COVID-19 rereads: E. B. White 1899 -1995 on Walden, home, human nature and children

Essays of E. B. White (Perennial Classics)

The libraries are closed. The book returns are jammed. So I have been reading paperbacks that live in semi-retirement on my shelf. E.B. White’s book of essays reached out to me the other night. The first essay in the volume is White’s tribute to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. The essay was published on the 100th anniversary of Thoreau’s death.

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Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

E. B White On Walden

Thoreau is unique among writers in that those who admire him find him uncomfortable to live with-a regular hairshirt of a man…Hairshirt or no, he is a better companion than most, and I would not swap him for a soberer or more reasonable friend even if I could. I can reread his famous invitation with undiminished excitement. The sad thing is that not more acceptances have been received, that so many decline, for one reason or another, pleading some previous engagement or ill health. But the invitation stands. It will beckon as long as this remarkable book stays in print-which will be as long as there are August afternoons.  p. 32

On Maine

Familiarity is the thing-the sense of belonging. It grants exemption from all evil, all shabbiness. A farmer pauses in the doorway of his barn and he is wearing the right boots, a sheep stands under an apple tree and it wears the right look, and the tree is hung with puckered frozen fruit of the right color…The spruce boughs that bank the foundations of the homes keep out the only true winter wind, and the light that leaves the sky at four o’clock automatically turns on the yellow lamps within, revealing to the soft-minded motorist interiors of perfect security.  p. 37

On narrow mindedness

The habit of thinking in small, conventional terms is, of course, not limited to us Americans. You could drop a leaflet or a Hubbard squash on the head of any person in any land and you would almost certainly hit a brain that was whirling in small, conventional circles…only one outlook in a million is nonparochial.  p. 96

On memory

I find this morning what I most vividly and longingly recall is the sight of my grandson and his little sunburnt sister returning to their kitchen door from an excursion, with trophies of the meadow clutched in their hands–she with a couple of violets, and smiling, he serious and holding dandelions, strangling them in a responsible grip. Children hold spring so tightly in their brown fists-just as grownups, who are less sure of it, hold it in their hearts.   p. 138

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