Archive for February 27th, 2019

Miltonist Martin Evans and “an intellectual journey from point A to point B.”

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019
Share

Martin and Milton. “He filled the room, with his crisp voice and laugh.” (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Recent thoughts have turned my mind again to the late Prof. Martin Evans, one of the leading John Milton scholars in the world – well, perhaps it’s no surprise, given my recent Milton Cottage residency (see here). Poet Kenneth Fields of the Stanford English Department penned this little tribute at the time of the Welshman’s death in 2013. It was never published … till now.

Ken with cup

There has never been a time when Martin Evans was not at the center of the English Department, and I’ve been here for a long time. Martin was a man of great enthusiasms. He loved food and wine, he loved teaching, he loved Milton and the Renaissance, he loved his wife, the unfailingly charming Mariella, and he loved his children. He also loved being a contrarian. But it was not enough for him to be contrary; he wanted to be right. He once complained about a former colleague, “What I hate about him is that in any conversation, he always heads for the moral high ground, usually getting there ahead of me.” Few people got anywhere ahead of Martin. He filled the room, with his crisp voice and laugh. I always thought his voice resembled that of his countryman Richard Burton, but without the deepening and coarsening effects of cigarettes and booze. I cannot think of Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” without hearing Martin’s voice reading it at department Christmas parties.

About a year ago I asked several of my colleagues what they told students who were preparing to write papers. Martin’s reply was the shortest and the best: “I tell them to take me on an intellectual journey from point A to point B.” I pass this nugget on to my students every quarter, always careful to cite him, and to deliver it in Martin’s declarative voice. It’s a deceptively simple remark that needs to be passed on, and can stand some attention. First, intellectual. Second, a journey. From A to B means that there must be an A, must be a B—how often do we realize about even our own writing that there’s no A, no B? Finally, “take me on a journey.” Many of us have been taken on journeys by Martin. I intend to keep and broadcast that little sutra until I reach point B myself. Were Martin to hear me say the line that now comes to me, “They are all gone into the world of light,” he’d recognize his fellow Welsh poet, and he’d complete the sentence.