Smith began studying medicine at Edinburgh University in Scotland where he was instructed by Dr. Hope, Professor of Botany, and the first to teach the Linnean system in Scotland.
Smith returned to London in 1783 to continue his medical studies.
In 1783, five years after the death of Linnaeus, Smith purchased Linnaeus' collection of nearly 3,000 books, plants, minerals, insects and manuscripts and had them sent to London.
In 1785, Smith, and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Goodenough and Thomas Marsham toyed with the idea of forming a new natural history society. Smith went on a European tour in 1786 and it wasn't until he returned in 1788, that the soceiety, officially named "The Linnean Society of London", had its first official meeting. Smith served as president until his death in 1828.
Smith's first major work, English Botany, and subsequent publications, including English Flora, an expansion of earlier cited work, focused on botany.
Smith died in 1828 and left his own collections, Linnaeusí collections, and his books and prints, to be sold all together in one lot to a public or corporate body. The Linnean Society made the purchase and continues to preserve the works.
The influence of Linnaeus' marriage theme is clearly seen in the names Smith assigned to the three North American species which Smith described: Catocala vidua, Catocala consors and Catocala neogama, the widow, the consort and the bride, respectively.
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