Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Smith, John (1618-1652)

SMITH, JOHN (1618–1652), Cambridge Platonist, was born at Achurch, near Oundle in Northamptonshire, in 1618. Of his parents his biographer only states that they had ‘long been childless and were grown aged.’ In 1636 he was entered as a pensioner at Emmanuel College, at that time the leading puritan foundation in the university. He proceeded B.A. in 1640, M.A. in 1644; and in the latter year (11 June) was transferred by the Earl of Manchester, along with seven other members of his college, to Queens' College, ‘they having bine examined and approved by the Assembly of Divines sitting in Westminster … as fitt to be fellowes’ (Searle, Hist. of Queens' College, p. 548). His college tutor at Emmanuel was Benjamin Whichcote [q. v.] (afterwards provost of King's College), who not only directed his studies, but aided him with his purse. At Queens' College he lectured with marked success on ‘mathematics,’ although it is doubtful whether the term implied anything more than arithmetic. His chief reputation, however, was acquired as one of the rising school of Cambridge Platonists. John Worthington [q. v.] assigns him the praise of being both δίκαιος and ἀγαθός, i.e. of being not only just and upright in his conversation, but also genuinely good at heart, and doubts whether more to admire his learning or his humility. Smith died of consumption on 7 Aug. 1652, and was buried in his college chapel. Although only in his thirty-fifth year, he had already become known as a ‘living library,’ his acquirements being chiefly in theology and the oriental languages. His papers were handed by his executor, Samuel Cradock, fellow of Emmanuel, to Worthington, who published such of them as were ‘homogeneal and related to the same discourse,’ under the title of ‘Select Discourses’ (London, 1660), a volume still read and admired for its refinement of thought and literary ability. His funeral sermon was preached by Simon Patrick (1626–1707) [q. v.], one of the younger fellows of Queens' and his warm admirer. Smith bequeathed his library to the society.

[Copy of Select Discourses in library of St. John's College, Cambridge, with manuscript notes by Thomas Baker; Patrick's Autobiogr. pp. 17, 22, 247; Searle's Hist. of Queens' College, pp. 550, 568; Tulloch's Rational Theology in England, vol. ii.]

J. B. M.