Hoping you fry in hell
On this day in letters
Happy birthday to the following letters, all written on the 10th day of a November gone by.
After being so social, I don’t feel like myself at all. I’m exhausted all over but particularly the face, which I suppose comes from wearing a horrible fixed grin for so long.
Letter to Carley Dawson
10th November 1948
(From One Art: Letters)
I saw a fine thing late yesterday afternoon when I was out gathering wild rose hips for my wife. In a small apple tree, almost directly above my head, I saw what appeared to be a last summer’s bird nest. When I looked more closely I saw that I was looking at a little young porcupine whose mother had given him instructions on how to act in an emergency. “If White should come along,” she had told him, “simply quit eating your apple and roll yourself into a ball, tucking your feet under you and also your tail, and stay still and don’t talk.” This is just what he had done.
E. B. White
Letter to Faith Martin
10th November 1966
(From Letters of E. B. White)
There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.
…And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
Letter to his lovesick son, Thom
10th November 1958
(From Letters of Note: Love)
Why are doctors so preposterous? I see them in their hundreds, moving among sham Jacobean furniture, warming their large pink hands at little gas fires & asking the poor visitor if this will come off or pull down – Curse ’em.
Letter to Virginia Woolf
10th November 1918
I am supposed to be a hardboiled writer, but that means nothing. It is merely a method of projection. Personally I am sensitive and even diffident. At times I am extremely caustic and pugnacious, at other times very sentimental. I am not a good mixer because I am very easily bored, and to me the average never seems good enough, in people or in anything else. I am a spasmodic worker with no regular hours, which is to say I only write because I feel like it. I am always surprised at how easily it seems at the time, and at how very tired one feels afterwards.
Letter to Jamie Hamilton
10th November 1950
Listen, you contumacious rat, don’t throw your dreary tomes at me. I’ll give you an elegant dinner at a restaurant of your own choosing and sing to you between the courses if you can produce one writer or speaker, with an ear for the English language which you genuinely respect, who uses “disinterested” in the sense you are now trying to bolster up. I did look it up in my own vast Oxford dictionary a few years ago only to be told that it had been obsolete since the 17th Century. I haven’t looked up the indices in your letter because, after all, my own word in such matters is final. Indeed, current use of the word in the 17th Century sense is a ghetto barbarism I had previously thought confined to the vocabularies of Ben Hecht and Jed Harris. Surely, my child, you must see that if “disinterested” is, in our time, intended to convey a special shade of the word “unselfish” it is a clumsy business to try to make it also serve another meaning. That would be like the nit-wit practice of the woman who uses her husband’s razor to sharpen her pencil. The point of the pencil may emerge, but the razor is never good again for its peculiar purpose.
Hoping you fry in hell, I remain
Letter to Ira Gershwin
10th November 1934
Your extremely effective rhetorical methods in bringing me up, which never failed to work with me, were: abuse, threats, irony, spiteful laughter, and—oddly enough—self-pity. I cannot recall your ever having abused me directly and in downright abusive terms. Nor was that necessary; you had so many other methods, and besides, in talk at home and particularly at the shop the words of abuse went flying around me in such swarms, as they were flung at other people's heads, that as a little boy I was sometimes almost stunned and had no reason not to apply them to myself too, for the people you were abusing were certainly no worse than I was and you were certainly not more displeased with them than with me. And here again was your enigmatic innocence and inviolability; you cursed and swore without the slightest scruple; yet you condemned cursing and swearing in other people and would not have it.
Letter to his father
10th November 1919
(From Letter to His Father)
Apologies for the slowdown but it’s been a tricky couple of weeks. Normal service is now resumed. Also, belated congratulations to Eileen for winning my last remaining copy of the Letters of Note paperback, which is now out of print. Thanks to all those who gave it a shot by purchasing something from the shop. Much appreciated x