I was going to write today on the topic: “Man as a frail craft.” I was going to centre my concern and predilection in it on coronavirus and the devastation it has caused, and that it is still causing, all over the world to show and underscore in a special way how fragile man truly is on this earth plane. What I was going to say may not be new, but it would be intriguing enough to touch our hearts in a touching way. Despite all the intelligence and brains, he possesses man is nothing but a tenuous construction of the Almighty, his Creator and the Creator of all beings in creation. I was already on my desk ready to let my pen go and do its duty as I was un-corking the fragrant framboise, France-imported when my vendor strolled in with my Sunday newspapers.
Usually, I don’t do my column on a Sunday; but the Sunday of April 19, 2020, was different. My Muse for some inexplicable reason mustered up my sensations this Sunday to replace what I set out to, that is to say, that my sensations were consecrated to give my thought to the present title and concern.
And I must thank The Guardian On Sunday’s columnist, Kole Omotoso, our egbon in the enterprise of column-writing, for his writing on the subject of my subject today. Were it not for the stimulating famous novelist I would not have known that our perfectly perfect critic Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones had recently passed on at ninety-five years of age – having been born in 1925. In fact, how many of us in our part of the world knew of the demise of the intellectually robust Sierra-Leonean scholar and intellectual, editor of editors and a foremost and resilient pioneer and champion of African scholarship and criticism? My face was an ugly phiz as I read the news in Kole Omotoso’s “The Travail of Trouble” column. And my mirror showed me how un-friendlily ugly my face was.
The scholar of scholars passed on since March 21, 2020, yet no newspaper or any electronic medium and arts or literary editor here, to the best of my ignorance, deemed it delightful or un-delightful enough to announce the event to us. If the departed high-profile scholar and very thoughtful visionary of an uncommon critic were a vile politician of a vile school of vile politics his praise, hypocritically, would have been flashed and flashed without end in a manner that would have coerced and intimidated our sensibilities, against their wishes, to see him as the knaves in the school of the politics of knaves would wish us to see him. This is the way of our world. And what an unfortunate way it is! In our African continent today no government can be said to provide an eternal example for education or learning that our people should follow to re-shape our destiny. In our country, in particular, our governments collectively serve as an example, the worst example, of this process of disengaging our compatriots from the path of true education and definite knowledge. This explains why our universities are un-profitably locked down every now and then while our so-called political leaders are always absorbed in different activities that mark them as highly un-organized strategists against good education in every conceivable way.
Kole Omotoso dwelt on Professor Jones’s failed sight which did not discourage or restrain the greatly famous and famously great man of intelligence from his total devotion to his work of scholarship on behalf of us all. His devotion in spite of his total blindness reminds me of John Milton’s total devotion to art despite his blindness. Literary history informs us that John Milton (1608-74) dictated his greatest works – the epic poems Paradise Lost (1667; 1674) and Paradise Regained (1671) and the verse drama Samson Agonistes (1671) – to his daughter (who wrote them down) in his state of blindness.
Professor Jones, on his part, had his wife Marjorie Jones (nee Pratt), who predeceased him in 2015, by his side to lend support to his eternal devotion to the life of theoretical and critical inquiry. And that Marjorie Jones was a fashion designer, who became a reader to her husband and writer of his books after he became totally blind, speaks volumes of the kind of education they received in the 1940s and 1950s, the kind of education we no longer can get in Africa. In fact, the education of their time was as clean as clean education could and can be. Which government in Africa today can give us a clean education?
When Marjorie Jones died in 2015, Professor Jones depended on braille which he leant before he was totally blind to read and write. The whole living force of his scholarship and intellectual activity never deserted him, and he never lost it either. Now, what did Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones, 1925-2020, mean to me? What does he mean to me? And what will he ever mean to me?
I never met him in person. I firstly met his huge reputation in The Writing of Wole Soyinka (which he dedicated to “W.S. our W.S.”) in 1973. Then I was a Higher School Certificate (HSC) teacher at Chude Girl’s College, Sapele for nine months (as was famously the case than for those who very successfully passed out of HSC) en route to Almighty Ahmadu Bello University, the original Ahamdu Bello University, Zaria, that richly baked and delivered us excellently well. Eldred Durosimi Jones swept me off my feet on that first encounter with him at Chude Girls’ College Library. (How many of our secondary schools today still have libraries worth their names?). I was then a voracious consumer of any printed matter, and I consumed the man and “W.S. our W.S.” In my B.A. (Honours) years of three, I never spared him and “W.S. our W.S.” anytime we read our absorbing inventor’s plays, our absorbing Wole Soyinka, our William Shakespeare’s absorbing dramatic, narrative and poetic creations. I found spiritual light in criticism and creativeness. Then school was school and university was university.
Not long after I encountered Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones as criticism as creation or creation as criticism in the African Literature Today he edited. I was a graduate student at this time in the same Almighty Ahmadu Bello University. All the great names that were the great names in African literature published their essays in the journal. I remember that one of the biggest names in the field told me that an essay in African Literature Today was worth more than three or more essays in some other journal. I am alluding to the super critic and poet Professor Romanus Egudu.
Personally, I announce here with a sense and pride of great delight that Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones, the original editor of the original African Literature Today, published an essay I sent to the journal when I was still what some persons might call a green-horn literary critic. He changed nothing in the essay, which he accepted fully without qualms. And we never met or knew each other in person until he passed on recently. I will always remember this remarkably great scholar of quality with the sense of scholarly dignity I will always attribute to him. I am looking forward to purchasing his autobiography, Freetown Bond: A life under Two Flags after this dreadful season. Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones is too exemplary a scholar not to be eternally read, studied and remembered. Many of us will always speak of him in the present tense. His daughter, Mimi, and his sister, Ethline, survive him. His other daughter, Essemary, predeceased him. Everything passes. Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones has passed on to our Maker.
Afejuku can be reached via 080552133059.