures, records, chairs, beds, curtains, lamps, china, glass, utensils, keepsakes would drain away from around my feet, like outgoing tide. But this did not happen. [...] You can whittle away at it, but to empty the place completely takes real ingenuity and great staying power. From E. B. White's "Goodbye to Forty-eighth Street"

White moved to Maine - he called it his home - and remained there until he died in 1985. When Andy Warhol died, two years after White, his massive collection (hoard), all acquired on the streets and shops of New York, was untouched and eventually sold at auction. The artist, as a collector, had taken shape. He never moved his things, never divorced himself from the City. Did he ever relax? Did he change the map of New York?

Installation view, Andy Warhol Retrospective, MCA Chicago, Photograph by Frank J-xs. Thomas © MCA Chicago

It is easy to become enamored by White's deceptively blithe musings of place (he is what we non-New Yorkers would call "down to earth", lines like "I wasn't prepared for the World's Fair and it certainly wasn't prepared for me") and take his detachment for granted.

White is, indeed, one of many writers who occasionally sets down his pen, takes a lengthy look in the mirror, and draws a self-portrait, concluding, "The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him is of general interest." A grievance leveled at New Yorkers by non-New Yorkers all the time.

essays of e. b-xs. white

I prefer contemporary writer and New Yorker Durga Chew Bose's simple singlet "The best ideas outrun me. That's why I write." For some, writing is simply done

Again, the doing. How many writers are outwriting their thoughts right now?

White continues:

The essayist arises in the morning and, if he has work to do, selects his garb from an unusually extensive wardrobe: he can pull on any sort of shirt, be any sort of person according to his mood or subject matter—philosopher, scold, jester, raconteur, confidant, pundit, devil's advocate, enthusiast.

Like Ernest Hemingway, a writer born the same year as White, who wrote truth must be the point of origin of all writing , White believed "Candor […] is the basic ingredient." It might not always be interesting, but one should still look, write, and present. In a word, care.

Perhaps that is what Warhol meant by "relax"; it is strive, to care . In New York, we (I flex between "we" and "they" for I have lived there but am not of there) are always striving. Relentlessly American that way.

So, do we ever impose ourselves on the city, or is it only onto us? Grace Paley wrote of this:

At the Battery I am standing on one foot at the prow of great Manhattan leaning forward projecting a little into the bright harbor If only a topographer in a helicopter would pass over my shadow I might be imposed forever on the maps of this city. From Grace Paley's "At the Battery"

That such a city could hold the minds and aspirations of so many, without knuckling them together in defeat, and without wholly changing its maps, never ceases to amaze me. New York holds it all together, remains and yet still moves. It is this being that White wrangles within  Essays.

While White wrote and Parker posed and Warhola vacillated, so many others were making their way, as the case may be, like  James Baldwin  selling wares in the streets at seven, or Billie Holliday  who cleaned brothels at age 10, or Joan Didion imbibing the pain of her grief-soaked apartment.

All overlapping, crossing paths, intersecting. They might, as White said, "all be strangers" but they certainly have this grand, grand thing in common.


E. b. white , the art of the essay no. 1, issue 48, fall 1969.


If it happens that your parents concern themselves so little with the workings of boys’ minds as to christen you Elwyn Brooks White, no doubt you decide as early as possible to identify yourself as E.B. White. If it also happens that you attend Cornell, whose first president was Andrew D. White, then, following a variant of the principle that everybody named Rhodes winds up being nicknamed “Dusty,” you wind up being nicknamed “Andy.” And so it has come about that for fifty of his seventy years Elwyn Brooks White has been known to his readers as E.B. White and to his friends as Andy. Andy White. Andy and Katharine White. The Whites. Andy and Katharine have been married for forty years, and in that time they have been separated so rarely that I find it impossible to think of one without the other. On the occasions when they have been obliged to be apart, Andy’s conversation is so likely to center on Katharine that she becomes all the more present for being absent.

The Whites have shared everything, from professional association on the same magazine to preoccupation with a joint ill health that many of their friends have been inclined to regard as imaginary. Years ago, in a Christmas doggerel, Edmund Wilson saluted them for possessing “ mens sana in corpore insano, ” and it was always wonderful to behold the intuitive seesaw adjustments by which one of them got well in time for the other to get sick. What a mountain of good work they have accumulated in that fashion! Certainly they have been the strongest and most productive unhealthy couple that I have ever encountered, but I no longer dare to make fun of their ailments. Now that age is bestowing on them a natural infirmity, they must be sorely tempted to say to the rest of us, “You see? What did we tell you?” (“Sorely,” by the way, has been a favorite adverb of Andy’s- a word that brims with bodily woe and that yet hints at the heroic: back of Andy, some dying knight out of Malory lifts his gleaming sword against the dusk.)

Andy White is small and wiry, with an unexpectedly large nose, speckled eyes, and an air of being just about to turn away, not on an errand of any importance but as a means of remaining free to cut and run without the nuisance of prolonged good-byes. Crossing the threshold of his eighth decade, his person is uncannily boyish-seeming. Though his hair is grey, I learn at this moment that I do not consent to the fact: away from him, I remember it as brown, therefore it is brown to me. Andy can no more lose his youthfulness by the tiresome accident of growing old than he could ever have been Elwyn by the tiresome un-necessary accident of baptism; his youth and his “Andy”-ness are intrinsic and inexpungeable. Katharine White is a woman so good-looking that nobody has taken it amiss when her husband has described in print as beautiful, but her beauty has a touch of blue-eyed augustness in it, and her manner is formal. It would never occur to me to go beyond calling her Katharine, and I have not found it surprising when her son, Roger Angell, an editor of  The New Yorker , refers to her within the office precincts as “Mrs. White.” (Roger Angell is the son of her marriage to a distinguished New York attorney, Ernest Angell; she and Andy have a son, Joe, who is a naval architect and whose boatyard is a thriving enterprise in the Whites’ hometown of Brooklin, Maine.)

At the risk of reducing a man’s life to a sort of Merck’s Manual, I may mention that Andy White’s personal physician, Dana Atchley- giving characteristically short shrift to a psychosomatic view of his old friend- has described him as having a Rolls Royce mind in a Model T body. With Andy, this would pass for a compliment, because in the tyranny of his modesty he would always choose to be a Ford instead of a Rolls, but it would be closer to the truth to describe him as a Rolls Royce mind in a Rolls Royce body that unaccountably keeps bumping to a stop and humming to itself, not without infinite pleasure to others along the way. What he achieves must cost him a considerable effort and appears to cost him very little. His speaking voice, like his writing voice, is clear, resonant, and invincibly debonair. He wanders over the pastures of his Maine farm or, for that matter, along the labyrinthine corridors of  The New Yorker  offices on West Forty-Third Street with the off-hand grace of a dancer making up a sequence of steps that the eye follows with delight and that defies any but his own notation. Clues to the bold and delicate nature of those steps are to be discovered in every line he writes, but the man and his work are so nearly one that, try as we will, we cannot tell the dancer from the dance.

