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CHRISTOPHER SMART, A. M.
CHRISTOPHER SMART was born at Shipbourne, in Kent, April 11, 1722. The family of which he was descended had been long established in the county of Durham. His grandfather married a Miss Gilpin, of the family of the celebrated Bernard Gilpin, rector of Houghton-le- Spring, "the Apostle of the North." His father was steward of the estates in Kent, of Lord Barnard, afterwards Earl of Darlington, and was possessed of an estate of 300l. a-year, in the neighbourhood of Shipbourne. Having been intended for holy orders, he had a better taste for literature than is commonly found in country gentlemen; a taste which he transmitted to his
In the beginning of his life he was of a very delicate constitution, having been born earlier than the natural period; and his body being too feeble to permit his indulging freely in childish amusements, his mind had leisure to exercise and expand its powers.
He received the rudiments of his education at Maidstone school, from which he was removed when he was eleven years old, on the death of his father, which happened at that time, and sent by his mother to Durham, that he might have the advantages of a good school, change of air to strengthen a weakly frame, and the notice and protection of his father's relations.
He did not continue without distinction at Durham school, the master of which, at that time, was the Rev. Mr Dongworth, an Etonian, and a man of eminent learning and abilities. His addiction to metre was then such, that several of his school-fellows have confessed their obligations to him for their first successful essays in Latin versification.
As his father had been steward to Lord Barnard, he was very cordially received at Raby Castle, when absent, during the holidays, from school. In this noble family he was introduced to the acquaintance of the late Duchess of Cleveland, who discerned and patronised his talents. She allowed him forty pounds a-year, till her death.
He was removed from Durham school to the University of Cambridge, when he was seventeen, being admitted of Pembroke Hall, October 30, 1739.
Though the favourite studies of this seat of learning were not congenial with his mind, yet his classical attainments and poetical powers were so eminent, as to attract the notice of persons not very strongly prejudiced in favour of such accomplishments. Such was the fame of his genius, and such the vivacity of his disposition, that his company was very earnestly solicited; and to suppress or withhold our talents, when the display of them is repaid by admiration, is commonly too great an effort for human prudence.
While he was the pride of Cambridge, and the chief poetical ornament of that university, he ruined himself by returning the tavern-treats of strangers, who had invited him as a wit, and an extraordinary personage, in order to boast of his acquaintance.
This social spirit of retaliation quickly involved him in habits and expences, of which he felt the consequences during the rest of his life.
His allowance from home was scanty; for, as his father had died suddenly, and in embarrassed circumstances, his mother had been compelled to sell the largest part of the family estate at considerable loss.
At this early period of life he was not more remarkable for his learning than his humour, of which many examples, like the following, were long remembered by his academical acquaintance. The three beadles of the university being men of unusual bulk, he characterised them in this extemporary spondiac.
Pinguia tergeminorum abdomina Bedellorum.
In 1740, he wrote his first Tripos verses, Datur Mundorum Pluralitas, which were succeeded in the following years by Materies Gaudet vi Inertiæ, and Mutua Oscitationum Propagatio solvi potest mechanice. These verses have more system and design than is generally found in the composi tions of young academics; and it is some argument of their being well approved, that they were all thought worthy of a translation into English by the Rev. Mr Fawkes, the translator of "Theocritus," 66 Anacreon," "Bion," "Moschus," ‚” “Musæus,” and " Apollonius Rhodius."
He was encouraged by the commendations of his friends to offer himself a candidate for an university scholarship. The yearly value of these appointments is barely 201.; but the election is open to the whole university, under the degree of Master of Arts; and as the electors are of approved learning, and fix their choice after the strictest scrutiny, the honour of obtaining a scholarship is considerable.
It has been said, that upon this occasion he translated Pope's "Ode on St Cecilia's Day;" but the conjecture is rendered improbable by the length and labour of the composition. But that a scholar equal to such a work, in an impartial classical examination, should surpass his competitors, is no matter of surprise.
His extraordinary success in this ode, induced him to turn his mind to the translation of the "Essay on Man ;" and he seems to have written to Pope for his approbation; who, in his answer, advises him to undertake the "Essay on Criti cism."
"I would not," he says, "give you the trouble of translating the whole "Essay"; 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 and common place.-I believe the "Essay on Criticism" will, in general, be more agreeable, both to a young writer, and to the generality of readers.-I ought to take this opportunity of acknowledging the Latin translation of my ode, which you sent me, and in which, I could see little or nothing to alter, it is so exact. Believe me 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." It does not appear that Pope bestowed any farther notice on his translator, excepting that he received him once very civilly at his house at Twickenham; and Smart seems to have been induced by his suggestion, to undertake and finish the Latin Translation of the Essay on Criticism; with
much praise from the learned, but without profit or popularity.
In 1743, he was admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Arts, and was elected Fellow of Pembroke Hall, on the 3d of July, 1745; and took the degree of Master of Arts in 1747.
In 1747, he wrote a comedy, called A Trip to Cambridge; or, the Grateful Fair, which was acted by the students of the university in Pembroke College Hall. Of this mock play, little remains, except the prologue, printed in thePoetical Calendar," and a Soliloquy of the Princess Periwinkle, containing the well-known humorous simile,
Thus when a barber and a collier fight,
The barber beats the luckless collier-white;
Black, red, and white, in various clouds are toss'd,
About this time, he contributed largely to The Student ; or, The Oxford and Cambridge Monthly Miscellany, a periodical work, set up by Bonnel Thornton, and printed at Oxford, in which Colman, Warton, Johnson, and other wits of both universities distinguished their talents. The papers were collected in two vols. 8vo. 1750-1.
In 1750, he became a candidate for Mr Seaton's reward, arising from the rent of his Kislingbury estate, left by him to the University of Cambridge, to be annually adjudged by the Vice-Chancellor, the Master of Clare-Hall, and the Greek Professor for the time being, to the author, being a Master of Arts, of the best poem on "one or other of the attributes of the Supreme Being, till the subject is exhausted; and afterwards on death, judgment, heaven, hell, purity of heart, &c. or whatever else may be judged by them to be most con ducive to the honour of the Supreme Being, and recommen dation of virtue."
Mr Seaton's will, dated October 8, 1738, having been disputed by his relations, a law-suit commenced between them and the university; which terminating in favour of the latter, the first subject given out was The Eternity of the Supreme Being, in which Smart had the preference; and for five years, four of which were in succession, the prize was