Christopher Smart 1722–71
One of the most remarkable poetic talents of the century, Smart showed his classical scholarship as a Cambridge undergraduate. A friend of Johnson, he published georgic and satiric poetry in the 1750s, but for most of the period 1757–63 was confined in places for the insane. A Song to David (1763) praises God in mystically patterned groups of stanzas; David, king and psalmist, had praised God to the harp. Jubilate Agno (Rejoice in the Lamb), evidently written during his madness, was not published until 1939. In lines of varying length and rhythm, it praises God’s creation in structures based on the antiphonal responses of Hebrew poetry. The diction and imagery of these poems are extraordinarily rich combinations of scientific and biblical materials; in many respects they are far from the high Augustan verse style of the period, although his minor poems show the influence of Pope (Smart also translated Horace). He died in a debtors’ prison. His reputation has risen greatly in this century, partly helped by the fresh publication.
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