I won’t add the to the implicative tangent inasmuch as my own thoughts have
gone in a different direction. E. B. White was about my age when he wrote the
letter that Ferguson is referring to, and I was curious about White’s failing
eyesight, stubborn ailments and whatever it was causing him to have only half
In a Wikipedia article I read, “White died on October 1, 1985, suffering from
Alzheimer's disease <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alzheimer%27s_disease> , at
his farm home <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._B._White_House> in North
Brooklin, Maine.” That didn’t sound right. Would someone who died from
Alzheimer’s disease’s side effects be able to write such a cogent letter two
years before his death?
White’s NYT obituary,
puts a more realistic emphasis on the matter: “He had Alzheimer's disease and
was 86 years old.” White was a famous wit and might creditably write that
letter to Ferguson with the half he had left.
As to Ferguson he says that he didn’t have the means to visit White. Ferguson
was almost certainly affected by the rejection of his hero. Did it lessen the
impact of the rejection to say that he couldn’t afford to make the trip?
From the previous (presumable) affection of White’s earlier letter, he has
become “brittle.” That strikes me as a strange word to use. Time has passed
since White’s rejection and death. Ferguson by this time knows that White had
Alzheimer’s disease. Would a person suffering from Alzheimer’s with half his
wits be brittle in discouraging a young admirer from visiting? Wouldn’t White
be sincere rather than “brittle” in not wishing Ferguson to see the ruins?
“Figure it out. . . Sincerely, E. B. White.”
From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On
Behalf Of Lawrence Helm
Sent: Wednesday, September 06, 2017 3:35 PM
Subject: [lit-ideas] E. B. White -- an essay by Andrew Ferguson
On the occasion of being sent news that E. B. White’s saltwater farm on the
coast of Maine was up for sale, Ferguson wrote the above essay. He was
influenced by White: “when a writer grabs you young, he usually grabs you for
I wonder if David Ritchie might have been influenced by White as well.
Ferguson wrote to White and White, being in the habit of answering all letters,
‘Anyway, [Ferguson wrote] a year or two after our exchange I found myself out
of work, footloose, and broke. I reasoned that White, an octogenarian widower
living alone and in poor health, would appreciate a visit of unknown duration
from a young stranger with lots of time on his hands and no visible means of
support. As a courtesy I dropped my friend a line letting him know I was
planning to come see him in Maine—although planning was a deceptive word. At
the time I couldn’t plan a trip to the grocery store.
‘This was years before email, and I had no idea the postal service could
operate so quickly. Within four days an envelope was in my mailbox, with
elegant pale blue lettering showing the return address in the upper left hand
corner. “Dear Mr. Ferguson,” the letter read. “Thank you for your letter about
the possibility of a visit.” After this uplifting sentence, the tone went
brittle. He mentioned a couple of his stubborn ailments, including his failing
eyesight. And then: “So here I am, one eye gone, half my wits gone, and you
want to come and view the ruins. Figure it out. There’s one of me, at most, and
there are ten thousand of you. Please don’t come. Sincerely, E. B. White.”