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William Smellie


1740 - 1795

Printer and natural historian. Born in Duddingston (by Edinburgh), the son of a stonemason, Smellie began his education at the parish school and continued it at the High School of Edinburgh. He left at the age of 12 to become an apprentice printer, but was able to attend occasional lectures at the University of Edinburgh. He ran a printing and publishing business in Anchor Close off Edinburgh's Royal Mile. He edited and published the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768) and the Edinburgh edition of his friend Robert Burns' Poems (1787).

Despite being a rather uncouth man, Smellie was described as 'one of the most learned men in Scotland' and wrote a highly-regarded Philosophy of Natural History (1799). Smellie was well connected with figures of the Scottish Enlightenment both socially and professionally, for example, publishing works by poet Robert Fergusson (1750-74), historian William Robertson (1721-93) and economist Adam Smith (1723-90).

Smellie was a founder of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1780) and became Keeper of the Edinburgh Museum of Natural History (1781). He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783.

He also prepared the ground for the publication of the first Statistical Account of Scotland, the fore-runner of the modern census, produced by Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster (1754 - 1835).

Smellie died in Edinburgh.


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