“It is in the portfolios of the secret police that nonconformity makes the subtle change into disloyalty. A secret-police system first unsettles, then desiccates, then calcifies a free society.” —E.B. White in the essay ‘Bedfellows’
“Not till The New Yorker came along did I ever find any means of expressing these impertinences and irrelevancies. […] The rewards of such endeavor are not that I have acquired an audience or a following, as you suggest (fame of any kind being a Phyrric victory), but that 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, in a letter to his brother Stanley, describing why he chose to write “of the small things of the day, the trivial matters of the heart [and] the inconsequential but near things of this living”.
“Probably a man’s destination (which is ever in the motorist’s thoughts) colors the highway, enlarges or diminishes its defects. Gliding over the tar, I was on my way home. DeVoto, traveling the same route, was on his way to what he described rather warily as “professional commitments,” by which he probably meant that he was on his way somewhere to make a speech or get a degree. Steering a car toward home is a very different experience from steering a car towards a rostrum, and if our findings differ, it is not that we differed greatly in powers of observation but that we were headed in different emotional directions. I sometimes suspect that when I am headed east, my critical faculties are retarded almost to the vanishing point, like a frog’s heartbeat in winter.” —E.B. White, explaining why his description of Maine differed from Bernard DeVoto’s, a writer who had ‘raised some hackles’ in a recent piece about the the pine tree state by using words like ‘slum’ and ‘neon’. I’m mid way through White’s book of essays, and each one is a brief, poetic glimpse at the world through his eyes that, oddly, can cause some pretty extreme nostalgia for a place I’ve never been, in an era well before my own. Upon finishing ‘Home-Coming’ (the essay from which the above paragraph was excerpted) and am very nearly tearing up. It’s a good thing I’m in New Hampshire now, otherwise I’d be on the next plane home.