John Smith (1618-1652). Select discourses, Cambridge, 1660 [H.7.35]
Smith’s premature death from tuberculosis prevented him from realising the promise evident in his posthumously published Select Discourses. Prepared for press from manuscripts compiled by John Worthington, Smith’s discourses cover range of subjects including ‘atheism’ and ‘superstition’, the ‘existence and nature of God’ and ‘the true way or method of attaining divine knowledge’. Smith's emphasis on practical Christianity, his high valuation of reason as an instrument of faith, and his optimistic view of human nature are all features of the tolerant divinity that he shared with the other Cambridge Platonists.
The diverse learning evident in Smith’s collection is frequently reflected in these writings through ubiquitous references to humanist learning (Plato, Plotinus, and Plutarch) as well as contemporary philosophy, most conspicuously, that of Descartes. Recognised today as ‘a masterpiece of seventeenth-century prose’ Smith's writing style and philosophy embody his professed determination to avoid abstruse speculation.