The Modesty of a New Yorker

Letter From New England

I may be the only person in America—I am certainly the only one in New England—who did not mourn the recent passing of E.B. White. Of course, I don't mean to say I celebrated his death. On the contrary, I was horrified by the New York Times' obituary, which began with the brutal, if unassailable, fact that the sage of North Brooklyn "died of Alzheimer's disease"—an uncharacteristically clinical detail, and hardly necessary. At 86, people are entitled to die "peacefully" or "after a long illness."

No, I respectfully decline to join the encomiashc chorus that has sung him to his rest. Celebrities are often done in by their friends, and E.B. White was no exception. They came to overpraise him, and they buried him in the process. He was an amiable colleague with a minimalist's gift for fables, pointed epistles, and the occasional breezy essay. But the repeated assertions of gentleness, good humor, preciousness (not precocity), gentleness again, fast friendship, down-home judgment, and even more gentleness finally took their toll.

E.B. White was not a literary figure so much as a theatrical phenomenon. 4and like James O'Neill, who was trapped in a lifetime's performance of The Count of Monte Cristo, he played the same role too many times. Mr. White was the kindly gray moustache who fed his geese and calved his cow while the ancient Underwood...

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