  -Brendan Gill


So many critics equate the success of a writer with an unhappy childhood. Can you say something of your own childhood in Mount Vernon?

As a child, I was frightened but not unhappy. My parents were loving and kind. We were a large family (six children) and were a small kingdom unto ourselves. Nobody ever came to dinner. My father was formal, conservative, successful, hardworking, and worried. My mother was loving, hardworking, and retiring. We lived in a large house in a leafy suburb, where there were backyards and stables and grape arbors. I lacked for nothing except confidence. I suffered nothing except the routine terrors of childhood: fear of the dark, fear of the future, fear of the return to school after a summer on a lake in Maine, fear of making an appearance on a platform, fear of the lavatory in the school basement where the slate urinals cascaded, fear that I was unknowing about things I should know about. I was, as a child, allergic to pollens and dusts, and still am. I was allergic to platforms, and still am. It may be, as some critics suggest, that it helps to have an unhappy childhood. If so, I have no knowledge of it. Perhaps it helps to have been scared or allergic to pollens—I don’t know.

At what age did you know you were going to follow a literary profession? Was there a particular incident, or moment?

I never knew for sure that I would follow a literary profession. I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight before anything happened that gave me any assurance that I could make a go of writing. I had  done  a great deal of writing, but I lacked confidence in my ability to put it to good use. I went abroad one summer and on my return to New York found an accumulation of mail at my apartment. I took the letters, unopened, and went to a Childs restaurant on Fourteenth Street, where I ordered dinner and began opening my mail. From one envelope, two or three checks dropped out, from  The New Yorker . I suppose they totaled a little under a hundred dollars, but it looked like a fortune to me. I can still remember the feeling that “this was it”—I was a pro at last. It was a good feeling and I enjoyed the meal.

What were those first pieces accepted by  The New Yorker ? Did you send them in with a covering letter, or through an agent?

They were short sketches—what Ross called “casuals.” One, I think, was a piece called “The Swell Steerage,” about the then new college cabin class on transatlantic ships. I never submitted a manuscript with a covering letter or through an agent. I used to put my manuscript in the mail, along with a stamped envelope for the rejection. This was a matter of high principle with me: I believed in the doctrine of immaculate rejection. I never used an agent and did not like the looks of a manuscript after an agent got through prettying it up and putting it between covers with brass clips. (I now have an agent for such mysteries as movie rights and foreign translations.)

A large part of all early contributions to  The New Yorker  arrived uninvited and unexpected. They arrived in the mail or under the arm of people who walked in with them. O’Hara’s “Afternoon Delphians” is one example out of hundreds. For a number of years,  The New Yorker  published an average of fifty new writers a year. Magazines that refuse unsolicited manuscripts strike me as lazy, incurious, self-assured, and self-important. I’m speaking of magazines of general circulation. There may be some justification for a technical journal to limit its list of contributors to persons who are known to be qualified. But if I were a publisher, I wouldn’t want to put out a magazine that failed to examine everything that turned up.

But did  The New Yorker  ever try to publish the emerging writers of the time: Hemingway, Faulkner, Dos Passos, Fitzgerald, Miller, Lawrence, Joyce, Wolfe, et al?

The New Yorker  had an interest in publishing any writer that could turn in a good piece. It read everything submitted. Hemingway, Faulkner, and the others were well established and well paid when  The New Yorker  came on the scene. The magazine would have been glad to publish them, but it didn’t have the money to pay them off, and for the most part they didn’t submit. They were selling to  The Saturday Evening Post  and other well-heeled publications, and in general were not inclined to contribute to the small, new, impecunious weekly. Also, some of them, I would guess, did not feel sympathetic to  The New Yorker ’s frivolity. Ross had no great urge to publish the big names; he was far more interested in turning up new and yet undiscovered talent, the Helen Hokinsons and the James Thurbers. We did publish some things by Wolfe—“Only the Dead Know Brooklyn” was one. I believe we published something by Fitzgerald. But Ross didn’t waste much time trying to corral “emerged” writers. He was looking for the ones that were found by turning over a stone.

What were the procedures in turning down a manuscript by a  New Yorker  regular? Was this done by Ross?

The manuscript of a  New Yorker  regular was turned down in the same manner as was the manuscript of a  New Yorker  irregular. It was simply rejected, usually by the subeditor who was handling the author in question. Ross did not deal directly with writers and artists, except in the case of a few old friends from an earlier day. He wouldn’t even take on Woollcott—regarded him as too difficult and fussy. Ross disliked rejecting pieces, and he disliked firing people—he ducked both tasks whenever he could.

Did feuds threaten the magazine?

Feuds did not threaten  The New Yorker . The only feud I recall was the running battle between the editorial department and the advertising department. This was largely a one-sided affair, with the editorial department lobbing an occasional grenade into the enemy’s lines just on general principles, to help them remember to stay out of sight. Ross was determined not to allow his magazine to be swayed, in the slightest degree, by the boys in advertising. As far as I know, he succeeded.

When did you first move to New York, and what were some of the things you did before joining  The New Yorker ? Were you ever a part of the Algonquin group?

After I got out of college, in 1921, I went to work in New York but did not live in New York. I lived at home, with my father and mother in Mount Vernon, and commuted to work. I held three jobs in about seven months—first with the United Press, then with a public relations man named Wheat, then with the American Legion News Service. I disliked them all, and in the spring of 1922 I headed west in a Model T Ford with a college mate, Howard Cushman, to seek my fortune and as a way of getting away from what I disliked. I landed in Seattle six months later, worked there as a reporter on the  Times  for a year, was fired, shipped to Alaska aboard a freighter, and then returned to New York. It was on my return that I became an advertising man—Frank Seaman & Co., J. H. Newmark. In the mid-twenties, I moved into a two-room apartment at 112 West Thirteenth Street with three other fellows, college mates of mine at Cornell: Burke Dowling Adams, Gustave Stubbs Lobrano, and Mitchell T. Galbreath. The rent was $110 a month. Split four ways it came to $27.50, which I could afford. My friends in those days were the fellows already mentioned. Also, Peter Vischer, Russell Lord, Joel Sayre, Frank Sullivan (he was older and more advanced but I met him and liked him), James Thurber, and others. I was never a part of the Algonquin group. After becoming connected with  The New Yorker,  I lunched once at the Round Table but didn’t care for it and was embarrassed in the presence of the great. I never was well acquainted with Benchley or Broun or Dorothy Parker or Woollcott. I did not know Don Marquis or Ring Lardner, both of whom I greatly admired. I was a younger man.

