Victorious Victorian ideals?

Samuel Smiles, a Scottish reformer involved in the Chartist movement, declared that individualism leads to success of society. Written in 1882, his book Self-Help inspired progress through rationality, attention to detail, and “patience and perseverance.”1 Smiles, a Victorian who promoted Victorian ideals, detested inheritance and rather believed that success should be determined through—or rather achieved by—relentless determination. Victorian ideals practiced in Britain during this time period separated Britain from the rest of the world, notably countries such as France, who dabbled through numerous Revolutions seeking to find the truth to society’s success. It is in these Victorian ideals that success is most possible; thus, Smiles sought to promote the Victorian ideas of self-reliance and self-responsibility. Smiles not only writes to his own people to proudly affirm the integrity of the Victorian model, but also to other countries such as France. Smiles sought to create a prosperous society with Victorian ideals, and thus writes with enthusiastic, inspired fervor. He uses enhanced, passionate language to further engage his audience: people who are searching for the truth. Furthermore, Smiles refutes the assumption that government plays a significant role, or often times the primary role, in the success of society. Smile believes that individualism is the cornerstone of society and therefore will determine the fate of the nation. Thus, all individuals—regardless of skill, appearance, or reputation—have the ability to make a difference in society.

Smiles goes on to say that it’s not only the General of the war or it’s not only the owner of the business that play a significant role in society.2 All members of society who work hard to achieve a certain goal or who simply show respect towards others while being humble should be equally as recognized. As Smiles says, the people glorified in the history books should not—and do not—deserve all of the credit. ((Samuel Smiles: Self-Help, 1882)

A society with a focus on individualism should, at least in my honest opinion, be the most successful. Individualism teaches people to act responsibly and rationally, thereby increasing their intellect and increasing their level of maturity. This level of maturity pertains to the honorable traits Smiles sets forth in his passage: respect, humility, inspiration, vigor, among others. These qualities, if practiced by even a few individuals, can be spread to the masses with ease simply because of their nature. They are infectious traits.

I do think that some of Smiles’ ideas have translated to today’s society. While I think we do not do the best job of giving contributors equal credit, and we do rely on government for much of our help, we still practice individualism in a great capacity. Without our determination, without our self-reliance, without our vigor, we would not be living. We would be simply alive.

Have we adopted the ideas of self-help? Did the Victorians do their job—were they effective? Do we admire the contributions of everyone in today’s society, not just the people at the top? And are the Victorian ideas themselves “victorious” (i.e. the most effective at achieving societal success)

  1. Samuel Smiles: Self-Help, 1882 []
  2. Samuel Smiles: Self-Help, 1882 []

One thought on “Victorious Victorian ideals?

  1. Individualism and independence is lauded in American society. We love the idea of singular people “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” without the aid of others or the government, but I don’t think the state of our current society really allows for it. In many cases, a college education has become necessary to get an adequately-paying job, yet almost no one can afford to go to college without the aid of someone, whether it be their parents, the government, or the college itself. As far as admiring the contributions of everyone in society I would say we aren’t even close to that. In the political sense, those with the most wealth have the most say.

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