E. B. White Quotes

Elwyn Brooks White, 1899 – 1985

Born: 11 July 1899, Mount Vernon, New York
Died: 1 October 1985, North Brooklin, Maine

The youngest son of Samuel White, a piano manufacturer, White served in the army, then graduated from Cornell (BA 1921). He was called Andy at the time, Cornell tradition demands that if a male student has the surname White, he is called “Andy White” after a cofounder of the college. He was an editor of The Cornell Daily Sun and joined the Quill and Dagger society. He went to Seattle and wrote for the now-closed Post Intelligencer and the Seattle Times until returning to New York City in 1924. He worked in advertising, wrote his first story for The New Yorker in 1925, its first year, and joined the staff in 1927. He contributed to that magazine for the rest of his life, he also had a column in Harper’s Magazine from 1938 to 1943. In 1929 he and James Thurber wrote a satire in response to Freudianism, Is Sex Necessary?. He wrote two popular children’s titles, Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte’s Web (1952) and revisited that genre in 1970 with The Trumpet of the Swan. In 1959 he edited and updated William Strunk, Jr’s “Little Book” as The Elements of Style, Strunk had been one of his professors at Cornell and this guide to writers had been out of print since 1918. In 1939 he bought a farm in Maine and gave up daily responsibility at The New Yorker. Many of his shorter pieces made light of the difficulties of a city resident facing the challenges of wayward livestock and the seasonal problems of agriculture, he died on his farm from Alzheimer disease.

E. B. White quotes:

Walden is the only book I own, although there are some others unclaimed on my shelves. Every man, I think, reads one book in his life, and this one is mine. It is not the best book I ever encountered, perhaps, but it is for me the handiest, and I keep it about me in much the same way one carries a handkerchief – for relief in moments of defluxion or despair.
    E. B. White – The New Yorker (23 May 1953)

Interesting. An unconvincing word; avoid it as a means of introduction. Instead of announcing that what you are about to tell is interesting, make it so… Also to be avoided in introduction is the word funny. Nothing becomes funny by being labeled so.
    E. B. White – The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)

Nauseous. Nauseated. The first means “sickening to contemplate”; the second means “sick at the stomach.” Do not, therefore, say “I feel nauseous,” unless you are sure you have that effect on others.
    E. B. White – The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)

A breezy style is often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that pops into his head is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day.
    E. B. White – The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)

A candidate could easily commit political suicide if he were to come up with an unconventional thought during a presidential tour.
    E. B. White

A good farmer is nothing more nor less than a handy man with a sense of humus.
    E. B. White

A man who publishes his letters becomes a nudist — nothing shields him from the world’s gaze except his bare skin. A writer, writing away, can always fix things up to make himself more presentable, but a man who has written a letter is stuck with it for all time.
    E. B. White – Letter to Corona Machemer (11 June 1975)

A man’s liberal and conservative phases seem to follow each other in a succession of waves from the time he is born. Children are radicals. Youths are conservatives, with a dash of criminal negligence. Men in their prime are liberals (as long as their digestion keeps pace with their intellect). The middle aged run to shelter: they insure their life, draft a will, accumulate mementos and occasional tables, and hope for security. And then comes old age, which repeats childhood — a time full of humors and sadness, but often full of courage and even prophecy.
    E. B. White

A schoolchild should be taught grammar—for the same reason that a medical student should study anatomy. Having learned about the exciting mysteries of an English sentence, the child can then go forth and speak and write any damn way he pleases.
    E. B. White – The New Yorker

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary part.
    E. B. White – “Will Strunk” The New Yorker and later the preface to The Elements of Style

A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate millions… Of all targets New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.
    E. B. White – Here is New York (1949)

A single overstatement, wherever or however it occurs, diminishes the whole, and a carefree superlative has the power to destroy, for the reader, the object of the writer’s enthusiasm.
    E. B. White – The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)

A writer is like a bean plant – he has his little day, and then he gets stringy.
    E. B. White

