Remembering M. H. Abrams

Cornell University Press joins with the rest of the Cornell community, Ithaca, and scholars of literature around the world in mourning the death of M. H. Abrams, Class of 1916 Emeritus Professor of English, at the age of 102. A 2014 recipient of the National Humanities Medal, Abrams was best known for his long career teaching at Cornell, where his students included Harold Bloom and Thomas Pynchon, and for editing the Norton Anthology of English Literature. For this last accomplishment many of us owe him a particular debt of gratitude; his efforts afforded us, even in pre-Internet days, the great luxury of keeping centuries’ worth of literature always at hand.

New York TimesM.H. Abrams, 102, Dies; Shaped Romantic Criticism and Literary ‘Bible’; Keeper of the Canon

Cornell ChronicleM.H. Abrams, beloved professor, literary scholar, dies at 102

The GuardianMH Abrams, Norton anthology founder, influential critic, dead at age 102

On the Cornell University Press Facebook page, the Press’s Editor in Chief, Peter Potter, wrote: “We at Cornell University Press are greatly saddened to hear the news of Professor Abrams’s passing. Without a doubt he is one of the most influential scholars ever to teach at Cornell. Just this summer I was speaking with a colleague from another university about the study of Romanticism, and, without skipping a beat, he singled out The Mirror and the Lamp as one of the best books still for those who want to understand the Romantics. How many scholars can say that about a book they published 60 years ago! We at the Press were fortunate to have his support and counsel. Shortly after his arrival at Cornell in 1945, he served on the Press’s editorial board, and he remained a trusted advisor thereafter. He will be sorely missed.”

Abrams’s term on the Cornell University Press editorial board stretched from 1947 to 1951. Later, he served on the advisory board for the Cornell Wordsworth. Jared Curtis, coordinating editor of both the Cornell Wordsworth and the Cornell Yeats, says of Abrams’s role in making the Cornell Wordsworth a reality:

“Mike was not only involved in the Cornell Wordsworth project from the very beginning as a colleague of general editor Stephen Parrish, but he also taught a good many of those who planned (John A. Finch), edited (James Averill, Paul Betz, Jim Butler, Jared Curtis, Beth Darlington, Kristine Dugas, Joe Kishel), and ultimately brought the series to a successful conclusion. His steady, wise, and generous counsel to all editors for the project contributed hugely to the great sense of collegiality and common cause among all those contributing to it. I can’t imagine the series achieving the standing it has in the world of Wordsworth scholarship without Mike’s inspiring presence and always helpful guidance.”

In 1981, the Press published High Romantic Argument: Essays for M. H. Abrams, edited by Lawrence Lipking, which features Abrams’s reply to essays by six distinguished contributors who explore important critical questions related to Abrams’s work and its implications. Abrams also contributed chapters to other books published by Cornell University Press, including In Search of Literary Theory and Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism.

Remembering M. H. Abrams