Sep 192017
 

Grave of William Smellie,Greyfriars Kirkyard, 1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ

William Smellie was a printer, naturalist and friend of the poet Robert Burns at the height of the Scottish Enlightenment. In 1768 Smellie was hired to edit the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768–71). It was envisaged as a more conservative answer to Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751–72), which embodied many of the more radical ideas of the French Enlightenment. He not only edited it but wrote large parts of it himself, while also borrowing liberally without acknowledgement from other great writers including Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Johnson. He was a keen natural historian, writing several well-known books on the subject. In 1779 stood for the chair of natural history at the University of Edinburgh, but was pipped to the post by John Walker.

William Smellie (1740–95), engraved by Henry Bryan Hall after George Watson (1840).

William Smellie (1740–95), engraved by Henry Bryan Hall after George Watson (1840).

Inscription on WIlliam Smellie's grave.

Inscription on WIlliam Smellie’s grave.

 

Title page for first edition (1771) of Encyclopaedia Britannica, or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences.

Title page for first edition (1771) of Encyclopaedia Britannica, or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences.

Find out more

Share #curiousedinburgh:
Sep 192017
 

Site of Boyd's InnBoyd’s Entry, St Mary St, Edinburgh EH8 8JW

This pub was where James Boswell, Edinburgh lawyer and biographer of Samuel Johnson, met up with Johnson before they embarked on their famous tour of the Hebrides in 1773. Boswell had first met Johnson when he was living in London in 1763 and the two had become close friends. Johnson wanted to visit the Highlands in part to try to prove that the supposed works of the ancient Gaelic poet Ossian, which were causing a literary sensation at the time, were not genuine, but had in fact been written by their supposed translator, James Macpherson. Many of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, including Hugh Blair and Adam Ferguson, energetically supported the authenticity of the work.

Caricature of Johnson and Boswell walking down the Royal Mile.

Caricature of Johnson and Boswell walking down the Royal Mile.

Plaque in Boyd's Entry.

Plaque in Boyd’s Entry.

Portrait of James Macpherson (1736–96) by George Romney.

Portrait of James Macpherson (1736–96) by George Romney.

Ossian Singing by Nicolai Abildgaard, 1787.

Ossian Singing by Nicolai Abildgaard, 1787.

Find out more

Share #curiousedinburgh: