For I will consider Christopher Smart

You may have come across the poem by Christopher Smart (1722-1771), “For I will consider my cat Jeoffry”, which begins:

For I will consider my cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the living God.
Duly and daily serving him.

I hadn’t realised until now that this comes from a larger work, Jubilate Agno, written between 1758 and 1763 while Smart was confined to Bedlam for his supposed “religious mania”, and existing today as a number of fragments.

Benjamin Britten (who I’ve been listening to lots recently) set part of Jubilate Agno to music in his choral work Rejoice in the Lamb, and the following stanza lies at the heart of the piece. It also supports the view that Smart was more a visionary than simply a spinner of “Jeoffry”-ish whimsy (in this he reminds me a little of Blake):

For I am under the same accusation
With my Saviour,
For they said,
He is besides himself.
For the officers of the peace
Are at variance with me,
And the watchman smites me
With his staff.
For the silly fellow, silly fellow,
Is against me,
And belongeth neither to me
Nor to my family.
For I am in twelve hardships,
But he that was born of a virgin
Shall deliver me out of all,
Shall deliver me out of all.

If you have Spotify, Britten’s setting of this poem can be heard here.

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5 Responses to For I will consider Christopher Smart

  1. Alex says:

    Having said that, Kit Smart really was a little loopy. ;-)

  2. John H says:

    Oh, indeed. But there seems to be more than a dash of the “holy fool” about him…

  3. Captain Thin says:

    There’s been some academic debate about whether Smart was actually insane (or whether he was committed for more personal reasons). In any event, Ben Johnston thought he should be released. From David Lyle Jeffry and Greg Maillet’s recent book Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice (p. 230):

    “He had the secret admiration of Samuel Johnson, who visited him in Bedlam. Johnson, in a remark that reveals as much about himself as Smart, thought “he ought not to be shut up” and that “his infirmities were not noxious to society.” Johnson adds, “He insisted on people praying with him; and I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as any one else.””

  4. Captain Thin says:

    *Sigh. And I of course mean “Samuel Johnson” in the second sentence there, not “Ben Johnston”.

  5. As a student, I sang the piece a few times, and it sounds even better from within a choir! Thanks for reminding me. Must listen again.

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