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Stopping Dead from the Neck Up

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“Long hours and slow, before I drink.”

e b white essays pdf

The Art of Poetry No. 112


Driving from Santa Fe’s center to its outskirts, you pass through a wide expanse made vibrant by that particular slant of light ­Georgia O’Keeffe coveted. Somehow, the sky is more immense here. Hawks circle over dusty fields strewn with yellow-flowering rabbitbrush. Beyond this plain is the quiet suburb where N. Scott Momaday lives, in a square adobe house. The walls of the living room are lined with prints of Native Americans by Leonard Baskin, which Momaday, a painter and printmaker himself, has collected for decades. On the coffee table sits a bronze sculpture of the Wyoming rock formation known as Devils Tower, with a bear at its base; as an infant, ­Momaday was taken to this sacred site and given his Kiowa name, Tsoai-talee, or “Rock-Tree Boy,” after the story of a boy who turned into a bear, chasing his sisters up the “rock-tree” and into the stars. 

N. Scott Momaday was born in 1934 in Lawton, Oklahoma. During the Depression, his parents, Alfred Morris and Mayme “Natachee” Scott Momaday, found work on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, and, during the war, in Hobbs, around the nearby military base. In 1946, the family moved to another Native community, Jemez Pueblo, where for many years his father taught painting and his mother English. At seventeen, Momaday attended ­military school in Virginia for a year, and he then enrolled at the ­University of New Mexico, where he met his first wife, Gaye Mangold, the mother of three of his four daughters. He entered Stanford ­University’s fellow­ship program in writing, which led to a doctorate and a series of posts at schools including Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Arizona, where for many years he taught poetry and a class on the oral tradition.

Before Momaday began to publish, there was little widespread consciousness of a Native American literature. House Made of Dawn , his first novel, appeared in 1968, and won the ­Pulitzer Prize. The story of a traumatized Second World War veteran who struggles to resume his life on the pueblo, it shrewdly combines Modernist techniques and Native traditions. Momaday’s exploration of genre continued in The Way to Rainy ­Mountain (1969), a hybrid of Kiowa folklore, historical commentary, and memoir; The Names (1976), a family history that glides through streams of consciousness; and his second novel, The Ancient Child (1989), a swirl of fragments that features Billy the Kid, abstract painting, and “bear medicine.”  

But Momaday thinks of himself first as a poet, and his early collections Angle of Geese (1974) and The Gourd Dancer (1976)demonstrate a restless sensibility, the poems moving between metrical verse and incantatory repetition, landscape and legend. He frequently includes his older poems in new collections, encompassing them, like the rings of a tree, in fresh material. Since retiring from professorship, Momaday has become only more productive, publishing three books in the past three years. The Death of Sitting Bear (2020) contains some of his most complex poetry, and is characterized by a wintry, Stevensian reserve. Earth Keeper (2020), a taut book of prose poems, urges a greater steward­ship of the environment.

Momaday is a big man with a wry sense of humor, his large frame matching his deep and sonorous voice. In the conversations for this interview, which Layli Long Soldier began on the phone in 2021 and which I continued over several clear-skied afternoons earlier this year, he was gregarious and generous, though he felt no need to answer a question he considered inapt. His daughters Jill and Brit sometimes sat in—Jill taking pleasure in pushing him to clarify his version of events—and Quanah, a tabby cat named after a famous peyote priest, occasionally jumped up to demand his affection. Momaday was as willing to perform the stories he has told many times as he was to consider them anew. This continual redescription of his experience, in person and on the page, seems to reflect a lasting passion for being on earth. As he writes in “The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee,”  

  I am an angle of geese in the winter sky I am the hunger of a young wolf I am the whole dream of these things You see, I am alive, I am alive

—David S. Wallace

e b white essays pdf

From the Archive, Issue 242

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E. B. White on “The Meaning of Democracy”

e b white essays pdf

By The New Yorker

E. B. White on “The Meaning of Democracy”

This piece originally appeared in the Notes and Comment section of the July 3, 1943, issue of The New Yorker. “ The 40s: The Story of a Decade ,” an anthology of New Yorker articles, stories, and poems, will be released on Tuesday.

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure. Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is. — E. B. White

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Diary of an Abomination

By Emil Ferris

The New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson and Masha Gessen Win Polk Awards

The Marginalian

E.B. White on the Art of the Essay and Why Egotism Is Essential for the Essay Writer

By maria popova.

e b white essays pdf

In April of 1977, in the foreword to the indispensable anthology Essays of E. B. White ( public library ), the beloved author examines the very form he had so mesmerizingly mastered, with equal parts irreverence and love.

e b white essays pdf

White writes:

The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest. He is a fellow who thoroughly enjoys his work, just as people who take bird walks enjoy theirs. Each new excursion of the essayist, each new “attempt,” differs from the last and takes him into new country. This delights him. Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays.

White offers a morphology of essayistic dispositions:

There are as many kinds of essays as there are human attitudes or poses, as many essay flavors as there are Howard Johnson ice creams. The essayist arises in the morning and, if he has work to do, selects his garb from an unusually extensive wardrobe:he can pull on any sort of shirt, be any sort of person, according to his mood or his subject matter — philosopher, scold, jester, raconteur, confidant, pundit, devil’s advocate, enthusiast. I like the essay, have always liked it, and even as a child was at work, attempting to inflict my young thoughts and experiences on others by putting them on paper.

While he professes to “fall back on the essay form” whenever an idea strikes, White, with the characteristic self-consciousness and self-deprecation of a proper essayist, puts the essay in its place on the literary ladder:

I am not fooled about the place of the essay in twentieth-century American letters — it stands a short distance down the line. The essayist, unlike the novelist, the poet, and the playwright, must be content in his self-imposed role of second-class citizen. A writer who has his sights trained on the Nobel Prize or other earthly triumphs had best write a novel, a poem, or a play, and leave the essayist to ramble about, content with living a free life and enjoying the satisfactions of a somewhat undisciplined existence.

Little did White know that a mere year later, he’d be awarded an honorary Pulitzer Prize for the full body of his work, which consisted — per his self-professed preference — largely of essays.

e b white essays pdf

More so than any other writing form, White argues, the essay requires a unique commitment to truth and discipline :

There is one thing that the essayist cannot do, though — he cannot indulge himself in deceit or in concealment, for he will be found out in no time. Desmond MacCarthy, in his introductory remarks to the 1928 E. P. Dutton & Company edition of Montaigne , observes that Montaigne “had the gift of natural candour. . . .” It is the basic ingredient. And even the essayist’s escape from discipline is only a partial escape: the essay, although a relaxed form, imposes its own disciplines, raises is own problems, and these disciplines and problems soon become apparent and (we all home) act as a deterrent to anyone wielding a pen merely because he entertains random thoughts or is in a happy or wandering mood.

