Christopher Smart, a devout Christian, won prizes as a student for his sacred verse, but his unhappy propensities for drink and indebtedness were already evident as a youth. Thomas Gray predicted, “All this, must come to Jayl, or Bedlam.”
Smart’s ambition took him to London, where he composed humorous pieces for John Newbery, the publisher who first printed English children’s books. Smart’s wide reading of the classics and natural history furnished him with a wealth of strange detail for his poems. But he was considered a mere hack—pious, but unsound in his mind. He took to praying in the street and was twice sent to an asylum, where he went on praying, gardened, wrote inventive, exultant verse and took care of his cat Jeoffry. It was during one of his stays in an asylum in 1757 that he wrote a long, ecstatic poem called “Jubilate Agno” (“Rejoice In the Lamb”), which reveled in the praise of God’s glory. One section of that poem has become very well known as one of the most famous poems about cats, “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry.”
Dr. Samuel Johnson visited him and remarked, “I did not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him; I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else....”
Smart believed that he saw and felt the presence of God in everything, including Jeoffry. He never doubted that he was saved, nor that Jeoffry, pure in all his motions, was saved too. He died in a debtor’s prison in 1771.
A slim 32-page children’s book that contains the poem and the illustrations below was published by Atheneum (New York, 1984) but is now long out of print. Used copies are apparently much in demand by crazed cat lovers, since as of June 2023 used copies in various conditions were listed on Amazon.com for prices ranging from $61 to $250.
All the illustrations below are copyright © 1984 by Emily Arnold McCully.
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can swim for life.