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George Stephenson: Scientific American, Volume 13, May, 1854.


The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer. The Atlantic Monthly, Volume II., 1858.


Self-Help; with Illustrations of Character and Conduct: North American Review, Volume 90, April 1860.


Brief Biographies. North American Review, Volume 92, January 1861.


Lives of the Engineers, with an Account of their principal works; comprising also a history of Inland Communication in Britain. North American Review, Vol. 95, July 1862.


Lives of the Engineers, with an Account of their principal Works; comprising also a History of Inland Communication in Britain. North American Review Volume 96, April 1863.


Iron Workers and Tool Makers: Continental Monthly, Vol. V., 1864.


Iron-Workers and Tool-Makers: Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XIII., 1864.


Lives of Boulton and Watt.  Principally from the original Soho MSS. Comprising also a History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine: Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 17, March 1866.


The Huguenots: their settlements, churches, and industries in England and Ireland: The New Englander, Vol. XXVII., 1868.


George and Robert Stephenson : The Manufacturer and Builder, Vol. I., 1869.


Thrift: The Manufacturer and Builder, Volume 8, March 1876.


Duty. With Illustrations of Courage, Patience, and Endurance: Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 62, February 1881.


Jasmin.  Barber, Poet, Philanthropist: Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. LXXXIV., 1891.


Josiah Wedgwood, F.R.S.  His Personal History: Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol XC., 1894.



Vol. 13 (May, 1854)

George Stephenson.

WHEN the very paper you are now perusing, gentle reader, has travelled tens or hundreds of miles upon the iron road drawn by the locomotive engine at the rate of thirty miles an hour, without creating one emotion of surprise, or exciting in you an exclamation of astonishment, you can scarcely be expected to believe that thirty years ago, the man whose name heads this article was called a fool, a madman, and a dreamer, because he undertook to make a locomotive travel ten!  Yet such was the case, and all the facilities of land locomotion that we now possess, all the good that railways as social revolutionizers have done, the increase of commerce, and the strengthening of friendly relations between city and city, State and State, that iron roads have effected, we owe to the indomitable courage, heroism, perseverance, and energy of the self-taught, self-made George Stephenson.  Not only this, but to him are we also indebted for the “Geordy” safety lamp, for the invention of which he has had the heartfelt blessing of many a poor miner who had nothing else to give.  Let us know the history of this man’s struggles, said the world, let us know the secret of his success, and give us an opportunity to compare him with the mighty dead whose lives are to us as household words.  This has been done.  We have before us the “Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer,” by Samuel Smiles, published by Ticknor & Fields, Boston; a modest, unpretending volume, just in fact what it should be, quiet and strong.  Of the work of the biographer, we cannot say too much.  There is not one page of dry reading in the book, from the moment you take it in hand to the close.  You are engrossed, absorbed; it is a story, not a life, full of incidents, each pregnant with results that have changed the aspect of the world.  The reader follows, as through an enchanted grove, the career of this noble mall.  It is a book that should be on every shelf, and children should have it read to them that they may learn lessons of self-reliance.  For the personal gratification that the author has afforded us, we are grateful, and we know that each reader will be laid under the same debt.  Heartily do we wish the book success, sincerely can we recommend it to all, for it is a worthy monument to a great man, to a high priest of the nineteenth century civilization, George Stephenson!


Vol. II. (1858)

The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer.  By SAMUEL SMILES.  From the Fourth London Edition.  Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

THERE is something sublime about railway engineers.  But what shall we say of the pioneer of this almost superhuman profession?  The world would give much to know what Vulcan, Hercules, Theseus, and other celebrities of that sort, really did in their mortal lives to win the places they now occupy in our classical dictionaries, and what sort of people they really were.  But whatever they did, manifestly somebody, within a generation or two, has done something quite as memorable.  Whether the world is quite awake to the fact or not, it has lately entered on a new order of ages.  Formerly it hovered about shores, and built its Tyres, Venices, Amsterdams, and London only near navigable waters, because it was easier to traverse a thousand miles of fluid than a hundred miles of solid surface.  Now the case is nearly reversed.  The iron rail is making the continent all coast, anywhere near neighbour to everywhere, and central cities as populous as seaports.  Not only is all the fertility of the earth made available, but fertility itself can be made by our new power of transportation.

    Who more than other man or men has done this?  Is there any chance for a new mythology?  Can we make a Saturn of Solomon de Caus, who caught a prophetic glimpse of the locomotive two hundred years ago, and went to a mad-house, without going mad, because a cardinal had the instinct to see that the hierarchy would get into hot water by allowing the French monarch to encourage steam?  Can we make a Jupiter of Mr. Hudson, one bull having been plainly sacrificed to him? and shall Robert Schuyler serve us for Pluto?  Shall we find Neptune, with his sleeves rolled up, on the North River, commanding the first practical steamboat, under the name of Robert Fulton?  However this may be, we think Mr. Smiles has made out a quite available demigod in his well-sketched Railway Engineer.  George Stephenson did not invent the railway or the locomotive, but he did first put the breath of its life into the latter.  He built the first locomotive that could work more economically than a horse, and by so doing became the actual father of the railroad system.  In 1814, he found out and applied the steam-blast, whereby the waste steam from the cylinders is used to increase the combustion, so that the harder the machine works, the greater is its power to work.  From that moment he foresaw what has since happened, and fought like a Titan against the world—the men of land, the men of science, and the men of law—to bring it about.

