Insolent Women and Crest-fallen Men: Christopher Smart,The Midwife, and Literary Travestism

Ross King


In Jubilate Agno, a collection of fragments written in a Bethnal Green madhouse during the early 1760s, Christopher Smart makes a number of observations on the relationship between gender and what he perceives to be a deterioration of the cultural and political order. Though a prolonged hymn of praise to God, the poem is infected by a deep sexual bias and dwells at some length, and with much bitterness, on `mischief concerning women',[1] as well as on the causes and effects of this unruliness. Often drawing on examples from the Old Testament and the classical world - privileged sites of patriarchal cultural value for Smart - his idiosyncratic musings assert both the importance to a maintenance of social order of rigidly enforced gender distinctions and the dangers of their effacement by men who act like women and women who act like men. For Smart as for the Augustan writers a generation before him, cultural standards depend in part on adherence to gender roles, and so in this view commutable sexuality produces cultural confusion and, ultimately, a decline manifested by a feminization of culture. This progressive feminization shows itself, for example, in the monitory example of the decline of Latin, which is attributed to the speakers in Augustan Rome who `clipped their words ... thro idleness and effeminacy' (B.417). It manifests itself in another, more literal clipping which symbolically transforms men into women: `For the shaving of the beard', he claims, `was an invention of the people of Sodom to make men look like women' (B.419).

Perhaps the most striking instance of this link between the sexual and cultural orders involves Smart's narrative of man's loss and recovery of his `horn', which, like the beard, is a token of masculinity whose loss or removal indicates `impaired' manhood and an upsetting of the patriarchal order:

For I prophecy that we shall have our horns again.

For in the day of David Man as yet had a glorious horn upon his forehead. [C.118-19]For it was taken away all at once from all of them.

For this was done in the divine contempt of a general pusillanimity.

For this happened in a season after their return from the Babylonish captivity.

For their spirits were broke and their manhood impaired by foreign vices for exaction. [C.124-7]

As a weapon of defence the horn represents an instrument of masculine control, implying what elsewhere in the text Smart calls 'the three POINTS of manhood, of the pen, of the sword, and of chivalry' (B.129): the horn is `instrumental', he writes, `in subjecting the woman' (C.140). Under the patriarchal regime celebrated in Smart's prophecy, women are to be `cooped up and kept under due control' (C.67); but with the loss of the horn they become insolent and derisive, and far from symbolizing masculine control, the horn now represents its lack, recalling the familiar image of cuckoldry:

For the insolence of woman has increased ever since Man has been crest-fallen.

For they have turned the horn into scoff and derision without ceasing.

[C.141-2]

Given these strictures on the effacement of gender distinctions and its realization in the forms of insolent women and effeminate men, it is interesting to consider the figure which Smart presents to the public ten years previously at the Castle Tavern in Paternoster Row and the New Theatre in the Haymarket. For beginning in December 1751 Smart dresses in petticoats and acts onstage the transvestite role of `Mrs Mary Midnight' a grotesque old woman whom he invented a year or two earlier in the pages of his threepenny monthly journal The Midwife. Variously called `The Old Woman's Oratory' and `Mrs Midnight's New Carnival Concert', the performances display carnivalesque inversions whereby more `serious' literary, theatrical, and musical practices are parodied by players in masquerade, by musicians with salt-boxes and wooden spoons, and by troupes of performing dogs and monkeys - all presided over by Smart's grotesque female figure of misrule, Mrs Midnight. Smart is attempting during this time to establish a serious literary reputation for himself by publishing imitations of classical verse, but, despite various learned allusions in the orations, these popular entertainments are enthusiastically plebeian, dedicated to the amusement of the rabble. As such they exemplify the debased literary palate which Pope condemns some years earlier in the first lines of The Dunciad when he laments the spread of the `taste of the Rabble' manifested in the shows and entertainments of Barthomomew Fair.[2] Smart's performances therefore subvert both the gender distinctions which Jubilate Agno would enforce and the literary and cultural practices in which, simultaneously, he hopes to establish his own career as a man of letters. What then is the nature of the relationship between Mrs Midnight and the poetic voice of Jubilate Agno a decade later?

