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Gold out of Straw

Peter Mandler: Samuel Smiles, 19 February 2004

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

Looking big

Asa Briggs, 12 March 1992

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Engineering Knight-Errant 
by Adrian Vaughan.
Murray, 285 pp., £19.95, October 1991, 0 7195 4636 2
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... When Samuel Smiles was preparing to write his Lives of the Engineers in 1858, Robert Stephenson was doubtful about whether the subject would prove attractive to readers. He had already been surprised by the success of Smiles’s biography of George Stephenson, his father, which had appeared one year earlier ...

Short Cuts

Christian Lorentzen: L is Lorentzen, 23 January 2014

... in going back to school. Seventeen miles away was Beloit College. In his first year Self Help by Samuel Smiles, the Malcolm Gladwell of the 1850s, was the course book in biography – it left its mark on him and on his memoir. Hence my disappointment on Christmas morning. Christian turns out the clear, sturdy sentences of a lawyer who’s given himself ...

The Land of Serendipity

D.J. Enright, 23 September 1993

The True Paradise 
by Gamini Salgado.
Carcanet, 192 pp., £14.95, May 1993, 1 85754 007 7
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... and reader of books, mostly in English, among them Popular Mechanics, Gems of English Eloquence, Samuel Smiles, Marie Stopes, Dickens, Burns, Shakespeare and the Romantics, and, of course, that reciprocal compliment from the West, Sir Edwin Arnold’s poem, ‘The Light of Asia’. How these books, and the Victorian editions peddled from door to ...

How Jeans Got Their Fade

Peter Campbell: Mauve and indigo, 14 December 2000

by Jenny Balfour-Paul.
British Museum, 264 pp., £19.99, October 2000, 0 7141 2550 4
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Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour that Changed the World 
by Simon Garfield.
Faber, 222 pp., £9.99, September 2000, 0 571 20197 0
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... In that sense Perkin’s story is different from those of the often self-educated inventors who Samuel Smiles celebrated in the Lives of the Engineers. But Smiles would have understood and appreciated Perkin’s tenacity and competence, his skill as a chemical engineer and his abilities as a businessman, the ...

The water-doctors vanish

E.S. Turner: The social history of British spas, 4 June 1998

British Spas from 1815 to the Present Day: A Social History 
by Phyllis Hembry and Leonard Cowie.
Athlone, 292 pp., £50, June 1997, 0 485 11502 6
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... a governor of nearly every blind asylum in England and a life governor of 43 such institutions’. Samuel Smiles, the apostle of self-help, would have been proud of him. Equally, Smiles would have commended Cheltenham’s great benefactor, Joseph Pitt, who as a lad used to hold gentlemen’s horses for a penny. After ...


Gordon Brown, 2 February 1989

edited by Robert Skidelsky.
Chatto, 214 pp., £18, November 1988, 0 7011 3342 2
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The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left 
by Stuart Hall.
Verso, 283 pp., £24.95, December 1988, 0 86091 199 3
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... its appalling urban destitution, or its schizoid sexual morality, or just the improving works of Samuel Smiles? We may never know, but there is more than a suspicion that the distinctly unpolymathic chemist/lawyer/housewife was just embroidering on a few simplistic items of Grantham family folklore. No matter that the nation relearns morality from such ...

Portrait of the Scottish Poor

Rosalind Mitchison, 5 June 1980

The State of the Scottish Working Class in 1843 
by Ian Levitt and Christopher Smout.
Scottish Academic Press, 284 pp., £7.50, December 1979, 0 7073 0247 1
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... classified as able-bodied in many parishes. The Scots had had a large share, through Adam Smith, Samuel Smiles and Thomas Chalmers, in the fashioning of a theory of economic individualism, and their working class was now paying for it. The special and appalling hardships of Paisley, which had forced on Peel’s government the decision to tackle the ...


E.S. Turner, 19 August 1993

The Descent of Manners: Etiquette, Rules and the Victorians 
by Andrew St George.
Chatto, 330 pp., £20, July 1993, 0 7011 3623 5
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... manuals of etiquette, supported by the precepts of Martin Tupper and the self-help exhortations of Samuel Smiles. One essential was to know the rules of good conversation. In their earlier years these strivers might well have learned the basics of the art from the recycled works of that universal publisher, Dr John Trusler (d. 1820): ‘Be not dark or ...

