Christopher Smart’s pet cat Jeoffry

Jeoffry was the pet cat of the tragic 18th-century poet Christopher Smart (11 April 1722 – 21 May 1771) during his time in a mental asylum, otherwise described as bedlam. While in a mental asylum he was alone except for his cat and the occasional gawker. Therefore, his cat kept him company and he wrote a long meandering poem about him.

Christopher Smart was, as far as I can see, an academically bright bloke who went to Cambridge University (Pembroke College) as a distinguished scholar. He achieved awards and received a scholarship and other bursaries because of his academic achievements there. However, it appears that throughout his life he had a tenuous hold on his personal finances, getting into debt regularly.

Jeoffry and Christopher Smart
Jeoffry and Christopher Smart. Image in the public domain. The pedigree of this document is unclear to me. It seems to be based on Smart’s writing. Update: the illustration is by Paul Bommer and as stated it is based on Smart’s work.
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At one stage his debts were twice his annual income. His debts led to him losing some of his titles, as I understand it, and eventually he slowly abandoned Pembroke College, Cambridge for London. He appears to have earned an income through his writing and published as much as he could to support his family as he was married around 1752 and had two daughters by 1754. Because he was married, he could no longer be enrolled at Pembroke College and collect his scholarship money. Eventually he was forced into a life of “hack work”.

In 1755 he signed a long contract to produce a weekly paper but the strain of publishing it caused him to suffer a fit. He had the help of Samuel Johnson and other friends which allowed him to carry out the terms of the contract. Christopher Smart became obsessed with religion, and he began praying without ceasing.

He was admitted to St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics on 6 May 1757 as a “Curable Patient”. His mind might have been affected by his debt forcing him into poverty causing serious illness. He languished in a dark rat-infested cell in this London madhouse for several years and had, during this time, his cat Jeoffry as his only companion.

He wrote a meandering poem about Jeoffry:

For I will consider my cat Jeoffry…For he is the tribe of tiger…For he will not do destruction, if he is well fed, neither will he spit without provocation…For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon…For every house is incomplete without him…For he is the cleanest in the use of his four-paws of any quadrupede…For he is the quickest to the mark of any creature…For he is tenacious of his point…For he is a mixture of gravery and waggery…For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion. For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser. For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.

The language is strange by modern day standards, and it is not clear what he is saying except that there is hidden in there a love for his cat who kept him company through those tortuous times. Smart died in a debtors’ prison in 1771. He lived between 11 April 1722 and 21st of May 1771 and is described as an English poet.

P.S. There are no accurate depictions of Jeoffry. It would have to be a drawing or painting as this was before the invention of photography. Smart says in his poem that Jeoffry would not prey on animals if well fed. This is essentially incorrect as the sensation of hunger is disconnected from the desire to hunt in the domestic cat! Minor point.

Here is the poem in full:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this 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 having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For First he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For Secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
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 Eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
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 chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incompleat without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadrupede.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually – Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in compleat cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in musick.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly,
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from these proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroaking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadrupede.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the musick.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

Christopher Smart (1722-71)

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