[lit-ideas] E. B. White, Arnold Schwab etc

  • From: Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Lit-Ideas <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 7 Sep 2017 17:57:48 -0700

I downloaded the Kindle edition of Letters of E. B. White, Revised Edition, and read the foreword written by John Updike.  He quotes White telling someone, 'I avoid writing letters -- it resembles too closely writing itself, and gives me a headache.'  "In truth, his shrewd head and aspiring spirit were fragile, prey to migraine and what he describes, in a letter of October 28, 1943, as 'a nervous crack-up.'  In 1945 he reassured Stanley,"

"Don't worry about my health -- I am a lot better and plenty good enough for my purposes.  I had two things the matter with me -- mice in the subconscious and spurs in the cervical spine.  Of the two the spine trouble was less bothersome.  It took me eighteen months to . . . get rid of mice. . . . Anyway, here I am, in the clear again and damned thankful to be there.  I can work without falling all apart, and can sleep -- which is quite refreshing after a year and a half."

. . .

He wrote his biographer, Scott Elledge, in may of 1982, "My panic fear, as near as I can make out, is not of death.  It is an amorphous fear, lacking in form,"  This fear, objectified in such exhilarating yet ominous essays as 'Death of a Pig' and 'Once More to the Lake,' was his deepest topic.

Further on Updike writes, ". . . White did not remain purely a humorist; he won for himself the right to be taken seriously, as a major American stylist and a celebrant of life in its full range of moods and aspects.  beginning as (his term) "a 'short' writer" of squibs and poems, he persisted in enlarging and purifying his talent, while avoiding the larger forms.  His Waste Land-like and fragmentary 'Zoo Revisited'; or, 'The Life and death of Olie Hackstaff' shows the intent to write a major poem; he even took one of his extended holidays to write it, in mid-1937, explaining to his possibly surprised wife, 'A person afflicted with poetic longings of one sort or another searches for a kind of intellectual and spiritual privacy [and] does have to forswear certain easy rituals such as earning a living and running the world's errands."

I didn't know that White aspired to be a poet.  In thinking it over I may not have known anything about him not contained in Strunk and White.  As I entered the Master's program, I took the mandatory class on research taught by Arnold Schwab who insisted that we memorize Strunk and White inasmuch as all of our writings were grammatical disgraces.  I argued with Schwab about typographical errors insisting that they did not mean that a person was grammatically inept.  He insisted that there was no excuse for typographical errors.  So I bought Schwab's book, James Gibbons Huneker, Critic of the Seven Arts, read it, flagged all the typos, and waited until Schwab's next rant on the need for perfection in writing, raised my hand and asked if he would like to know where the typos were in his book so that he might become more perfect.  He blanched, but said that he would and wrote down the locations as I read them off.

Being inclined as much toward tangents as other Lit-Idears, I looked up Schwab to see if he had ever finished his book on Edward McDowell.  That was the book he was working on when I took his class and we all had to go to various libraries to obtain sources for it.  I don't find that he ever finished it, but I was surprised that he had written several other books, only one of which was still in print:   One Night Stand and Other Poems published in 2014.  There was no indication that it was published posthumously but he couldn't still be alive, could he?  He wasn't, but he didn't die until 2014 at the age of 92: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/latimes/obituary.aspx?pid=171590692


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