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Remembering M. E. Bradford

Anyone who met M. E. Bradford was unlikely to forget him. There was his imposing bulk and his Stetson cowboy hat, but that was just the trimming. This Oklahoman, long a fixture at the University of Dallas, radiated vast erudition, lightly worn and easily shared, often in colloquial language. He emitted goodwill and sparkling humor, fused with an antique courtly courtesy for all. Bradford was steeped in the history of Southern literature, much like Donald Davidson, the Agrarian man of letters and poet under whom he wrote his dissertation at Vanderbilt University. Conventionally ambitious politicians and public intellectuals didn’t know what to make of this unswerving conservative and were puzzled by his old-fashioned persona. But those who understood the originality and importance of his scholarship revered him.

Bradford’s experience with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) may have been, in terms of his scholarly accomplishments, the least important part of his distinguished career. He was among a small band of conservative intellectuals who had pursued a lonely and career-costly campaign of ideas in the 1960s and 1970s. The election of Ronald Reagan encouraged us to think that we had at last found a place in the American public forum. In 1980, Reagan nominated Bradford to head the NEH and an impressive array of Senators endorsed him. Because of Bradford’s extensive grounding in literature, history, and...

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