The cultural transgression implicit in Smart's stage performances as Mrs Midnight has been recognized by Lance Bertelsen, one of the few commentators to address the theatrical and journalistic aspects of Smart's career.[3] Bertelsen, however, sees no discrepancy between this earlier work and Jubilate Agno; rather, he attempts to place the later work in the context of the `transgressive imaginative economy' of The Midwife such that the poem may be viewed as an extension of carnivalesque Grub Street production (p.369). Yet while its protean mixing of genre and subject indeed recalls aspects of The Midwife - a text which I shall presently examine more carefully - Jubilate Agno appears to mark a repudiation rather than a continuation of Smart's earlier career as transvestite actor and Grub Street journalist. In some respects Mrs Midnight is indeed a transgressive, carnivalesque figure, though I shall try to show that this is not the only context in which to see either her or Grub Street discourse more generally. Much less ambiguous in its relationship to patriarchal culture, however, Jubilate Agno contends aggressively against the transgressions implicit in cross-dressing and disorderly women, identifying these practices as causes of cultural degeneration.

One particular aspect of the perceived crisis in patriarchal culture involves, for Smart as for some of his contemporaries, the relationship between women and the `point of manhood' associated in Jubilate Agno with a pen. During the seventeenth century, and even more so in the eighteenth, gender becomes an issue in authorship. A century before Smart, Margaret Cavendish (1624-1674), Duchess of Newcastle, describes this relationship as a difficult one, suggesting that men oppose women's writing because `they think thereby, Women incroach too much upon their Prerogatives; for they hold Books as their Crowne, and the Sworde their Sceptre, by which they rule, and governe.'[4] This crisis evinces itself in much eighteenth-century discourse: the encroachment of insolent women into the formerly more exclusive institution of print culture is one of the primary preoccupations of The Dunciad, in which the female goddess Dulness embodies, as Catherine Ingrassia argues, `the worst aspects of feminized culture and the dangerous, emasculating power of women writers.'[5] This perceived encroachment also helps explain Smart's career, whose trajectory - from Latin verse to Grub Street journalism - appears to describe a pattern by which a patrician public discourse with classical lineages is challenged by new forms of literary production, as well as by a more marginal plebeian culture associated by some of Smart's contemporaries with the literary enfranchisement of women. I shall therefore attempt to contextualize the anti-feminist narrative in Jubilate Agno within both the range of Smart's literary career and eighteenth-century print culture more generally, and to show how his cross-dressed performances as Mrs Midnight reveal the kind of `category crisis' and `cultural anxiety' out of which, as Marjorie Garber argues, the figure of the transvestite always emerges.[6]

Roughly ten years before writing Jubilate Agno, from October 1750 to June 1753, Smart edited for the bookseller John Newbery three volumes of a monthly journal, The Midwife, or The Old Woman's Magazine, for which he contributed fifty octavo pages per month. The first issue boasts that the journal shall transmit `all the WIT, and all the LEARNING, and all the JUDGEMENT, that has ever been, or ever will be inserted into all the other MAGAZINES.'[7] More important than the claim for comprehensiveness is the reversal of accustomed gender associations: qualities with traditionally masculine connotations - wit, learning, and judgement - are to be propagated by a woman, and by a woman, moreover, who voices her opinions in a threepenny journal.[8] Furthermore, in an age which prizes women for their passivity and domestic virtue,[9] Mrs Midnight, a witch and midwife, typifies instead a disorderly figure of musrule. Her name appears to allude to the `Mother Midnight' figure Robert A Erickson has studied with reference to her identification in the early modern period - in Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722), for instance - not only with midwifes but with other more unruly and socially marginalized women like witches, bawds, and whores.[10] Smart draws on these pejorative connotations to emphasize her aggressive unruliness, and writing in The Entertainer in 1754 Mrs Midnight boasts of herself as follows:

I am what the World call an accomplished LADY ... I am married, and have several children, but I leave the poor little things to the care of my husband; my peculiar qualifications consist in the art of painting my face, and dropping my fan; I have acquired the most engaging motion of the eyes and lips; I can cheat at cards tolerably well, and in one word, I am possessed of all the qualities that make up an accomplish'd woman; I beat my husband one hundred times every day and spent twice the rent of his estate every year; I love pleasure, and give a ball at my own house every week.[11]