A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.
    E. B. White

A writer’s style reveals something of his spirit, his habits, his capacites, his bias…. It is the Self escaping into the open.
    E. B. White

Advertisers are the interpreters of our dreams — Joseph interpreting for Pharaoh. Like the movies, they infect the routine futility of our days with purposeful adventure. Their weapons are our weaknesses: fear, ambition, illness, pride, selfishness, desire, ignorance. And these weapons must be kept as bright as a sword.
    E. B. White – “Truth in Advertising” The New Yorker (11 July 1936)

Advice to young writers wo want to get ahead without any annoying delays: don’t write about Man, write about a man.
    E. B. White

All poets who, when reading from their own works, experience a choked feeling, are major. For that matter, all poets who read from their own works are major, whether they choke or not.
    E. B. White – “How to Tell a Major Poet from a Minor Poet” in The New Yorker (1938)

All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.
    E. B. White

All we need is a meteorologist who has once been soaked to the skin without ill effect. No one can write knowingly of the weather who walks bent over on wet days.
    E. B. White

Although there is no substitute for merit in writing, clarity comes closest to being one.
    E. B. White – The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)

Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.
    E. B. White

Americans are willing to go to enormous trouble and expense defending their principles with arms, very little trouble and expense advocating them with words. Temperamentally we are ready to die for certain principles (or, in the case of overripe adults, send youngsters to die), but we show little inclination to advertise the reasons for dying.
    E. B. White – “The Thud of Ideas,” The New Yorker (23 September 1950)

An unhatched egg is to me the greatest challenge in life.
    E. B. White – Letter to Reginald Allen (5 March 1973)

As a writing man, or secretary, I have always felt charged with the safekeeping of all unexpected items of worldly and unworldly enchantment, as though I might be held personally responsible if even a small one were to be lost.
    E. B. White

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing left to us in a bad time.
    E. B. White – Letter to M. Nadeau (30 March 1973)

Be obscure clearly.
    E. B. White

Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.
    E. B. White – Interview with George Plimpton and Frank Crowther in Paris Review (1969)

Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention.
    E. B. White – Interview with George Plimpton and Frank Crowther in Paris Review (1969)

Commas in The New Yorker fall with the precision of knives in a circus act, outlining the victim.
    E. B. White

Commuter: one who spends his life
  In riding to and from his wife;
A man who shaves and takes a train,
  And then rides back to shave again.
    E. B. White – “Commuter,” The Lady Is Cold (1929)

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.
    E. B. White – The New Yorker (3 July 1943)

Einstein is loved because he is gentle, respected because he is wise. Relativity being not for most of us, we elevate its author to a position somewhere between Edison, who gave us a tangible gleam, and God, who gave us the difficult dark and the hope of penetrating it.
    E. B. White

English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education—sometimes it’s sheer luck, like getting across the street.
    E. B. White

Everything (he kept saying) is something it isn’t. And everybody is always somewhere else.
    E. B. White – The Door (1939)

Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car.
    E. B. White – “Fro-Joy” One Man’s Meat column, Harper’s (January 1940)

Extreme cold when it first arrives seems to generate cheerfulness and sociability. For a few hours all life’s dubious problems are dropped in favor of the clear and congenial task of keeping alive.
    E. B. White

From morning till night, sounds drift from the kitchen, most of them familiar and comforting…. On days when warmth is the most important need of the human heart, the kitchen is the place you can find it; it dries the wet sock, it cools the hot little brain.
    E. B. White

Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one.
    E. B. White

Government is the thing. Law is the thing. Not brotherhood, not international cooperation, not security councils that can stop war only by waging it… Where does security lie, anyway — security against the thief, a bad man, the murderer? In brotherly love? Not at all. It lies in government.
    E. B. White

Half a man’s life is devoted to what he calls improvements, yet the original had some quality which is lost in the process.
    E. B. White

Heredity is a strong factor, even in architecture. Necessity first mothered invention. Now invention has little ones of her own, and they look just like grandma.
    E. B. White – “The Old and the New,” The New Yorker (19 June 1937)

Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.
    E. B. White – “Some Remarks on Humor,” preface to A Subtreasury of American Humor (1941)

Humor plays close to the big, hot fire, which is the truth, and the reader feels the heat.
    E. B. White

I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.
    E. B. White

I am a member of a party of one, and I live in an age of fear. Nothing lately has unsettled my party and raised my fears so much as your editorial, on Thanksgiving Day, suggesting that employees should be required to state their beliefs in order to hold their jobs. The idea is inconsistent with our constitutional theory and has been stubbornly opposed by watchful men since the early days of the Republic.

