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Abstract

Samuel Smiles is remembered as ‘the great apostle of self-help’ whose writings encapsulated ‘notions of individual effort and self-improvement’ and earned him a reputation as the leading publicist for Victorian values.1 This reputation rests on reading his books, including Lives of Engineers, Thrift, and, most famously, Self-Help, as praising individualism and supplying a guide to ‘the path to independence and self fulfilment’.2 Yet Smiles wanted to convey a more complex message. He lamented misinterpretations of his corpus as ‘a eulogy of selfishness’ because he wrote to nurture ‘the social character’ necessary for both individual success and the collective well-being of society.3 For Smiles self-help had virtue only if everyone benefited from the accumulated exertions of individuals.4 In this sense Smiles promulgated the doctrine of self-interest promoted by Adam Smith, played in a social rather than an economic key and buttressed by a moral argument for the importance of contributing to the whole.

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Notes

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© 2003 Simon Cordery

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Cordery, S. (2003). The Politics of Respectability. In: British Friendly Societies, 1750–1914. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230598041_5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230598041_5

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

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