1810 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christopher Smart

Alexander Chalmers, in Works of the English Poets (1810) 16:3-15.



CHRISTOPHER SMART was born at Shipbourne, in Kent, April 11, 1722. His father was possessed of about three hundred pounds a year in that neighbourhood, and was originally intended for holy orders. Why he did not enter into holy orders, or what occupation he pursued, we are not told, except that at one time he had acted as steward of the Kentish estates of lord Barnard, afterwards earl of Darlington.

His mother was a Miss Gilpin, of the family of the celebrated reformer Bernard Gilpin; an ancestor, by the father's side. Mr. Peter Smart had been a prebendary of Durham in the reign of Charles the First, and was accounted by the puritan party as the proto-martyr in their cause, having been degraded and deprived of all his ecclesiastical preferments, fined five hundred pounds, and imprisoned eleven years. When restored to liberty by the parliament, he appeared as a witness against archbishop Laud. The particular libel for which he suffered is written in Latin verse, and was published in 1643. This is probably what the author of the life prefixed to Smart's poems (edit. 1791) calls "an interesting narrative in a pamphlet."

When our poet was at school his father died, and so much in debt, that his widow was obliged to sell the family estate at a considerable loss. As he had, however, received a liberal education, he is said to have communicated to his son a taste for literature, and probably that turn for pious reflection, which appears in many of his poetical pieces, and was not interrupted with impunity by the irregularities of his life.

Smart was born earlier than the usual period of gestation, and to this circumstance his biographer ascribes that delicacy of constitution which rendered him unequal to the indulgences of men of vigour and gaiety. His taste for poetry is said to have appeared when he was only four years old, in an extempore effusion, which has not been preserved, but which is said to have indicated a relish for verse, and an ear for numbers. He was educated at Maidstone, until he was eleven years old, at which time his father died, and his mother was induced to send him to Durham, where he might enjoy the advantages of a good school, change of air, and what in her circumstances became desirable, the notice and protection of his father's relations. Who they were we are not told, but young Smart was very cordially received at Raby Castle, by lord Barnard, and in this family obtained the friendship of the hon. Mrs. Hope, and the more substantial patronage of the late duchess of Cleveland, who allowed him forty pounds a year until her death, in 1742. His gratitude to these noble personages is amply testified by his Ode to lord Barnard, whom he particularly acknowledges as one who encouraged his youthful studies. It was probably owing to the liberality of the same family that, after he had acquired very considerable reputation at Durham school, he was sent to Cambridge, in his seventeenth year, and admitted of Pembroke Hall, Oct. 30, 1739.

At college he was much more distinguished for his poetical efforts and classical taste than for an ambition to excel in the usual routine of academical studies, and soon became a general favourite with such of his contemporaries as were men of gaiety and vivacity. A convivial disposition led him at the same time to associate rather too frequently with men of superior fortune, while pride kept him from avowing his inability to support their expences. His only dependence was what he derived from his college, and the allowance made to him by the duchess of Cleveland. This imprudence involved him in difficulties, from which he probably might have been soon extricated, if it had not induced an habitual neglect of pecuniary matters, which adhered to him throughout life, and a love for convivial enjoyments, which afterwards formed the chief blot in his character. In all other respects, Smart was a man of strict principle, and of blameless conduct.

When at college, we are told he was extremely fond of exercise, and of walking especially, at which times it was his custom to pursue his meditations. There is nothing very singular in this, as most young men at college find walking more convenient than riding; but it is added, what probablyl will not be so readily believed, that by constant treading he actually wore out a path on one of the paved walks belonging to Pembroke Hall!

During the early part of his residence at Cambridge he wrote the Tripos poems in this collection, a species of composition published, or at least written, every year when the bachelors of arts have completed their degrees. It is not often that much notice is taken of these effusions, but the merit of Smart's verses was immediately and generally acknowledged. When afterwards, by the advice of his friends, he offered himself as a candidate for an university scholarship, he is said to have translated Pope's Ode on St. Cecilia's day into Latin. But this is doubted by his biographer, on account of the length and labour of the composition. He must, however, have executed that translation about this time, as the applause it received induced him to turn his mind to other translations from the same author, and to write to him for his advice or approbation. The following answer was immediately transmitted by Pope.

"Twickenham, Nov. 18.

