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Significant Scots
Samuel Smiles

Summary of the Life of Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)

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 Haddington.

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 times".

Books published by Dr Samuel Smiles:

Self-Help, 1859
Character, 1871
Thrift, 1875
Duty, 1880
Life and Labour, 1887
The Life of George Stephenson, 1857
The Story of The Life of George Stephenson, London, 1859 (abridgement of the above)
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 (1761–1821)
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 Ireland, 1867
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 Murray, 1891
Jasmin. Barber, Poet, Philanthropist, 1891
Josiah Wedgwood, his Personal History, 1894

Chapter I - Boyhood and Education
Chapter II - Youthful Recollections
Chapter III - A Student of Medicine
Chapter IV - Reform - The Lauder Raid - The Cholera
Chapter V - Surgeon in Haddington
Chapter VI - A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss
Chapter VII - Returns to England, London, Sheffield
Chapter VIII - Editor of Leeds Times
Chapter IX - Life in Leeds
Chapter X - I Leave Political Life
Chapter XI End of Residence in Leeds
Chapter XII Newcastle and Neighbourhood
Chapter XIII - Secretary of the South-Eastern Railway
Chapter XIV - A Successful Author at Last!
Chapter XV - Railway Work - Charing Cross Line
Chapter XVI - Lives of the Engineers, and Other Works
Chapter XVII - The Huguenots - Travels in France
Chapter XVIII - The North Frisian Islands
Chapter XIX - Character, Illness, A Long Rest
Chapter XX - Thrift, The Scotch Naturalist, George Moore, etc.
Chapter XXI - Visit to Italy
Chapter XXII - Growing Old
Chapter XXIII - Appreciation from Foreigners
Chapter XXIV - Translations - Royat - Italy

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