William Smellie, encyclopaedist

1740 (Edinburgh) – 1795 (Edinburgh)

The convivial Smellie (not to be confused with the obstetrician of the same name) was a leading figure in Edinburgh enlightenment circles. He printed the work of Burns, Hume, Smith, Cullen and Hutton, all of them friends of his (he attended Cullen’s lectures). Smellie learned French so he could translate Buffon’s great work, was with Black a regular at Monboddo’s ‘learned suppers’, and corresponded with Hunter. Burns immortalised the drinking club Smellie founded — the two had a particular taste for each other’s wit and company; Smith, Ferguson and Monboddo were also members. There is surprisingly little on him online.

Denis Diderot

1713 (Langres, France) – 1784 (Paris)

D’Alembert co-edited his great project, the Encyclopédie; Grimm was his closest friend. Rousseau, Voltaire (who corresponded for 30 years), d’Holbach, Turgot and Montesquieu were the most noted of other contributors to the Encyclopédie. Rameau objected to its denigration of French music, and entered into a running argument with Diderot as well as Rousseau, who’d written the offending sections. Voltaire and d’Épinay were instrumental in getting Diderot’s imprisonment alleviated. Sterne, Hume, Marmontel, Helvétius and Sedaine were all good friends, while Greuze embodied his ideas of what of a painter should be.

Baron d’Holbach

Paul-Henri Thiry d'Holbach

1723 (Edesheim, Germany) – 1789 (Paris)

Diderot, d’Alembert, Rousseau, Condorcet, Grimm, Boulanger, Buffon, Beccaria and Lagrange all regularly attended d’Holbach’s intellectual salon. Gibbon, Hume, Garrick, Sterne, Walpole, Smith, Priestley and Franklin were among his anglophone friends and associates. D’Holbach maintained this intellectual and reformist côterie of friends for 30 years, an impressive feat not only for the level and international breadth of discourse, but because he and his circle were so frequently critics of established society. He not only wrote for Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, but also helped fund it.