The poet Christopher Smart was not a Nature writer in any conventional sense. In the early 1750s, when Gilbert White was making his first fastidious observations of his garden in Hampshire, Smart was working as a jobbing journalist and small-time ‘poetaster’ in London. Amid his light-hearted verses and Private Eye-style satires, only a searing poem in defence of animal rights, ‘On an Eagle Confined in a College Court’, gives any hint of what was to come. Then in 1756 he fell ill with religious mania, and for the next seven years was in Mr Potter’s private Home for the Insane in Bethnal ...


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