There is, however, another side to Mrs Midnight. Notwithstanding this unrestrained social conduct, she insinuates her way into the precincts of a more august culture, communicating regularly in the pages of her journal with the Royal Society, the Society for Antiquariens, and with various worthies in European court circles. In doing so she demonstrates the intrusion of women into traditionally exclusive circles of polite learning and also, through her irreverence, the inversion of this learning. This mixing of high and low, of a socially suspect figure with the institutions of more patrician culture, shows up clearly in the hybrid literary content of The Midwife, which encompasses a curious array of topics where learned allusions and enlightened social commentary are combined with parody and nonsense: imitations of Horace (2:155-6) or articles deploring the plight of families whose heads are jailed for debt (1:12-15) run side-by-side with a letter to the Royal Society describing the invention of an instrument called a `cat-organ', a harpsichord fashioned from live felines (1:98-102), and one to the Antiquarians providing an account of the discovery in Cornwall of a monument of petrified human excrement (1:151-4).

The ambiguous social standing and hybrid productions of Mrs Midnight form a kind of commentary on her creator's own career. By the time of The Midwife Smart had left Cambridge, where in 1742 he won the title of Scholar of the University, and where since 1745 he had been a Fellow of Pembroke, Praelector in Philosophy and Rhetoric, and Keeper of the Common Chest. He had originally been admitted to Cambridge in 1739 under the sponsorship of the Duchess of Cleveland, mother-in-law of Viscount Vane, on whose estate in Kent, Fairlawn, Smart's father was steward until 1726, when he became a landowner himself, purchasing a forty-eight acre estate in East Barming, near Maidstone. Smart's literary career had begun at Fairlawn, where the Duchess paid him a stipend of [sterling]40 per year. At the start of his professional life, and after the Duchess's death in 1742, he sought further patronage for his poetry, this time from Alexander Pope, whom he met in Twickenham shortly before the older poet's death. In 1743 he published a Latin translation of Pope's Ode for Musick on St Cecilia's Day, for which a year earlier he had won the Craven scholarship at Cambridge, worth [sterling]20 per year. Encouraged by Pope's response, he next proposed a Latin translation of An Essay on Man, but opportunities to further this relationship ended with Pope's death in 1744.[12]

These experiences were to be Smart's last real acquaintance with literary patronage. By the time he abandoned his career at Cambridge and arrived in London in November 1749 the old paternalistic set of relations between author and benefactor had ended and the age of the bookseller begun. Something of his responses towards literary patronage and the lack thereof show up in his Horatian Canons of Friendship (1750), which is dedicated to the `TRUNK-MAKER at the CORNER of St PAUL'S CHURCH-YARD', a person 'who in this golden and truly Augustan age will probably be the best Patron you'll meet with' (Poetical Works 4:116). Lack of sympathetic, liberally spending patrons forms part of the subject of another poem, The Present State of the Literati, published anonymously in 1752. Here Smart dwells bitterly on the decline of the institution by portraying an author `shiv'ring at his Lordship's bolted Gate' before being turned away, his indifferent benefactor not having bothered to read the neglected poet's efforts.[13]

In the London of the 1750s Smart turns not to aristocratic patrons but to booksellers like Robert Dodsley, John Newbery, and later Thomas Gardener, to the latter of whom, finding himself in straitened circumstances in 1756, he engaged himself for ninety-nine years to produce a weekly journal, The Universal Visitor, and nothing else. yet the amphibious nature of his literary productions in the decade of the 1750s should be noted, since contemporary with his magazine work for Newbery are more serious efforts at creating a literary reputation for himself by transmitting the cultural values privileged by Pope and his contemporaries a generation earlier. Besides more `duncean' literary commerce like The Midwife, in 1750 Newbery also published Smart's Horatian Canons of Friendship and Ode on the Eternity of the Supreme Being: the former is an imitation of the third satire of the first book of Horace's Satires, while the second won the Seatonian Prize at Cambridge in 1750. Two years later Newbury published Smart's Poems on Several Occasions (1752), which included Latin translations of Milton's L'Allegro and Pope's An Essay on Criticism - a project Pope had suggested years earlier - and the volume listed among its 751 subscribers Voltaire, Richardson, Gray, Collins, Garrick, Roubiliac, and the bishops of London and Gloucester. Poems on Several Occasions is dedicated to the Earl of Middlesex, who was, however, rather parsimonious with his patronage, subscribing for only a single volume.

