E. B. White’s Love Letter to His Wife on the Occasion of Her Pregnancy, “Written” by Their Dog
By Maria Popova
E.B. White (July 11, 1899–October 1, 1985) — beloved author, celebrator of New York, champion of integrity, upholder of linguistic style — topped the ranks of literary history’s famous pet-lovers as he made room in his home and his heart for a dozen dogs of various breeds over the course of eight decades. Indeed, dogs, alongside literature and his wife Katharine, whom he married in 1929 and loved until death did them part in 1977, were the love of White’s life. E. B. White on Dogs (public library) gathers his finest letters, poems, sketches, and essays celebrating his canine companions in a soul-quenching compilation by his granddaughter and literary executor, Martha White, who believes her grandfather was able to “observe and express his own childlike wonder at the natural world around him” through his furry friends and their boundless eccentricities.
Among the collection’s greatest gems is a letter to Katharine that White penned in the spring of 1930 on the occasion of her pregnancy with their first and only child together, Joel. What makes the missive extraordinary, however, is that it was “written” by Daisy, Katharine’s beloved Scotty. More than a quirky delight, the choice was also a sentimental wink — Elwyn had met Katharine, a literary agent, at the New Yorker in 1925, where she had taken a job to distract her from the problems of her collapsing first marriage; shortly after she finally divorced her husband, she and White eloped and got married, with only Daisy as their witness; they were back at their desks the next day.
Dear Mrs. White:
I like having Josephine here in the morning, although I suppose I will get less actual thinking done — as I used to do my thinking mornings in the bathroom. White has been stewing around for two days now, a little bit worried because he is not sure that he has made you realize how glad he is that there is to be what the column writer in the Mirror calls a blessed event. So I am taking this opportunity, Mrs. White, to help him out to the extent of writing you a brief note which I haven’t done in quite a long time but have been a little sick myself as you know. Well, the truth is White is beside himself and would have said more about it but is holding himself back, not wanting to appear ludicrous to a veteran mother. What he feels, he told me, is a strange queer tight little twitchy feeling around the inside of his throat whenever he thinks that something is happening which will require so much love and all on account of you being so wonderful. (I am not making myself clear I am afraid, but on the occasions when White has spoken privately with me about this he was in no condition to make himself clear either and I am just doing the best I can in my own way.) I know White so well that I always know what is the matter with him, and it always comes to the same thing — he gets thinking that nothing that he writes or says ever quite expresses his feeling, and he worries about his inarticulateness just the same as he does about his bowels, except it is worse, and it makes him either mad, or sick, or with a prickly sensation in the head. But my, my, my, last Sunday he was so full of this matter which he couldn’t talk about, and he was what Josephine in her simple way would call hoppy, and particularly so because it seemed so good that everything was starting at once — I mean those things, whatever they are, that are making such a noise over in the pond by Palmer Lewis’s house, and the song sparrow that even I could hear from my confinement in the house, and those little seeds that you were sprinkling up where the cut glass and bones used to be — all starting at the same time as the baby, which he seems to think exists already by the way he stands around staring at you and muttering little prayers. Of course he is also very worried for fear you will get the idea that he is regarding you merely as a future mother and not as a present person, or that he wants a child merely as a vindication of his vanity. I doubt if those things are true; White enjoys animal husbandry of all kinds including his own; and as for his regard for you, he has told me that, quite apart from this fertility, he admires you in all kinds of situations or dilemmas, some of which he says have been quite dirty.
Well, Mrs. White, I expect I am tiring you with this long letter, but as you often say yourself, a husband and wife should tell each other about the things that are on their mind, otherwise you get nowhere, and White didn’t seem to be able to tell you about his happiness, so thought I would attempt to put in a word.
White is getting me a new blanket, as the cushion in the bathroom is soiled.
This missive is without a doubt among history’s most beautiful love letters, joining those exchanged between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, Charles and Ray Eames, Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. The remainder of E. B. White on Dogs is equally fantastic, imbued with White’s warm wit and expansive heart.
Published August 20, 2013