Asylum confinement of Christopher Smart
Christopher Smart was confined to mental asylums from May 1757 until January 1763. While at St Luke’s he wrote Jubilate Agno and A Song to David, the poems considered to be his greatest works. His isolation led him to abandon the poetic genres that had marked his earlier work and to write religious poetry.
About Asylum confinement of Christopher Smart in brief
Christopher Smart was confined to mental asylums from May 1757 until January 1763. While at St Luke’s he wrote Jubilate Agno and A Song to David, the poems considered to be his greatest works. His isolation led him to abandon the poetic genres of the 18th century that had marked his earlier work and to write religious poetry. Smart was diagnosed as ‘incurable’ while at St. Luke’s, and when they ran out of funds for his care he was moved to Mr. Potter’s asylum, Bethnal Green. In 1758, Battie and others argued that those deemed’mad’ were abused under the British asylum system, and they pushed for parliamentary action. The arguments resulted in the passage of the Act for Regulating Private Madhouses, but were too late to help Smart. In the 20th century, critics reconsidered Smart’s case and began to see him as a revolutionary poet, the possible target of a plot by his father-in-law, a publisher, to silence him. Smart’s asylum poetry reveals a desire for ‘unmediated revelation’, and it is possible that the self-evaluation found in his poetry represents an expression of evangelical Christianity. The idea of madness was a cultural fear held by the British public, rather than a legitimate medical condition. Modern critics, however, have a more cynical view of the18th-century use of the term’madness’ when diagnosing patients.
In particular, Michel Foucault emphasised that asylities were used to attack dissenting views and that the idea of sanity was a ‘fear’ rather than an actual condition. The treatment of patients was simple: they would be denied access to outsiders and denied contact with family and friends. If their actions appeared to be the cause of their condition, then their actions would be labelled as ‘afresh’ and assign their actions as ‘the cause’ of their madness. This description is consistent with Smart’s writings on the 1760s, according to Thomas Keymer Keymer in his book ‘The Poems of Christopher Smart’ (1860s-1870s). Smart’s description of his condition is: ‘the category of madness is insistivized, and made to seem to seem little more than the invention of a society concerned to discredit all utterances that threatens its interests and norms’ In 1760, Smart wrote: ‘I am a mad man, and I am not ashamed of it.’ In 1763 he wrote: ‘I am mad. I am mad,’ he said, ‘and I will be mad for the rest of my life.’ In 1764, he said: � ‘If you want to know why I’m mad, I will tell you. I have been mad for a long, long time’’. Smart’s last words were ‘‘I’ve been mad since I was a little boy, and now I ammad for a longer, longer, and more mad than I ever thought I would be’,” he said.