Samuel Smiles

Samuel Smiles
Samuel Smiles

Samuel Smiles is popularly known for his works in political reform and hugely-acclaimed writings. He initially had the perception that he could impact more lives by becoming a member of parliament. He later on abandoned these ambitions, explaining that there were better ways to bring about change other than just the implementation of new laws. This pushed him to published Self-Help in 1859, which attracted the attention of many due to its insistence that poverty was the product of irresponsible habits. The social reformer stamped his position in the books of history by introducing a new dimension to the idea of poverty and self-educating. Smiles wrote that hard-work was the way to go and that luck and talent played little role in that. He believed that middle classes and working classes could climb up the social ladder.

Personal life and education

Samuel Smiles was born on 23 December 1812 in Haddington, Scotland. As the firstborn of Samuel Smiles of Haddington and Janet Wilson of Dalkeith, Smiles was raised as a strict reformed Presbyterian. However, he did not practice the ideologies of the church.

Smiles began his education at a local school and left at 14 years. He moved on to apprentice as a doctor under the stewardship of Dr. Robert Lewins. This gave him the opportunity to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. It is during his time at the university that he got more interested in politics and the ideals of parliamentary reform.

Smiles the campaigner

Samuel Smiles was a staunch advocate of parliamentary reforms. He even published a series of articles in the Leeds Times and Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle over the same. The Leeds Times allowed him to be one of their editors, a position he quickly accepted. Samuel Smiles rose in ranks to become the Leeds Parliamentary Reform Association chairperson. This association tackled a wide range of issues, including voting rights for men aged 21 years and beyond, secret voting ballot, among others. As editor of Leeds Times, Samuel Smiles agreed with the assertions of George Julian Harney and Feargus O’Connor that “mere political reform will not cure the manifold evils” which were being faced by the society. That was when he embraced the idea of individual reform.


He left Leeds in 1845 to become the chairman of Leeds & Thirsk Railway. Smiles wrote a series of articles for the Quarterly in which he argued that railways ought to be nationalized. One of the notable articles was titled: Workers Earnings, Savings, and Strikes. In this article, Smiles held that poverty was a result of habitual improvidence. He believed that instead of Mechanics Institutes and Schools flourishing, this ought to be a time when wages are highest.

The understanding that he needed to do more to change the society made Smiles publish the book Self-Help, with Illustrations of Character and Conduct. He also wrote Thrift 1875 where he argued that one does not become distinct just because they are rich.

He is also known for several biographical works, including Lives of the Engineers, The Life of George Stephenson, Josiah Wedgwood, his Personal History, among others.

Indeed Samuel Smiles was an exemplary author, one whose works caused significant social reforms.


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