1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Christopher Smart

Anonymous, in Review of Smart, Song to David; The Literary Gazette (26 February 1820) 131-32.



This very remarkable and scarce poem has been sought out and republished, in consequence of an incidental notice in the Quarterly Review; which, mentioning that neither Anderson nor Chalmers had been able to recover it, expressed great regret at the loss of such a production, and composed under such circumstances. The high eulogies bestowed upon the Song of David by three authorities so respectable as Anderson, Chalmers, and, though last not least, that accomplished judge of poetry, the editor of the Quarterly Review, were quite sufficient to quicken inquiry concerning it; and we are exceedingly well pleased to have it in our power to bring so extraordinary a performance more fully before the public than it has hitherto been.

Written by the unfortunate bard while confined in a madhouse, and committed by means of a key to the wainscot of his room, when denied the use of pen, ink, and paper; nothing of adventitious interest can be imagined to exceed that which is attached to this poem. True, it will be seen that it is disfigured by occasional meanness of expression; that it is unequal, and that it has a number of defects: but the strength, the feeling, the majesty of thought, and the grandeur of language which distinguish its nobler parts, are not only sufficient to establish it as a sublime work, but to prove the perfect truth of the line "Great wit to madness nearly is allied."...

The profusion of imagery, the clustering of stupendous thoughts, the high poetical enthusiasm, the sweetness and force of expression, and the natural sublimity which reign throughout these stanzas, rarely depreciated by any anomaly, leave us nothing to say but to express our astonishment at the mind which could conceive and execute them, and our amazement, at the circumstances under which they were produced. The Song to David, is indeed a wonder in the moral world, and deserves as much the investigation of the philosopher, as the admiration of the lover of poetry.