    But before we go farther, who was this George Stephenson?  A collier-boy,—his father fireman to an old pumping-engine which drained a Northumbrian coal-mine,—his highest ambition of boyhood to be “taken on” to have something to do about the mine.  And he was taken on to pick over the coal, and finally to groom the engine, which he did with the utmost care and veneration, learning how to keep it well and doctor it when ill.  He took wonderfully to steam-engines, and finally, for their sake, to his letters, at the age of seventeen!  He became steam-engineer to large mines.  Of his own genius and humanity, he studied the nature of fire-damp explosions, and, what is not more wonderful than well proven, invented a miner’s safety-lamp, on the same principle as Sir Humphrey Davy’s, and tested it at the risk of his life, a month or two before Sir Humphrey invented his, or published a syllable about it to the world!  He engineered the Stockton and Darlington Railway.  He was thereupon appointed engineer of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.  Though the means of transportation between those cities, some thirty miles, were so inadequate that it took longer to get cotton conveyed from Liverpool to Manchester than from New York to Liverpool, yet it was with the utmost difficulty that a grant of the right to build a railway could be obtained from Parliament.  There was little faith in such roads, and still less in steam-traction.  The land-owners were opposed to its passage through their domains, and obliged Mr. Stephenson to survey by stealth or at the risk of a broken head.  So great was this opposition, that the projectors were fain to lay out their road for four miles across a remarkable Slough of Despond, called Chat Moss, where a scientific civil-engineer testified before Parliament that he did not think it practicable to make a railway, or, if practicable, at not less cost than £270,000 for cutting and embankment.  George Stephenson, after being almost hooted out of the witness-box for testifying that it could be done, and that locomotives could draw trains over it and elsewhere at the rate of twelve miles an hour,—for which last extravagance his own friends rebuked him,—carried the road over Chat Moss for £28,000, and his friends over that at the rate of thirty miles an hour.  Thus he broke the back of the war, and lived to fill England with railroads as the fruits of his victory; all which, and a great deal more of the same sort, the reader will find admirably told by Mr. Smiles,—albeit we cannot but smile too, that, when addressing the universal English people, he expects them to understand such provincialisms as wage for wages, leading coals for carrying coal, and the like.  But, nevertheless, his freedom from literary pretence is really refreshing, and his thoroughness in matters of fact is worthy of almost unlimited commendation.  On the important question, Who invented the locomotive steam-blast? had Mr. Smiles made in his book as good use of his materials as he has since elsewhere, he would have saved some engineers and one or two mechanical editors from putting their feet into unpleasant places.  Our Railroad Manuals, that have adopted the error of attributing this great invention to “Timothy Hackworth, in 1827,” should be made to read, “George Stephenson, in 1814.”  Their authors, and all others, should read Samuel Smiles, the uppermost, by a whole sky, of all railway biographers.


Volume 90 (April 1860)

1.     Self-Help; with Illustrations of Character and Conduct. By SAMUEL SMILES, Author of “The Life of George Stephenson.”  Boston: Ticknor and Fields.  1860.  16mo.  pp. 408.
2.     The Same.  New York: Harper and Brothers. 1860.  12mo. pp. 363.

IN a brief and interesting Preface to this volume, Mr. Smiles relates the circumstances which led to its preparation, and which in themselves afford a striking illustration of his subject.  About fifteen years ago, as he informs us, he was invited to deliver a lecture before a class for mutual improvement, which had grown up from a very small beginning in one of the towns in the North of England.  He accepted the invitation, though he had but little faith in popular lectures; and “he addressed them on more than one occasion, citing examples of what other men had done, as illustrations of what each might, in a greater or less degree, do for himself, and pointing out that their happiness and well-being as individuals in after life must necessarily depend mainly upon themselves,—upon their own diligent self-culture, self-discipline, and self-control,—and, above all, on that upright and honest performance of individual duty, which is the glory of manly character.”  The good seed thus scattered fell on fertile ground; and one evening, some years afterward, he received a visit from one of these young men who had prospered in fortune, and who “was pleased to remember with gratitude the words spoken in all honesty to him and to his fellow-pupils years before, and even to attribute some measure of his success in life to the endeavours which he had made to work up to their spirit.”  His interest in the subject of self-help having been thus revived, Mr. Smiles was induced to prosecute his inquiries still further, to write the Life of George Stephenson, who had formed one of the principal illustrations in his lectures, and also to prepare the volume now on our table.

    Its spirit and aim are sufficiently shown in the citation already given; and in the development of his plan, Mr. Smiles exhibits the same modest ability which characterizes his Life of Stephenson.  His work comprises a thorough and systematic discussion of his subject, and is written in a pleasing and graphic style.  It opens with a suggestive chapter on “Self-Help, National and Individual,” which is designed to form a general introduction, while the remaining twelve chapters illustrate special phases of the subject.  Among them are chapters on the “Leaders of Industry,” “Scientific Pursuits,” “Workers in Art,” “Business Qualities,” “Self-Culture,” and “Character.”  The whole is illustrated by numerous anecdotes and short biographical sketches admirably chosen to enforce the lessons which they are designed to teach.  Mr. Smiles possesses great skill in the delineation of character, and his gallery of portraits offers many striking examples for study and imitation.  His acquaintance with biographical literature is very extensive; and no reader can fail to be struck with the variety and richness of his materials.  These materials are made easily accessible by means of a copious and well-arranged Index, and the volume is also furnished with running-titles.


