Two years ago, while we were visiting friends in Tuscany 20 or so kilometers north of Florence, my host remarked that it was in those parts that Giovanni Boccaccio composed the Decameron, the first draft of which he completed in 1351. The Decameron was one of many books I’d thought for years to read, without ever doing so—but I am reading it now. It comprises ten stories conceived and recounted every afternoon in the course of ten days by ten young upper-class Florentines in retreat (in the country house of one of them) from the Black Death that was then ravaging Florence. The reader unfamiliar with the author’s biography might be surprised to learn that Boccaccio, near the end of his life, received the necessary dispensation from the Pope in the case of an illegitimate son (which Boccaccio was) to take Holy Orders, though he never actually did so. The 100 stories—including those told by the ladies—range widely across medieval Italian society and are frequently bawdy, unsparing of the clergy, and indeed of Christian morality, or at least of any sensitivity to it. They are also imaginative and inventive, charming, and amusing, though a modern reader may well feel that 100 stories written collectively to a length (in the Oxford World Classics edition) of 698 pages wear out their welcome before the tenth day. Premodern authors, working in a world in which books were comparatively few, had the luxury of writing to great length, just as premodern readers could afford the time to read long works. Concision, therefore, was a virtue neither in the mind of the artist nor in that of his public before the 20th century. So it may be that the Decameron should be read just as it supposedly was heard: ten stories—each of a page, or two, or three, but often many more—per day. Anyhow, that is how I am reading it—along with the Commedia of Dante, who died eight years after Boccaccio was born and on whom the author of the Decameron was what we call today an expert. Among his works was Trattello in laude di Dante, a brief biography. Boccaccio, the first public lecturer on the great Florentine, had got as far as addressing Canto XVII of Inferno when he died.
—Chilton Williamson, Jr.
About the late M.E. Bradford I cannot say enough. The man was brilliant and kind, loyal yet honorable. Preparing to teach rhetoric to a homeschooling group of 12 this fall, I continue to return to Mel the Master, hoping I’ll learn one more thing to enrich my own feeble attempts at analyzing the classical forms and conveying them to others.
I recently reread the wonderful speech-turned-essay “The Lasting Lesson of Southern Politics,” published in Remembering Who We Are: Observations of a Southern Conservative. These post-1972-election observations remain remarkably relevant.
Bradford’s commitment to conservatism did not preclude practicality when it came to politics, including party politics: “Of course,” he writes, “responsible men who practice politics do so through the instruments of party. And, as Southern Republicans have been telling Southern Democrats for twenty years, that is all party can mean: an instrument to serve an end.” But priorities must be maintained: “We must be conservatives first (and probably Southerners first) and something else therefore.”
The Wallace campaign, in which Bradford participated, bears a resemblance to a certain current one. Bradford believed it was possible to take advantage of a political movement that appealed to a mass of disaffected people without buying into a theory of politics that is, at root, not conservative: “Call this ‘populism,’ if you like. It is a strategy or a style, not a political philosophy. But for a conservative, it is a strategy with propitious implications.”
—Aaron D. Wolf