A Plumless Pudding

John Sutherland: The Great John Murray Archive Disaster, 18 March 2004

... Darwin, Jane Austen, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, Benjamin Disraeli, William Ewart Gladstone, Samuel Smiles, Herman Melville and Washington Irving were all published from Albemarle Street. J.M.W. Turner and David Roberts provided illustrations for Murray Books. Granted, it’s a major archive. But the firm’s traditional dislike of fiction and ...

New Women

Patricia Beer, 17 July 1980

The Odd Women 
by George Gissing.
Virago, 336 pp., £2.50, May 1980, 0 86068 140 8
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The Beth Book 
by Sarah Grand.
Virago, 527 pp., £3.50, January 1980, 0 86068 088 6
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... In The Beth Book Grand may have done harm at the time, for she conned women in the same way that Samuel Smiles conned men when in Self-Help he persuaded them that any man could, say, build the Scott Monument or discover vaccination. In blustering across ravines, neither Grand nor Smiles seemed to see that as long as ...

Monstrous Millinery

E.S. Turner, 12 December 1996

British Military Spectacle: From the Napoleonic Wars through the Crimea 
by Scott Hughes Myerly.
Harvard, 336 pp., £23.50, December 1996, 0 674 08249 4
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... the colonel, not so easy to imagine an enthusiastic affection for the proprietor of the mill’. Samuel Smiles, of self-help fame, much admired the military virtues: ‘Duty in its purest form is so constraining that one never thinks, in performing it, of one’s self at all ... The truest sense of enjoyment is found in the paths of duty ...

On the Blower

Peter Clarke: The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt, 18 February 1999

The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt: Volume I 
edited by Sarah Curtis.
Macmillan, 748 pp., £25, November 1998, 0 333 74166 8
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... scale when it was in fact a thrifty exercise in the bourgeois ethic of self-help as enjoined by Samuel Smiles. Little wonder that Wyatt cut such a dash at the Thatcherite court, with his unmatched instinct for squaring the social circle in which he moved. Ribbed over his life peerage by the Duke of Marlborough and Lord Vestey one day in the House of ...


David Marquand, 19 September 1985

Years of Recovery: British Economic Policy 1945-51 
by Alec Cairncross.
Methuen, 527 pp., £35, April 1985, 0 416 37920 6
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The Politics of Recession 
by R.W. Johnson.
Macmillan, 275 pp., £20, January 1985, 0 333 36786 3
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The Labour Government 1974-79: Political Aims and Economic Reality 
by Martin Holmes.
Macmillan, 206 pp., £25, May 1985, 0 333 36735 9
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New Jerusalems: The Labour Party and the Economics of Democratic Socialism 
by Elizabeth Durbin and Roy Hattersley.
Routledge, 341 pp., £16.95, March 1985, 9780710096500
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... and assumptions, and she shows her ambivalence by talking the language of innovation. The ghost of Samuel Smiles prowls the corridors of No 10 Downing Street, arm in arm with the ghost of Sir Clive Sinclair. But, despite occasional half-hearted lunges in that direction, she has been unable – perhaps unwilling – to break the chains of the Tory culture ...

Howard’s End

John Sutherland, 18 September 1986

by Howard Jacobson.
Bantam, 314 pp., £10.95, September 1986, 0 593 01212 7
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Coming from behind 
by Howard Jacobson.
Black Swan, 250 pp., £2.95, April 1984, 0 552 99063 9
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Peeping Tom 
by Howard Jacobson.
Black Swan, 351 pp., £2.95, October 1985, 0 552 99141 4
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... Venus and Adonis (anyone’s), Leviathan (it sounded like Decameron) and Self-Help by Samuel Smiles’. He also devises a literary test for immigrants comprising the opening lines of Piers Plowman. ‘You’d be surprised,’ he observes, ‘how many Indo-Chinese don’t know the average May mornynge temperature of the British Isles or where ...

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