It was the 113th birthday of E.B. White yesterday (July 11). His diverse work—spanning the likes of childhood favorites, Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, to the writers’ essential, The Elements of Style—have long enthralled and elucidated readers. His love of dogs, and the quotes his observations spawned, have become memorable and can be found in strange places like in defining rather obtuse terms like what a syllepsis is: “When I address Fred I never have to raise either my voice or my hopes.” (A syllepsis is a kind of ellipsis in which one word, usually a verb is understood differently in relation to two or more other words, which it modifies or governs.)
Or this one to expound on the specialness of dogs:
“A really companionable and indispensable dog is an accident of nature. You can’t get it by breeding for it, and you can’t buy it with money. It just happens along.”
Or through his delightful essays and letters, including the one written to the ASPCA in 1951 to defend his dog Minnie’s lack of a NYC dog license.
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I have your letter, undated, saying that I am harboring an unlicensed dog in violation of the law. If by “harboring” you mean getting up two or three times every night to pull Minnie’s blanket up over her, I am harboring a dog all right. The blanket keeps slipping off. I suppose you are wondering by now why I don’t get her a sweater instead. That’s a joke on you. She has a knitted sweater, but she doesn’t like to wear it for sleeping; her legs are so short they work out of a sweater and her toenails get caught in the mesh, and this disturbs her rest. If Minnie doesn’t get her rest, she feels it right away. I do myself, and of course with this night duty of mine, the way the blanket slips and all, I haven’t had any real rest in years. Minnie is twelve.”
And White further notes:
“You asked about Minnie’s name, sex, breed, and phone number. She doesn’t answer the phone. She is a dachshund and can’t reach it, but she wouldn’t answer it even if she could, as she has no interest in outside calls. I did have a dachshund once, a male, who was interested in the telephone, and who got a great many calls, but Fred was an exceptional dog (his name was Fred) and I can’t think of anything offhand that he wasn't interested in. The telephone was only one of a thousand things. He loved life — that is, he loved life if by “life” you mean “trouble,” and of course the phone is almost synonymous with trouble. Minnie loves life, too, but her idea of life is a warm bed, preferably with an electric pad, and a friend in bed with her, and plenty of shut-eye, night and days…”
E.B. White died in 1985 at 86, but he left a literary legacy for many future generations to cherish.