E.B. White (1899-1985) was a prominent and beloved American writer, well known for his essays in The New Yorker magazine, for a number of children’s book (Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little, and others), and as co-author with William Strunk of The Elements of Style, the English language style guide, best known among writers and students of writing simply as ‘Strunk and White’.
He was first published in The New Yorker in 1925, and joined the staff in 1927, where he wrote, famously, in ‘Notes & Comments’ and “newsbreaks” for six decades. His essays on various subject—including dogs—were widely read. He published 12 books and several anthologies during his lifetime, plus several more collections posthumously. The book E.B. White on Dogs is one of the latter, edited by his granddaughter Martha White.
…On Dogs is a collection of White’s essays, letters, and sketches about his dogs. Some of the selections are very short, for White was not one to waste words. Here’s a short example entitled ‘Cod Liver Oil’ from the August 10, 1929 ‘Talk of the Town’ column of The New Yorker. It says much, in few words.
When our little dog Daisy seemed poorly last week, we took her down to the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital to get some professional advice on cod-liver oil. The visit was a disarming experience; it gave us a renewed sense of the benevolence of humanity as well as the dignity of animals. The reception room, white and sterile; the reception lady, starched and kindly; the other patients, soft-eyed and wet-nosed; the phone calls, “He has no temperature today!” were all part of a strong impression that this was the nicest place in New York. And when our turn came, and we ushered Daisy into the examination room and were greeted by a doctor who wore gray spats, it was too much happiness. Even Daisy was impressed, and took a turn for the better.
Other titles of note (a sampling) are: ‘Arrested for the Sins of Daisy’. ‘Anti-Muzzle Agitation’, ‘Kicked Out of Schrafft’s’, ‘Dog Training’, ‘In the Clutches of an Irish Terrier’, ‘Dog Show: A New Showmanship’, ‘Tick-Hunting’, ‘Canine Catering Company’, ‘Architects and Dachshunds’, ‘Hawthorne Hounds’, and many more including ‘Interview with Daisy’ and ‘Obituary’ (for Daisy).
Daisy’s obituary is one that dog-lovers can feel close to (though too long to reprint here). It is my favorite, and is probably the most well known.
During his lifetime White had over a dozen different dogs (some are pictured in the book), including: a Collie named Mac; several Dachshunds–Minnie, Fred and August (Augie), each at different times; a black Lab named Ezekiel (Zeke); a wire-haired Fox Terrier named Raffles; a mutt called Maggie; and others… of whom he wrote fondly through the years. For White, dogs were a literary device, Martha writes in the Introduction. Sometimes he described things from their viewpoint, or used the voice of a dog to speak for him (there are several letters of that sort), and more than once a dog acted as the intrepid reporter.
This is a fun little book to read, a few pages at a time or all in one sitting. You’ll get good laughs from it, and it will help you appreciate dogs and their sometimes zany behavior all the more. You will probably also recognize some of your own dog(s) in E.B. White On Dogs.
STOP PRESS! E.B. White On Dogs, edited by Martha White, is winner of the Maine Writers & Publishers (MWPA) Award for Best Anthology. Congratulations!
E.B. White on Dogs, edited by Martha White, Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House Publishing, 2014. The sketch of the Dachshund on the stairs is by E..B. White.