E. B. White

letter to the New York Herald Tribune (29 Novermber 1947)
I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me.

E. B. White
I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of skeptically and dictatorially.

E. B. White
I am reminded of the advice of my neighbor: Never worry about your heart till it stops beating.

E. B. White
I am still encouraged to go on. I wouldn’t know where else to go.

E. B. White

“E. B. White, The Art of the Essay No. 1” interview with George Plimpton and Frank Crowther in Paris Review (Fall 1969)
I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

E. B. White
I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television — of that I am quite sure.

E. B. White

“Removal” One Man’s Meat column, Harper’s (July 1938)
I can only assume that your editorial writer tripped over the First Amendment and thought it was the office cat.

E. B. White
I discovered a long time ago that writing of the small things of the day, the trivial matters of the heart, the inconsequential but near things of this living, was the only kind of creative work which I could accomplish with any sincerity or grace. As a reporter, I was a flop, because I always came back laden not with facts about the case, but with a mind full of the little difficulties and amusements I had encountered in my travels.

E. B. White

letter to his brother Stanley White (January 1929), reprinted in Letters of E. B. White (1978)
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.

E. B. White

“Death of a Pig” The Atlantic Monthly (January 1948)
I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.

E. B. White
I have occasionally had the exquisite thrill of putting my finger on a little capsule of truth, and heard it give the faint squeak of mortality under my pressure.

E. B. White

Letter to Stanley Hart White (January 1929)
I have yet to see a piece of writing, political or non-political, that does not have a slant. All writing slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular.

E. B. White
I hold one share in the corporate earth and am uneasy about the management.

E. B. White

“Letter From the East” in The Points of My Compass: Letters From the East, the West, the North, the South (1962)
I see nothing in space as promising as the view from a Ferris wheel.

E. B. White

I wake up every morning determined both to change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day a little difficult.

E. B. White
I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.

E. B. White

“Coon Tree” (14 June 1956)
Ideally, a book of letters should be published posthumously. The advantages are obvious: the editor enjoys a free hand, and the author enjoys a perfect hiding place — the grave, where he is impervious to embarrassments and beyond the reach of libel. I have failed to cooperate with this ideal arrangement. Through some typical bit of mismanagement, I am still alive, and the book has had to adjust to that awkward fact.

E. B. White

Foreword to Letters of E.B. White (1976)
If a man must be obsessed by something, I suppose a boat is as good as anything, perhaps a bit better than most.

E. B. White
If sometimes there seems to be a sort of sameness of sound in The New Yorker, it probably can be traced to the magazine’s copydesk, which is a marvelous fortress of grammatical exactitude and stylish convention.

E. B. White

“E. B. White, The Art of the Essay No. 1” interview with George Plimpton and Frank Crowther in Paris Review (Fall 1969)
If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. It it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.

E. B. White
In a free country it is the duty of writers to pay no attention to duty. Only under a dictatorship is literature expected to exhibit an harmonious design or an inspirational tone.

E. B. White
In a sense the world dies every time a writer dies, because, if he is any good, he has been a wet nurse to humanity during his entire existence.

E. B. White

“Doomsday,” in The New Yorker (17 November 1945)
In every queen there’s a touch of floozy.

E. B. White
In order to read one must sit down, usually indoors. I am restless and would rather sail a boat than crack a book. I’ve never had a very lively literary curiosity, and it has sometimes seemed to me that I am not really a literary fellow at all. Except that I write for a living.

