Self-Help by Samuel Smiles

Description

Self-Help was the first book by reformist Scottish journalist Samuel Smiles. In it, he proposes knowledge as one of the highest human enjoyments and education as the somewhat erratic road along which knowledge is acquired. Where education was not provided, a man had a duty to educate himself.

Self-Help is, among other things, a primer for the poor in self-education and upward mobility: even those at the bottom of the social ladder should be able to improve themselves through hard graft and perseverance. Published privately at Smiles’s own expense, Self-Help was an unexpected sensation, and Smiles became something of a guru in education and business. His thoughts about social mobility struck a chord with the business class, effectively introducing the notions of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. The deserving poor were the grafters, and what they deserved was a fair hearing. The undeserving poor were those who didn’t seem to want to work, and what they needed was a withdrawal of all state or charity support until they were forced to fend for themselves. More than a century later, Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted to give Self-Help as a gift to every schoolchild in Britain. 

One of Smiles’s most striking claims at the time was that even the poor could be gentlemen: ‘Riches and rank have no necessary connexion with genuine gentlemanly qualities’, which he describes as being ‘diligent self-culture, self-discipline and self control – and above all … that honest and upright performance of individual duty which is the glory of manly character’. This accurately describes the education (and self-education) of Pip Pirrip, the hero of Dickens’s Great Expectations (1860).

Full title:
Self-Help; with illustrations of character and conduct
Published:
1859, London
Format:
Book
Creator:
Samuel Smiles
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
10604.b.24.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

'Knock, knock, it’s Enoch': Hanif Kureishi remembers the effect of Enoch Powell

Article by:
Hanif Kureishi
Themes:
Power and conflict, Exploring identity

Hanif Kureishi describes how the MP Enoch Powell made racism the basis of his political position, and recalls the climate of fear Powell's hate-mongering created among people of colour in the 1970s.

An introduction to Silas Marner: fairytale, realism and labour

Article by:
John Mullan
Theme:
The novel 1832–1880

Professor John Mullan explores how George Eliot draws on fairytale elements in her self-described ‘realistic treatment’ of a pre-industrial weaver and her work.

The middle classes: etiquette and upward mobility

Article by:
Kathryn Hughes
Theme:
The middle classes

Professor Kathryn Hughes describes how the expansion of the middle classes in the 19th century led to a new emphasis on upward mobility, etiquette and conspicuous consumption.

Related collection items

Related works

Great Expectations

Created by: Charles Dickens

A novel by Charles Dickens (1812–1870), which first appeared in All the Year Round in 1860–61, and in ...

Oliver Twist

Created by: Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’s (1812-1870) second novel, originally published in serial parts 1837-39, and as a three ...