It is with great sorrow and with my utmost condolences that I acknowledge the recent death of Stanford English Professor J. Martin Evans.
As a former student of his and a recent Stanford graduate with a degree in English, I cannot help but feel as though his death on Sunday night was something more than that of an eventuality at the hands of a deadly illness. Though I do not know the exact circumstances of his last moments, I do know that his life has inspired and imbued countless people in the literary field and beyond. Having taken two classes with him – one based purely on Miltonic literature and another on “Textual Selves,” or identities in historic literature – I can personally attest to his vast stores of knowledge and wisdom.
His enthusiasm was incredible and distinct; often times, he would trail off on either grandiose adulations or humble speculations. Neither was he shy to criticize, once claiming that Montaigne was “not a systematic thinker; he wasn’t even logical,” and then going on to differentiate between heliocentrity and geocentricity. His attentiveness to detail, to the intentionality of every word, every allusion, every line-break (in the case of poetry), reflected his immense passion for literature.
He also managed to show a real side to the people – the identities – who create literature. He explored the projections of self in their texts. In St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” we see a man in spiritual tumult, searching for faith through trial and error; in “Innocents Abroad,” we see a snarky Twain juggling reverence of European history with pure American mockery of it.
Particularly memorable was a segment in class on Milton’s poetic agency. We explored many texts, but I recall Professor Evans dedicating a lot of time and attention to Milton’s “Lycidas,” a pastoral elegy in honor of Edward King, Milton’s friend who had drowned in a ship accident. It wasn’t so much the poem that fascinated me, but Professor Evans’ mutual understanding, his connection, to this man centuries removed from our generation. Professor Evans knew that one of the best ways to honor a fellow writer’s death was to glorify the deceased person in writing.
He got lost in literature, found friends in deceased writers whose legacy lived on in their works. Literature formed the bonds of a scholarly fraternity whose participants were admitted based upon their contributions to the field, no matter living or dead.
It is because of this bond, this sense of reverential loyalty to a deceased mentor, that I write this now. In what little space and platform I have, I want to thank Professor Evans for opening my eyes to a commitment and brotherhood I had never seen before. I want to honor his contributions to the literary field, and to the educational field, by attesting to the wisdom he has passed on to his former students. And mostly, I want to say that, although Professor Evans has passed away, he will live on in our memories and in the texts he has left behind to grace us with.
Rest in peace, Professor J. Martin Evans.
Sharia Mayfield ‘13