Volume 92 (January 1861)

Brief Biographies.  By SAMUEL SMILES, Author of “Self-Help,” and “Life of George Stephenson.”  With Steel Portraits.  Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 1861.  16mo.  pp. 517.

THIS volume comprises a collection of thirty-five biographical sketches, reprinted for the most part from English periodicals, and now brought together at the suggestion of the American publishers.  They are in general mere portraits in outline, without any attempt at an elaborate delineation of character, and with few biographical details.  But they exhibit a considerable degree of acquaintance with the topics discussed, and are characterized by the same qualities which mark Mr. Smiles’s previous and more elaborate works.  Among the subjects of the sketches are poets and inventors, scholars and statesmen, writers of fiction and historians, critics and men of science; and this wide range of subjects indicates at once the catholicity of the writer’s taste, and the cause of his occasional failures to give a clear view of the lives and characters described.  Few persons could treat such diverse topics with equal success as to all of them; and in the case of Mr. Smiles this difficulty is enhanced by the extreme brevity to which he has sometimes restricted himself.  Thus many of his sketches do not extend beyond nine or ten pages, and the longest and best of them, the memoir of James Watt, covers but little more than fifty pages.  With this qualification the volume is interesting and instructive.  Its style, however, is sometimes careless and inelegant, indicating haste in the preparation of many of the papers, and on the whole it gives a much less favourable idea of Mr. Smiles’s powers than we derive from his other works.


Vol. 95 (July 1862)

Lives of the Engineers, with an Account of their principal works; comprising also a history of Inland Communication in Britain. By SAMUEL SMILES. With Portraits and numerous Illustrations. Vols. I. and II. London: John Murray. 1861. 8vo. pp. xvii. and 484, 502.

FROM our previous acquaintance with Mr. Smiles’s writings we were inclined to look with interest for his new work, in the expectation of finding in it much that was both new and instructive, and these anticipations have been more than realized.  The field of inquiry which he has marked out for himself has been comparatively neglected by other writers.  Yet it possesses many attractive points, and no one could have been more successful than Mr. Smiles in bringing them out into a clear light.  His knowledge of general literature is extensive and accurate; his industry is well-directed and persistent; and his style, without exhibiting much elegance or felicity of expression, is uniformly simple and perspicuous.  The plan of his work, so far as it may be gathered from the two volumes now published, has been judiciously formed, and is skilfully elaborated.  It includes a wide range of topics, each of which is of intrinsic interest or importance, and it affords ample scope for the exhibition of Mr. Smiles’s uncommon skill as a biographer.  His work cannot, indeed, possess so great a unity of interest as binds together Lord Campbell’s “Lives of the Chancellors,” or Dr. Hook’s “Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury”; but the common relation to the history of civil engineering in England which was borne by the different persons whose lives are narrated, gives to his biographies such a degree of unity as warrants their publication in a connected form.

    The two volumes now before us are, we suppose, only an instalment of a rather voluminous work, though the writer’s plan is nowhere distinctly stated.  They are divided into eight parts of unequal length, of which three are of a general character, and may be regarded as almost purely introductory, while each of the others is confined to the life of some one person.  The First Part is devoted to an account of the “Early Works of Embanking and Draining,” and includes a description of the works undertaken for draining Romney Marsh and the Great Level of the Fens.  The Second Part contains the “Life of Sir Hugh Myddelton,” the once famous engineer of the New River Water-Works for supplying the city of London.  The Third Part treats of the “Early Roads and Modes of Travelling” in England, and sketches the life of John Metcalf, a blind and self-taught engineer, who acquired considerable local reputation in his own day, and well deserves the honour Mr. Smiles awards him.  To us this is in many respects the most attractive division of his work.  The Fourth Part, which also comprises much curious and interesting matter, relates to the early “Bridges, Ferries, and Harbours.”  The last four Parts contain the Lives of James Brindley, whose name will be forever associated with the Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal, of John Smeaton, the engineer of the Eddystone Lighthouse, of John Rennie, who constructed the Waterloo and London Bridges and the Plymouth Breakwater, and of Thomas Telford, one of the greatest engineers of this century, who built the suspension bridge over the Menai Strait, and was connected with many other important works.  All of these topics, both general and special, Mr. Smiles has studied with a genuine love of his subject, and he has brought together much that would soon have perished, like all other traditional accounts, but which is well worth preserving.  His volumes, we ought to add, are profusely illustrated with maps and plans from the magnificent ordnance surveys, and with other engravings.

    In his Preface, Mr. Smiles gives some curious details as to the late growth of mechanical skill in England.  One passage is so striking and suggestive, that we cannot refrain from quoting it at length, both as a fair specimen of his style, and on account of its intrinsic interest.

    “Most of our modern branches of industry,” he says,

“were begun by foreigners, many of whom were driven by persecution to seek an asylum in England.  Our first cloth-workers, silk-weavers, and lace-makers were French and Flemish refugees.  The brothers Elers, Dutchmen, began the pottery manufacture; Spillman, a German, erected the first paper-mill at Dartford; and Boomen, a Dutchman, brought the first coach into England.

