1780 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Edmund Smith

T., "Anecdotes of Mr. Edmund Smith" Gentleman's Magazine 50 (June 1780) 280.



Mr. URBAN,

In your late examinations of Johnson's LIVES of the POETS, you have mentioned some new circumstances concerning SMITH, commonly called CAPTAIN RAG. To which may be added the following curious anecdote, just published in Mr. Warton's second edition of the LIFE of Sir THOMAS POPE. "In Monmouth's rebellion, the University of Oxford raised a regiment for the King's service, and Christ Church and Jesus College made one company, of which Lord Norris was captain; who presented Mr. Urry (the editor of Chaucer) a serjeant therein with a halberd. Upon Dr. Pocock's death, Mr. Urry lugged CAPTAIN RAG into his chamber at Peckwater, locked him in, put the key in his pocket, and ordered his bedmaker to supply him with necessaries through the window and told him he should not come out, till he had made a copy of verses on the Doctor's death. The sentence being irrevocable, the Captain made the Ode, and sent it with this epistle to Mr. Urry, who was a well-built man and large-limbed; who (Smith) thereupon had his release." p. 449. APPEND. The Ode is Smith's famous Latin Ode, POCOCKIUS. The epistle here mentioned is printed in the preface to Johnson's ENGLISH POETS, vol. IV. p. 62. Mr. Warton extracts these notices from a collection of original manuscript letters in the Bodleian Library.

Dr. Johnson has said that Smith obtained his nickname of Capt. Rag from the raggedness of his dress. This remark is not strictly true. It was not from the raggedness of his dress (in which however he was probably too great a sloven), but from the tattered condition of his gown, which was always flying in rags about him; and to conceal which, he wore one end of it in his pocket; a practice still common enough at Oxford, among the young Rags of the present days.

There is another circumstance relative to this unfortunate poet, which seems to have been unknown to the great biographer. Philips and Smith were such intimate chronies, that whoever invited one, always had the company of the other of course. The consequence was not disagreeable. Philips was never good company till he was drunk, Smith never but while he was sober. Thus the inviter had constantly one of them, to keep up the ball for the evening; and, as Shakespeare expresses it, "to set the table in a roar."

I have this account from a gentleman who was contemporary with them, and extremely intimate with them both. If any any future edition of their lives, these circumstances should be thought worthy notice, the authority of the relater may be depended on.

Yours, &c.

T.