A BLUSH IN STAINDROP CHURCH
CHRISTOPHER SMART (1722 - 1771)
‘Let Josiphiah rejoice with Tower-Mustard. God be gracious to Durham School.’
‘For my grounds in New Canaan shall infinitely compensate
for the flats and maynes of Staindrop Moor.’
The poet Christopher Smart was born in Kent, but came to Durham at the age of eleven and lived under the wing of the Barnard family at Raby Castle. He attended Durham School in the 1730s and went to Cambridge University in 1739.
Robert Browning was one of Smart's few nineteenth century fans - in fact, he seemed to regard Smart's as the greatest poetic achievement between Milton and Keats and affirmed that Smart, at least on one occasion, 'Had reached the zenith from his madhouse cell'. This positive assessment would find plenty of support today. Browning compared Smart’s ‘Song to David’ to a great cathedral.
Smart suffered from insanity after 1756, though Dr Johnson did not think he should have been locked up for this: 'His infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him and I'd as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else. Another charge laid was that he did not love clean linen, and I have no passion for it.'
Smart was committed intermittently to an asylum in London between 1756 and 1763, during which time he wrote his amazing Jubilate Agno. Among much of this work that is vivid and strange, including the charming description of his cat Jeoffrey, there are many references to his Durham youth.
This new Northern Voices publication tells Smart’s story with particular reference to his time in Durham and includes a selection of Smart’s own poetry, along with new poetry by students from the University of Durham and Durham School and older Durham hands like Professor Stephen Regan and Michael Standen.
A NORTHERN VOICES PUBLICATION
ISBN 1 1871536 24 PRICE £5
Supported by Awards for All
Posted by keith armstrong at 1:01 pm