E. B. White

“E. B. White, The Art of the Essay No. 1” interview with George Plimpton and Frank Crowther in Paris Review (Fall 1969)
Interesting. An unconvincing word; avoid it as a means of introduction. Instead of announcing that what you are about to tell is interesting, make it so… Also to be avoided in introduction is the word funny. Nothing becomes funny by being labeled so.

E. B. White

The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)
It is at a fair that man can be drunk forever on liquor, love, or fights; at a fair that your front pocket can be picked by a trotting horse looking for sugar, and your hind pocket by a thief looking for his fortune.

E. B. White
It is easier for a man to be loyal to his club than to his planet; the bylaws are shorter, and he is personally acquainted with the other members.

E. B. White

“Intimations” One Man’s Meat column, Harper’s (December 1941)
It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.

E. B. White
Life’s meaning has always eluded me and I guess it always will. But I love it just the same.

E. B. White

letter to Mary Virginia Parrish (29 August 1969)

Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.

E. B. White
Nationalism has two fatal charms for its devotees: It presupposes local self-sufficiency, which is a pleasant and desirable condition, and it suggests, very subtly, a certain personal superiority by reason of one’s belonging to a place which is definable and familiar, as against a place that is strange, remote.

E. B. White
Nauseous. Nauseated. The first means “sickening to contemplate”; the second means “sick at the stomach.” Do not, therefore, say “I feel nauseous,” unless you are sure you have that effect on others.

E. B. White

The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)
New York is part of the natural world. I love the city, I love the country, and for the same reasons. The city is part of the country. When I had an apartment on East Forty-Eighth Street, my backyard during the migratory season yielded more birds than I ever saw in Maine.

E. B. White

“E. B. White, The Art of the Essay No. 1” interview with George Plimpton and Frank Crowther in Paris Review (Fall 1969)
New York is to the nation what the white church spire is to the village — the visible symbol of aspiration and faith, the white plume saying the way is up!

E. B. White

“Here is New York” in Holiday magazine (April 1949)
No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.

E. B. White

The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)
Old age is a special problem for me because I’ve never been able to shed the mental image I have of myself – a lad of about 19.

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

E. B. White

“Here is New York” in Holiday magazine (April 1949)
One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.

E. B. White

“A Report in January” (30 January 1958)
People are, if anything, more touchy about being thought silly than they are about being thought unjust.

E. B. White
Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.

E. B. White
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed.

E. B. White

letter to M. Nadeau (30 March 1973)
Security, for me, took a tumble not when I read that there were Communists in Hollywood but when I read your editorial in praise of loyalty testing and thought control. If a man is in health, he doesn’t need to take anybody else’s temperature to know where he is going.

E. B. White

letter to the New York Herald Tribune (29 Novermber 1947)
Semi-colons only prove that the author has been to college.

E. B. White

The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)
Shocking writing is like murder: the questions the jury must decide are the questions of motive and intent.

E. B. White

Sometimes a writer, like an acrobat, must try a trick that is too much for him.

E. B. White
Sometimes in writing of myself — which is the only subject anyone knows intimately — I have occasionally had the exquisite thrill of putting my finger on a little capsule of truth, and heard it give the faint squeak of mortality under my pressure, an antic sound.

E. B. White

letter to his brother Stanley White (January 1929), reprinted in Letters of E. B. White (1978)
Spring has arrived in Ohio. This is a flat state where red pigs graze in bright green fields and where farms are neat and prosperous — not like New York farms. We roll along through dozens of villages and cities whose names we never heard…. Toward evening the country scenes become idyllic — the sort of thing you have seen in the moving pictures and never quite believed in. Sheep come drifting up long green lawns where poplars throw interminable shadows, come drifting up and stand like statues beneath white plum blossoms, while far down the land and off in the fields a little Ford tractor moves like a snail across the furrows. Lilacs are in full bloom and the lavender ironwood blossoms are coloring all the roads.