Echoing Joan Didion’s conception of writing as access to one’s self and George Orwell’s contention that the first universal motive for writing is “sheer egotism,” White returns to the solipsism of the essayist:

I think some people find the essay the last resort of the egotist, a much too self-conscious and self-serving form for their taste; they feel that it is presumptuous of a writer to assume that his little excursions or his small observations will interest the reader. There is some justice in their complaint. I have always been aware that I am by nature self-absorbed and egoistical; to write of myself to the extent I have done indicates a too great attention to my own life, not enough to the lives of others. I have worn many shirts, and not all of them have been a good fit. But when I am discouraged or downcast I need only fling open the door of my closet, and there, hidden behind everything else, hangs the mantle of Michel de Montaigne, smelling slightly of camphor.

White goes on to discuss his choice of essays for the anthology and their order, noting of his most famous masterpiece — the exquisite Here Is New York :

Some, like “Here Is New York,” have been seriously affected by the passage of time and now stand as period pieces. I wrote about new York in the summer of 1948, during a hot spell. The city I described has disappeared, and another city has emerged in its place — one that I’ not familiar with. … The last time I visited New York, it seemed to have suffered a personality change, as though it had a brain tumor as yet undetected.

Place has played an important role in White’s relationship with the written word, as becomes evident in the selected essays. He notes:

I spent a large part of the first half of my life as a city dweller, a large part of the second half as a countryman. In between, there were periods when nobody, including myself, quite knew (or cared) where I was: I thrashed back and forth between Maine and New York for reasons that seemed compelling at the time. Money entered into it, affection for The New Yorker entered in. And affection for the city. I have finally come to rest.

White spent the remaining years of his life at his home in North Brooklin, Maine.

Essays of E. B. White is required reading, a pinnacle of the form from one of its greatest masters. Complement it with White on the role and responsibility of the writer and why brevity isn’t the gold standard for style .

— Published April 18, 2013 — https://www.themarginalian.org/2013/04/18/e-b-white-on-egoism-and-the-art-of-the-essay/ —





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Death of a Pig

“I just wanted to keep on raising a pig, full meal after full meal, spring into summer into fall.”

E. B. White at a typewriter

I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig and I feel driven to account for this stretch of time, more particularly since the pig died at last, and I lived, and things might easily have gone the other way round and none left to do the accounting. Even now, so close to the event, I cannot recall the hours sharply and am not ready to say whether death came on the third night or the fourth night. This uncertainty afflicts me with a sense of personal deterioration; if I were in decent health I would know how many nights I had sat up with a pig.

The scheme of buying a spring pig in blossom time, feeding it through summer and fall, and butchering it when the solid cold weather arrives, is a familiar scheme to me and follows an antique pattern. It is a tragedy enacted on most farms with perfect fidelity to the original script. The murder, being premeditated, is in the first degree but is quick and skillful, and the smoked bacon and ham provide a ceremonial ending whose fitness is seldom questioned.

Once in a while something slips — one of the actors goes up in his lines and the whole performance stumbles and halts. My pig simply failed to show up for a meal. The alarm spread rapidly. The classic outline of the tragedy was lost. I found myself cast suddenly in the role of pig’s friend and physician — a farcical character with an enema bag for a prop. I had a presentiment, the very first afternoon, that the play would never regain its balance and that my sympathies were now wholly with the pig. This was slapstick — the sort of dramatic treatment which instantly appealed to my old dachshund, Fred, who joined the vigil, held the bag, and, when all was over, presided at the interment. When we slid the body into the grave, we both were shaken to the core. The loss we felt was not the loss of ham but the loss of pig. He had evidently become precious to me, not that he represented a distant nourishment in a hungry time, but that he had suffered in a suffering world. But I’m running ahead of my story and shall have to go back. My pigpen is at the bottom of an old orchard below the house. The pigs I have raised have lived in a faded building which once was an icehouse. There is a pleasant yard to move about in, shaded by an apple tree which overhangs the low rail fence. A pig couldn’t ask for anything better — or none has, at any rate. The sawdust in the icehouse makes a comfortable bottom in which to root, and a warm bed. This sawdust, however, came under suspicion when the pig took sick. One of my neighbors said he thought the pig would have done better on new ground — the same principle that applies in planting potatoes. He said there might be something unhealthy about that sawdust, that he never thought well of sawdust. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when I first noticed that there was something wrong with the pig. He failed to appear at the trough for his supper, and when a pig (or a child) refuses supper a chill wave of fear runs through any household, or icehousehold. After examining my pig, who was stretched out in the sawdust inside the building, I went to the phone and cranked it four times. Mr. Henderson answered. “What’s good for a sick pig?” I asked. (There is never any identification needed on a country phone; the person on the other end knows who is talking by the sound of the voice and by the character of the question.) “I don’t know, I never had a sick pig,” said Mr. Henderson, “but I can find out quick enough. You hang up and I’ll call Irving.” Mr. Henderson was back on the line again in five minutes. “Irving says roll him over on his back and give him two ounces of castor oil or sweet oil, and if that doesn’t do the trick give him an injection of soapy water. He says he’s almost sure the pig’s plugged up, and even if he’s wrong, it can’t do any harm.” I thanked Mr. Henderson. I didn’t go right down to the pig, though. I sank into a chair and sat still for a few minutes to think about my troubles, and then I got up and went to the barn, catching up on some odds and ends that needed tending to. Unconsciously I held off, for an hour, the deed by which I would officially recognize the collapse of the performance of raising a pig; I wanted no interruption in the regularity of feeding, the steadiness of growth, the even succession of days. I wanted no interruption, wanted no oil, no deviation. I just wanted to keep on raising a pig, full meal after full meal, spring into summer into fall. I didn’t even know whether there were two ounces of castor oil on the place.