Sir,

I thank you for the favour of yours: I would not give you the trouble of translating the whole essay you mention: the two first epistles are already well done, and if you try, I could wish it were on the last, which is less abstracted, and more easily done into poetry than common place. A few lines at the beginning and the conclusion, will be sufficient for a trial whether you yourself can like the task or not. I believe the Essay on Criticism will in general be more agreeable, both to a young writer, and to the majority of readers. What made me wish the other well done, was the want of a right understanding of the subject, which appears in the foreign versions, in two Italian, two French, and one German. There is one indeed in Latin verse printed at Witemberg, very faithful, but inelegant: and another in French prose: but in these the spirit of poetry is as much lost, as the sense and system itself in the others. I ought to take this opportunity of acknowledging the Latin translation of my Ode, which you sent me, and in which I could see little or nothing to alter, it is so exact. Believe me, Sir, equally desirous of doing you any service, and afraid of engaging you in an art so little profitable, though so well deserving, as good poetry. I am,

Your most obliged,

and sincere humble servant,

A. Pope."

This correspondence, which seems to relate principally to the Essay on Man, was probably very flattering on both sides. Smart as a young man, aiming at poetical honours, was gratified with the letters of Pope; and Pope, who was ever alive to extent of fame, was not sorry to find his works introduced on the continent in a classical form. Smart proceeded, accordingly, to translate the Essay on Criticism, of all Pope's writings, perhaps the most unfit for the purpose; but it brought him into some reputation with scholars, and he did not perceive that it retarded his popularity as an English poet. It was, however, the fashion with the young poets of that time to translate from Pope, although he had not much taste for atin verse; and they could derive little more advantage from the employment than the praise usually bestowed upon a school-task.

In 1743 he was admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts; and July 3, 1745, was elected a fellow of Pembroke hall. About this time, he wrote a comedy, of which a few songs only remain; and a ludicrous soliloquy of the Princess Periwinkle, preserved in the Old Woman's Magazine. The soliloquy and some account of the play are here extracted from his life published in 1791.

"Enter the Princess Periwinkle sola, attended by fourteen maids of great honour.

Sure such a wretch as I was never born,
By all the world deserted and forlorn,
This bitter-sweet, this honey-gall to prove,
And all the oil and vinegar of love.
Pride, Love, and Reason will not let me rest,
But make a devilish bustle in my breast.
To wed with Fizgig, Pride, Pride, Pride denies,
Put on a Spanish padlock, Reason cries;
But tender gentle Love with every wish complies.
Pride, Love and Reason fight till they are cloy'd,
And each by each in mutual wounds destroy'd.
Thus when a Barber and a Collier fight,
The Barber beats the luckless Collier — white.
The dusty Collier heaves his pond'rous sack,
And, big with vengeance, beats the Barber — black.
In comes the Brickdust man, with grime o'erspread,
And beats the Collier and the Barber — red.
Black, red and white, in various clouds are toss'd,
And in the dust they raise, the combatants are lost.

"The play was called A Trip to Cambridge, or the Grateful Fair. The business of the drama was laid in bringing up an old country baronet to admit his nephew a fellow commoner at one of the colleges; in which expedition a daughter or niece attended. In their approach to the seat of the Muses, the waters from a heavy rain happened to be out at Fenstanton, which gave a young student of Emmanuel an opportunity of shewing his gallantry as he was riding out, by jumping from his horse and plunging into the flood to rescue the distressed damsel, who was near perishing in the stream, into which she had fallen from her poney, as the party travelled on horseback. The swain being lucky enough to effect his purpose, of course gained an interest in the lady's heart, and an acquaintance with the rest of the family, which he did not fail to cultivate on their arrival at Cambridge, with success as far as the fair one was concerned. To bring about the consent of the father (or guardian, for my memory is not accurate), it was contrived to have a play acted, of which entertainment he was highly fond; and the Norwich company luckily came to Cambridge just at that time only one of the actors had been detained on the road and they could not perform the play that night, unless the baronet would consent to take a part; which, rather than be disappointed of his favourite amusement, he was prevailed upon to do, especially as he was assured that it would amount to nothing more than sitting at a great table, and signing an instrument, as a justice of peace might sign a warrant: and having been some years of the quorum, he felt himself quite equal to the undertaking. The under-play to be acted by the Norwich company on this occasion, was the Bloody War of the King of Diamonds with the King of Spades; and the actors in it came on with their respective emblems on their shoulders, taken from the suits of the cards they represented. The baronet was the king of one of the parties, and in signing a declaration of war, signed his consent to the marriage of his niece or daughter, and a surrender of all her fortune. — This farce was acted at Pembroke College-hall, the parlour of which made the Green Room."

