The internet is always full of cat videos and cat memes and I thought I would try to raise the bar a little by bringing up the marvellous poem by Christopher Smart, a poet and mystic who led an eventful life at a time when religion and science were competing for the greatest minds in Britain.
Christopher Smart was born on the 11th of April, 1722 in Shipbourne, Kent. A religious poet he is perhaps best known for A Song to David (1763) which was written in praise of King David of Biblical fame. Breaking many of the staid conventions of the time that he lived in, much of his work is notable for flashes of vivid imagination and in some ways he was a precursor of the more celebrated writer, William Blake.
After his education at the University of Cambridge, Smart was elected a fellow of Pembroke Hall (1745), but at about the age of 27 he became a writer in London.
Sadly for quite some time though he was nothing if not prolific, he was forced to write low-brow pamphlets and satire, publishing hundreds of such works in a desperate attempt to keep his wife and two little daughters, Marianne and Elizabeth Ann in some sort of comfort.
When Christopher signed a contract to write a weekly magazine, The Universal Visitor, the pressures of this caused Christopher Smart to have a fit which is said my some to be the origin of his madness. Its not 100% certain whether he was actually mad at all, or if his medical confinement was arranged by John Newbery who was just happened to be both Christopher’s publisher and father-in-law!
Sadly whilst this was all going on, his wife Anna Maria left him and took their two daughters to Ireland and he never saw them again for as long as he lived.
With the aid of some kindly friends, Christopher Smart was released from his confinement in 1763 and it was during this period of his life that Christopher Smart made a religious conversion when it is known that he would approach strangers in St James’ Park simply to invite them to prayer with him. Christopher saw God in everything and this combined with his enforced periods of solitude no doubt gave him a unique perspective on life.
Sadly despite him having friends such as as Samuel Johnson, and various well connected theatrical types such as David Garrick, Christopher Smart was not to have a happy end to his life and being in debt in April 1770 was sent to King’s Bench Walk Prison and like so many, he did not regain his freedom, dying as he did on the 21st May 1771.
His famous poem written on his cat though long enough is just part of a longer piece of work Jubilate Agno. Perhaps due to the situation that Christopher found himself, the poem wasn’t published until 1939 and it has since become well loved. Below are some of the original scripts that he wrote whilst in St Lukes Hospital for Lunatics which would have been in Old Street, London.
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 is this 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 he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For First he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For Secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For Thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore-paws extended.
For Fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For Fifthly he washes himself.
For Sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For Seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For Eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For Tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
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 powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incompleat without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his fore-paws of any quadrupede.
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 he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually – Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in compleat cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in musick.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is affraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly,
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroaking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though 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.
Christopher Smart (1722-71)
Whilst not yet having been sent to confinement, you can see my own Poetry Book below which if you click on the image will take you to some more details.
Very Sad Poetry by Stephen Liddell