Shortly after five o’clock I remembered that we had been invited out to dinner that night and realized that if I were to dose a pig there was no time to lose. The dinner date seemed a familiar conflict: I move in a desultory society and often a week or two will roll by without my going to anybody’s house to dinner or anyone’s coming to mine, but when an occasion does arise, and I am summoned, something usually turns up (an hour or two in advance) to make all human intercourse seem vastly inappropriate. I have come to believe that there is in hostesses a special power of divination, and that they deliberately arrange dinners to coincide with pig failure or some other sort of failure. At any rate, it was after five o’clock and I knew I could put off no longer the evil hour. When my son and I arrived at the pigyard, armed with a small bottle of castor oil and a length of clothesline, the pig had emerged from his house and was standing in the middle of his yard, listlessly. He gave us a slim greeting. I could see that he felt uncomfortable and uncertain. I had brought the clothesline thinking I’d have to tie him (the pig weighed more than a hundred pounds) but we never used it. My son reached down, grabbed both front legs, upset him quickly, and when he opened his mouth to scream I turned the oil into his throat — a pink, corrugated area I had never seen before. I had just time to read the label while the neck of the bottle was in his mouth. It said Puretest. The screams, slightly muffled by oil, were pitched in the hysterically high range of pigsound, as though torture were being carried out, but they didn’t last long: it was all over rather suddenly, and, his legs released, the pig righted himself. In the upset position the corners of his mouth had been turned down, giving him a frowning expression. Back on his feet again, he regained the set smile that a pig wears even in sickness. He stood his ground, sucking slightly at the residue of oil; a few drops leaked out of his lips while his wicked eyes, shaded by their coy little lashes, turned on me in disgust and hatred. I scratched him gently with oily fingers and he remained quiet, as though trying to recall the satisfaction of being scratched when in health, and seeming to rehearse in his mind the indignity to which he had just been subjected. I noticed, as I stood there, four or five small dark spots on his back near the tail end, reddish brown in color, each about the size of a housefly. I could not make out what they were. They did not look troublesome but at the same time they did not look like mere surface bruises or chafe marks. Rather they seemed blemishes of internal origin. His stiff white bristles almost completedly hid them and I had to part the bristles with my fingers to get a good look. Several hours later, a few minutes before midnight, having dined well and at someone else’s expense, I returned to the pighouse with a flashlight. The patient was asleep. Kneeling, I felt his ears (as you might put your hand on the forehead of a child) and they seemed cool, and then with the light made a careful examination of the yard and the house for sign that the oil had worked. I found none and went to bed. We had been having an unseasonable spell of weather — hot, close days, with the fog shutting in every night, scaling for a few hours in midday, then creeping back again at dark, drifting in first over the trees on the point, then suddenly blowing across the fields, blotting out the world and taking possession of houses, men, and animals. Everyone kept hoping for a break, but the break failed to come. Next day was another hot one. I visited the pig before breakfast and tried to tempt him with a little milk in his trough. He just stared at it, while I made a sucking sound through my teeth to remind him of past pleasures of the feast. With very small, timid pigs, weanlings, this ruse is often quite successful and will encourage them to eat; but with a large, sick pig the ruse is senseless and the sound I made must have made him feel, if anything, more miserable. He not only did not crave food, he felt a positive revulsion to it. I found a place under the apple tree where he had vomited in the night. At this point, although a depression had settled over me, I didn’t suppose that I was going to lose my pig. From the lustiness of a healthy pig a man derives a feeling of personal lustiness; the stuff that goes into the trough and is received with such enthusiasm is an earnest of some later feast of his own, and when this suddenly comes to an end and the food lies stale and untouched, souring in the sun, the pig’s imbalance becomes the man’s, vicariously, and life seems insecure, displaced, transitory.

As my own spirits declined, along with the pig’s, the spirits of my vile old dachshund rose. The frequency of our trips down the footpath through the orchard to the pigyard delighted him, although he suffers greatly from arthritis, moves with difficulty, and would be bedridden if he could find anyone willing to serve him meals on a tray. He never missed a chance to visit the pig with me, and he made many professional calls on his own. You could see him down there at all hours, his white face parting the grass along the fence as he wobbled and stumbled about, his stethoscope dangling — a happy quack, writing his villainous prescriptions and grinning his corrosive grin. When the enema bag appeared, and the bucket of warm suds, his happiness was complete, and he managed to squeeze his enormous body between the two lowest rails of the yard and then assumed full charge of the irrigation. Once, when I lowered the bag to check the flow, he reached in and hurriedly drank a few mouthfuls of the suds to test their potency. I have noticed that Fred will feverishly consume any substance that is associated with trouble — the bitter flavor is to his liking. When the bag was above reach, he concentrated on the pig and was everywhere at once, a tower of strength and inconvenience. The pig, curiously enough, stood rather quietly through this colonic carnival, and the enema, though ineffective, was not as difficult as I had anticipated. I discovered, though, that once having given a pig an enema there is no turning back, no chance of resuming one of life’s more stereotyped roles. The pig’s lot and mine were inextricably bound now, as though the rubber tube were the silver cord. From then until the time of his death I held the pig steadily in the bowl of my mind; the task of trying to deliver him from his misery became a strong obsession. His suffering soon became the embodiment of all earthly wretchedness. Along toward the end of the afternoon, defeated in physicking, I phoned the veterinary twenty miles away and placed the case formally in his hands. He was full of questions, and when I casually mentioned the dark spots on the pig’s back, his voice changed its tone. “I don’t want to scare you,” he said, “but when there are spots, erysipelas has to be considered.” Together we considered erysipelas, with frequent interruptions from the telephone operator, who wasn't sure the connection had been established. “If a pig has erysipelas can he give it to a person?” I asked. “Yes, he can,” replied the vet. “Have they answered?” asked the operator. “Yes, they have,” I said. Then I addressed the vet again. “You better come over here and examine this pig right away.” “I can’t come myself,” said the vet, “but McDonald can come this evening if that’s all right. Mac knows more about pigs than I do anyway. You needn't worry too much about the spots. To indicate erysipelas they would have to be deep hemorrhagic infarcts.” “Deep hemorrhagic what?” I asked. “Infarcts,” said the vet. “Have they answered?” asked the operator. “Well,” I said, “I don’t know what you’d call these spots, except they’re about the size of a housefly. If the pig has erysipelas I guess I have it, too, by this time, because we’ve been very close lately.” “McDonald will be over,” said the vet. I hung up. My throat felt dry and I went to the cupboard and got a bottle of whiskey. Deep hemorrhagic infarcts — the phrase began fastening its hooks in my head. I had assumed that there could be nothing much wrong with a pig during the months it was being groomed for murder; my confidence in the essential health and endurance of pigs had been strong and deep, particularly in the health of pigs that belonged to me and that were part of my proud scheme. The awakening had been violent and I minded it all the more because I knew that what could be true of my pig could be true also of the rest of my tidy world. I tried to put this distasteful idea from me, but it kept recurring. I took a short drink of the whiskey and then, although I wanted to go down to the yard and look for fresh signs, I was scared to. I was certain I had erysipelas. It was long after dark and the supper dishes had been put away when a car drove in and McDonald got out. He had a girl with him. I could just make her out in the darkness — she seemed young and pretty. “This is Miss Wyman,” he said. “We’ve been having a picnic supper on the shore, that’s why I’m late.” McDonald stood in the driveway and stripped off his jacket, then his shirt. His stocky arms and capable hands showed up in my flashlight’s gleam as I helped him find his coverall and get zipped up. The rear seat of his car contained an astonishing amount of paraphernalia, which he soon overhauled, selecting a chain, a syringe, a bottle of oil, a rubber tube, and some other things I couldn’t identify. Miss Wyman said she’d go along with us and see the pig. I led the way down the warm slope of the orchard, my light picking out the path for them, and we all three climbed the fence, entered the pighouse, and squatted by the pig while McDonald took a rectal reading. My flashlight picked up the glitter of an engagement ring on the girl’s hand. “No elevation,” said McDonald, twisting the thermometer in the light. “You needn’t worry about erysipelas.” He ran his hand slowly over the pig’s stomach and at one point the pig cried out in pain. “Poor piggledy-wiggledy!” said Miss Wyman. The treatment I had been giving the pig for two days was then repeated, somewhat more expertly, by the doctor, Miss Wyman and I handing him things as he needed them — holding the chain that he had looped around the pig’s upper jaw, holding the syringe, holding the bottle stopper, the end of the tube, all of us working in darkness and in comfort, working with the instinctive teamwork induced by emergency conditions, the pig unprotesting, the house shadowy, protecting, intimate. I went to bed tired but with a feeling of relief that I had turned over part of the responsibility of the case to a licensed doctor. I was beginning to think, though, that the pig was not going to live.