In 1747, Smart took the degree of master of arts and became a candidate for the Seatonian prize, which was adjudged to him for five years, four of them in succession. The subjects of his poems were — The Eternity — March 25, 1750; — The Immensity — April 20, 1751; — The Omniscience — Nov. 2, 1752; — The Power — Dec. 5, 1753; and The Goodness of the Supreme Being — Oct. 28, 1755.

It is probable he might have succeeded in the year 1754, but his thoughts were for some time diverted by an important change in his situation. In 1753 he quitted college, on his marriage with Miss Ann-Maria Carnan, the daughter by a former husband of Mary wife of the late worthy Mr. John Newbery. He had been introduced to this gentleman's family by Dr. Burney, the celebrated author of the History of Music, who composed several of Smart's songs, and enriched the collection of his works published in 1791 with some original compositions not generally known to belong to our poet.

Before this time, Smart had occasionally visited London, and had relinquished the prospects of any regular profession. In 1751 he published his Seatonian poem on the Immensity of the Supreme Being; and about the same time appears to have been engaged with Newbery in a general scheme of authorship. He had a ready turn for original composition, both in prose and verse, and as Newbery projected many works in the form of periodical miscellanies, must have been an useful coadjutor. During the years 1750 and 1751 he was a frequent contributor to the Student, or Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany, and carried on at the same time The Midwife, or the Old Woman's Magazine, a small periodical pamphlet, which was published in three-penny numbers, and, was afterwards collected into three volumes 12mo. Smart and Newbery were almost the sole writers in this last work, which consists of short pieces in prose and verse, mostly of the humorous kind, and generally in a style of humour which in our more polished days would be reckoned somewhat coarse.

During the publication of the Midwife, he wrote the prologue and epilogue to Othello, when acted at Drury-lane theatre by the Delaval family and their friends. Of the importance of this prologue and epilogue he had so high an opinion, that when he published them, in March 1751, he added a solemn notice of their being entered in the hall-book of the stationers' company, and threatened to prosecute all persons who should pirate them, or any part of them. As he affected to conceal his share in the Midwife, he permits that old lady to copy these articles "because a work of merit printed in that Magazine is as a brilliant set in gold, and increased, not diminished, in its lustre." He was now acquiring the various arts of puffing, and he ever preserved a much higher opinion of his works than even his best friends could allow to be just. — Among other schemes to which it is to be regretted a man of talents should descend, we find him, about the beginning of 1752, endeavouring to amuse the town with a kind of farcical performance, called the Old Woman's Oratory, intended partly to ridicule orator Henley's buffooneries, and partly to promote the sale of the Old Woman's Magazine. In neither of these was he very successful; the magazine was soon discontinued for want of encouragement, and Henley was a man whose absurdities could be heightened only by himself.

Notwithstanding these pursuits, Smart's pleasing manners and generally inoffensive conduct procured him the friendship of Johnson, Garrick, Dr. James, Dr. Burney, and other men of literary eminence in that day. Garrick afterwards evinced his liberality, when Smart was in distress, by giving him the profits of a free benefit at Drury-lane theatre, and that it might be the more productive, introduced for the first time the short drama of the Guardian, in which he appeared in a principal character. Lord Delaval also, to whom Smart had been private tutor at Cambridge, and his brother, sir Francis, were among his friends, and it was at their request he wrote the prologue and epilogue to Othello.

In 1752, he published a collection of his poems in 4to, in an elegant and rather expensive form, and although they not only received the praise due to them, but the very flattering decision that in point of genius he might rank with Gray and Mason, yet as this opinion was qualified by some objections, he immediately became the implacable enemy of reviews and reviewers. He supposed at the same time, what we believe is very improbable, that Dr. afterwards Sir John Hill was the author of the criticism on his poems in the Monthly Review, and determined to take his revenge for this and other offences committed by Hill, by publishing a poem which had been written previously to this affair, entitled The Hilliad. Of this, book first made its appearance accordingly in the beginning of the year 1753.

