Roger Howard on his edition of Smith’s Select Discourses

We have needed a modern, critical edition of John Smith’s Select Discourses for a long time. The most widely available text is that edited by H.G. Williams and published by by the University Press in Cambridge (1859). However, although  Williams’ edition usefully included the identification of the sources many of Smith’s quotations, the text itself was a poor reflection of the original. Williams silently absorbed the many emendations of earlier editors, added even more of his own, and imposed a system of punctuation which overwhelmed the rhythms of Smith’s prose. Quotations were altered to conform with then current editions of classical texts, and Smith’s lexical choices were emended to conform with Williams’ views of what was acceptable or intelligible. Any close study of Smith’s ideas, style or scholarship needs to go beyond Williams’ text to one based on Worthington’s original editions of 1660 and 1673. The edition I have produced tries to make such a text available, at the same time making explicit the extent of Worthington’s own considerable editorial interventions. It includes annotation which, so far as has been possible, identifies the sources of Smith’s wide-ranging quotations and allusions, translating them for the modern reader who may not be able to read the originals, and may also be unfamiliar with the Bible. Editorial annotations try to make clear some of the contexts of Smith’s writing. An introduction gives some account of Smith’s life and influence, and offers a tentative, literary introduction to the his work. A small number of omissions are to be remedied.

The edition of John Smith’s Select Discourses is available as a series of PDF files at I hope to make the site easier to use and more attractive in appearance over the coming months. The edition was written in LaTeX, using Texpad 1.7.38 as an editor and compiled using a MacTex installation. The current website is uses WordPress, hosted by Treewind.

New Online Edition of Smith’s Select Discourses

Roger Howard has made his edition of John Smith’s Select Discourses available online here. He describes the work as follows:

John Smith’s Select Discourses are the only surviving literary resmithmains of an important member of the group of Cambridge theologians now known collectively as the Cambridge Platonists. The Select Discourses were first published in 1660, with a second edition in 1673. Since then, the text has been printed in a number of increasingly unsatisfactory editions, in which intrusive editors have progressively moved further away from the original. Here, I present what I believe to be an accurate text, with the annotations needed for a modern reader. A few gaps remain to be filled in providing translations of some rabbinical quotations, which I may try to remedy at some point. A description of  the contents of John Smith’s Commonplace Book is also to be added.

We are all in debt to Howard for this fine contribution to Cambridge Platonist scholarship!

The Cambridge Platonists and the Pre-History of the English Enlightenment

Matthew Cosby, “The Cambridge Platonists and the Pre-History of the English Enlightenment,” Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Wisconsin – Madison, 2016.


This work examines the prehistory of the Enlightenment, as manifested in a group of five English thinkers customarily known as theCambridge Platonists”—Benjamin Whichcote, Ralph Cudworth, Henry More, Nathaniel Culverwell, and John Smith. Not normally associated with the Enlightenment, and writing a generation before the latter is normally regarded as beginning, the Cambridge Platonists, my research has found, evinced many ideas and attitudes that we now associate with the Enlightenment—such as religious toleration, rationalism, an interest in natural science, and a focus on the present life and the physical world rather than the afterlife and realm of spirit. The broader, meta-hypothesis is that the Enlightenment does not begin suddenly at the end of the seventeenth century, as it is often treated, but emerges much more gradually and organically out of earlier modes of thought.

Committee: Johann P. Sommerville, Charles L. Cohen, Karl Shoemaker, Daniel Ussishkin, and Steven Nadler.