    “When we wanted any skilled work done, we almost invariably sent for foreigners to do it.  Our first ships were built by Danes or Genoese.  When the Mary Rose sank at Spithead in 1545, Venetians were hired to raise her.  On that occasion Peeter de Andreas was employed, assisted by his ship-carpenter and three of his sailors, with ‘sixty English maryners to attend upon them.’  When an engine was required to pump water from the Thames for the supply of London, Peter Morice, the Dutchman, was employed to erect it.

    “Our first lessons in mechanical and civil engineering were principally obtained from Dutchmen, who supplied us with our first wind-mills, water-mills, and pumping-engines.  Holland even sent us the necessary labourers to execute our first great works of drainage.  The Great Level of the Fens was drained by Vermuyden, and another Dutchman, Freestone, was employed to reclaim the marsh near Wells, in Norfolk.  Canvey Island, near the mouth of the Thames, was embanked by Joas Croppenburgh and his company of Dutch workmen.  When a new haven was required at Yarmouth, Joas Johnson, the Dutch engineer, was employed to plan and construct the works; and when a serious breach occurred in the banks of the Witham, at Boston, Matthew Hake was sent for from Gravelines in Flanders; and he brought with him not only the mechanics, but the manufactured iron required for the work.  The art of bridge-building had sunk so low in England about the middle of the last century, that we were under the necessity of employing the Swiss engineer Labelye to build Westminster Bridge.”


Volume 96 (April 1863)

Lives of the Engineers, with an Account of their principal Works; comprising also a History of Inland Communication in Britain. By SAMUEL SMILES. With Portraits and numerous Illustrations. Vol. III. [George and Robert Stephenson.] London: John Murray.  1862.  8vo. pp. xxi. and 512.

MR. SMILESS Life of George Stephenson is one of the best and most popular biographies which have been published within the last ten years; and the author has decided wisely in including it in his Lives of the Engineers, instead of attempting to write an entirely new memoir.  During the interval which has elapsed since the first publication of the work, some new facts and anecdotes have become known to him, and in the reprint which forms the substance of the volume now before us these have been inserted in the proper place; some passages have been omitted, in order that the topics discussed in them might be treated with greater fullness elsewhere, or because they had little connection with the principal subject; and numerous verbal alterations have been made.  These additions, omissions, and changes, so far as they relate to the life, character, or works of George Stephenson, are obvious improvements; and if no other additions had been made, they would render the memoir still more worthy of the popularity it has enjoyed.  But the author has deliberately sacrificed all the advantages which his work would have derived from this careful revision, by incorporating with the text a short account of the life of Robert Stephenson, instead of appending it to the memoir of the elder Stephenson, as a separate and independent biography.   It is true that there was a closer relation between the two than ordinarily exists between a father and a son; but this connection was not of such a character as to render it expedient to narrate their lives in one memoir, and the disadvantages of writing biography after such a method are so obvious, that it is to be hoped no subsequent writer will be tempted to follow the example.  There was enough of incident in the life of Robert Stephenson to give interest to a separate memoir; and certainly his achievements as a railway engineer, and above all in the construction of the Britannia Bridge, were sufficient to justify such an honour to his memory.  As it is, the reader of Mr. Smiles’s volume who is already familiar with the career of the elder Stephenson, and who wishes to become acquainted with the life of the younger, must laboriously cull the facts from a large amount of old and irrelevant matter; and the same remark is equally applicable to the Life of George Stephenson, in the form in which Mr. Smiles has seen fit to print it.  If the passages relating to his son which have been inserted were removed, the continuity of the narrative would be unbroken, and every one could see at a glance how carefully Mr. Smiles has revised his earlier work, and how much it has been improved.


Vol. V. (1864)

INDUSTRIAL BIOGRAPHY: IRON WORKERS AND TOOL MAKERS.  By SAMUEL SMILES, Author of ‘Self-Help,’ ‘Brief Biographies,’ and ‘Life of George Stephenson.’ ‘The true Epic of our time, is not Arms but, Tools and Man—an infinitely wider kind of Epic.’ Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

THIS book may be considered as a continuation of the Series of Memoirs of Industrial Men introduced in Mr. Smiles’s ‘Lives of Engineers.’  The author says that ‘while commemorating the names of those who have striven-to elevate man above the material and mechanical, the labours of the important industrial class, to whom society owes so much of its comfort and well-being, are also entitled to consideration.  Without derogating from the biographic claims of those who minister to intellect and taste, those who minister to utility need not be overlooked.’

    Surely the object of this book is a good one.  The mechanic should receive his meed of appreciation.  Our constructive heroes should not be forgotten, for the heroism of inventive labour has its own romance, and its results aid greatly the cause of human advancement.  Most of the information embodied in this volume has heretofore existed only in the memories of the eminent mechanical engineers from whom it has been collected.  Facts are here placed on record which would, in the ordinary course of things, have passed into oblivion.  All honour to the brave, patient, ingenious, and inventive mechanic!


Vol. XIII. (1864)

Industrial Biography: Iron-Workers and Tool-Makers. By SAMUEL SMILES, Author of “Self-Help,” “Brief Biographies,” and “Life of George Stephenson.”  Boston: Ticknor & Fields.

