'Wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day'
Words of wisdom from E. B. White
As we all stand nervously at 2022’s front door, it seems fitting to share a classic from E. B. White in what is, I promise, my final newsletter of 2021. Thank you all for signing up and allowing me to pepper your inboxes with these letters throughout the pandemic. My plan for 2022 is to send more of the same.
Edith Sitwell put it best in a letter to John Lehmann, written as 1949 came to a close:
I must say I hope the coming year will be better than the last one, which, I think, was sheer hell.
Happy new year to you all x
Wind the clock
Author E. B. White won numerous awards in his lifetime, and with good reason. Born in 1899, he was one of the greatest essayists of his time, writing countless influential pieces for both The New Yorker and Harper’s; in 1959, he co-authored the multi-million selling, expanded edition of The Elements of Style to much acclaim; he wrote children’s books which have gone on to become classics, such as Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. He was also responsible for writing hundreds of wonderful letters. In March 1973, he wrote the following perfectly formed reply to a Mr Nadeau, who sought White’s opinion on what he saw as a bleak future for the human race.
North Brooklin, 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 harbor 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 onto your hat. Hang onto your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
E. B. White
Letter excerpted from the first volume of Letters of Note, a new edition of which is currently available in all good shops and on all good websites, and some of the bad ones too. Choose wisely.