The Hilliad, which is perhaps one of the most bitter satires ever published, would afford a very unfavourable opinion of our author's character, had it not been an attack on a man who had rendered himself ridiculous and contemptible by practising with unblushing effrontery every species of literary and medical quackery. According to Smart, Hill gave the first public provocation, in one of his Inspectors, where he accuses Smart of ingratitude. Hill alleged that he had been the cause of Smart's being brought up to town; that he had been at all times his friend, and had supported his character; and, long before he appeared as Inspector, he spoke well of those pieces, on the merit of which Smart's fortune at that time depended; he hints also among other favours, that he had been, the means of introducing him to Newbery; and for all this, the only return Smart made was by an abusive poem, "a long elaborate work, which he has read at alehouses and cyder cellars, and if any bookseller will run the risk, will publish."

To this heavy accusation, Smart pleaded not guilty in toto, solemnly declaring in an advertisement in the Daily Gazetteer, that he never received the least favour from Hill, directly or indirectly, unless an invitation to dinner which he never accepted, might be reckoned such. He denied at the same time having ever been in his company but twice, the first time at Mr. Newbery's, the second at Vauxhall gardens; and asserts that Hill had been his enemy as much as it was in his power, particularly in The Impertinent, another of his papers, in which he abuses not only Smart, but Fielding, who was his particular friend. This declaration was corroborated by an advertisement from honest Newbery, who adds that he introduced Smart to Hill, six months after the former had engaged with himself (Newbery) in business, when they met as perfect strangers. With respect to Hill's assertion that he had been the means of introducing Smart to Mr. Newbery, the latter declares it to be an absolute falsehood.

The truth was, that Hill pretended to take the part of our poet in The Inspector, which he was known to write, while he abused him in The Impertinent, the author of which, he flattered himself, was not known. But it was among the misfortunes of this arch-quack, although advantageous to the public, that whatever disguise he put on was always too thin to elude the penetration of his contemporaries. This trick in particular had been discovered by the reviewer of books in the Gentleman's Magazine five months before the Inspector appeared in which he accused Smart of ingratitude. We are not therefore to wonder that the discovery of such malignant hypocrisy stimulated Smart to write The Hilliad, which it appears he first read or circulated in manuscript among his friends. But whatever praise they bestowed on the genius displayed in this satire, they were not pleased that he had involved himself in a war of obloquy with one whom to conquer was to exceed in the worst part of his character; and Smart probably listened to their opinions, for he published no more of the Hilliad. Hill had the credit of writing a Smartiad, which served no other purpose than to set off the merit of the other.

In 1754, Smart published the Seatonian prize poem on the Power, and in 1756, that on the Goodness of the Supreme Being, and in the same year, his Hymn to the Supreme Being, on recovery from a dangerous fit of illness, which illness, if I mistake not, filled up the space between the years 1754 and part of 1756. "Though the fortune," says his biographer, "as well as the constitution of Mr. Smart, required the utmost care, he was equally negligent in the management of both, and his various and repeated embarrassments acting upon an imagination uncommonly fervid, produced temporary alienations of mind; which at last were attended with paroxysms so violent and continued as to render confinement necessary. In this melancholy state, his family, for he had now two children, must have been much embarrassed in their circumstances, but for the kind friendship and assistance of Mr. Newbery. Many other of Mr. Smart's acquaintance were likewise forward in their services; and particularly Dr. Samuel Johnson, who, on the first approaches of Mr. Smart's malady, wrote several papers for a periodical publication in which that gentleman was concerned, to secure his claim to a share in the profits of it."—

The publication alluded to, was the Universal Visitor and Memorialist, published by Gardner, a bookseller in the Strand. Smart, and Rolt, a political writer, are said to have entered into an engagement to write for this magazine, and for no other work whatever; for this they were to have a third of the profits, and the contract was to be binding for ninety-nine years. In Boswell's Life of Johnson, we find this contract discussed with more gravity than it seems to deserve. It was probably a contrivance of Gardner's to secure the services of two irregular men for a certain period. Johnson, however, wrote a few papers for our poet, "not then," he added, "knowing the terms on which Smart was engaged to write, and thinking I was doing him good. I hoped his wits would soon return to him. Mine returned to me, and I wrote in the Universal Visitor no longer." The publication ceased in about two years from its commencement.

