Jeoffry was the pet cat of the tragic 18th-century poet Christopher Smart 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.
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 their 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.