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James Edward Smith

James Smith was born in Norwich in 1759. He was a delicate child and was educated at home. He began to study botany at the age of 18, and was sent to study medicine at Edinburgh in 1781. There he continued to study botany and established a natural history society. In 1783 he went to London to continue his studies. Later that year, on the death of the younger Linnaeus, Smith bought the entire Linnean natural history collection, herbarium, library and manuscripts. Smith began to devote all his time to natural history and botany.

In 1786 he undertook a continental tour, returning to England the following year with the intention of practising as a physician. Before his tour, he had discussed with friends the idea of establishing a new natural history society under the name of Linnaeus, and the first meeting of the Linnean Society was held on 8 April 1788. Smith was elected president. He began to give lectures on botany and zoology at his own home, and became a lecturer on botany at Guy's Hospital. He published several botanical works, including English Botany from 1790 to 1814.

He married in 1796 and shortly afterwards retired to Norwich, where he wrote his books and letters to several correspondents. He completed his three-volume Flora Britannica from 1800 to 1804, and his most successful work, The Introduction to Physiological and Systematic Botany in 1807. Smith was knighted in 1814, when the prince regent became patron of the Linnean Society. The first two volumes of his last work, The English Flora, were published in 1824. The third volume was published in 1825 and the fourth in March 1828, a few days before his death.


Boulger, G.S. ‘Smith, Sir James Edward (1759-1828)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2006) [ accessed 29 June 2009]

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