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William Smellie (encyclopedist)

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Title: William Smellie (encyclopedist)  
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Subject: History of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica First Edition, Wikipedia is succeeding, Evaluating Wikipedia as an encyclopedia
Collection: 1740 Births, 1795 Deaths, 18Th-Century Scottish People, Academics of the University of Edinburgh, Alumni of the University of Edinburgh, Burials at Greyfriars Kirkyard, Encyclopædia Britannica, Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Members of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, People Educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, People from Edinburgh, Scottish Antiquarians, Scottish Botanists, Scottish Businesspeople, Scottish Encyclopedists, Scottish Magazine Editors, Scottish Naturalists, Scottish Printers
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William Smellie (encyclopedist)

William Smellie
FRSE, FSA (Scot)
William Smellie, by Henry Bryan Hall
Born 1740
The Pleasance, Edinburgh
Died 24 June 1795
Resting place Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh
Residence Edinburgh
Nationality Scottish
Education Duddingston parish school
High School, Edinburgh
Alma mater Edinburgh University
Occupation Printer, editor, naturalist, antiquary

Apprentice, Hamilton, Balfour & Neil, printers, 1752
Substitute Lecturer, Botany, Edinburgh University
Founded Balfour & Smellie, Printers,

Edinburgh, 1765
Edited 1st Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, 1771-
Editor, Edinburgh Magazine & Review, 1773-6
Partner with William Creech, ; 1782-
Known for Editor of the 1st Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica
Spouse(s) Jean Robertson (m 1763)
Parent(s) Alexander Smellie, architect, Edinburgh
Member of the Edinburgh Philosophical Society, thereby becoming a founding fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh upon the Philosophical Society receiving its royal charter in 1783
Founder of the Newtonian Club (1760)

William Smellie FRSE FSA (Scot) (1740–1795) was a Scottish master printer, naturalist, antiquary, editor and encyclopedist.[1] He was friends with Robert Burns, whose assessment is engraved on Smellie's tombstone: "Here lies a man who did honour to human nature".[2] Burns also described him fondly in a letter as "that old Veteran in Genius, Wit and Bawdry".[3]


  • Early life 1
  • Encyclopædia Britannica 2
  • Other work 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5

Early life


He was born in The Pleasance, in south-east Edinburgh in 1740, the son of Alexander Smellie, architect. He was apprenticed to Hamilton, Balfour & Neill in 1752. On completion of his apprenticeship he joined the firm of Murray & Cochran as a corrector for the Scots Magazine. He was allowed three hours per day to study at Edinburgh University.

On 27 March 1763 he married Jean Robertson in London.

Encyclopædia Britannica

At the age of 28, Smellie was hired by

  1. ^ Waterston, Charles D; Macmillan Shearer, A (July 2006). Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783-2002: Biographical Index (PDF) II. Edinburgh:  
  2. ^ a b c Banquet at Guildhall in the City of London, Tuesday 15 October 1968: Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Encyclopædia Britannica and the 25th Anniversary of the Honorable William Benton as its Chairman and Publisher.  
  3. ^ J. De Lancey Fergusson and G. Ross Roy, eds. (1985). The Letters of Robert Burns. Volume II of II. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 10.  
  4. ^
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Krapp, Philip; Balou, Patricia K. (1992). Collier's Encyclopedia 9.  
  7. ^ a b "Encyclopedias". Encyclopædia Britannica (1st ed.). 1771. 
  8. ^ "Encyclopedias". Encyclopædia Britannica (14th ed.). 1954. 
  9. ^ Wells, James M. (1968). The Circle of Knowledge: Encyclopaedias Past and Present. Chicago: The Newberry Library. Library of Congress catalog number 68-21708. 


See also

He is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard just north of the Adam Mausoleum, southwest of the church.

Smellie was the son of a master builder and stonemason. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh. At the age of 12, he was apprenticed to a printer; he rose to the rank of master printer.

Smellie continued to publish a wide variety of works, including his two-volume Philosophy of Natural History, which became a set text at Harvard University in the nineteenth century, and at least two of the four-volume set of Thesaurus medicus: sive, disputationum, in Academia Edinensi, ad rem medicam pertinentium, a collegio instituto ad hoc usque tempus, delectu which reprinted Edinburgh medical theses of the 18th century.

In 1779, Smellie was nominated to be the University of Edinburgh's Professor of Natural History; however, the post was awarded to Dr. John Walker, allegedly due to politics.

Smellie is also noted for his English translation of the famous Histoire Naturelle of the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon.

At the time of his hiring, Smellie edited a weekly called the Scot's Journal, which made him familiar with the editing and publication of a work in parts.[9]

William Smellie's grave, Greyfriars Kirkyard

Other work

dedicated to the arts and sciences. encyclopedia, because he objected to the inclusion of biographical articles in an Britannica Smellie did not participate in the second edition of the [2]

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