He died twenty-four hours later, or it might have been forty-eight — there is a blur in time here, and I may have lost or picked up a day in the telling and the pig one in the dying. At intervals during the last day I took cool fresh water down to him and at such times as he found the strength to get to his feet he would stand with head in the pail and snuffle his snout around. He drank a few sips but no more; yet it seemed to comfort him to dip his nose in water and bobble it about, sucking in and blowing out through his teeth. Much of the time, now, he lay indoors half buried in sawdust. Once, near the last, while I was attending him I saw him try to make a bed for himself but he lacked the strength, and when he set his snout into the dust he was unable to plow even the little furrow he needed to lie down in. He came out of the house to die. When I went down, before going to bed, he lay stretched in the yard a few feet from the door. I knelt, saw that he was dead, and left him there: his face had a mild look, expressive neither of deep peace nor of deep suffering, although I think he had suffered a good deal. I went back up to the house and to bed, and cried internally — deep hemorrhagic intears. I didn’t wake till nearly eight the next morning, and when I looked out the open window the grave was already being dug, down beyond the dump under a wild apple. I could hear the spade strike against the small rocks that blocked the way. Never send to know for whom the grave is dug, I said to myself, it’s dug for thee. Fred, I well knew, was supervising the work of digging, so I ate breakfast slowly. It was a Saturday morning. The thicket in which I found the gravediggers at work was dark and warm, the sky overcast. Here, among alders and young hackmatacks, at the foot of the apple tree, Howard had dug a beautiful hole, five feet long, three feet wide, three feet deep. He was standing in it, removing the last spadefuls of earth while Fred patrolled the brink in simple but impressive circles, disturbing the loose earth of the mound so that it trickled back in. There had been no rain in weeks and the soil, even three feet down, was dry and powdery. As I stood and stared, an enormous earthworm which had been partially exposed by the spade at the bottom dug itself deeper and made a slow withdrawal, seeking even remoter moistures at even lonelier depths. And just as Howard stepped out and rested his spade against the tree and lit a cigarette, a small green apple separated itself from a branch overhead and fell into the hole. Everything about this last scene seemed overwritten—the dismal sky, the shabby woods, the imminence of rain, the worm (legendary bedfellow of the dead), the apple (conventional garnish of a pig). But even so, there was a directness and dispatch about animal burial, I thought, that made it a more decent affair than human burial: there was no stopover in the undertaker’s foul parlor, no wreath nor spray; and when we hitched a line to the pig’s hind legs and dragged him swiftly from his yard, throwing our weight into the harness and leaving a wake of crushed grass and smoothed rubble over the dump, ours was a businesslike procession, with Fred, the dishonorable pallbearer, staggering along in the rear, his perverse bereavement showing in every seam in his face; and the post mortem performed handily and swiftly right at the edge of the grave, so that the inwards which had caused the pig’s death preceded him into the ground and he lay at last resting squarely on the cause of his own undoing. I threw in the first shovelful, and then we worked rapidly and without talk, until the job was complete. I picked up the rope, made it fast to Fred’s collar (he is a notorious ghoul), and we all three filed back up the path to the house, Fred bringing up the rear and holding back every inch of the way, feigning unusual stiffness. I noticed that although he weighed far less than the pig, he was harder to drag, being possessed of the vital spark. The news of the death of my pig traveled fast and far, and I received many expressions of sympathy from friends and neighbors, for no one took the event lightly and the premature expiration of a pig is, I soon discovered, a departure which the community marks solemnly on its calendar, a sorrow in which it feels fully involved. I have written this account in penitence and in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig, and to explain my deviation from the classic course of so many raised pigs. The grave in the woods is unmarked, but Fred can direct the mourner to it unerringly and with immense good will, and I know he and I shall often revisit it, singly and together, in seasons of reflection and despair, on flagless memorial days of our own choosing.

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E.B. White’s essays argue eloquently against extremism

A new collection, put together by his granddaughter, demonstrates what made him such a pointed observer of representative government.

stack of books

  • By Danny Heitman Correspondent

June 27, 2019

Elwyn Brooks White is best known as the author of children’s stories such as “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little” that remain reliable classics.

But White, who died in 1985, is also celebrated as a writer for adults. He divided his time between New York City and a farm in coastal Maine, crafting personal essays that, more than three decades after his passing, endure as exemplars of the form.

White was a master of conversational prose, excelling at sentences that seem perfectly balanced. To read his work is to feel balanced too. With their underlying tone of moderation, White’s essays resonate with a subtly political dimension even when they’re supposedly about nothing more than an afternoon on the farm or a morning in Manhattan. They constituted, in their own way, an abiding argument against the extremism of White’s times.

When “One Man’s Meat,” White’s collection of commentaries about rural New England, was published in a special edition for members of the Armed Forces in the 1940s, it became a favorite among those fighting World War II. White’s unassumingly democratic voice – sane, sensible, self-deprecating, suspicious of cant – reminded them what they were fighting for.

The only challenge with White’s essays is that not enough of them are in wide circulation. He was exacting with his prose, selecting only a relative handful of his pieces from The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly and other magazines to preserve in his books.

