1814 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christopher Smart

Robert Southey, in Review of Chalmers's English Poets; Quarterly Review 11 (July 1814) 496-97.



Mr. Chalmers repeats with an expression of incredulity, the assertion that Smart wore a path upon one of the paved walks belonging to Pembroke Hall. Smart resided there about fourteen years; — we have seen an apartment in which the tiled floor has been worn into a deep path by the feet of an imprisoned king, in no longer a space of time. Neither Dr. Anderson, nor the present editor has been able to discover a copy of the Song of David, which Smart composed when confined in a mad-house, indenting the lines with a key upon the wainscot. The loss of a poem composed under such circumstances, by a man of such talents, is greatly to be regretted. The following are some of the few stanzas which have been preserved by the Reviewers; Smart has never written with more strength and animation, — and perhaps never with so much feeling.

He sung of God, the mighty source
Of all things, the stupendous force
On which all things depend:
From whose right arm, beneath whose eyes,
All period, power and enterprize,
Commence, and reign, and end.
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!

Smart's Song of David is not the only modern poem which has in this manner disappeared; several others are mentioned by Mr. Chalmers.