AS he said himself, ``it is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.'' E. B. White was talking about Charlotte the spider, in his classic children's book ``Charlotte's Web,'' but the description also applies to the author himself. In his books and decades of essays in The New Yorker, White proved himself a matchless literary craftsman. And, through his works, he was a friend to generations of Americans. White wrote as he advised others to do: clearly, simply. He carefully selected the right phrases to produce a stylish work: ``Hold a baby to your ear/as you would a shell . . . ,'' he advised in the poem ``Conch,'' and wondered, ``Who can break a baby's code?''
White was also known for his stands for principle, as in a 1947 letter to the New York Herald Tribune protesting its support of the blacklist of Hollywood writers. ``I am a party of one,'' he wrote, ``and live in an age of fear. Nothing lately has unsettled my party and raised my fears so much as your editorial, on Thanksgiving Day, suggesting that employees should be required to state their beliefs in order to hold their jobs. The idea is inconsistent with our constitutional theory and has been stubbor nly opposed by watchful men since the early days of the Republic. I can only assume that your editorial writer, in a hurry to get home for Thanksgiving, tripped over the First Amendment and thought it was the office cat.''
Like the First Amendment, E. B. White's principles and style endure.