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Christopher Smart

(1722—1771) poet


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(1722–71)

author of Poems on Several Occasions (1752), which included a blank‐verse georgic in two books, ‘The Hop‐Garden’, and lighter verse; and of The Hilliad (1753), a mock‐heroic satire on the quack doctor John Hill, written with the help of A. Murphy and modelled on The Dunciad. He spent the years 1759–63 in a private home for the mentally ill in Bethnal Green. His derangement took the form of a compulsion to public prayer, which occasioned the famous comment of Dr Johnson: ‘I'd as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else.’ He is remembered for A Song to David (1763), a hymn of praise to David as author of the psalms, and a celebration of the Creation and the Incarnation; the poem is built on a mathematical and mystical ordering of stanzas grouped in threes, fives, and sevens. Smart also published in these later years translations of the psalms, of Horace, two oratorios, and poems. His work was little regarded until the 1920s, when there was a wave of biographical interest, and his reputation as a highly original poet was confirmed by the publication of his extraordinary work Jubilate Agno in 1939 (ed. W. F. Stead as Rejoice in the Lamb: A Song from Bedlam). This unfinished work, composed largely at Bethnal Green, celebrates the Creation in a verse form based on the antiphonal principles of Hebrew poetry. Its most celebrated passage is the one on Smart's cat, which begins ‘For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey…’

Subjects: Literature.


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