THE history of iron is the history of civilization. The rough, shapeless ore that lies hidden in the earth folds in its unlovely bosom such fate and fortune as the haughtier sheen of silver, gleam of gold, and sparkle of diamond may illustrate, but are wholly impotent to create. Rising from his undisturbed repose of ages, the giant, unwieldy, swart, and huge of limb, bends slowly his brawny neck to the yoke of man, and at his bidding becomes a nimble servitor to do his will. Subtile as thought, rejoicing in power, no touch is too delicate for his perception, no service too mighty for his strength. Tales of faërie, feats of magic, pale before the simple story of his every-day labour, or find in his deeds the facts which they but faintly shadowed forth.  And waiting upon his transformation, a tribe becomes a nation, a race of savages rises up philosophers, artists, gentlemen.

    Commerce, science, warfare have their progress and their vicissitudes; but underneath them all, unnoted, it may be, or treated to a superficial and perhaps supercilious glance, yet mainspring and regulator of all, runs an iron thread, true thread of Fate, coiling around the limbs of man, and impeding all
progress, till he shall have untwisted its Gordian knot, but bidding him forward from strength to strength with each successive release.  No romance of court or camp surpasses the romance of the forge.  A blacksmith at his anvil seems to us a respectable, but not an eminently heroic person; yet, walking backward along the past by the light which he strikes from the glowing metal beneath his hand, we shall fancy ourselves to be walking in the true heroic age.  Kings and warriors have brandished their swords right royally, and such splendour has flashed from Excalibur and Morglay that our dazzled eyes have scarcely discerned the brawny smith who not only stood in the twilight of the background and fashioned with skilful hand the blade which radiates such light, but passed through all the land, changing huts into houses, houses into homes, and transforming into a garden by his skill the wilderness which bad been rescued by the sword.  Vigorous brains, clear eyes, sturdy arms have wrought out, not without blood, victories more potent, more permanent, more heroic, than those of the battle-field.

    Such books as this under consideration give us only materials for the great epic of iron, but with such materials we can make our own rhythm and harmony.  From the feeble beginning of the savage, rejoicing in the fortunate possession of two old nails, and deriving a sufficient income from letting them out to his neighbours for the purpose of boring holes, down to the true Thor’s hammer, so tractable to the master’s hand that it can chip without breaking the end of an egg in a glass on the anvil, crack a nut without touching the kernel, or strike a blow of ten tons eighty times in a minute, we have a steady onward movement.  Prejudice builds its solid breakwaters; ignorance, inability, clumsiness, and awkwardness raise such obstacles as they can; but the delay of a century is but a moment.  Slowly and surely the waters rise till they sweep away all obstacles, over-top all barriers, and plunge forward again with ever accelerating force.  The record of iron is at once a record of our glory and of our humiliation,—a record of marvellous, inborn, God-given genius, reaching forth in manifold directions to compass most beneficent ends, but baffled, thwarted, fiercely and persistently resisted by obstinacy, blindness, and stupidity, and gaining its ends, if it gain them at all, only by address the most sagacious, courage the most invincible, and perseverance the most untiring.  Every great advance in mechanical skill has been met by the determined hostility of men who fancied their craft to be in danger.  An invention which enabled a hand of iron to do the work of fifty hands of flesh and blood was considered guilty of taking the bread from the thrice fifty mouths that depended on those hands’ labour, and was not infrequently visited with the punishment due to such guilt.  No demonstrated fruitlessness of similar fears in the past served to allay fears for the future; no inefficiency of brute force permanently to stay the enterprise of the mind prevented brute force from making its futile and sometimes fatal attempts.  It is no matter that increased facility of production has been attended by an increased demand for the product; it is no matter that ingenuity has never been held permanently back from its carefully conned plans; there have not been wanting men, numerous, ignorant, and ignoble enough to collect in mobs, raze workshops, destroy machinery, chase away inventors, and fancy, that, so employed, they have been engaged in the work of self-protection.

    It is such indirect lessons as may be learned from these and other statements that give this book its chief value. The interesting historical and mechanical information contained in its pages makes it indeed well worthy of perusal; yet for that alone we should not take especial pains to set it before the people. But its incidental teachings ought to be taken to heart by every man, and especially every mechanic, who has any ambition or conscience beyond the exigencies of bread and butter. Lack of ambition is not an American fault, but it is too often an ambition that regards irrelevant and factitious honours rather than those to which it may legitimately and laudably aspire. A mechanic should find in the excellence of his mechanism a greater reward and satisfaction than in the wearing of a badge of office which any fifth-rate lawyer or broken-down man-of-business with influential “friends” may obtain, and whose petty duties they may discharge quite as well as well as the first-rate mechanic. The mechanic who is master of his calling need yield to none. We would not have him like the ironmongers denounced by the old religious writer as “heathenish in their manners, puffed up with pride, and inflated with worldly prosperity”; but we would have him mindful of his true dignity. In the importance of the results which he achieves, in the magnitude of the honours he may win, in the genius he may employ and the skill he may attain, no profession or occupation presents a more inviting field than his; but it will yield fruits only to the good husbandman.  Science and art give up their treasures only to him who is capable of enthusiasm and devotion.  He alone who magnifies his office makes it honourable.  Whether he work in marble, canvas, or iron, the man who is content simply to follow his occupation, and is not possessed by it, may be an artificer, but will not be an artist, nor ever wear the laurel on his brow.  He should be so enamoured of his calling as to court it for its own charms.  Invention is a capricious mistress, and does not always bestow her favours on the most worthy.  Men not a few have died in poverty, and left a golden harvest to their successors; yet the race is often enough to the swift, and the battle to the strong, to justify men in striving after strength and swiftness, as well for the guerdon which they bring as for the jubilant consciousness which they impart.  And this, at least, is sure: though merit may, by some rare mischance, be overlooked, demerit has no opportunity whatever to gain distinction. Sleight of hand cannot long pass muster for skill of hand.  Unswerving integrity, unimpeachable sincerity, is the lesson constantly taught by the lives of these renowned mechanics.  “The great secret,” says one, “is to have the courage to be honest,—a spirit to purchase the best material, and the means and disposition to do justice to it in the manufacture.”  Another, remonstrated with for his high charges, which were declared to be six times more than the price his employers had before been paying for the same articles, could safely say, “That may be, but mine are more than six times better.”  A master of his profession is master of his employers.  Maudslay’s works, we are told, came to be regarded as a first-class school for mechanical engineers, the Oxford and Cambridge of mechanics; nor can Oxford and Cambridge men be any prouder of their connection with their colleges than distinguished engineers of their connection with this famous school of Maudslay.  With such an esprit de corps what excellence have we not a right to expect?