The decline of patronage is blamed by writers like Oliver Gold-smith on Robert Walpole and the Philistine Hanoverian monarchs, a point underscored more recently by Michael Foss.[14] However, the conditions of its demise go beyond individual practices and predilections of taste and include a more extensive change in the social economy of literature whereby the older aristocratic patronage disappears with the emergence of the modern commercial state. Closely bound up with this process come certain changes in the literary mode of production. In 1695 William allowed the Licensing Laws to expire and passed the Regulation of Printing Act, which allowed publishers greater freedom and permitted the number of printing presses to increase; and thus while Charles II had limited the number of presses in London to twenty, by 1724 there were seventy printing houses and sixteen newspapers, institutions whose numbers the Tory's Stamp Act of 1712 did nothing to abate.[15] The increasingly commercial nature of writing and publishing which ensues with this augmentation of print culture's instruments of production is noted in 1725 by Daniel Defoe, who in Applebee's Journal describes author-bookseller relations in the new terminology of commerce and manufacture, observing that writing `is becoming a very considerable Branch of the English Commerce. The Booksellers are the Master Manufacturers of Employers. The several Writers, Aughors, Copyers, Sub-Writers and all other operators with Pen and Ink are the workmen employed by the said Master-Manufacturers.'[16] These `workmen', as Pat Rogers has observed, `were manufacturing to order a product - literature - which in the past had largely been the preserve of the learned, the leisured, and the secure.'[17]

As Rogers' comment suggests, this change in the literary mode of production alters the field of those with the means to write and publish and therefore transforms print culture itself. In `Book the First' of the 1743 version of The Dunciad these new, manufactured forms of literature - `Journals, Medleys, Merc'ries, Magazines' and `all the Grub-street race' (11. 42, 44) - are disparaged as part of the empire of Dulness, as the productions of `momentary monsters', predictably, are women, the monster being, as Susan Gubar shows, a typical characterization of the female writer during the eighteenth century.[18] In fact a number of the journals founded in the first half of the century are either edited by women or expressly aimed at a female readership: Pope's enemy Eliza Haywood edited The Female Spectator in 1744; and a Female Tatler, a Ladies' Mercury, a Ladies' Magazine, a Ladies' Monthly Museum, and an Old Maid all appear by mid-century. This gender-basis is a culturally significant one: in her study of women and print culture Kathryn Shevelow shows how the popular periodicals constitute, much like the novel, a peculiarly feminine genre which enfranchises women as readers and writers and confirms that by the middle of the century the reader is no longer a male, upper-class, university-trained member of an elite.[19]

For male writers like Pope and Swift - and also, I would argue, for Smart - increased female participation in discourse marks a cultural crisis. Gender now becomes an issue not merely in eighteenth-century authorship but in wider issues of culture and society as well, as the classical and humanist culture of 'the learned, the leisured, and the secure' is threatened from beyond its margins. The result, for Augustan writers, is a kind of cultural apocalypse. As Ingrassia shows, in The Dunciad Pope condemns `emasculating' women writers who divert patriarchal culture from its proper course: Dulness, she writes, `symbolizes Pope's escalating fear of a pervasive "feminization" that threatens to permeate nearly every aspect of English culture', and the poem therefore portrays in the feminized culture of women and Grub Street dunces `the demise of education, art, and politics, and the imminent collapse [of] men, the patriarchy, and culture as a whole' (Women Writing/Writing Women, pp. 40, 49).

