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Samuel Smiles

Samuel Smiles

Social reformer

Author of one of the inspirational Bibles of Victorian society, Self-Help, a collection of biographies of contemporary men of achievement. A quarter of a million copies were sold.

More About Samuel Smiles. 'A place for everything, and everything in its place.' Samuel Smiles said that. He said other, even more boring things. He was platitudinous: he was a Victorian moralist. He believed in self-help, and even wrote a book about it. His philosophical outpourings were so full of cliches that people since his day often assume that he was English.

He was actually born at Haddington. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and waltzed through the course. In 1838, at the age of 26, he published his first book, Physical Education.

He was certainly a go-getter as well as a bore. He worked tor a time as a surgeon, but since surgeon's patients are often unconscious, he got a job as editor of the Leeds Times in 1838, so that wide-awake people could read his words of wisdom. Later, between 1845 and 1866, he held down a number of jobs in the burgeoning railway business. He met George Stephenson, the man who founded railways, and wrote a biography of the great innovator. Smiles was fascinated by great men.

His big work, published in 1859, was Self-Help, with Illustrations of Character and Conduct. It was all about successful people, and in the 19th century it was a favourite school prize for bright pupils. It was hoped they might learn from it and become as tedious as the author. 'Do thou likewise,' it exhorted its young readers, who either did or didn't.

Smiles wrote many books, all pretty much the same, such as Lives of the Engineers (in three volumes), Character, Thrift and a long autobiography that showed what a wonderful man he was.

He meant well, and he knew he was very good. Every generation has its Smiles. Life is not meant to be perfect.