    We cannot forbear pointing out the Aids to Humility collected in this book from various quarters, and presented to the consideration of the nineteenth century.  Our boasted age of invention turns out, after all, to have been only gathering up what antiquity has let fall,—rediscovering and putting to practical account what the past discovered, but could not, or, with miscalled dignity, would not, turn to the uses of common life.  Steam-carriages, hydraulic engines, diving-bells, which we have regarded with so much complacency as our peculiar property, worked their wonders in the teeming brain of an old monk who lived six hundred years ago.  Printing, stereotypes, lithography, gunpowder, Colt’s revolvers and Armstrong guns, Congreve rockets, coal-gas and chloroform, daguerreotypes, reaping-machines, and the electric telegraph are nothing new under the sun.  Hundreds of years ago the idea was born, but the world was too young to know its character or prize its service, and so the poor little bantling was left to shiver itself to death while the world stumbled on as aforetime.  How many eras of birth there may have been we do not know, but it was reserved for our later age to receive the young stranger with open arms, and nourish his infant limbs to manly strength.  Richly are we rewarded in the precision and power with which he performs our tasks, in the comfort with which he enriches, the beauty with which he adorns, and the knowledge with which he ennobles our daily life.


Vol. 17 (March 1866)

Lives of Boulton and Watt. Principally from the original Soho MSS. Comprising also a History of the Invention and Introduction of the Steam-Engine.  By SAMUEL SMILES.  London: John Murray.

THE author of this book is an enthusiast in biography.  He has given the best years of his life to the task of recording the struggles and successes of men who have laboured for the good of their kind; and his own name will always be honourably mentioned in connection with Stephenson, Watt, Flaxman, and others, of whom he has written so well.  Of all his published books, next to “Self-Help,” this volume, lately issued, is his most interesting one.  James Watt, with his nervous sensibility, his headaches, his pecuniary embarrassments, and his gloomy temperament, has never till now been revealed precisely as he lived and struggled.  The extensive collection of Soho documents to which Mr. Smiles had access has enabled him to add so much that is new and valuable to the story of his hero’s career, that hereafter this biography must take the first place as a record of the great inventor.

    As a tribute to Boulton, so many years the friend, partner, and consoler of Watt, the book is deeply interesting.  Fighting many a hard battle for his timid, shrinking associate, Boulton stands forth a noble representative of strength, courage, and perseverance.  Never was partnership more admirably conducted; never was success more richly earned.  Mr. Smiles is neither a Macaulay nor a Motley, but he is so honest and earnest in every work he undertakes, he rarely fails to make a book deeply instructive and entertaining.


Vol. XXVII. (1868)

The Huguenots: their settlements, churches, and industries in England and Ireland. By SAMUEL SMILES, author of “Self-help,” &c. With an Appendix relating to the Huguenots in America.  New York: Harper & Brothers.  1868.

SMILESS “HUGUENOTS.”—Mr. Smiles’s “Huguenots” is a compilation of almost encyclopaedic fullness and variety in its facts and incidents.  Such collections of facts and statistics are usually dry and uninteresting for ordinary and continuous reading, however valuable they may be for occasional reference.  This book, however, is an exception to the general rule.  It has all the interest of the most exciting romance.  We should say, rather, of many romances, for each separate story is in its turn as exciting as the one which went before.  These recitals of the exposures, the escapes, the sufferings, and the final deliverance of many of the noblest men and women of their time, or of any time, excite alternately one's detestation of the system which dictated, and the government which executed, these infernal persecutions at intervals, for more than a century;—to the ruin of France and the upbuilding of Protestant Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands, in arts, in arms, in political freedom, and in the ascendency of the Protestant interest.  To the separate topics suggested by all these particulars, the author of this volume does ample justice, and, in the several chapters which treat of these several points, he has contributed valuable information concerning the progress of European civilization in the 16th and 17th centuries.  We know no book better fitted than this to awaken a decided Protestant feeling in the mind of the scholar, or to confirm an intelligent Protestant zeal in the hearts of the people.  That there is an amiable side in the lives and characters of many of the ecclesiastics of the Romish church, we do not deny.  But that there is a diabolical side in its persecuting spirit and its political intrigues, ought never to be forgotten.  We sympathize with the trusting devotion and the delightful weakness of Mademoiselle de Guérin.  We excuse the devoted piety of Madame Swetchine, and are almost ready to conclude that Catholicism is the system which is especially suited for the French.  But the horrors which attended the exodus of the Huguenots take the very breath out of our sympathy, and abate the warmth of our admiration.  No intelligent Protestant can ever see or hear of the church of St. Germain d’ Auxerrois, without a thrill of horror.  Even the constrained urbanity and the courteous civility of the well schooled conductors of the Catholic World cannot eradicate the memories and associations of St. Bartholomew’s.

