Vol. 3 (2022): Lund Journal of English Studies: a Commemorative Issue for Mats Johansson

This special issue of Lund Journal of English Studies is dedicated to the memory of our dear friend and colleague, Mats Johansson, though to do full justice to the range of his interests would require many more volumes than the present. Mats was a linguist, fascinated by grammatical as well as semantic phenomena, and always keen to discuss strange structures and quirks which had struck him or which his students had asked about; and he was a wonderful conversationalist on these and many other topics, both in research seminars and around the kitchen table in the English Studies common room at Lund. In his spare time, Mats enjoyed many interests beyond grammar and linguistics, including film, literature, music, and whisky.

Towards the end of his life, Mats developed a particular interest in chilli-peppers. He cultivated various types with considerable success and often brought samples for brave colleagues to try. His spirit of curiosity and playful experimentation was one that many scientists and intellectuals would recognise.  One thinks, for example, of Humphry Davy and Thomas Beddoes experimenting with nitrous oxide, on themselves and on their friends, at the Pneumatic Institute in Bristol. If one looks hard enough, it is of course possible to find instances of almost anything in the history of almost any national literature.  Wombats in nineteenth century British writing, for example; Mats was also interested in the linguistic construction of sight in the work of George Eliot, one of the nineteenth century’s greatest English language novelists. But Mats’ interest in chilli-peppers does have a particular connection to one of the most famous English Romantic poets: John Keats.  In a letter to Mary Russell Mitford of 21 April 1821, written just two months after Keats had died from tuberculosis at Rome, his friend, the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon, recalls that Keats told him ‘that he had once covered his tongue and throat, as far as he could reach, with cayenne pepper, in order to enjoy the “delicious coolness of claret in all its glory”’.  This, Haydon says, is typical of ‘what a man of genius does when his passions are roused’.[1] It is possible that Haydon’s anecdote is apocryphal, but it certainly does bear comparison with Keats’s celebrated ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ (1819):

O, for a draught of that vintage! that hath been

    Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,

Tasting of Flora and the country green,

    Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South,

    Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

       With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

          And purple-stained mouth;

    That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

          And with thee fade away into the forest dim (lines 11-20).

Nobody who knew Mats Johansson, without doubt ‘a man of genius’, was ready for him to ‘fade away’: he had far too much left to give to us all. He is and will continue to be sorely missed by colleagues and students at Lund University.  If the essays in this volume capture even a small part of the range of his interests, of his humanity and good sense, of his wit and intelligence, of his faith in learning, of his sense of humour, then they will have done all that we can hope for.  ‘Nothing of him that doth fade,/ But doth suffer a sea-change/ Into something rich and strange’.

Cian Duffy, Satu Manninen and Carita Paradis


[1] The Life, Letters and Table Talk of Benjamin Robert Haydon, ed. Richard Henry Stoppard (New York: Scribner, 1876), p. 208.

Published: 2022-06-01