Martha White, his granddaughter and literary executor, has remained almost as judicious in drawing material from her grandfather’s archive for new book projects. Given the singularity of E.B. White’s literary art, the anthologies Martha White has brought out in recent years have been a cause for celebration. They include “E.B. White on Dogs,” an assortment of his prose on all things canine; and “In the Words of E.B. White,” a distillation of his pithiest observations.

Now comes "E.B. White On Democracy," in which Martha White surveys her grandfather’s thoughts on representative government. As with her previous anthologies, “On Democracy” is partly a curation of material from other White volumes, but it also includes items that haven’t been published in book form before.

White wasn’t a grand thinker about governance. “The Wild Flag,” his one attempt at a sustained political philosophy, was a forgettable argument for one-world government written near the close of World War II. White later dismissed the book as “dreamy and uninformed,” perhaps sensing that its vague theorizing worked against his natural gifts.

White was most eloquent when he grounded his ideas in the granular particularity of daily life, for he was, memorably, a reporter at heart.

The most persuasive selections in “On Democracy” riff on the headlines of White’s day, such as when he addressed the despotism of America’s opponents during World War II and the red baiting zealotry of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. This would seem, at first glance, to date “On Democracy” as a mere period piece. But in writing against fanaticism, White wrestled with challenges that seem, alas, still too much with us.

In “Freedom,” a 1940 essay included here, White dissects the tendency to gradually accommodate the erosion of democratic ideals, an ostensible exercise in pragmatism that inevitably proves corrupting. “Where I expected to find indignation,” he writes of his fellow Americans’ initial shrugging ambivalence about Adolf Hitler, “I found paralysis, or a sort of dim acquiescence, as in a child who is dully swallowing a distasteful pill.”

Against this sense of surrender, White offers his creed:

I just want to tell, before I get slowed down, that I am in love with freedom and that it is an affair of long standing and that it is a fine state to be in, and that I am deeply suspicious of people who are beginning to adjust to fascism and dictators merely because they are succeeding in war. From such adaptable natures a smell arises. I pinch my nose.

That passage points to White’s strengths as a stylist. The crowded first sentence seems to spill out its message, an analog to White’s ecstatic embrace of liberty. Then the next two sentences become progressively shorter, as if he’s descending from his soapbox to speak more intimately with his audience. At his best, White also emulates to good effect his hero Henry David Thoreau, who could use gripping physical imagery to make the theoretical more concrete. When White pinches his nose at extremism, he’s reminding his readers that such policies have tangible, real-world consequences.

In his introduction, journalist and author Jon Meacham takes pains to draw parallels between White’s cautions about autocratic values and our present-day concerns about political cults of personality. But it’s not really necessary for Meacham, however well-meaning, to connect the dots for us.

Although he left the scene a generation ago, White can still speak for himself, and he sounds thoroughly up to date. “Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble,” he wrote in 1973. “We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.”

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e b white essays pdf

E. B. White

E.B. White (1899-1985) wrote this essay and published it in Harper's magazine in July 1940. It seemed appropriate to put his essay up in reaction to some of the events and rhetoric of the current time.

For Homework : Print out this article and ircle all the concrete nouns in this essay and list them on a separate sheet of paper. Write a paragraph on what seems to you the strangest object for an essay on freedom? How do these unlikely concrete objects (windowsill, for example) keep the reader’s mind engaged in the abstract idea of freedom?

I have often noticed on my trips up to the city that people have recut their clothes to follow the fashion.

On my last trip, however, it seemed to me that people had remodeled their ideas too--taken in their convictions a little at the waist, shortened the sleeves of their resolve, and fitted themselves out in a new intellectual ensemble copied from a smart design out of the very latest page of history. It seemed to me they had strung along with Paris a little too long.

I confess to a disturbed stomach. I feel sick when I find anyone adjusting his mind to the new tyranny which is succeeding abroad. Because of its fundamental strictures, fascism does not seem to me to admit of any compromise or any rationalization, and I resent the patronizing air of persons who find in my plain belief in freedom a sign of immaturity. If it is boyish to believe that a human being should live free, then I'll gladly arrest my development and let the rest of the world grow up.

I shall report some of the strange remarks I heard in New York. One man told me that he thought perhaps the Nazi ideal was a sounder ideal than our constitutional system "because have you ever noticed what fine alert young faces the young German soldiers have in the newsreel?" He added, "Or

American youngsters spend all their time at the movies--they're a mess." That was his summation of the case, his interpretation of the new Europe. Such a remark leaves me pale and shaken. If it represents the peak of our intelligence, then the steady march of despotism will not receive any considerable setback at our shores.

Another man informed me that our democratic notion of popular government was decadent and not worth bothering about--"because England is really rotten and the industrial towns there are a disgrace."

That was the only reason he gave for the hopelessness of democracy; and he seemed mightily pleased with himself, as though he were more familiar than most with the anatomy of decadence, and had detected subtler aspects of the situation than were discernible to the rest of us.

Another man assured me that anyone who took any kind of government seriously was a gullible fool.

You could be sure, he said, that there is nothing but corruption "because of the way Clemenceau acted at Versailles." He said it didn't make any difference really about this war. It was just another war. Having relieved himself of this majestic bit of reasoning, he subsided.

Another individual, discovering signs of zeal creeping into my blood, berated me for having lost my detachment, my pure skeptical point of view. He announced that he wasn't going to be swept away by all this nonsense, but would prefer to remain in the role of innocent bystander, which he said was the duty of any intelligent person. (I noticed, that he phoned later to qualify his remark, as though he had lost some of his innocence in the cab on the way home.)

Those are just a few samples of the sort of talk that seemed to be going round--talk which was full of defeatism and disillusion and sometimes of a too studied innocence. Men are not merely annihilating themselves at a great rate these days, but they are telling one another enormous lies, grandiose fibs.

Such remarks as I heard are fearfully disturbing in their cumulative effect. They are more destructive than dive bombers and mine fields, for they challenge not merely one's immediate position but one's main defenses. They seemed to me to issue either from persons who could never have really come to grips with freedom so as to understand her, or from renegades. Where I expected to find indignation, I found paralysis, or a sort of dim acquiescence, as in a child who is duly swallowing a distasteful pill. I was advised of the growing anti-Jewish sentiment by a man who seemed to be watching the phenomenon of intolerance not through tears of shame but with a clear intellectual gaze, as through a well-ground lens.

