E. B. White
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.
Every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his spectacle and so conserve his soul.
A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.
Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.
The moon, it turns out, is a great place for men. One-sixth gravity must be a lot of fun, and when Armstrong and Aldrin went into their bouncy little dance, like two happy children, it was a moment not only of triumph but of gaiety. The moon, on the other hand, is a poor place for flags. Ours looked stiff and awkward, trying to float on the breeze that does not blow. (There must be a lesson here somewhere.) It is traditional, of course, for explorers to plant the flag, but it struck us, as we watched with awe and admiration and pride, that our two fellows were universal men, not national men, and should have been equipped accordingly. Like every great river and every great sea, the moon belongs to none and belongs to all. It still holds the key to madness, still controls the tides that lap on shores everywhere, still guards the lovers who kiss in every land under no banner but the sky. What a pity that in our moment of triumph we did not forswear the familiar Iwo Jima scene and plant instead a device acceptable to all: a limp white handkerchief, perhaps, symbol of the common cold, which, like the moon, affects us all, unites us all.
I would like to write another book for children but I spend all my spare time just answering the letters I get from children about the books I have already written. So it looks like a hopeless situation unless you can start a movement in America called ‘Don’t write to E. B. White until he produces another book.’
Responding to a fan letter from a child in 1961, beloved author E. B. White captures something many of us in the era of email barrage can painfully relate to – what happens when the demands of communication begin to squeeze out our very capacity for creative work?
(One major step in the way of a solution – Chris Anderson’s Email Charter, which everyone should be using.)
A writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down.
E. B. White
on the social responsibility of the writer
, a worthy aspiration to remember and live up to in today’s media climate increasingly plagued by negativism, sensationalism, and journalistic laziness.
On this day in 1932, E. B. White’s only New Yorker cover entered the world. Here is its story.