Smiles’ Contradiction

Samuel Smiles was a firm believer that growth comes from the individual; hard work, perseverance, and application all made an individual strong and knowledgeable. ((Samuel Smiles, Self Help, 1882)) Smiles was a Scottish writer who learned the importance of self reliance from his childhood; as one of eleven children with no father, he learned from his mother the meaning of individual strength. When he was a little older he moved to England where he joined the chartists in fighting for worker’s rights. His writing is said to be some of the most reflective writing of the Victorian era, exemplifying a lot of common identities and ideas from this era.


Something very interesting about Smiles’ writing is that he seems to advocate for child labor, saying that schools don’t give the best education. ((Samuel Smiles, Self Help, 1882)) Instead he advocates for students to be “in the workshop, at the loom and the plough, in counting-houses and manufactories”. ((Samuel Smiles, Self Help, 1882)) As a chartist who generally fought for worker’s rights, women’s suffrage, and other very liberal ideals, I found it surprising that he is inferring that children should be kept out of schools and instead should be in workshops. I found it especially surprising because at one point in the excerpt we read from his book he mentions that biographies of other men are especially useful and should be read by individuals. If children are not going to school, how does he expect them to read these biographies? It was a little unsettling that he wasn’t opposed to child labor, but I found that Smiles was a big advocate of capitalism and was even heavily involved in the railway business. A lot of industries at that time (including the railroad industry) relied on child labor.

Is Smiles’ position as a railroad tycoon swaying his opinion on child labor and education?

Self Help

A. Samuel Smiles was a Scottish author and government reformer. His father died of cholera so his mother had to work very hard to support him and his many siblings. This example set by his mother had a great influence on his life and certainly this book.

C. Published during the Victorian Era in Britain, this book made Smiles quite famous. The book has been called the bible of “mid-Victorian Liberalism.”

L. The language is simple and inspiring. It is a guide to personal betterment, similar to many books today.

A. The audience is the average working man of the late 1800s. It was not likely directed towards women as it does not mention females at all. While the book stressed he importance of the working man for progress, it does not say that the famous and wealthy cannot help progress society.

I. The intent of the book is to inspire people to work hard and better themselves. He also informed people that work is better than reading for progress.

M. Smiles first pointed out the importance of hard work for personal improvement. He then  stressed the need for personal growth from within, not from from outside influences. He expanded the scope of his argument by examining government’s role in progress. Smiles believed that anything past protection of basic rights was a hinderance on progress–defined by Smiles as energy, industry, and uprightness. Since a government is only as good as the people of which it is comprised, he said that people must take what their ancestors have developed and improve upon it so that their successors may continue the trend. Lastly, he noted that the common working man who inspires others to better themselves is just as important as the men whose names appear in the history books.