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Christopher Smart: Clown of God

Chris Mounsey

2001
342 pages
ISBN 1611481419
LC 2001025300
Bucknell Studies in Eighteenth Century Literature and Culture

This new biography of Christopher Smart offers a picture of a multifaceted eighteenth-century wit whose writing has far-reaching social, political, and historical significance. Poet, journalist, theater performer, cross-dresser, and theologian, who was questionably incarcerated for insanity, wherever Smart found himself, his approach to life was at once serious and joyful, confirming him as one of God's clowns.

Building on previous biographical, bibliographical, and critical work-as well as on a broad scholarship of the publication trade, on Grub Street and the position of the professional writer, and on the institutional treatment of madness in eighteenth-century England-Chris Mounsey constructs a version of Smart's life that is radically original. In its intelligent use of legal, parliamentary, and other archives, Mounsey both reappraises the familiar source material and mounts a challenge to earlier accounts of Smart's life and career. New interpretations of Smart's relationship with others (including his father-in-law John Newbery), his life on Grub Street as a political satirist, and his involvement in theological speculations provide a fuller and more engaging picture of the social, political, scientific, and religious context of his life and work.

Clearly conceived and elegantly written, this study of a challenging and strangely modern poet also offers new readings of Smart's major poems, "A Song to David" and Jubilate Agno, and makes an important contribution to the sociology of writing and publishing in this formative historical period.

About the author:

Chris Mounsey is professor of English at the University of Winchester.

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