Christopher Smart, Mrs. Mary Midnight, and
the Voice of the Dissident Woman Writer
VERY LITTLE RESEARCH HAS BEEN UNDERTAKEN ON CHRISTOPHER Smart's "less serious" prose: that is to say his periodical journalism. Robert Mahony and Betty Rizzo's Annotated Bibliography1 lists no academic papers on The Student, The Midwife, or the Universal Visitor.2 To begin to redress the balance, the present paper will consider The Midwife (1750–53), Smart's most successful journal. The two major biographies of this century take little interest in it. Christopher Devlin spares six pages of his Poor Kit Smart3 for extracts from The Midwife, but they are left without critical engagement since he claims the writing was: "Deliberately ephemeral juvenili"a": "which" never once "showed" the keen bite of intellectual satire, never the thrill of creative fantasy that can play on different levels, no sign that the author was a poet."4 Though the magazine involved three years work by his subject, Devlin dismisses it, since: "This is a life of Smart, not a monograph on eighteenth century journalism, so we now say goodbye to Mrs. Midnight—except so far as she indicates the events in Smart's life."5
The index of Arthur Sherbo's Christopher Smart: A Scholar of the Uni- versity lists seven references to The Midwife. Of these, only one has anything substantial to say:
None of… "Mrs. Mary Midnight's wit"… is acidulous; all is conceived
and carried out in a spirit of good clean fun, with the author enjoying his
own wit and humour as much as anybody else.… This even extends to
"The Midwife's Politicks: Or, Gossip's Chronicle of the Affairs of Europe,"
a concluding part to each issue clearly modeled on the "Historical Register"
or "Foreign Intelligence" of other periodicals.6
In this comment, we see Professor Sherbo attempting to play down his scholar's association with Grub Street hackdom, so he avoids any lengthy critical appreciation of the magazine itself. Only John Sitter