Professor Matthew Hodgart, academic and author; born September 1, 1916, died April 3, 1996

MATTHEW HODGART, who died in Brighton on April 3, was one of the greatest eccentric scholars of our time.

Born in Paisley into a prosperous engineering family, he was educated at Rugby and at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he was an outstanding student and after graduation won a Jebb Studentship to allow him to embark on postgraduate research.

In his student days he was, like most thoughtful young members of his generation, very much on the left in politics, supporting the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War and denouncing appeasement of Hitler.

In later life he moved steadily to the right and deliberately adopted the role of cantankerous fogey, which belied his essential generosity and intellectual flexibility.

The outbreak of war interrupted his studies. He was commissioned into the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, serving with distinction in Mediterranean theatres and elsewhere.

Few who knew him, either as colleagues or as students, were aware of his distinguished war record or knew that he had been created a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur and was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government.

At Cambridge after the war, where he was fellow of Pembroke College and university lecturer in English and served for a while as secretary of the Faculty Board of English, he soon established a reputation as a scholar of remarkably wide range and a man of unbounded curiosity.

He would develop sudden enthusiasms, such as collecting rare pebbles on the beach, and was an inveterate solver of puzzles.

His conversation was a flow of unselfconscious erudition. He was no specialist, and his books include a study of the ballads, an examination of satire, several works on eighteenth-century literature, and a number of works on James Joyce, on whose Finnegans Wake he was an enthusiastic expert.

He was a connoisseur of wine and, in the 1950s, an authority on Volkswagen cars.

Hodgart held visiting professorships in the United States on several occasions and developed a formidable knowledge of American literature. When the University of Sussex founded a Chair of English in 1964 I invited him to apply and be my colleague there: he was successful and we taught English Literature together at Sussex until 1970.

He then left to take up a position in Concordia University, Montreal, which he later regretted.

He returned to his Regency villa in Brighton where, with his charming and talented wife Pat (Margaret Patricia Elliot), he cultivated a life of quiet curiosity.

Hodgart was not an easy man to know, and his true qualities as scholar and polymath were fully realised only by a few.

Underneath his shy exterior he was a man of startling enthusiasms and great generosity of spirit.

He was always his own man, and the scope of his activities and interests did not fit any conventional pattern.

Those who knew him as friends, colleagues, or students will long remember his remarkable gifts and his unique personality.