Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat by Oliver Soden
Jeoffry was a real cat who lived 250 years ago, confined to an asylum with Christopher Smart, one of the most visionary poets of the age. In exchange for love and companionship, Smart rewarded Jeoffry with the greatest tribute to a feline ever written. Prize-winning biographer Oliver Soden combines meticulous research with passages of dazzling invention to recount the life of the cat praised as ‘a mixture of gravity and waggery’. The narrative roams from the theatres and bordellos of Covent Garden to the cell where Smart was imprisoned for mania. At once whimsical and profound, witty and deeply moving, Soden’s biography plays with the genre like a cat with a toy. It tells the story of a poet and a poem, while setting Jeoffry’s life and adventures against the roaring backdrop of eighteenth-century London.
Jeoffry was a cat that lived some 250 years ago in London and in Jeoffrey: The Poet’s Cat (The History Press) the author Oliver Soden has used both research and narrative to bring back to life the story of a much celebrated cat. Jeoffry would wander the streets around Covent Garden and would seek out theatres and brothels for comfort, shelter and some food.
AAt the very core of this wonderful book is the eighteenth century poet Christopher Smart (11th April 1722 – 21st May 1771). He was a brilliant poet but had little means to support himself, and the story of Christopher Smart is beyond sadness. He was consigned to St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics on 6th May 1757 for ‘mania’. Christopher Smart was released from St. Luke’s on 12th May 1758 “uncured”
By the following year things had not improved for the poet and by late Summer he was again sent to an asylum, there is some debate as to actually where this was but what Christopher Smart really needed more than anything was the company of an animal. Jeoffry was roaming the streets of London and witnessing everything eighteenth century London including violence it is from here that he found Christopher Smart and it was Jeoffry that was his companion during his time at St Luke’s. It was here that he began to write the extraordinary poem Jubilate Agno.
It was here that Jeoffry would take refuge under the bed while a silent figure sat motionless at a table with a candle and ink and white quill pens, but soon Jeoffry would become brave enough to venture out from under the bed and onto the table.
And it was there that a sheet of paper contained the title Jubilate Agno. Jeoffry was becoming what Smart always really wanted the companion of an animal. By choice or design they had found each other and through the love and companionship they gave each other Jeoffry was rewarded with the greatest honour and tribute as cat has ever received.
The poem Jubilate Agno (Rejoice the Lamb) was not published until 1939 after fragments of the peom were found in a library and in 1943 a festival cantata by Benjamin Britten was written.
Jeoffry has been immortalised in the seventy-four lines of verse with “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry” Oliver Soden has written a beautiful masterpiece in both research and imagination about a cat and a poet who found companionship and rewarded Jeoffry. A cat who has been immortalised and a place in history. I loved reading Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat. A classic.
Thank you to The History Press for the review copy of Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat by Oliver Soden
Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat by Oliver Sodenwas published by The History Press and will be published on 6th October 2020 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.