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CHRISTOPHER SMART was born at Shipbourne, in Kent, April 11th, 1722. His father was possessed of about three hundred pounds a year in that neighbourhood, 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 to the Kentish estates of lord Bernard, after. wards earl of Darlington. When Smart 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. 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, in an extempore effusion that indicated a relish for verse and an ear for numbers : but unfortunately for this story, the extempore effusion has neither been preserved nor authenticat
ed. He was educated at Maidstone, until he was eleven years old, at which time his father died, and his mother was induced to send him to Durham, where he might enjoy the advantages of a good school, change of air, and what, in her circumstances, became desirable, the notice and protection of his father's relations. Young Smart was very cor. dially received at Raby castle by lord Barnard, and in this family obtained the friendship of the honour. able Mrs. Hope, and the more substantial patronage of the duchess of Cleveland, who allowed him forty pounds a year until her death, in 1742. His gratitude to these personages is amply testified by his Ode to lord Barnard, whom he particularly acknowledges as one who encouraged his youthful studies. It was probably owing to the liberality of the same family that, after he had acquired very considerable reputation at Durham school, he was sent to Cambridge in his seventeenth year, and admitted of Pembroke Hall, Oct. 30, 1739.
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 he soon became a general 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 expenses. His only dependence was what he derived from his college, and the allowance made to him by the duchess of Cleveland.
His 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 af. terwards formed the chief blot in his character. In
all other respects, Smart was a man of strict principles, and of blameless conduct.
During the early part of his residence at Cambridge, he wrote the Tripos poems, 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 effusions; 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 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 transmit. ted by Pope.
Twickenham, Nov. 18. "Sir, '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, be 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 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
I am, your most obliged,
fourteen maids of honour. “Sure such a wretch as I was never born, By all the world deserted and forlorn :