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Smiling on self help

On this Day tells us that the reformer and writer Samuel Smiles was born today. As editor of the Leeds Times, Smiles advocated Chartist goals of universal suffrage for men and women and Parliamentary reforms. Finding government change moving too slowly, he tackled reform at its source by writing self-improvement books. His book Self Help (1859) sold over 250,000 copies.

Felled by a stroke, Smiles took his own advice, taught himself how to read and write again, and published more books. He was fascinated by British engineers such as Telford, Smeaton, and Stephenson who transformed modern construction, and wrote their biographies.

Self Help became one of Victorian Britain's most important statements on the allied virtues of hard work, thrift, education, and perseverance.