Hymns and Spiritual Songs (book)

Hymns and Spiritual Songs (book)

"Hymns and Spiritual Songs for the Fasts and Festivals of the Church of England", by Christopher Smart, was published in 1765 along with a translation of the "Psalms of David" and a new version of "A Song to David". These poems were composed while he was in a mental asylum and during the time he wrote "Jubilate Agno".


For many years after the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin's claim that non-Biblical music was inappropriate was popularly held.Curry p. 70] Although Isaac Watts tried to write hymns, those like Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson reversed Calvin's beliefs and claimed that religion and poetry could not mix because the poetry could be damaged: Swift claimed that "the smallest quantity of religion, like a single drop of Malt-Liquor in Claret, will muddy and discompose the brightest Poetical Genius" ["Jonathan Swift", ed. Herbert Davis, (Oxford 1939) vol. ix. p. 329] and Johnson wrote specifically that Watt's "devotional poetry is, like that of others, unsatisfactory. The paucity of its topicks enforces perpetual repetition, and the sanctity of the matter rejects the ornaments of figurative diction. It is sufficient for Watts to have done better than others what no man has done well." [Samuel Johnson. "Lives of the English Poets", ed. G. B. Hill (Oxford 1905) vol. ii p. 310] None of this stopped Isaac Watts, and his hymns became popular in public worship; but Christopher Smart's desires were not Watts's, and Christopher wrote as "a private act of worship." [Curry p. 72]

The "Hymns" were printed in "A Translation of the Psalms of David, Attempted in the Spirit of Christianity, and Adapted to the Divine Service", a volume published in 1765 and contained a translation of the "Psalms",a new series of "Hymns", and a copy of "A Song to David"."Poetical Works" p. 1] Although the work was not published until 1765, Christopher Smart was already advertising a work containing both "Psalms" and "Hymns" in 1763. The "Hymns" contained thirty-five hymns, and they were not reprinted until Christopher Smart's daughter, Elizabeth LeNoir, published "Miscellaneous Poems", which contained changed versions of hymn 3, 7, 10, 11, 13, 15, 28, and 32. Although there was only one edition of the work, many famous names appeared on the subscription list. ["Poetical Works" p. 2] The work was published by Dryden Leach, but received little notice in various reviews and no mention of the "Hymns". ["Poetical Works" p. 3]

Hymns and Spiritual Songs

The "Hymns" were composed between June of 1762 and January of 1763 while Christopher was in a mental asylum for "religious mania" [Sherbo p. 201-207] , as "D Fragment" of "Jubilate Agno" claims::The Lord magnify the idea of Smarts singing hymns on this day in the eyes of the whole University of Cambridge. (D148):Novr 5th 1762. N.S."Poetical Works" p. 4] This fragment led Robert Brittain, one of Christopher Smart's editors, to claim that "Smart had just written his 'Hymn xxix. The Fifth of November'." ["Poems" ed Brittain p. 277] This would verify that Christopher Smart wrote these "Hymns" while in a mental asylum and that he was creating hymns to follow the Church Year. Furthermore, the references to hymns in the "D Fragment" of "Jubilate Agno" does not allow a definite date of creation to exist, but can narrow down their origins to a few years. ["Poetical Works" p. 5-6]

The actual "Hymns" are modeled after a tradition of hymn writing exemplified by Robert Nelson. [Dearnley p. 249-263] However, a connection between Nelson and Christopher Smart's hymns may only be coincidental, because they both rely on common Anglican texts. [Curry p. 74] The texts that Christopher Smart relies on most for his "Hymns" are the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer."Poetical Works" p. 6] They form a sort of "companion" to the Book of Common Prayer. [Williamson p. 416] However, the complexity of the Biblical allusions and Biblical works may confuse or mislead a reader who is not steeped in Biblical tradition.

The actual "Hymns" do follow the festivals and fasts that were important to Anglican tradition, but they also include four "Solemn Days": the "Martyrdom of the Blessed King Charles the First" on January 30th; the "King's Restoration" on May 29th; the "Accession of the Ruling Monarch" on October 25th; and the "Most Traiterous and bloody intended Massacre by Gunpower" on November 5th. [Curry p. 75] These days are outlets for Christopher's patriotism and his dislike of the Catholic Church. [Curry p. 76]


There are thirty-five hymns included in "Hymns and Spiritual Songs":

* I. New Year II. Circumcision III. Epiphany IV. Conversion of Saint Paul V. King Charles the Martyr
* VI. The Prsentation of Christ in the Temple VII. Ash Wednesday. First Day of Lent VIII. St. Matthias IX. The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin X. The Crucifixion of Our Blessed Lord
* XI. Easter Day XII. St. Mark XIII. St. Philip and St. James XIV. The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ XV. Whitsunday
* XVI. Trinity Sunday XVII. The King's Restoration XVIII. St. Barnabas XIX. The Nativity of St. John the Baptist XX. St. Peter
* XXI. St. James XXII. St. Bartholomew XXIII. St. Matthew XXIV. St. Michael and All Angels XXV. St. Luke
* XXVI. The Accession of King George III XXVII. St. Simon and St. Jude XXVIII. All Saints XXIX. The Fifth of November XXX. St. Andrew
* XXXI. St. Thomas XXXII. The Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ XXXIII. St. Stephen XXXIV. St. John the Evangelist XXXV. The Holy Innocents



* Curry, Neil. "Christopher Smart". Devon: Northcote House Publishers, 2005. 128 pp.
* Dearnley, Moira. "The Poetry of Christopher Smart". London, 1961.
* Sherbo, Arthur. "The Dating and Order of the Fragments of Christopher Smart's "Jubilate Agno", "HLB" x (1956): 201-207
* Smart, Christopher. "Poems by Christopher Smart", Ed. Robert Brittain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950.
* ----. "The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart, II: Religious Poetry 1763-1771". Ed. Marcus Walsh and Karina Williamson. Oxford: Clarendon, 1983. 472 pp.
* Williamson, Karina. "Christopher Smart's "Hymns and Spiritual Songs", "PQ" xxxviii (1959): 149.

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