Christopher Smart – Intro

Christopher Smart (1722-1771)

AG: Lets get on to Christopher Smart on page five one five.

Student: But it sounds…

AG: Sounds, yeah, they’re similar. (Watts and Blake’s lullabies)  I’m sorry, this belongs to…      Now, has anybody read any Christopher Smart before? – One.. two..  Have you read some Smart?

Student: Maxwell Smart ?

AG; No, Christopher Smart.  Do you know any Smart? Do you know.. Is he taught much?  And what Smart is taught?

Student:  Aha!

AG: Is “Rejoice in the Lamb” taught at any great length.? “Jubilate Agno”?  And “Songs to David”? Smart has several interesting things and they don’t have any of it here (in the anthology). There’s a little tiny, favorite poem, “To His Cat Jeoffry”. Has anybody read that? How many have read that already already? – Okay – Well, the reason I want to lay Smart on now is this line is basically the same line I used for “Howl”. I didn’t get the “Howl” line from (Walt) Whitman and I didn’t get it from Robinson Jeffers or Kenneth Fearing, who are the American precursors of long line, nor from the nineteenth-century British poet Edward Carpenter, who was also, as a student of Whitman, witing long lines but from Christopher Smart (1722-1771). And this little piece about his cat Jeoffry is a little tiny excerpt from a longer book called Rejoice In the Lamb, which was not published until 1920, actually. It was written, three-lines-a-day supposedly,  in the bug house, (of)  Bedlam. And I’ll read you a little bit of his history.

He died at the age of 49. ” Smart was…” – (this  is a little commentary-introduction by the editor, most recent editor, (of) …who’s this fellow? –   W.H.Bond The original manuscript of Rejoice in the Lamb was.. wound up at the Houghton Library in Harvard, Cambridge, and Bond is the curator of manuscripts..and… edited this..version.. It was put out in 1954, but the first time that the entire manuscript of Rejoice in the Lamb was published was 1920 (although Smart in his day was considered quite a brilliant poet –  and somewhat, a little bit, I imagine like Gregory Corso always in trouble. always drinking, always in debt. In his case, getting..taken off to jail often for.. or to (the) madhouse for various public demonstrations. His main thing was, like, he’d fall on his knees in the middle of London and pray and be dragged off And (Samuel) Johnson (said. (“I’d as lief fall on my knees and pray with Kit Smart than any man in London”.  Jonson didn’t think it was so bad – “‘ I”d as lief..”  “‘ I”d as lief.. – I’d just as soon as fall down  on my knees and pray with Kit Smart than any man in London”)

But, in case, “Smart was a premature baby and a delicate child and the cordials  ( c-o-r-d-i-a-l-s – cordials , the drinks  (alcoholic stimulant, medicinal liqueurs)),  “the cordials habitually administered to him may well have developed the taste for stimulants which later helped to ruin him.”

He was patron of…. His father Peter Smart was steward on the estates of   William.. a Viscount, Viscount Vane – and he was well-treated, virtually as a member of his family, by his father’s patrons.

He was… he got into.. where did he go? .. Cambridge!  –  He was an  excellent classicl scholar. And so, undoubtedly (I don’t have a complete Smart here, but he probably did some Horatian, or Catullan, or Sapphic forms – you might want to check that out before we’re done). He was such a student, he won the title of Scholar of the University and he had a growing claim to the title of University Poet. .He was elected Fellow of Pembroke College and he wrote…he submittted poems over and over and won every prize (I think there was some very special prize that was given every year, and he won it, constantly)  So everybody acknowledged him as being a tremendous scholar. However, he drank a bit. And then family finances declined. He was in serious difficulties. Friends and admirers rallied to his support and he was safe for the moment. But he did not abate the excesses that had brought about his crisis..

By the autumn of 1747, his creditors took action, and the University deprived him of his offices. But still Cambridge worked to save her poet whose drunkenness might possibly be reformed (and he was re-instated for the year 1748-1749).   Then he left for London and the life of a professional writer. He still kept his fellowship with Pembroke Hall and so he could complete for the Seatonian Prize–  (which is the one he… Seatonian Prize for Religious Poetry).  The prize was first offered for competition in 1750 and was won by Smart and all told he carried off the Seatonian Prize five times in the first six years of its history

In London he plunged into a life of feverish activity . He became one of John Newbery‘s stable of literary hacks (Oliver Goldsmith was another) and editing and writing the greater part of two periodicals, (The Student and The Midwife) – He courted his publisher’s step-daughter. They married (secretly, so that his Fellowship wouldn’t lapse, and then that got out  and they found out). He continued competing  for the prizes and writing elegant verses both in Latin and Greek and in English. At the same time, at the other end of the scale, was  Mother Midnight’s Oratory, a series of wild tavern entertainments, into which Smart flung himself whole-heartedly both as performer and writer – Mother Midnight’s Oratory

Continued his work on Grub Street -Literary squabbles – (“Grub Street” being the journalistic street) – Bad marriage – “The strain of working at such a pace told on his rather fragile health. There’s evidence of a breakdown or two before the catastrophe of 1756. His “Hymn to the Supreme Being”, published that year commemorates his recovery from one such attack. “Doctor Robert James”, he notes, in his dedication, rescued  him  more than once from the grave (the Doctor) – Edited a periodical called The Universal Visitorof which he wrote most of – (in other words, it was a magazine, and he would write all of it!) – and Doctor Johnson (when he got sick, Doctor Johnson would tale over – (Sam Johnson took over)

Delicate health, drink, and a growing religiious mania, apparently, combined, to make him obnoxious to family and friends and incapable of managing his affairs. The history of his confinement is by no means clear. Only one definite record is discovered .Jn May 1757, he was admitted to St Luke’s Hospital for the Insane (born 1722, 1757 admitted to St Luke’s Hospital for the Insane – so 22-57 – 35 years old? -yeah)  Discharged a year later, uncured. It is evident that he must have been in some asylum or other for a considerable period after this. His remarks in “Jubilate Agno….” ( So this time he began writing “Jubilate Agno”  or “Rejoice in the Lamb” – He was a great Hebrew scholar and translated the Psalms into very fixed-type verses, but in this one poem, he wrote the big long strange lines – it’s like in Whitman, or like my own – mostly taken… modelled on the Biblical Hebrew style – so that, actually, “Howl” comes, originally, from Hebrew prosody, through Christopher Smart,

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-seven-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-seven minutes in]


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