Samuel Smiles, born in Haddington, East Lothian on the 23rd of December,
1813, was the son of Janet Wilson of Dalkeith and Samuel Smiles or Smails of
He was the second oldest of twelve children all born in Haddington of whom
ten survived beyond childhood. His first named elder sister Elizabeth born
in 1811 died before a second Elizabeth was born in 1814. His other siblings
were Elizabeth (1814), Robert (1816), Thomas (1818 died before December
1919), Thomas (1919), Janet (1823), William (1824), George Thomson (1825),
Mary (1827), James Smith (1829) and Christian Wilson (1831).
While his family members were strict Cameronians, Samuel Jnr. did not
practise. He studied at a local school, leaving at the age of 14. He was
then apprenticed to be a doctor under Dr. Robert Lewins. This arrangement
enabled Smiles to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1829.
There he furthered his interest in politics, and become a strong supporter
of Joseph Hume.
Samuel Smiles Snr. died in the cholera epidemic of 1832, but young Samuel
was able to continue with his studies because he was supported by his mother
from the income received from the family's small general store. Her example
of working ceaselessly to support herself and his nine younger siblings
strongly influenced Samuel's future life; although, he developed a more
tolerant outlook which was sometimes at odds with his Cameronian forebears.
In 1837, Samuel wrote campaigning for parliamentary reform articles for the
Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle and the Leeds Times, In November 1838, he was
invited to become the editor of the Leeds Times, a position he accepted and
filled until 1842. In May 1840, he became secretary to the Leeds
Parliamentary Reform Association, an organization that held to the six
objectives of Chartism: universal suffrage for all men over the age of 21;
equal-sized electoral districts; voting by secret ballot; an end to the need
of MPs to qualify for Parliament, other than by winning an election; pay for
MPs; and annual Parliaments.
As editor of the Leeds Times, he advocated radical causes ranging from
women's suffrage through free trade to parliamentary reform. However, by the
late 1840s, he became concerned about the use of physical force by Chartists
like Feargus O'Connor and George Julian Harney. Although he seems to have
agreed with them that the movement's current tactics were not effective, he
also believed that mere political reform would not cure the manifold evils
then afflicting society.
In the 1850s he seems to have completely given up on parliamentary reform
and other structural changes as a means of social advance and for the rest
of his career, he advocated individual self-improvement.
On 7 December 1843, Samuel married Sarah Ann Holmes Dixon in Leeds. They had
three daughters, Janet, Edith, and Lillian, and two sons, William and
Samuel. In 1845, he left the Leeds Times and became a secretary for Leeds
and Thirsk Railway and afterwards for the South Eastern Railway.
In the 1850s, he abandoned his interest in parliament and decided that
self-help was the most important item in reform. In 1859, he published his
book "Self-Help; with Illustrations of Character and Conduct". In addition
he wrote articles for the Quarterly, where in an article on railways, he
argued that the railways should be nationalised and that third-class
passengers should be encouraged.
In 1866, Smiles beaome president of the National Provident Institution, but
left in 1871, after suffering a debilitating stroke. However, he recovered
from the stroke, and eventually learned to read and write again.
In 1875, his book "Thrift" was published. In it he said that, "riches do not
constitute any claim to distinction. It is only the vulgar who admire riches
as riches". He further claimed that the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 had been
"one of the most valuable that has been placed on the statute-book in modern
Books published by Dr Samuel Smiles:
Character, 1871 Thrift, 1875
Life and Labour, 1887
The Life of George Stephenson, 1857
The Story of The Life of George Stephenson, London, 1859 (abridgement of the
Brief biographies, Boston, 1860 (articles reprinted from periodicals such as
the Quarterly Review)
Lives of the Engineers, 5 vol, London 1862 Vol 1, Early engineers – James
Brindley, Sir Cornelius Vermuyden, Sir Hugh Myddleton, Capt John Perry
Vol 2, Harbours, Lighthouses and Bridges – John Smeaton and John Rennie
Vol 3, History of Roads – John Metcalf and Thomas Telford
Vol 4, The Steam Engine – Boulton and Watt
Vol 5, The Locomotive – George Stephenson and Robert Stephenson
The Huguenots: Their Settlements, Churches and Industries in England and
The Huguenots in France. 1870
Lives of the Engineers, new ed. in 5 vols, 1874
Robert Dick, Baker of Thurso, Geologist and Botanist, 1878
Men of Invention and Industry, 1884
An Autobiography, of Samuel Smiles, 1885
A Publisher and his Friends. Memoir and Correspondence of the Late John
Jasmin. Barber, Poet, Philanthropist, 1891
Josiah Wedgwood, his Personal History, 1894
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