William Smellie (encyclopedia)

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William Smellie

William Smellie (* 1740 in Duddingston near Edinburgh , Scotland ; † June 24, 1795 in Edinburgh, Scotland) was a Scottish encyclopedist and naturalist and was the first editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1768–1771).


Smellie was the son of a stonemason and began his education in a parish church and then went to the High School of Edinburgh. He left school at the age of 12 and became an apprentice printer. During this time he was able to attend a few lectures at Edinburgh University .

Smellie had a printing business in Anchor Close off Edinburgh's Royal Mile. In 1768 he published the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and in 1787 the Edinburgh edition of the poems of his friend Robert Burns . He has also published works by his contemporaries, the poet Robert Fergusson (1750–1774), the historian William Robertson (1721–1793) and the economist Adam Smith (1723–1790).

Smellie published his esteemed Philosophy of Natural History in 1799 . He was the founder of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1780 and a year later in 1781 he became administrator of the Edinburgh Museum of Natural History . Smellie laid the foundation for the publication of the first Statistical Account of Scotland , a forerunner of the modern census , published by Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster (1754-1835). In 1783 he was a founding member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh .

Smellie was also referred to by his contemporaries as a "rude fellow" and "notorious drinker".


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF file) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed April 8, 2020 .