E. B. White

letter to his mother from Columbus, Ohio (26 April 1922)
Television will enormously enlarge the eye’s range, and, like radio, will advertise the Elsewhere. Together with the tabs, the mags, and the movies, it will insist that we forget the primary and the near in favor of the secondary and the remote.

E. B. White

“Removal” One Man’s Meat column, Harper’s (July 1938)
The adjective hasn’t yet been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.

E. B. White

The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)
The beginner should approach style warily, realizing that it is himself he is approaching, no other; and he should begin by turning resolutely away from all devices that are popularly believed to indicate style — all mannerisms, tricks, adornments. The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity.

E. B. White

preface to twenty-one “suggestions and cautionary hints” in The Elements of Style (1999)
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.

E. B. White

Foreword to Essays of E. B. White (1977)
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 enjoy bird walks enjoys theirs.

E. B. White

Foreword to Essays of E. B. White (1977)
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 enjoy bird walks enjoys 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.

E. B. White

Foreword to Essays of E. B. White (1977)
The first day of spring was once the time for taking the young virgins into the fields, there in dalliance to set an example in fertility for Nature to follow. Now we just set the clock an hour ahead and change the oil in the crankcase.

E. B. White
The future, wave or no wave, seems to me no unified dream but a mince pie, long in the baking, never quite done.

E. B. White

A review of The Wave of the Future by Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Harpers Magazine (December 1940)
The liberal holds that he is true to the republic when he is true to himself. (It may not be as cozy an attitude as it sounds.) He greets with enthusiasm the fact of the journey, as a dog greets a man’s invitation to take a walk. And he acts in the dog’s way too, swinging wide, racing ahead, doubling back, covering many miles of territory that the man never traverses, all in the spirit of inquiry and the zest for truth. He leaves a crazy trail, but he ranges far beyond the genteel old party he walks with and he is usually in a better position to discover a skunk.

E. B. White
The living language is like a cowpath: it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs. From daily use, the path undergoes change. A cow is under no obligation to stay in the narrow path she helped make, following the contour of the land, but she often profits by staying with it and she would be handicapped if she didn’t know where it was or where it led to.

E. B. White

“The Living Language” in The New Yorker (23 February 1957)
The living language is like a cowpath: it is the creation of the cows themselves, who, having created it, follow it or depart from it according to their whims or their needs. From daily use, the path undergoes change.

E. B. White

“The Living Language” in The New Yorker (23 February 1957)
The rules of The Elements of Style were as simple to state — “Omit needless words” — as they were difficult to obey.

E. B. White

The so-called science of poll-taking is not a science at all but mere necromancy. People are unpredictable by nature, and although you can take a nation’s pulse, you can’t be sure that the nation hasn’t just run up a flight of stairs.

E. B. White
The Supreme Court said nothing about silliness, but I suspect it may play more of a role than one might suppose. People are, if anything, more touchy about being thought silly than they are about being thought unjust… Probably the first slave ship, with Negroes lying in chains on its decks, seemed commonsensical to the owners who operated it and to the planters who patronized it. But such a vessel would not be in the realm of common sense today. The only sense that is common, in the long run, is the sense of change.

E. B. White

“The Ring of Time” (1956)
The terror of the atom age is not the violence of the new power but the speed of man’s adjustment to it, the speed of his acceptance.

E. B. White
The time not to become a father is eighteen years before a war.

E. B. White
The trouble with the profit system has always been that it was highly unprofitable to most people.

E. B. White
The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.

E. B. White
The world organization debates disarmament in one room and, in the next room, moves the knights and pawns that make national arms imperative.

E. B. White
The young writer should learn to spot them: words that at first glance seem freighted with delicious meaning, but that soon burst in the air, leaving nothing but a memory of bright sound.

E. B. White
There is a decivilizing bug somewhere at work; unconsciously persons of stern worth, by not resenting and resisting the small indignities of the times, are preparing themselves for the eventual acceptance of what they themselves know they don’t want.