In the eighteenth century the culture of the learned and leisured is identified most closely with the classics, the study of which had originally earned Smart his reputation as a scholar and poet at Cambridge in the 1740s. The importance of classical languages to culture is emphasized in The Midwife, where Mrs Midnight in one of her more serious pieces, `Some Reflections on the Neglect of the Greek Language', claims that `the best Books on every Science' are written in Greek: `Homer in Poetry, Hippocrates in Physick, Herodotus in History, Plato in Moral Philosophy, Aristotle in natural Philosophy and Criticism, Plutarch in every Thing, have no equals of any other Nation or Language' (1:65). Despite its assertion by Mrs Midnight putative defender of female interests, this statement betrays a certain bias, hence the classics represent a class-and sex-linked discourse. As Penelope Wilson points out, during the eighteenth century classicism and masculinity are often bound closely together: with regard to classical studies, she writes that masculinity `is so encoded into the language of the subject that in the eighteenth century it is virtually inseparable from it.'[20] But with the arrival in the print of less well-educated aughors, this masculine cultural ground is lost, a point advanced in Smart's `On an Eagle confined in a College-Court' (1751). Originally written at Cambridge, the poem is a lament for classicism in which the caged eagle with its `clipt ... wing' symbolizes the `fall of Greece and Rome' amidst `Discipline and Dulness' and `the oppressors of the mind' (Poetical Works, vol. 4, 11, 21, 38, 16, 36). The constraining forces of Dulness are here associated most explicitly with the `mathematic gloom' of Cambridge, which in Smart's opinion held the classics in low esteem. But as the reference to Dulness suggests, classical studies are also threatened by the low literary commerce of Grub Street - the very world to which, ironically, Smart is now abandoning himself.

In positioning Grub Street against this conservative response it might be tempting to stress the liberating possibilities of this efflorescence of ostensibly feminine culture, in which case Mrs Midnight could be construed as purely antithetical to the patriarchal voice of Jubilate Agno - a rupture which the later text attempts to repair. Natalie Zemon Davis has suggested, for example, that the disorderly `woman on top' functions in discourse, like carnival more generally, `to widen behavioural options for women within and even outside marriage, and to sanction riot and political disobedience for both men and women in a society that allowed the lower orders few formal means of protest.'[21] Arguing along this line, Bertelsen points out the socially and culturally progressive aspects of the print culture emergins at this time, correctly noting, like Rogers, how it opens the doors of publication to female and underclass authors, extends literacy, and challenges both canons and governments (p. 377). However, this utopian view of Grub Street requires some moderation. Shevelow points out that the function of these apparently proto-feminist periodicals is not merely progressive or liberating : they often serve a `normative' function by which the female is constructed along specific and restrictive lines - love and romance, matrimony, children, and the household - and therefore function as agents of behaviour modification, as `a public disseminator of prescriptions for private behaviour' (Women and Print Culture, p. 4). Women participate in the public realm only to be assigned an area of influence - the home - which will maintain their marginal status within the dominant culture.

Symbolic inversion does appear to have its limits in The Midwife, since through the figure of Mrs Midnight Smart betrays a desire to reform and control women which is similar to - if somewhat more genially conveyed than - that expressed in Jubilate Agno. Thus while in her irreverent blendings of genders and genres Mrs Midnight is in some respects a culturally subversive figure, like other unruly women she also serves more conservative purposes. As Ian Donaldson has noted of the inversions of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English comedy, a world turned upside down often serves the purpose of underscoring the need for those traditional authority figures whose places in the hierarchy have been usurped.[22] In this light it is possible to see Mrs Midnight's unruly domestic behaviour - beating her husband, playing cards, neglecting her children - not as positive examples of female liberation, but instead as admonitory images of female misrule and the `petticoat government' which during the eighteenth century threatens both domestic and political orders. At points in The Midwife the dangers of the female disorderliness manifested in Mrs Midnight are indeed made apparent. In an essay `On the Practice of Gaming among Ladies of Quality' this em-bodiment of carnival and license righteously asserts that participation by ladies in `Routs, Drums, Masquerades and Assemblies' contributes to `the Abolition of connubial Happiness, the Misery of every indulgent Husband, and the Destruction of whole Families' (2:205, 206). The pages of The Midwife also contain other representations of and prescriptions for female conduct which would be difficult to claim for any kind of proto-feminism. Mrs Midnight's initially promising attempt to prove that the `fair sex' have qualifications for learning ends, like Swift's `Of the Education of Ladies', with some conventional moralistic finger-wagging, and a liberal education for `the Ladies' is finally recommended only because it will promote better social conduct (2:227).[23] Finally, her sage advice to newly married women (1:86) and her cautionary tales of villains seducing young women from the country (1:22-7) work to construct images of feminine dependence and vulnerability which work against her more confident claims for women. While on the surface they may appear to undercut the gender differences defended in Jubilate Agno, Smart's transvestite theatrical performances may be read in this same way, that is, as reinforcements rather than violations of established cultural orders: transvestism, like carnival, is a double-edged sword. In her work on masquerade, Terry Castle argues that during the eighteenth century gender-crossing is exactly what its many opponents see it as, namely an illicit and subversive activity which challenges conventional sexual roles: with its confusions of class and gender, she writes, the world of masquerade projects `an anti-nature, a world upside-down, an intoxicating reversal of ordinary sexual, social, and metaphysical hierarchies.'[24]Yet cross-dressing need not necessarily perform such radical gestures. Mary Russo has argued in contrast that transvestism, especially male-to-female gender-crossing, often serves to reinforce cultural categories, particularly misogynistic stereotypes of women, since it works to disassociate them from `real' men; and in her study of eighteenth-century players Kristina Straub similarly finds that such transvestism in fact re-routes into travesty: obvious travesty is `crucial', she argues, `to the acceptance of male cross-dressing' during the eighteenth century.[25] Male theatrical cross-dressing becomes more a travesty of femininity than its imitation or promotion, and, like the periodicals, the representation of the female is finally intended to control her through a circumscription of her domain.

