Mr Lion, Mr Cock and Mr Cat

Roger Lonsdale

  • A Form of Sound Words: The Religious Poetry of Christopher Smart by Harriet Guest
    Oxford, 293 pp, £35.00, October 1989, ISBN 0 19 811744 2

Harriet Guest’s starting-point is Donald Davie’s suggestion in 1958 that Christopher Smart might be considered ‘the greatest poet between Pope and Wordsworth’. Her intelligent and carefully argued book does not deliver quite the far-reaching reassessment of Smart’s status Davie must have had in mind. He wanted Smart to be judged over the whole range of his poetic output, both conventional and unconventional, ‘light and ribald as well as devotional, urbane or tender as well as sublime’. Concentration on Smart as an eccentric, perhaps insane, religious poet, encouraged by the unexpected publication of his ‘madhouse’ poem, Jubilate Agno in 1939, was unbalanced. Davie reinforced the point in The Augustan Lyric (1974), drawing attention to the ‘delicacy and refinement’ and ‘variable flexibility’ of Smart’s secular verse.

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