Gold out of Straw

Peter Mandler

  • Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character, Conduct and Perseverance by Samuel Smiles, edited by Peter Sinnema
    Oxford, 387 pp, £7.99, October 2002, ISBN 0 19 280176 7

The problem the 20th century had with Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help was that the conjunction of ‘self’ and ‘help’ sounded too much like the opposite of the welfare state. Smiles’s creed, it was assumed, was Thatcherism of the crudest ‘on yer bike’ sort, all the more regrettable for being so far avant la lettre. Smiles was, in fact, a radical, sympathetic to Chartism, and a lifelong promoter of the rights of the working class. Yet because, until now, no one has come up with anything coherent to say about the positive inspiration provided by Self-Help, the Thatcherite mud still sticks.

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