An example of a pejorative, conservative attitude toward transvestism may be found in one of Smart's works written one year before his invention of Mrs Midnight. Besides its sarcastic dedication to the trunk-maker, the Horatian Canons of Friendship contains a second one to William Warburton (1698-1779), Pope's editor and literary executor who also brought out an edition of Shakespeare and in 1759 was made Bishop of Gloucester. Here Smart holds up one case of gender inversion, in this case female-to-male, as an example of gender deceit which shades into, or is comparable to, literary imposture. Perhaps hoping to provoke the renowned controversialist into a paper war, Smart compares Warburton to an infamous female impostor: `I thought you most infallible', Smart writes to him, `and, in all submission, kiss'd your toe with the rest of the deluded multitude. But ... I am at length convinced that your Holiness is an old woman, a mere Pope Joan' (Poetical Works 4:114). A mythical female pontiff first described in the thirteenth century by the French Dominican Stephen de Bourbon, Pope Joan is one of legend's most spectacularly successful cross-dressers, however brief her reign: disguising herself as a man to be with her lover, a monk in Rome, Joan is presently ordained as a priest, then in short order raised to the College of Cardinals and elected pope before being exposed when she delivers a child during a ceremonial procession. For Smart this transvestite pontiff represents besides a spectre of Catholicism, a purely negative image of female rule suitable to characterize what he perceives to be Warburton's inferior literary talents: Pope Joan, like the female writer, and like the insolent female more generally, usurps the place of the male, thereby marking a point of crisis in patriarchal culture. Thus besides an acerbic comment on the declining institution of patronage, the dedications to the Horatian Canons of Friendship also subtly revile what is perceived as a feminization of literary discourse.

However, while it might be possible to argue that Mrs Midnight represents either the sort of travesty described by Russo and Straub or the same misogyny evident in the reference to Pope Joan, Smart's investment in his female double appears to extend beyond mere mockery of femininity. Anecdotal evidence indicates that he made a more convincing female than his friend David Garrick, who performed drag roles with obvious travesty: introduced to Mrs Midnight, Garrick's wife mistook Smart for a real woman[26] - and so it would appear that Mrs Midnight's humour was not exclusively visual, a contrast between an obviously masculine performer and his comically indecorous feminine persona. Further, alongside the comments on women in Jubilate Agno, as well as the many females monsters Gubar has identified in eighteenth-century literature, the portrayal of Mrs Midnight, whether onstage or in print, is positively indulgent. What then is Smart's stake in this creation?