Smart's madness, according to Dr. Johnson's account, discovered itself chiefly in unnecessary deviations from the usual modes of the world, in things that are not improper in themselves. He would fall upon his knees and say his prayers in the street, or in any unusual place, and insisted on people praying with him. His habits were also remarkably slovenly, but he had not often symptoms of dangerous lunacy, and the principal reason of his confinement was to give his constitution a chance of recovering from the effects of intemperance.

After his release, when his mind appeared to be in some measure restored, he took a pleasant lodging in the neighbourhood of St. James's park, and conducted his affairs for some time with prudence. He was maintained partly by his literary occupations, and partly by the generosity of his friends, receiving, among other benefactions, fifty pounds a year from the treasury, but by whose interest his biographer has not been able to discover. In 1757 he published a prose translation of the works of Horace. From this performance he could derive little fame. He professes, indeed, that he had been encouraged to think that such a translation would be useful to those who are desirous of acquiring or recovering a competent knowledge of the Latin tongue, but the injury done to learners by literal translations was at this time too generally acknowledged to allow him the full force of this apology. His sentiments on the undertaking, when he came to reflect more seriously, will appear hereafter in a letter from Dr. Hawkesworth.

In what manner he lived for some time after this, we are not told. It was in 1759 that Garrick gave him the profits of a benefit before mentioned, when it appears that he was again involved in pecuniary distresses. In 1763, he published A Song to David, in which there are some passages of more majestic animation than in any of his former pieces, and others in which the expression is mean, and the sentiments unworthy of the poet or the subject. These inequalities will not, however, surprize the reader when he is told that this piece was composed by him during his confinement, when he was debarred the use of pen, ink, and paper, and was obliged to indent his lines with the end of a key, upon the wainscot. This poem was not admitted into the edition of his works published in 1791, but the grandeur and originality of the following thoughts will apologize for my introducing in this place the only part of it, I have been able to recover, and for which I am indebted to the Monthly Review.

Sublime — invention ever young,
Of vast conception, tow'ring tongue,
To God th' eternal theme;
Notes from your exaltations caught,
Unrival'd royalty of thought.
O'er meaner strains supreme,
His muse, bright angel of his verse,
Gives balm for all the thorns that pierce,
For all the pangs that rage:
Blest light still gaining on the gloom,
The more than Michael of his bloom,
Th' Abishag of his age
He sung of god, the mighty source
Of all things, the stupendous force
On which all strength depends;
From whose right arm, beneath whose eyes,
All period, pow'r, and enterprize
Commences, reigns, and ends.
The world, the clustering spheres he made,
The glorious light, the soothing shade
Dale, champaign, grove and hill:
The multitudinous abyss,
Where secrecy remains in bliss,
And wisdom hides her skill.
Tell them, I AM, Jehovah said
To Moses: while Earth heard in dread,
And, smitten to the heart,
At once, above, beneath, around,
All Nature, without voice, or sound,
Replied, "O Lord, THOU ART."

In the same year he published a small miscellany of poems on several occasions, at the conclusion of which he complains again of the reviewers, and betrays that irritability of self-conceit which is frequently observed to precede, and sometimes to accompany derangement of mind. In other respects these poems added little to his fame, and, except one or two, have not been reprinted.

In 1764, he published Hannah, an oratorio, the music of which was composed by Worgan, and soon after in the same year, An Ode to the Earl of Northumberland, on his being appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, with some other pieces. In all these his imagination, although occasionally fine, went often into wild excesses, and evinced that his mind had never recovered its sober tone. The following letter from Dr. Hawkesworth, already mentioned, to Mrs. Hunter, one of Smart's sisters, affords an interesting display of his general conduct and sentiments at this time.