    One interesting fact is noticed in this book which throws a flood of light upon the relations of the Church of England to the reformed Churches of the continent in the days of Queen Elizabeth, as contrasted with the new doctrines upon this subject which were broached in the days of the Stuarts, and which are so industriously and arrogantly propagated not only by the Stubbs and Boggs of our time, but are countenanced, we are sorry to say, to a certain extent, by the elder Dr. Tyng.  In 1564, a portion of the crypt of the Cathedral church in Canterbury, was granted by the Archbishop, with the sanction of the Queen, to the Huguenot refugees as a place of worship, and it has been occupied by their descendants till the present day.  This “under croft,” or crypt is directly beneath the high altar and the choir of the Cathedral.  That Presbyterian worship has been regularly maintained for more than three hundred years, directly under the throne of the Primate of England, is a fact that cannot be denied.  We commend it to the consideration of all parties who may be sufficiently enlightened to draw from it the appropriate inferences.


Vol. I. (1869)

George and Robert Stephenson.  By Samuel Smiles.  New-York: Harper & Brothers. 1868.

DR. SAMUEL SMILES, for many years Secretary of the London and South-western Railway, and author of Self-Help, The Huguenots, and some lesser works, has produced a biography of George Stephenson, the father of railroads in somewhat the same sense as Washington was the father of his country.  The present issue by the Harpers is constituted by a revised edition of the Life of George Stephenson as originally printed, and contains new matter of peculiar value, not so especially as regards the biography of the great engineer, whose name has answered to intitulate the volume, as in respect to the history of invention in the application of steam to locomotion.  This portion of the present publication, however, though new in this particular connection, is by no means uniquely new matter, being drawn from the Lives of the Engineers, containing memoirs of Boulton and Watt.  The memoir of Captain Trevithick, who was, in his age, to invention what Shakespeare, in his age, was to the drama, embodies, on the other hand, a great deal of valuable matter, and is probably the most complete biography of that erratic engineer which has ever been printed.

    A glance at the preface of Mr. Smiles demonstrates it to be, in some respects, the most valuable portion of his book—valuable in its completeness as an exhibit of the statistics of the English railway system—and those even who are so fortunate as to possess the first edition of this work, which appeared in 1857, will find the preface of the present reissue quite worth the price of a second copy as an appendix to the former.

    The paper—for the preface is rather a paper than a preface—sets out with a compend of European railway statistics, reviews the progress of railway enterprise in Italy, which received a new impulse in 1865, passes to the subject of railway construction in India, with its statistics, and ends with a brief statistical review of the railway interest of the United States.  En passant, the Canadian system is digested and discussed—for, be it remembered, the Canadian system was in its babyhood when Mr. Smiles’s first edition appeared.  The Grand Trunk had only been begun, and the Victoria Bridge—a monument among railway structures—was less than half completed.

    Passing over a few pages, which are rather historical gossip than historical matter, the preface may be taken up with profit at page 8, where the author begins an elaborate statistical survey of the railways of the United Kingdom, with incidental comments as to the effect of the introduction of steam in giving consistency and stability to the civilization of the century, which continues to page 17, whence the remainder of the preface is the very pressed cream of information—the few pages on the agency of railways in the feeding of London, and the statistics of that agency, being of great value, not only as illustrative of the subject in hand, but as comparative statistics of the consumption of alimentary staples in that metropolis of manufactures and trade.  It would be impossible to reduce this information to synopsis, since it is synoptical in itself; and those who would possess themselves of a complete statistical exhibit of how London is fed, must procure the book and peruse the original paper.  Prepared in 1868, its statistics are very minutely applicable to 1869, and will remain proportionately applicable for the next decade at least.  The preface to the edition of 1864 is also incorporated; but, being merely prefatorial, it may be dismissed without comment.  Rapid internal communication has introduced a new law into the history of civilization, which may be estimated to have been developed within a century—mostly within half a century.  In early ages, civilization was developed altogether by a sort of curdling process; and wherever there was room for diffusion, there humanity remained stationary, or at least effected little progress.  Thus, it is observed, the first eras of historical civilization were developed in small peninsulas, as that of Greece, where circumscription of space, preventing further diffusion, gave rise to continued social contact, to invention, to progress, to civilization.  The same law holds good as to the civilization of Egypt, one of the earliest, and may be regarded as the law of civilization in all its phases as represented in ancient history.  The word phases is here used advisedly, for in these ancient civilizations (or phases of civilization) there was nothing cosmopolitan.  From their very nature and want of communication with other centres, they were intensely individual and historically selfish and intolerant.  As to the Jews the world was peopled only by the Jews amid the inferior races, so to the Greeks the world was inhabited only by the Greeks and the barbarians, and who was not Greek was necessarily barbarous.

