William Smellie Papers

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

William Smellie’s papers consist of correspondence with friends, family and business associates; manuscripts of his own works on natural history; reviews; prefaces and satirical pieces.

His own papers range from 1759 to 1795, but the collection also contains letters, 1795 -1820, to Alexander Smellie, mostly concerning his father’s biography. Personal correspondents include Dr Samuel Charteris, writing about religious and philosophical subjects, Lord Buchan concerning the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and Maria Riddell. There are also letters from well-known contemporary figures such as Thomas Pennant, Lord Hailes and Principal William Robertson.

A finding list of the archive was created by Stephen W. Brown in 1998 and revised by Elspeth Yeo in 2011. A fuller listing with transcripts by Stephen Brown is held in the library collection (Acc. 186864).

Administrative / Biographical History

William Smellie (1740-1795) was a printer, editor, author and first Keeper of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. His own writings included essays for the first edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768-71), a Philosophy of Natural History (1790-99) and a translation of Buffon’s work on natural history. He also edited and printed the first edition of William Buchan’s Domestic Medicine (1769) and contributed reviews and articles to a number of magazines including the controversial Edinburgh Magazine and Review of which he was a part owner. He was well-known to many leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment and was a friend of Robert Burns and the Earl of Buchan.

Conditions Governing Access

Library open Monday to Friday 10:00 - 17:00. Please make an appointment with the library beforehand. Email library@nms.ac.uk

Other Finding Aids

A finding list of the archive was created by Stephen W. Brown in 1998 and revised by Elspeth Yeo in 2011. It is available at http://www.nms.ac.uk/media/269242/william_smellie_mss_2011.pdf

Geographical Names