"Dear Madam,

I am afraid that you have before now secretly accused me, and I confess that appearances are against me: I did not, however, delay to call upon Mr. Smart, but I was unfortunate enough twice to miss him. I was the third day of my being in town seized with a fever that was then epidemic, from which I am but just recovered. I have since my being in town this second time called on my old friend, and seen him. He received me with an ardour of kindness natural to the sensibility of his temper, and we were soon seated together by his fireside: I perceived upon his table a quarto book, in which he had been writing, a prayer-book and a Horace: after the first compliments, I said I had been at Margate, had seen his mother and his sister, who expressed great kindness for him, and made me promise to come and see him: to this he made no reply: nor did he make any enquiry after those I mentioned: he did not even mention the place, nor ask me any questions about it, or what carried me thither. After some pause, and some indifferent chat, I returned to that subject, and said that Mr. Hunter and you would be very glad to see him in Kent: to this he replied very quick, "I cannot afford to be idle;" I said he might employ his mind as well in the country as in town, at which he shook his head; and I entirely changed the subject. Upon my asking him when we should see the Psalms, he said they were going to press immediately: as to his other undertakings, I found he had completed a translation of Phaedrus in verse for Dodsley at a certain price, and that he is now busy translating all Horace into verse, which he sometimes thinks of publishing on his own account, and sometimes contracting for it with a bookseller: I advised him to the latter, and he then told me he was in treaty about it, and believed it would be a bargain: he told me his principal motive for translating Horace into verse, was to supersede the prose translation which he did for Newbery, which he said would hurt his memory. He intends however to review that translation, and print it at the foot of the page in his poetical version, which he proposes to print in quarto with the Latin, both in verse and prose, on the opposite page; he told me he once had thoughts of printing it by subscription, but as he had troubled his friends already, he was unwilling to do it again, and had been persuaded to publish it in numbers, which though I rather dissuaded him, seemed at last to be the prevailing bent of his mind: he read me some of it: it is very close, and his own poetical fire sparkles in it very frequently; yet, upon the whole, it will scarcely take place of Francis's, and therefore, if it is not adopted as a school book, which perhaps may be the case, it will turn to little account. Upon mentioning his prose translation, I saw his countenance kindle, and snatching up the book, "What," says he, "do you think I had for this?" I said I could not tell. "Why," says he, with great indignation, "thirteen pounds." I expressed very great astonishment, which he seemed to think he should increase by adding, "but, sir, I gave a receipt for a hundred;" my astonishment however was now over, and I found he received only thirteen pounds because the rest had been advanced for his family; this was a tender point, and I found means immediately to divert him from it.

He is with very decent people, in a house most delightfully situated with a terrace that overlooks St. James's Park, and a door into it. He was going to dine with an old friend of my own, Mr. Richard Dalton, who has an appointment in the king's library, and if I had not been particularly engaged, I would have dined with him. He had lately received a very genteel letter from Dr. Lowth, and is by no means considered in any light that makes his company as a gentleman, a scholar, and a genius less desirable."

In his intervals of health and regularity, he still continued to write, and although he perhaps formed too high an opinion of his effusions, he spared no labour when employed by the booksellers, and formed, in conjunction with them, many schemes of literary industry which he did not live to accomplish. In 1765, he published A Poetical Translation of the Fables of Phaedrus, with the appendix of Gudius, and an accurate original text on the opposite page. This translation appears to be executed with neatness and fidelity, but has never become popular. His Translation of the Psalms which followed in the same year affords a melancholy proof of want of judgment and decay of powers. Many of his psalms scarcely rise above the level of Sternhold and Hopkins, and they had the additional disadvantage of appearing at the same time with Merrick's more correct and chaste translation. In 1767, our poet republished his Horace, with a metrical translation, in which, although we find abundance, of inaccuracies, irregular rhymes and redundancies, there are some passages conceived in the true spirit of the original.

His last publication, in 1768, exhibited a more striking proof of want of judgment than any of his late performances. It was entitled The Parables of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Done into familiar verse, with occasional applications for the use of younger minds. This was dedicated to Master Bonnel George Thornton, a child of three years old, and is written in that species of verse which would be tolerated only in the nursery.

In what manner he lived during his latter years his biographer has not informed us: but at length he was confined for debt in the King's Bench prison, the rules of which were obtained for him by his brother-in-law, Mr. Thomas Carnan. Here he died after a short illness occasioned by a disorder in his liver, May 18, 1770, leaving two daughters, who, with his widow, were long settled at Reading, and by their prudent management of the bookselling trade, transferred to them by the late Mr. John Newbery, have been enabled to maintain a very respectable rank in life.

In 1791, a collection of his poetical pieces was formed, to which were prefixed some memoirs of his life collected from his relations. Of these much use has been made in the present sketch, but it has been found necessary to employ considerable research in supplying the want of proper dates, and other circumstances illustrative of the literary character of a man who, with all his failings, had many amiable qualities, and certainly the genius of a real poet. Of his personal character, the following particulars yet remain to be added from the Memoirs.

"His piety was exemplary and fervent; it may not be uninteresting to the reader to be told, that Mr. Smart, in composing the religious poems, was frequently so impressed with the sentiment of devotion, as to write particular passages on his knees.

"He was friendly, affectionate, and liberal to excess; so as often to give that to others, of which he was in the utmost want himself; he was also particularly engaging in conversation, when his first shyness was worn away; which he had in common with literary men, but in a very remarkable degree. Having undertaken to introduce his wife to my lord Darlington, with whom he was well acquainted; he had no sooner mentioned her name to his lordship, than he retreated suddenly, as if stricken with a panic, from the room, and from the house, leaving her to follow overwhelmed with confusion.

"As an instance of the wit of his conversation, the following extemporary spondaic, descriptive of the three Bedels of the university, who were at that time all very fat men, is still remembered by his academical acquaintance. 'Pinguia tergeminorum abdomina Bedellorum.' This line he afterwards inserted in one of his poems for the Tripos."

As a poet, Smart exhibits indubitable proofs of genius, but few of a correct taste, and appears to have seldom exercised much labour, or employed cool judgment in preparing his works for the public. Upon the whole, therefore, he is most successful in his lighter pieces, his odes, songs, and fables. Of his odes, that on Ill-nature; the Morning, Noon, and Night pieces, particularly the last, if the epigrammatic turn at the conclusion does not disappoint the pensive reader, may be cited as productions of rich and original fancy, nor will it detract much from their praise that they sometimes remind us of Milton. His fables are entitled to high praise, for ease of versification and delicacy of humour, and although he may have departed from the laws which some critics have imposed on this species of composition, by giving reason to inanimate objects, it will be difficult by any laws to convince the reader that he ought not to be delighted with the Tea-pot and the Scrubbing Brush, the Bag-wig, and the Tobacco-pipe, or the Brocaded Gown and the Linen Rag.

In his religious poems, written for the Seatonian prize, there is much to commend, and where we are most disposed to blame, the fault perhaps is in the expectation that such subjects can be treated with advantage. In the preface to his Ode to St. Cecilia, he allows that "the choosing too high subjects has been the ruin of many a tolerable genius;" and Dr. Johnson, with majestic energy, remarks, that "whatever is great, desirable, or tremendous, is comprized in the name of the Supreme Being. Omnipotence cannot be exalted; Infinity cannot be amplified; Perfection cannot be improved." Of this Smart seems to have been aware, although ambition and interest, neither illaudable in his circumstances, prompted him to make an attempt, in which, whatever his success, he was allowed to excel his rivals. We find him accordingly digressing from his immediate subjects, wherever he can: in his poem on Eternity, he treats of the creation and end of the world, and the last judgment: and in that of Omniscience, he confines himself principally to the wonderful effects of instinct. That there are some splendid passages in these poems, calculated to elevate the mind, and to impart the pious enthusiasm which animated the poet, it would be unjust to deny, but they are perhaps nearly balanced by pompous irregularities, and some of those extraordinary flights which remind us of Blackmore. What can be worse poetry than such lines as

"O Thou whose ways to wonder 'at's' distrust,
Whom to 'describe's' presumption"?

Or what more bold and reprehensible freedoms than to call the Almighty the "Great Poet of the universe," and to speak of himself as "the Poet of his God?"

The Hymn to the Supreme Being is free from all these objections, and is in truth a composition of great pathos and sublimity.

The Hilliad is professedly an imitation of the Dunciad, to which, however, it is greatly superior in design, and generally in execution. Hill was a more fair object of ridicule than either of the heroes of Pope's satire, and in the Hilliad we have such a profusion of ludicrous imagery as cannot perhaps be found in any composition of the same length in our language. Of poems written in profound contempt, and with no other object than to accumulate terms and epithets of the most pregnant ridicule, the Hilliad perhaps may be considered the first.