The least a man can do at such a time is to declare himself and tell where he stands. I believe in freedom with the same burning delight, the same faith, the same intense abandon which attended its birth on this continent more than a century and a half ago. I am writing my declaration rapidly, much as though I were shaving to catch a train. Events abroad give a man a feeling of being pressed for time. Actually I do not believe I am pressed for time, and I apologize to the reader for a false impression that may be created. I just want to tell, before I get slowed down, that I am in love with freedom and that it is an affair of long standing and that it is a fine state to be in, and that I am deeply suspicious of people who are beginning to adjust to fascism and dictators merely because they are succeeding in war. From such adaptable natures a smell rises. I pinch my nose.

For as long as I can remember I have had a sense of living somewhat freely in a natural world. I don't mean I enjoyed freedom of action, but my existence seemed to have the quality of free-ness. I traveled with secret papers pertaining to a divine conspiracy. Intuitively I've always been aware of the vitally

important pact which a man has with himself, to be all things to himself, and to be identified with all things, to stand self-reliant, taking advantage of his haphazard connection with a planet, riding his luck, and following his bent with the tenacity of a hound. My first and greatest love affair was with this thing we call freedom, this lady of infinite allure, this dangerous and beautiful and sublime being who restores and supplies us all.

It began with the haunting intimation (which I presume every child receives) of his mystical inner life; of

God in man; of nature publishing herself through the "I" This elusive sensation is moving and memorable. It comes early in life; a boy, we'll say, sitting on the front steps on a summer night, thinking of nothing in particular, suddenly hearing as with a new perception and as though for the first time the pulsing sound of crickets, overwhelmed with the novel sense of identification whith the natural company of insects and grass and night, conscious of a faint answering cry to the universal perplexing question: "What is 'I'?" Or a little girl, returning from the grave of a pet bird leaning with her elbows on the window sill, inhaling the unfamiliar draught of death, suddenly seeing herself as part of the complete story. Or to an older youth, encountering for the first time a great teacher who by some chance word or mood awakens something and the youth beginning to breathe as an individual and conscious of strength in his vitals. I think the sensation must develop in many men as a feeling of identity with God--an eruption of the spirit caused by allergies and the sense of divine existence as distinct from mere animal existence. This is the beginning of the affair with freedom.

But a man's free condition is of two parts: the instinctive free-ness he experiences as an animal dweller on a planet, and the practical liberties he enjoys as a privileged member of human society. The latter is, of the two, more generally understood, more widely admired, more violently challenged and discussed.

It is the practical and apparent side of freedom. The United States, almost alone today, offers the liberties and the privileges and the tools of freedom. In this land the citizens are still invited to write plays and books, to paint their pictures, to meet for discussion, to dissent as well as to agree, to mount soapboxes in the public square, to enjoy education in all subjects without censorship, to hold court and judge one another, to compose music, to talk politics with their neighbors without wondering whether the secret police are listening, to exchange ideas as well as goods, to kid the government when it needs kidding, and to read real news of real events instead of phony news manufactured by a paid agent of the state. This is a fact and should give every person pause.

To be free, in a planetary sense, is to feel that you belong to earth. To be free, in a social sense, is to feel at home in a democratic framework. In Adolph Hitler, although he is a freely flowering individual, we do not detect either type of sensibility. From reading his book I gather that his feeling for earth is not a sense of communion but a driving urge to prevail. His feeling for men is not that they co-exist, but that they are capable of being arranged and standardized by a superior intellect--that their existence suggests not a fulfillment of their personalities but a submersion of their personalities in the common

racial destiny. His very great absorption in the destiny of the German people somehow loses some of its effect when you discover, from his writings, in what vast contempt he holds all people. "I learned," he wrote, "...to gain an insight into the unbelievably primitive opinions and arguments of the people." To him the ordinary man is a primitive, capable only of being used and led. He speaks continually of people as sheep, halfwits, and impudent fools--the same people to whom he promises the ultimate in prizes.

Here in America, where our society is based on belief in the individual, not contempt for him, the free principle of life has a chance of surviving. I believe that it must and will survive. To understand freedom is an accomplishment which all men may acquire who set their minds in that direction; and to love freedom is a tendency which many Americans are born with. To live in the same room with freedom, or in the same hemisphere, is still a profoundly shaking experience for me.

One of the earliest truths (and to him most valuable) that the author of Mein Kampf discovered was that it is not the written word, but the spoken word, which in heated moments moves great masses of people to noble or ignoble action. The written word, unlike the spoken word, is something which every person examines privately and judges calmly by his own intellectual standards, not by what the man standing next to him thinks. "I know," wrote Hitler, "that one is able to win people far more by the spoken than by the written word...." Later he adds contemptuously: "For let it be said to all knights of the pen and to all the political dandies, especially of today: the greatest changes in this world have never been brought about by a goose quill! No, the pen has always been reserved to motivate these changes theoretically."

Luckily I am not out to change the world--that's being done for me, and at a great clip. But I know that the free spirit of man is persistent in nature; it recurs, and has never successfully been wiped out, by fire or flood. I set down the above remarks merely (in the words of Mr. Hitler) to motivate that spirit, theoretically. Being myself a knight of the goose quill, I am under no misapprehension about "winning people"; but I am inordinately proud these days of the quill, for it has shown itself, historically, to be the hypodermic which inoculates men and keeps the germ of freedom always in circulation, so that there are individuals in every time in every land who are the carriers, the Typhoid Marys, capable of infecting others by mere contact and example. These persons are feared by every tyrant--who shows his fear by burning the books and destroying the individuals. A writer goes about his task today with the extra satisfaction which comes from knowing that he will be the first to have his head lopped off--even before the political dandies. In my own case this is a double satisfaction, for if freedom were denied me by force of earthly circumstance, I am the same as dead and would infinitely prefer to go into fascism without my head than with it, having no use for it any more and not wishing to be saddled with so heavy an encumbrance.

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Essays of E.B. White

By e. b. white.

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When E.B. White received the Gold Medal for Essays and Criticism from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the following citation, here quoted in part, accompanied the award:

"If we are remembered as a civilized era, I think it will be partly because of E.B. White. The historians of the future will decide that a writer of such grace and control could not have been produced by a generation wholly lacking in such qualities, and we will shine by reflection in his gentle light.

"Of all the gifts he has given us in his apparently casual essays, the best gift is himself. He has permitted us to meet a man who is both cheerful and wises, the owner of an uncommon sense that is lit by laughter. When he writes of large subjects he does not make them larger and windier than they are, and when he writes of small things they are never insignificant. He is, in fact, a civilized human being - an order of man that has always been distinguished for its rarity."

The essays in this companion volume to the Letters to E.B. White have been selected by White himself, from a lifetime of writing. "I have chosen the ones that have amused me in the rereading." he writes in the Foreword, "along with a few that seemed to have the odor of durability clinging to them." The Essays of E.B. White are incomparable, like his Letters, this is a volume to treasure and savor at one's leisure.

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