Christopher Smart enters an insane asylum
Christopher Smart (1722-71) was an English poet and scholar, sadly famous because of a mental illness that plagued his adult years. He was a friend of Samuel Johnson, who said in defence of him: “He insisted on people praying with him; and I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as any one else. Another charge was, that he did not love clean linen; and I have no passion for it.”
His greatest poetical work was Jubilate Agno, written when he was incarcerated in an asylum. Its most famous passage concerns his cat:
- For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
- For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
- For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way.
- For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
- For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer
- For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
- For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
- For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life
- For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
- For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
- For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
- For he is tenacious of his point.
- For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
- For he knows that God is his Saviour.
- For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
- For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion
- For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
- For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
- For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.
- For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick
- For he can swim for life.
- For he can creep.
In 1943 Benjamin Britten set the poem to music as “Rejoice in the Lamb”. Here is a section of that: