Adam Smith’s road to Damascus: the Oxford years

Note: this post is part 2 of my series: “Why did Adam Smith ditch Oxford in 1746?

My previous post (here) identified three classmates of Adam Smith who were elected Snell scholars, along with Smith himself, during the future economist’s first three years at the University of Glasgow (1737 to 1740). One was Stewart Douglas, who was awarded a Snell Exhibition in the fall of 1738 and later became a distinguished officer in the British Army. Another Glasgow classmate was Andrew Wood, who was also elected a Snell scholar on the same day as Douglas: 25 October 1738. (Although Stewart Douglas does not appear to have set foot in Oxford, Andrew Wood used up the full 11-year term of his Snell Exhibition, and after he completed his Oxford studies, Wood took Holy Orders in the Church of England and was later appointed Chaplain to the King in 1760.) The third Glasgow classmate was Charles Suttie, who won his Snell scholarship on the same day as Adam Smith: 4 March 1740. Although we do not know what became of Suttie, we do know that he vacated his Snell Exhibition after just five years—a full year before Smith vacated his!

Today, I will identify several other Snell scholars who Smith may have met and befriended during his seven years at Oxford (July 1740 to August 1746). One was James Stuart Menteath (c1718–1802). Menteath was awarded his Snell Exhibition on 25 November 1735 and matriculated at Balliol College on 9 April 1736. (See Addison 1901, pp. 41-42.) As a result, Smith and Menteath did not attend the University of Glasgow at the same time. (Menteath left Glasgow in 1736, while Smith began his studies there in 1737.) Nevertheless, Menteath and Smith were both at Oxford at the same time for at least two years (1740 to 1742), maybe more, because university records indicate that Menteath obtained his B.A. degree from Oxford in 1739 and his M.A. in 1742, and furthermore, Menteath did not vacate his Snell Exhibition until 1747 (a year after Smith had vacated his in 1746). Like Andrew Wood (see above), Menteath not only used up the full 11 years of his Snell award; he also took Holy Orders in the Church of England. (Ibid.)

Another Scottish classmate of Smith’s at Oxford was Thomas Craufurd (c1722–1795?), who was awarded a Snell Exhibition on 17 October 1740. (See Addison 1901, p. 44.) Craufurd matriculated at Balliol College on 4 November 1740, less than four months after Adam Smith had arrived there on 7 July 1740, and Craufurd remained at Oxford for at least the four next years, since university records indicate that he obtained his B.A. degree in 1744. (Ibid.) Although we do not know what become of Craufurd for certain, he may have been a merchant in Glasgow. (Ibid.) If so, it is possible that Smith and Craufurd may have known each other when Smith was a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow (1751 to 1763).

Another cohort of Snell scholars who the young Adam Smith may have known or befriended during his Oxford years was John Smith (c1721–1797?) (no relation to Adam) and John Stirling (c1726–1744?), the youngest of the Snell students. Both John Smith and John Stirling were awarded their Snell Exhibitions on 19 April 1743. (See Addison 1901, p. 45.) John Smith matriculated at Balliol College on 7 July 1744 (exactly four years to the day that Adam Smith matriculated there), and he later went on to become the Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford from 1766 until his death in early 1797. (See ibid., citing The Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle of Inveresk, 1722-1805, p. 198, which is available here.) For his part, John Stirling matriculated at Balliol College on 14 October 1743. (See Addison 1901, p. 45.) Stirling’s tenure at Oxford, however, was fleeting, for university records indicate that he “[d]ied previous to 11th January, 1744.” (Ibid.) How did Stirling’s untimely demise affect the young Adam Smith? Did it cause him, for example, to question his faith?

The last of Smith’s fellow Scottish students that Smith may have met at Oxford was John Douglas (1721–1807). According to university records, John Douglas matriculated at Oxford’s Saint Mary Hall on 1 March 1737 and then transferred to Balliol College a year later when he was awarded a Warner Exhibition. (See Addison 1901, p. 46.) University records also indicate that John Douglas obtained his B.A. in 1740 and his M.A. in 1743 from Oxford and that he returned to Balliol College after being awarded a Snell Exhibition in the fall of 1745. (Ibid.) After completing his studies at Oxford, John Douglas took Holy Orders in the Church of England and later became the Bishop of Salisbury. (The good bishop is pictured below.)

To sum up, of these seven Scottish Snell scholars (eight, if we include Stewart Douglas, who was awarded a Snell Exhibition but did not attend Oxford), only three became clergymen: John Douglas, James Stuart Menteath, and Andrew Wood. Of the rest, one is lost to history (Charles Suttie), another died at Oxford (John Stirling), a third became a military officer (Stewart Douglas), a fourth became a professor of geometry (John Smith), and a fifth may have become a merchant in Glasgow (Thomas Craufurd). In other words, Adam Smith was not the only Snell scholar to renounce his religious vocation.

Photo credit: Balliol College, University of Oxford (via ArtUK)

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to Adam Smith’s road to Damascus: the Oxford years

  1. Pingback: The Adam Smith-David Hume Incident | prior probability

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