I know E.B. White as the co-author of my grammar bible, The Elements of Style. What I did not know was that he was a prolific essayist and author of the children’s books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web.
And, was a letter-writer of note.
In March 1973, a Mr Nadeau asked White’s opinion on what he thought as a bleak future for the human race.
I think this letter is as apt now as it was for all of us who are trying to navigate the volatile and uncertain times we’re living in now.
North Brooklyn, Maine
30 March 1973
Dear Mr. Nadeau:
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet.
But as a people we probably harbour seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat.
Hang on to your hope.
And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
[Signed, ‘E. B. White’]
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