E.B. White, the journalist and author, had a long association with The New Yorker magazine, where he rubbed shoulders with Harold Ross and James Thurber. In the 1940s, he turned his hand to writing children’s stories such as Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web.
In 1957, White re-examined a slim book (only 43 pages long) that he had first read while at Cornell University at the end of the First World War. The book was The Elements of Style, a volume written and privately printed by William Strunk, Jr, a professor at Cornell and – not coincidentally – one of White’s teachers.
White had been asked to revise the book and adapt it for a general market. He was impressed by how well the short book had aged – a barely tarnished gem, he called it – and his revisions, apart from an extra chapter called ‘An Approach to Style’, were minor.
The revised Elements of Style has since gone through several editions and numerous printings, and has become so familiar that many people no longer refer to it by its original title, but now call it simply Strunk and White.
Hence the clerihew.
E.B. White was also one of the very first “sea-changers” – people who abandon the city for a quieter life elsewhere. For White, that elsewhere was a property in Maine, where White wrote and raised sheep, chickens and pigs.
“Commuter – one who spends his life / In riding to and from his wife
A man who shaves and takes a train / And then rides back to shave again.”
– E.B. White (1899-1985)