William Hogarth, The Rake’s Progress: The Asylum (1732)
Christopher Smart (The Pembroke Portrait)

I know little about Christopher Smart (1722-1771), apart from the fact that the suffered the torments, like his almost contemporary William Cowper, of an eighteenth-century asylum.

But out of that affliction came the unique, weird, effervescent hymn of praise Jubilate Agno (‘Rejoice in the Lamb’). His horrific experiences find their way into the poem, but even through them, he is led to the most startling analogies with God the Creator and God the Saviour.

Some of the lines were compiled into a text for Benjamin Britten to set to music for choir and organ. That’s a sublime piece, a kind of mini-oratorio in its way.

But here’s the original text – apart from the fact that Jeoffry seems to have been the only source of joy and light during his incarceration, he wonderfully captures the sinewy athleticism of cats. But more to the point, he sees, just like Gerald Manley Hopkins (of whom, more in a future Echoes edition), that his very creatureliness is the mode by which he gives glory to his creator.

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And here’s the relevant section of Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb.

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