Thursday, July 12, 2012

Remembering E.B. White

E.B. White and his Dachshund 'Minnie'

Yesterday would have been E.B. White's 113th birthday.  Perhaps most famous for penning "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little," Mr. White was also a regular contributor to The New Yorker, and co-wrote "The Elements of Style." 
Dachshund Lovers know him for his poetic descriptions of the beloved Dachshunds that he had in his life.  In 1951, he was accused by the ASPCA of not paying his dog tax and, as a result, "harboring" an unlicensed dog. This was his poetic response:

12 April 1951

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
York Avenue and East 92nd Street
New York, 28, NY

Dear Sirs:

I have your letter, undated, saying that I am harboring an unlicensed dog in violation of the law. If by "harboring" you mean getting up two or three times every night to pull Minnie's blanket up over her, I am harboring a dog all right. The blanket keeps slipping off. I suppose you are wondering by now why I don't get her a sweater instead. That's a joke on you. She has a knitted sweater, but she doesn't like to wear it for sleeping; her legs are so short they work out of a sweater and her toenails get caught in the mesh, and this disturbs her rest. If Minnie doesn't get her rest, she feels it right away. I do myself, and of course with this night duty of mine, the way the blanket slips and all, I haven't had any real rest in years. Minnie is twelve.

In spite of what your inspector reported, she has a license. She is licensed in the State of Maine as an unspayed bitch, or what is more commonly called an "unspaded" bitch. She wears her metal license tag but I must say I don't particularly care for it, as it is in the shape of a hydrant, which seems to me a feeble gag, besides being pointless in the case of a female. It is hard to believe that any state in the Union would circulate a gag like that and make people pay money for it, but Maine is always thinking of something. Maine puts up roadside crosses along the highways to mark the spots where people have lost their lives in motor accidents, so the highways are beginning to take on the appearance of a cemetery, and motoring in Maine has become a solemn experience, when one thinks mostly about death. I was driving along a road near Kittery the other day thinking about death and all of a sudden I heard the spring peepers. That changed me right away and I suddenly thought about life. It was the nicest feeling.

You asked about Minnie's name, sex, breed, and phone number. She doesn't answer the phone. She is a dachshund and can't reach it, but she wouldn't answer it even if she could, as she has no interest in outside calls. I did have a dachshund once, a male, who was interested in the telephone, and who got a great many calls, but Fred was an exceptional dog (his name was Fred) and I can't think of anything offhand that he wasn't interested in. The telephone was only one of a thousand things. He loved life — that is, he loved life if by "life" you mean "trouble," and of course the phone is almost synonymous with trouble. Minnie loves life, too, but her idea of life is a warm bed, preferably with an electric pad, and a friend in bed with her, and plenty of shut-eye, night and days. She's almost twelve. I guess I've already mentioned that. I got her from Dr. Clarence Little in 1939. He was using dachshunds in his cancer-research experiments (that was before Winchell was running the thing) and he had a couple of extra puppies, so I wheedled Minnie out of him. She later had puppies by her own father, at Dr. Little's request. What do you think about that for a scandal? I know what Fred thought about it. He was some put out.

Sincerely yours,

E. B. White

Photo Source Unknown


curator said...

What a great post. Thanks for that photo and letter! Wonder what they had to say about that.

Anonymous said...

Loved the letter!! Thanks for posting.

Melinda in McLean

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO much for sharing this! What an epic takedown!! Ha ha ha. There is nothing better than reading clever writing...except reading clever writing with your dachshund curled up by your side!

Wishy and Dawn

kivrin said...

Thank you for this delightful post! As an English teacher, I adore literary dachshund items, and this one is certainly a treasure. I love the conversational tone and underlying "you're an idiot" message. It is soooooo dachsie!!! Only a dachshund owner knows the look you get when you ask them to do something and they get that little twinkle in their eye, flip their ears, and go do what they want anyways -- just as EB White is telling the gov.

Plus ... Minnie shares some attitude with Piper. I get the "look" all the time as she approaches her bed or the couch. It means "pick me up, place me appropriately, and cover me with my freshly laundered blankie, making sure to tuck me in, but leaving an appropriate gap at the nose."

Christa & co. said...

Good lord, that's amusing. Do you know if there's any compilation that includes more writings about White's dogs? I will raise a glass to a great writer and dog person tonight!

Eliza57 said...

This blog should be renamed something far fancier than "Blog." "Blog" does not do your wonderful daily postings, famous Dox-ites and archival letters justice. This is like being in on someone's graduate thesis and their topic happens to be "Dachshunds: A Rarefied Treasure" aka "DART" - Now that's better than blog. I'm going to "dart" this over to the "boys" at the Long & the Short of it! Thank you so much for Mr. White's letter - still inspiring us!

Amy said...


Tootsie said...

I think Christa has a great question -- I've been looking for an E.B. White collection of his doxie writings and have not found any. Alas.

Such a great post! Thank you.

Tootsie & Renee

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