E.B. White died last week at the age of 86, after years of battling Alzheimer’s disease and more than half a century of being the writer that every college essayist—and most of their professors—wanted to be. In the ’20s he began writing the New Yorker magazine essays—on subjects ranging from youth to geese and the Model T—that made him famous. Later he produced the classic children’s stories Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little and revised the pocket bible of correct prose, The Elements of Style. In 1933 White retreated to his 40-acre farm in North Brooklin, Maine, and began enlightening readers about the habits of the local fauna. So conscientious an observer was he that, after publishing an essay that generalized incorrectly about how raccoons descend from trees, he appended a postscript to later editions. It read in part, “Moral: A man should not draw conclusions about raccoons from observing one individual. The day may come when we’ll have a coon that completes the descent of the tree with a half gainer.”
White was a man on the lookout for raccoons performing half gainers. He will be missed.