In her study of cross-dressing Marjorie Garber argues that throughout history the transvestite always indicates a `category crisis', by which she means `a failure of definitional distinction, a borderline that becomes permeable, that permits of border crossings from one (apparently distinct) category to another' (Vested Interests, p. 16). Transvestism therefore comes to mark `a space of anxiety about fixed and changing identities', often in a domain other than that of gender (p. 32). In Garber's reading, sexual commutability is a symptom of crisis and disorder rather than, as Pope or Smart believe, an agent of it: as a `mechanism of displacement from one blurred boundary to another' (p. 16), the transvestite marks on the level of gender a crisis or confusion felt at some other social, political, or economic level.

This analysis appears to help explain the appearance of Mrs Midnight in the London literary world of the 1750s. As seen already, she appears at a time of profound cultural anxiety in mid-eighteenth-century Britain when a masculine literary culture is threatened by the productions of those previously marginalized by it. She therefore might be said to manifest, in the realm of gender, an anxiety felt in another, related realm - print culture - over changes both in literary form and in the changing identity of the writer. In this context it appears that Smart's female double is constructed out of kind of an anxiety of authorship like that described, albeit in the inverse, by Gilbert and Gubar, for whom escape from gender restrictions via a `mad double' allows the female author's assumption of literary power.[27] Whereas for nineteenth-century female authors the mad double is, according to Gilbert and Gubar, a literary strategy invented `to escape ... male texts' (p. 85), in Smart's case the anxiety of authorship and the concomitant unruly double result from inverted circumstances, that is, the male author's perceived confinement of himself within the increasingly feminized and feminizing sphere of the capitalist marketplace. Smart's reversion to the literary and stage persona of Mrs Midnight suggests the crisis characterized by the collocation of the female and the commercial which occurs with the loss of a predominantly male reading public and the older patriarchal set of relations marking the institution of literary patronage, all of which disappear into the cash-nexus of the capitalist marketplace. The self-division implicit in Mrs Midnight - her ambiguous gender as well as her straddling of classical and popular cultures - represents the predicament of the post-patronage author who must negotiate the narrow pass between an older patriarchal classical culture and a new, anonymous, commodified literary production associated with female writers.

Under these conditions the typical writer by mid-century is not only literally a female, as is indeed more often the case, but also symbolically so: the writer henceforth becomes a version of `economic man', a creature whom the historian J G A Pocock has suggested is viewed, as opposed to the more economically `stable' landed gentry on their patrilineal estates, as an `effeminate' creature `still wrestling with his own passions and hysterias and with interior and exterior forces let loose by his fantasies and appetites.'[28] These feminizing economic conditions and their relationship to and effects upon an older patriarchal structure of gentlemanly learning reveal themselves in an anonymous review in the Gentleman's Magazine of Smart's prologue and epilogue for a production of Othello staged at Drury Lane in 1751. Like his volumes of poetry published by Newbery, the prologue and epilogue are signed, rightfully if somewhat pompously, `Christopher Smart, M.A., Fellow of Pembroke Hall, in the University of Cambridge'. The reviewer takes umbrage at this dedication being attached to what he regards, despite its Shakespearean subject, as entertainment for the rabble: `I wish the world had not known that this prologue and epilogue were written by a gentleman', the reviewer states,

who was hitherto been esteem'd a genius and a scholar; for nothing but a publication of them with his name, would have convinced the world that he was the author; and it is to be hoped that he will consider before it is too late, that even genius and learning, prostituted to such service, must at length lose their dignity, and be regarded only as tools of those who hire them for their use.[29]

The genius of the Cantabrigian gentleman scholar deteriorates both into commercialization - he becomes a tool for hire - and into a kind of feminization which in effect makes him a prostitute in the literary marketplace. Yet as he seeks his literary fame in 1750s London, Smart believes he will find it not as a scholar but rather by prostituting his genius and learning in the form of Mrs Midnight.


NOTES - Please note that to return to the text, click on the footnote number on the left hand side of the page.

[1] The Poetical Works of Christopher Smart, 4 vols., ed. Karina Williamson and Marcus Walsh (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980-87), volume 4, Fragment C, line 66. All further references are from this edition and are identified parenthetically in the text by fragment and line number.

[2] The Twickenham Edition of the Poems of Alexander Pope, vol. 5, ed. James Sutherland (London : Methuen, 1943), 5:60.

