« ElőzőTovább »
LIFE OF CHRISTOPHER SMART,
BY MR. CHALMERS.
CHRISTOPHER SMART was born at Shipbourne in Kent, April 11th, 1722. His father was possessed of about three hundred pounds a year in that neighbour. hood, 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, after. wards 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 writ. ten 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 his poetical pieces, and was not interrupted with impunity by the irregu. larities 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 indulgencies of men of vigour and gaiety. His taste for poetry is said
to have appeared when he was only four years old, iu an extempore effusion that
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 gencral 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 who were of superior fortune, while pride kept him from avowing his inability to support their expences. His only dependance was what he derived from his college, and the allowance made to hin 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 principles, and of blameless conduct.
When at college, we are told he was extremely fond of exercise, and of walking especially, at wlrich times it was his custom to pursue his meditations. There is nothing very singular in this, as most young men at college find walking more convenient than riding; but it is added, what probably will not be so readily believed, that by constant treading he actually wore out a path on one of the paved walks belonging to lembroke Hall!
During the early part of his residence at Cambridge, he wrote the Tripos poems in this collection, a species of composition published, or at least written, every year when the bachelors of arts have completed their degrees. . It is not often that much notice is taken of these cffusions, 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 " It appears by his Ode on the Eagle, Sác, that he had little respect for college men,or college studies,
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. The following answer was immediately transmitted by Pope.
Twickenham, Nov. 18. “ I thank you for the favour of yours : I would not give you the trouble of translating the whole essay you mention: the two first epistles are already well done, and if you try, I could wish it were on the last, which is less abstracted, and more easily falls into poetry than common place. A few lines at the beginning and the conclusion, will be sufficient for a trial whether you yourself can like the task or not. I believe the Essay on Criticism will in general bo more agreeable, both to a young writer, and to the majority of readers. What made me wish the other well done, was the want of a right understanding of the subject, which appears in the foreign versions, in two Italian, two French, and one German. There is one indeed in Latin verse printed at Wirtemberg, very faithful, but inc. legant: and another in French prose: but in these the spirit of poetry is as much lost, as the sense and system itself in the others. I ought to take this oppor. tunity of acknowledging the Latin translation of my Ode, which you sent me, and in which I conld see little or nothing to alter, it is so exact. Believe me, Sir, equally desirous of doing you any service, and afraid of engaging you in an art so little profitable, though so well deserving, as good poetry. I am,
Your most obliged
and sincere humble servant,
“ A. Pope."
This correspondence, which seems to relate principally to the Essay on Man, was probably very flattering on both sides. Smart, as a young man aiming at poe. tical 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 and he did not perceive that it retarded his popularity as an English poet. It was, however, the fashion with the young poets of that time to translate from Pope, although he had not much taste for Latin verse; and they could derive little more advantage from the employment than the praise usually bestowed upon a school-task.
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 few songs only remain, and a ludicrous soliloquy of the Princess Periwin. kle, preserved in the Old Woman's Magazine. The soliloquy and some account of the play are here extracted from his life published in 1791.
• He published it in 1746 along with his own Ode for Music on St. Cecilia's day, and in the last page anusunces that a latin version of Pope's Essay on Criticism, and Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, were preparing for publication.-C.
« Enter the Princess Perriwinkle sola, attended by fourteen maids of great honour.
« Sure such a wretch as I was never born,
By all the world deserted and forlorn ;
In comes the Brickdust man, with grime o'erspread,
And beats the Collier and the Barber-red.
“ The play was called 'A Trip to Cambridge, or the Grateful Fair.' The business of the drama 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 Fenstanton, which gave a young 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 ac. quaintance 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, for my memory is not accurate) it
contrived to have a play acted, of which entertainment he was highly fond; and the Norwich company luckily came to Cambridge just at the time; only one of the actors had been detained on the road ; and they could not perform the play that night, unless the baronet would consent to take a part; 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 undertak. ing. The under-play to be 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