One of the Center’s cofounders, Abrams was a towering figure whose contributions to the humanities were vast. An authority on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, he joined the faculty of the English Department at Cornell University in 1945 and remained a fixture on campus for the next 70 years, counting among his students the critics Harold Bloom and E. D. Hirsch and the novelist Thomas Pynchon.
Abrams was even more widely known to students and teachers around the world as the founding editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature and as the author of A Glossary of Literary Terms — now in its 11th edition — which in recent years he coauthored with NHC president and director Geoffrey Harpham. His book The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (1953), which received the Phi Beta Kappa Cristian Gauss Prize in 1954, is considered one of the finest critical works of the twentieth century. His most recent volume, The Fourth Dimension of a Poem and Other Essays (2012), coincided with the celebration of his 100th birthday.
These are only a tiny fraction of the achievements for which Abrams was honored repeatedly throughout his career, including last year, when he received the National Humanities Medal.
Mike Abrams’s involvement with the National Humanities Center began from its first conception when he, along with Morton Bloomfield and Gregory Vlastos — Fellows together at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford in the 1960s — perceived the need for a national institute for advanced study dedicated to the humanities. After its founding a decade later, he helped guide the Center’s early development as a trustee and remained a close friend and supporter after he became a trustee emeritus in 1992.
Abrams returned on later occasions to participate in the life of the Center and to offer encouragement and inspiration. During his last visit, in the spring of 2007 upon the establishment of the Meyer H. Abrams Fellowship, he delivered a moving talk “On Reading Poems Aloud,” which can be viewed below.
We are grateful for the many remarkable contributions Meyer H. Abrams made to the humanities, touching the lives of so many. And we are especially grateful for his scholarly imagination, leadership, and dedication which have helped make the Center a vital institution for nearly 40 years.