David Bentley Hart’s Canine Panpsychism

Ed Simon in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

INCLUDED AMONG THE great literary felines would be the ninth-century Pangur Bán, written about by an Irish monk of Reichenau Abbey who enthused that his pet was “the master of the work which he does every day”; the witch-queen Grimalkin in William Baldwin’s 1561 novel, Beware the Cat, where “birds and beasts” have “the power of reason”; Montaigne’s kitten of which he asked, “When I play with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?”; Dr. Johnson’s beloved Hodge, of whom Boswell wrote that the great lexicographer “used to go out and buy oysters [for him], lest the servants having that trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature”; and of course T. S. Eliot’s splendiferous Mr. Mistoffelees.

By my estimation, however, no cat is quite as divine as Jeoffry, the subject of Christopher Smart’s brilliant, beautiful, and exceedingly odd 1763 masterpiece, Jubilate Agno, written while the English poet was convalescing in St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics. Smart notes that his only companion, Jeoffry, is the “servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him. […] For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary. / 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.”

Decades before William Blake and a century before Walt Whitman, Smart had unshackled poetry from its formal constraints, though with little of the self-seriousness of the former and none of the self-absorption of the latter.

More here.