Blok thus addressed the West: “Therenare millions of you. But we are a hordenthat cannot be counted. And now thentime has come. . . . You must stoopnbefore Russia—the Sphinx; for if youndo not . . . .we have nothing to lose,nand treachery is our weapon.” In onenof his most publicized poems, then20th-century Soviet Russian poetnVladimir Mayakovsky said, “An indi-nidual is a zero, he is sheer nonsense.”n”What does the Red Star symbolize?”nasked an amiable Rice alumnusnduring a city tour. “The live continents,”nanswered the Intourist guidenwithout hesitation. ccnEwa l. Thompson is professor ofnGerman and Russian at RicenUniversity.nLetter FromnNew Englandnby Philip TerziannThe Modesty of a New YorkernI may be the only person in American—I am certainly the only one in NewnEngland—who did not mourn thenrecent passing of E.B. White. Ofncourse, I don’t mean to say I celebratednhis death. On the contrary, I wasnhorrified by the New York Times’ obituary,nwhich began with the brutal, ifnunassailable, fact that the sage ofnNorth Brooklyn “died of Alzheimer’sndisease” — an uncharacteristicallynclinical detail, and hardly necessary.nAt 86, people are entitled to dien”peacefully” or “after a long illness.”nNo, I respectfully decline to join thenencomiashc chorus that has sung himnto his rest. Celebrities are often donenin by their friends, and E.B. Whitenwas no exception. They came to oxerpraisenhim, and they buried him in thenprocess. He was an amiable colleaguenwith a minimalist’s gift for fables,npointed epistles, and the occasionalnbreezy essay. But the repeated assertionsnof gentieness, good humor, preciousnessn(not precocity), gendenessnagain, fast friendship, down-homenjudgment, and even more gentlenessnfinally took their toll.nE.B. White was not a literary figurenso much as a theatrical phenomenon.n441 CHRONICLES OF CULTUREnand like James O’Neill, who wasntrapped in a lifetime’s performance ofnThe Count of Monte Cristo, he playednthe same role too many times. Mr.nWhite was the kindly gray moustachenwho fed his geese and calved his cownwhile the ancient Underwood sat patientlynin the background. His rusticnimagery, his monosyllabic wisdomnand earnest disinterest were all tooncarefully contrived to be persuasive.nHe seems to have been unable tondistinguish between his welladertisednmodesty and an obvious,nsometimes oerweening, pride. LikenGen, MacArthur’s ribbonless uniform,nhis self-conscious simplicity wasna form of ostentation. All those lettersnto the ^ew York Herald Tribune, gentlynprodding while viciously condemning,nwere written by someone v’ho knewnthey would be printed and read, andnperhaps een reprinted if not reread.nHe was a writer, but what is thensubstance of his reputation? His obituariesndwelt on his deeply rooted beliefnin world government, expressed earlynand often. This is likely to earn him anplace in the United World Federalists’nHall of Fame, but that would apply tonall manner of crackpot visionaries andnsingle-taxers. Alas, the world is full ofnHenry Wallaces; the names have beennchanged, but the sentences remain thensame. As a New Yorker editor, Mr.nWhite was a connoisseur of sentences,nall right, but how many dead editorsnenjoy a posthumous fame beyondnSixth Aenue? Maxwell Perkins, SaxenCommins, Harold Ross — giants inntheir day, I suppose, but the sands ofntime erase their footprints soonnenough.nHe wrote two famous children’snbooks, one of which jerked an easy tearnwith the heroine’s protracted death.nLike most stories of its kind, Charlotte’snWeb was really directed atnadults. I have been interested to observ^enthat the parents who have writtennso movingly about reading it aloud tontheir children always menhon that itnwas they who wept, not their audience.nChildren are wise in ways wendon’t always expect and often seenthings clearly for what they are.nE.B. White had a real gift for necrology.nSome of his best-quotednphrases come from postmortem salutesnto fallen New Yorker idols. Of course,none’s taste for such literature is a mat­nnnter of choice; but with two or threenexceptions, I have never really believednthat the death of one New Yorkernscribe diminishes us all. It may benhard to believe, but those gentle tributesnto modest habits occasionally fallnon deaf ears. (Visitors will be remindednof this when they stroll throughnStrawberry Fields, New York’s horticulturalnmonument to John Lennon.)nAnd then there is The Elements ofnStyle, another man’s book rewritten tonteach putative writers how to write likenE.B. White. By then, he must havenbelieved what he read about himself! Itnwas the late I950’s, the old New Yorkerncrowd was swiftly passing, and thentributes were beginning to outnumbernthe reviews. His flesh was weightedndown by the Gold Medal of the AmericannAcademy of Arts and Letters, thenPresidential Medal of Freedom, thenNational Medal for Literature, and anspecial citation from the Pulitzer Prizenpeople. His spirit was undoubtedlynrefreshed by his membership in thenNational Institute of Arts and Lettersnand his Fellowship of the AmericannAcademy of Arts and Sciences. Henwas, he had become, the poet laureatenof modesty. The episdes were shot offnto the New York Times instead of thenTrib, but the message was familiar: “Inhave retired to the Maine woods (likenanother famous American writer), andnhave managed to convert retreat intonadvance. Look on my letters to theneditor, ye Mighty, and despair.”nAnd then he was dead. A famousncareer, an exalted reputation—but thenlone and level sands stretch far away.nOne of the lessons of celebrity is thatnthe engines of self-promotion can lendnsubstance to the slightest of material. Itnis tempting, but it is ultimately dangerous.nE.B. White is often quoted butnseldom read, and when this generationnof subscribers is gone, the quotationsnmay disappear, too. ‘ ccnPhilip Terzian is an editorial writer atnthe Hartford Courant.n