E. B. White

Harper’s Magazine (October 1938)
There is a period near the beginning of every man’s life when he has little to cling to except his unmanageable dream, little to support him except good health, and nowhere to go but all over the place.

E. B. White
There is nothing more likely to start disagreement among people or countries than an agreement.

E. B. White
There’s no limit to how complicated things can get, on account of one thing always leading to another.

E. B. White
To perceive Christmas through its wrapping becomes more difficult with every year.

E. B. White

“The Distant Music of the Hounds,” The Second Tree from the Corner (1954)
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he should avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every sentence tell.

E. B. White

The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)
Walden is the only book I own, although there are some others unclaimed on my shelves. Every man, I think, reads one book in his life, and this one is mine. It is not the best book I ever encountered, perhaps, but it is for me the handiest, and I keep it about me in much the same way one carries a handkerchief – for relief in moments of defluxion or despair.

E. B. White

The New Yorker (23 May 1953)

We grow tyrannical fighting tyranny…. The most alarming spectacle today is not the spectacle of the atomic bomb in an unfederated world, it is the spectacle of the Americans beginning to accept the device of loyalty oaths and witch hunts, beginning to call anybody they don’t like a Communist.

E. B. White

letter to Janice White (27 April 1952)
We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy, even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.

E. B. White
Weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society – things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed.

E. B. White
What do you mean less than nothing? I don’t think there is any such thing as less than nothing. Nothing is absolutely the limit of nothingness. It’s the lowest you can go. It’s the end of the line. How can something be less than nothing? If there were something that was less than nothing, then nothing would not be nothing, it would be something – even though it’s just a very little bit of something. But if nothing is nothing, then nothing has nothing that is less than it is.

E. B. White

Charlotte’s Web (1952)
Whatever else an American believes or disbelieves about himself, he is absolutely sure he has a sense of humor.

E. B. White

“Some Remarks on Humor” in The Second Tree From the Corner (1954)
When I get sick of what men do, I have only to walk a few steps in another direction to see what spiders do. Or what the weather does. This sustains me very well indeed.

E. B. White

letter to Carrie A. Wilson (1 May 1951)
When I was a child people simply looked about them and were moderately happy; today they peer beyond the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad.

E. B. White

“Removal” in Harper’s magazine (July 1938)
When we think of [John F. Kennedy], he is without a hat, standing in the wind and weather. He was impatient of topcoats and hats, preferring to be exposed, and he was young enough and tough enough to enjoy the cold and the wind of those times…. It can be said of him, as of few men in a like position, that he did not fear the weather, and did not trim his sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and to cause it to blow more softly and more kindly over the world and its people.

E. B. White
When you consider that there are a thousand ways to express even the simplest idea, it is no wonder writers are under a great strain. Writers care greatly how a thing is said — it makes all the difference. So they are constantly faced with too many choices and must make too many decisions.

E. B. White

“E. B. White, The Art of the Essay No. 1” interview with George Plimpton and Frank Crowther in Paris Review (Fall 1969)
Will felt that the reader was in serious trouble most of the time, floundering in a swamp, and that it was the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain this swamp quickly and get his man up on dry ground, or at least throw him a rope.

E. B. White

on William Strunk in Introduction to The Elements of Style (2nd edition, 1972)
Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.

E. B. White
Writing is both mask and unveiling.

E. B. White
Writing is hard work and bad for the health.

E. B. White
Writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.

E. B. White

The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)
Writing is, for most, laborious and slow. The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by.

E. B. White

The Elements of Style (1999)

You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.

E. B. White

Charlotte’s Web (1952)
Young writers often suppose that style is a garnish for the meat of prose, a sauce by which a dull dish is made palatable. Style has no such separate entity; it is nondetachable, unfilterable. The beginner should approach style warily, realizing that it is himself he is approaching, no other; and he should begin by turning resolutely away from all devices that are popularly believed to indicate style — all mannerisms, tricks, adornments. The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity.

E. B. White

preface to twenty-one “suggestions and cautionary hints” in The Elements of Style (1959 et seq.)

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