The Correspondence of Thomas Smith

Primary Contributors:

Cultures of Knowledge

Detail of a letter from Martin LIster to Thomas Smith. 1702. (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, MS Smith, 52, fol. 5).

Thomas Smith (1638–1710)

Born in Barking, London, the son of the merchant John Smith, Thomas Smith was admitted to The Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1657. He graduated BA in 1661 and proceeded MA in 1663. Subsequently appointed lecturer in Hebrew at Magdalen College, Oxford, he earned a reputation as an orientalist and as an ecclesiastical historian. In 1667 he was made fellow of Magdalen, but the following year he travelled to Constantinople where, until 1671, he served as chaplain to the English ambassador.

Three years after his return to Oxford, Smith proceeded BD in 1674 and two years later he travelled to France. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1677, proposed by Sir John Hoskins. From 1678–79 he served as chaplain to Joseph Williamson, another alumnus from The Queen’s College. As a high-churchman and a non-juror, he was elected vice-president of Magdalen in 1682. Following the ‘Catholicization’ of the college, however, Smith was deprived of his fellowship in 1688 and, although this was restored temporarily shortly thereafter, it was removed finally in 1692.

In 1689, Smith became unofficial librarian of the Cotton Library in London, working there until the death of Sir John Cotton in 1702, whereupon the library became the property of the state. Alongside publication of numerous scholarly works, from 1704 onwards he published intellectual biographies of such illustrious contemporaries as Edward Bernard. Smith counted Justel, Pepys, Leibniz, and Hearne amongst his friends, and his correspondence as a whole was extensive. He died in London in May 1710 and was buried in St Anne’s Soho.

Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata in this ‘work-in-progress’ catalogue at present has been drawn together from letter records listed within the Bodleian card catalogue (digitized and published in EMLO with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation in partnership with the Bodleian Libraries); the Hadriaan Beverland catalogue (compiled and contributed by Dr Karen Hollewand); the Robert Boyle correspondence (contributed by Electronic Enlightenment Editions and extended by the Cultures of Knowledge project with the encouragement of Michael Hunter); the Edmond Halley catalogue (compiled and contributed by Cultures of Knowledge in partnership with Oxford University Press and Oxford Scholarly Editions Online); the Edward Lhwyd catalogue (compiled and contributed by Brynley F. Roberts and Helen Watt, with financial assistance via Cultures of Knowledge from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation); and from the Martin Lister correspondence (compiled and contributed by Professor Anna Marie Roos with funding, again via Cultures of Knowledge, from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation).


Currently this catalogue contains basic descriptions of Thomas Smith’s correspondence to be found in Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries. A total of 2,751, these letters range in date between 1654 and 1710, the year of Smith’s death, and among the correspondents may be found a wide range of early modern individuals, including Theodoor Almeloveen, Adrien Auzout, Thomas Barlow, Edward Bernard, Robert Boyle, William Cave, Edward Chamberlayne, Arthur Charlett, John Cotton, Philip Cotton, Henry Dodwell, William Dugdale, Edmund Elys, Thomas Gale, Antoine Galland, Edmond Halley, Christopher Hatton, George Hickes, Robert Huntington, Henri Justel, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, William Lloyd, Narcissus Marsh, Paul Pellison, Samuel Pepys, Humphrey Prideaux, Paul Rycaut, Melchisédech Thévenot, Edward Thwaites, Theodore de Vaux, Humfrey Wanley, Philip Warwick, and Joseph Williamson.


Scope of Catalogue

At present, EMLO contains records for 2,751 letters from or to Thomas Smith. The manuscripts of these letters reside in the care of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries and, within the Bodleian card catalogue, metadata have been taken from the following collections:
MS Ashmole 1817a; MS Ballard 16; MS Cherry 22, 23; MS Eng. hist. b. 2; MS Lister 37; MS Rawl. D. 352; MS Rawl. letters 27c, 37, 38, 110; MS Smith 21, 29, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 88, 93, 115, 127, 128, 129, 130; MS St Edmund Hall 14; MS Tanner 27, 30.

Work is in progress to establish whether any of Smith’s correspondence in the Bodleian has been overlooked. The intention is to work with the scholarly community to check and enhance the existing metadata by identifying and tagging the people, publications, and events mentioned, by recording where available details of the letters’ destination, and by capturing the date as marked in the letters. It would be of particular use also to record metadata for the letters to be found in the British Library, with priority given to those written by Smith to Sir Hans Sloane and to Humfrey Wanley.

Should you be interested in the life, the work, and the letters of Thomas Smith, and should you wish to be involved in the forthcoming work to complete this listing of correspondence, please contact EMLO’s editor, Miranda Lewis (


Further resources


Theodor Harmsen, ‘Smith, Thomas (1638–1710), scholar‘, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, September 2004) [accessed 11 March 2020].

P. L. Heyworth, ed., Letters of Humfrey Wanley (Oxford, 1989).

Eileen A. Joy, ‘Thomas Smith, Humfrey Wanley, and the “Little-Known Country” of the Cotton Library’, in Electronic British Library Journal (2005).

Thomas Smith, An Account of the Greek church as to its doctrine and rites of worship with several historicall remarks interspersed (London, 1680).

Thomas Smith, Catalogus librorum bibliothecae Cottonianae (Oxford, 1696).

Thomas Smith, Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library 1696 […] reprinted from Sir Robert Harley’s copy, annotated by Humfrey Wanley (Cambridge, 1984).

Thomas Smith, Miscellenae in quibus continentur responsio ad nuperas D. Simonii in libro super side Graecorum de dogmate substantiationis cavillationes (London, 1690).

Thomas Smith, Vitae quorundam eruditissimorum et illustrium virorum (London, 1707).


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