[3] `Journalism, Carnival, and Jubilate Agno', ELH 59 (1992): 357-84. Bertelseu's insightful account of Smart's performance as Mary Midnight does not address, except very indirectly, the matter of transvestism.

[4] `To All Noble, and Worthy Ladies', in Poems, and Fancies (London, 1953), sig. A3 r-v.

[5] `Women Writing/Writing Women: Pope, Dulness and "Feminization" in the Dunciad.' Eighteenth-Century Life 14 (Nov. 1990), p. 43.

[6] Vested Interests : Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York: Routledge, 1992).

[7] The Midfwife, 3 vols. (London, 1751-3), volume 1, title page. All further references are identified by volume and page number.

[8] On the network of gender associations that connects masculinity to judgement and learning, see Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).

[9] On the `myth of passive womanhood' in the eighteenth century, see Ellen Pollak, The Poetics of Sexual Myth: Gender and Ideology in the Verse of Swift and Pope (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).

[10] Mother Midnight : Birth, Sex, and Fate in Eighteenth-Century Fiction (New York : AMS Press, 1986).

[11] Quoted in Arthur Sherbo, Christopher Smart: Scholar of the University (East Lansing : Michigan State University Press, 1967), p. 99.

[12] For an account of this relationship, see Betty Rizzo and Robert Mahony, eds., The Annotated Letters of Christopher Smart (Carbondale: Southern Indiana University Press, 1991), pp. 1-10.

[13] The Present State of the Literati (London, 1752), p. 12.

[14] See Foss, The Age of Patronage: The Arts in England, 1660-1750 (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1971), p. 185. Goldsmith's comments on `a certain prime minister of inglorious memory' are found in An Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning in Europe (1759). See The Collected Works of Oliver Goldsmith, 4 vols, ed. Arthur Friedman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966) 4:311.

[15] Foss, The Age of Patronage, p.163.

[16] Quoted in Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel (London: Chatto & Windus, 1963), p. 53.

[17] Grub Street : Studies in a Subculture (London: Methuen, 1972), p. 280.

[18] `The Female Monster in Augustan Satire', Signs 3 (Winter 1977): 380-94.

[19] Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Feminity in the Early Periodical (London: Routledge), p. 22. See also Cheryl Turner, Living by the Pen: Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 116-19.

[20] `Classical Poetry and the Eighteenth-Century Reader', in I. Rivers, ed., Books and Their Readers in Eighteenth-Century England (Leicester: Leicestershire University Press, 1982), p. 71. Carolyn D Williams likewise identifies a connection in Augustan Britain between 'manliness' and ancient literature, which during this time is seen as a way of 'preserving' the manhood of the British nobility and therefore its fitness for rule. See Pope, Homer, and Manliness: Some Aspects of Eighteenth-Century Classical Learning (London: Routledge, 1993).

[21] Women on Top : Symbolic Sexual Inversion and Political Disorder in Early Modern Europe', in Barbara Babcock, ed., The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978), p. 154.

[22] The World Upside-Down: Comedy from Jonson to Fielding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970). For the politically problematic nature of carnival, see Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics of Poetics of Transgression (London: Methuen, 1986), p. 19. On this topic Kate Chedgzoy has pointed out the different meanings and uses of the figure of the unruly woman in feminine as opposed to masculine discourse. See 'Impudent Women: Carnival and Gender in Early Modern Culture', Glasgow Review 1 (Spring 1993): pp. 9-22.

[23] See Swift, 'Of the Education of Ladies', in The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Temple Scott (London: George Bell & Sons, 1907), 11:64.

[24] Castle, Masquerade and Civilization: The Carnivalesque in Eighteenth-Century Culture and Fiction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986), p. 6.

[25] Russo, `Female Grotesques: Carnival and Theory', in Teresa de Lauretis, ed., Feminist Studies/Critical Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 216; Straub, Sexual Suspects: Eighteenth-Century Players and Sexual Ideology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 127.

[26] For this anecdote, see Sherbo, Christopher Smart, p. 109.

[27] See Gilbert and Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 78.

[28] Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 114.

[29] Quoted in Sherbo, Christopher Smart, p. 74.

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