Box icon Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)

Self-help guru

Portrait of Samuel Smiles

Samuel Smiles was one of Murray's most prolific, popular and profitable 19th century authors. As well as hundreds of articles, some for Murray's 'Quarterly Review' and 'Murray's Magazine', he wrote over 20 books. The most famous of these was 'Self-Help' (1859).

'Self-Help' sought to encourage working class and lower-middle-class men to climb the ladder of social and economic success through self-improvement. It promoted the virtues of hard work, thrift, sobriety and perseverance. It did so through biographical sketches, anecdotes and quotes from a wide range of men who for Smiles displayed the necessary qualities of character to inspire working men.

The success of 'Self-Help' encouraged similar works: 'Character' (1871), 'Thrift' (1875), 'Duty' (1880) and 'Life and Labour' (1887).

In addition to Smiles' biographies on industrial and railway figures, John Murray III published biographies of John Murray II and naturalist Thomas Edward.

Highlighted items from the archive

NRA Name: Smiles, Samuel (1812-1904), biographer and didact.

The National Register of Archives (NRA) contains information on the nature and location of manuscripts and historical records that relate to British history in archival holdings in the UK and overseas. You can find more information on the National Register of Archives name authority catalogue.

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Other Murray authors in politics and society:

'I have just been reading one of the books that you have published and I must say it has fired me with great ambitions. It is Samuel Smiles 'Self-Help' which, as you know, tells of men who have risen from humble origin to great fame, just through sheer perseverance.'
– Letter from Renee Hopkins to Murray, 27 March 1921 (Acc.12604/ 1577).

Related learning resource

Screen grab of web feature Self-help heroes interactive learning feature for schools.

Location map of where Samuel Smiles lived
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