Smart, Christopher

, a poet of some, though not the highest celebrity, 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 hispoetical 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.

During the early part of his residence at Cambridge he wrote the Tripos poems, among his works, a species of composition of which it is not often that much notice is taken, 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, which produced a correspondence 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.

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 fevr songs only remain; and a ludicrous soliloquy of the Princess Periwinkle, preserved in the Old Woman’s Magazine. The play was called “A Trip to Cambridge, or the Grateful Fair.” The business of the drama, says his biographer, “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 Fenstauton, which gave a youug 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, fur 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 plav that night, unless the baronet would consent to take apart; 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 tinder-play to he 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 vvas 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 himfor five years, four of them in succession. The Mibjects of his poems were, “The Eternity,March 5, 1750. “The Immensity,April 20, 1751. “The Omniscience,” Nov. 1, 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 hue 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 coilection of his works published in 1791 with some original compositions not generally known tobelong 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 Drurylane 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 hallbook 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 fevenge 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 alledged 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 totOy 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 ou 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 seems to have filled up the space between | the years 1754 and part of 1756.” Though the fortune,“says his hiographer,” 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 Holt, 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 Boswt-Il’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 ibat 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 remark, ably 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 eifr cts 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.

In what manner he lived for some time after this, we are not told. It was in 1759 thatGarrick 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 Soug 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 a fragment has been printed in the late edition of the English Poets.

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 tht Earl of Northumberland,” on his bein<r 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 iniiui had never recovered its sober tone. | 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 PliEedrus,” 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 obtaiued 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, were 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 nade 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. Of his personal character, the following particulars yet remain to he 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 be 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, therelore, he is most successful in his lighter pieces, his Odes, Songs, and Fables. 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. 1

1 Life prefixed to his Work*> edit. 1791. Johnson and Chalmers’s English Poats, 1510, 21 vols, 8vo.