    In easy internal communication is included, therefore, the key to the modern cosmopolitan civilization, in which the member is considered himself not as a citizen of this or that country, but as a citizen of the world; and with the finding of this key the history of locomotive invention is especially associated.  In fact, modern civilization is indebted almost altogether for its cosmopolitanism to the application of steam to travel, though later still the telegraph has played its part in the development of this feature.

    Not to lose sight of the law of the century, however, it must be stated that the old law of circumscription of space in the developing of civilization has been wholly nullified within fifty years; and civilization is rather communicated, carried, and planted than developed, which universailty of diffusion may be traced to the speculations of Boulton, Darwin, Edgeworth, Cugnot, Watt, Pouillet, Murdock, Symington, the eccentric Trevithick, Stephenson, and others of the latter part of the last century and the first quarter of the present, of which period of about fifty years steam carriages and projects for travelling by steam constituted the standing and stereotyped sensation.

    Intellectually speaking, the most remarkable of these men were undoubtedly, the erratic Dr. Darwin, who was a poet and a philosopher as well as an inventor, and the eccentric Trevithick, whose biography is a romance--the biography of a dreamer—in and of itself.

    The history of invention in this department must be divided into two (at first) distinct processes of evolution; for, while the erratic Dr. Darwin was ruminating upon the subject of steam carriages, and the eccentric Captain Trevithick was busying his brain with the construction of fiery dragons, though the horse-railroad had been brought to considerable perfection, the combination of the two seems not to have occurred to either, albeit Edgeworth’s paper on horse railroads, read before the Society of Arts, constituted one of the topics of the day, and made a more profound impression on the public mind than the speculations of either of the former.

    Nor was Edgeworth more apt at combination; for, while he did attempt to carry out the idea of running a railroad car by wind, it seems never to have occurred to him to try hot water, even when the suggestion of its practicability was offered in the speculations and experiments of his contemporaries.  As to Darwin, though he petted the hobby of a steam balloon, which may come yet, the application of steam to the railway seems to have escaped his passion for inventive combination.  Trevithick was more fortunate, and in his Pen-y-darran engine came near solving the problem, actually using an engine upon the Merthyr Tydvil tram-road, but pursuing his experiments no further.

    It was where these inventors—more brilliant than Stephenson in all respects—left the problem that George Stephenson, patient, plodding, and practical, took it up; and whatever maybe due to them in the way of brilliant invention, to him is due the homer of solving the problem of the practical application of steam to internal communication.  The life of George Stephenson is, therefore, in many respects, cognate with the development of railway enterprise in England, and the dull-witted son of Old Bob, who was himself the son of a gentleman’s servant, stands forth as having had more influence in moulding the civilization of the century than had the most brilliant statesman, poet, or philosopher of his day.

    Of the volume submitted, one need say nothing in the way of criticism, since of a twelfth edition little can be cleverly said.  The materials of the author have been drawn from authentic sources, or rather from those sources most likely to be authentic; Robert Stephenson, the son of the pioneer, having been the principal reliance of Mr. Smiles in sifting information; and though one might suspect some little partiality, considering this fact, still no taint of it appears.  From Mr. Edward Pease, of Darlington, Mr. Dixon, C. E., Mr. Sopwith, R. S., Mr. Parker, and Sir Joshua Walmsley—all intimately connected with Stephenson in his early undertakings—considerable valuable information has been drawn, while several gentlemen, who officiated as his private secretaries at different periods, have been laid under contribution for critical data.  The biography of his earlier years has been mostly gathered from the personal recollections of colliers and others who were associated with him as fellow-workmen in his youth.

    To trace the history of the locomotive as Stephenson found it to the date of the successful operation of the Stockton and Darlington Railway would be interesting, perhaps, but would deal with details too familiar to need repetition.  October 10th, 1825, marks the date of application of steam to passenger transit, and may well be ranked as an era in the history of civilization.  The “experiment“ is no longer an experiment, and in its success cosmopolitanism has taken the place of provincialism or nationalism, while the very law of civilization, as it pertained to ancient history, has given place to a new law of diffusion.

    A valuable memoir of Robert Stephenson, son of the elder, has been incorporated with the present edition, the literary execution of which, though rather verbose in style and rather English and heavy withal, is lucid and well articulated.


Volume 8 (March 1876)

Thrift. By Samuel Smiles.  New York: Harper & Brothers.

THIS useful book is intended as a sequel to “Self-Help” and “Character,” both also published by Messrs. Harpers, and might have appeared as an introduction to the same, thrift being the basis of self-help, and of much that is good in the human character.  The author speaks much of the use and abuse of money, and puts in strong light the merits of generosity, honesty, economy, and providence, versus avarice, fraud, extravagance, and improvidence.  We wish the book in the hands of all who need it, and hope that they will read and heed it.


Volume 62 (February, 1881)

Duty. With Illustrations of Courage, Patience, and Endurance. By SAMUEL SMILES, LL.D. 12nmo, pp. 412.  New York: Harper and Brothers.  The Same. “Franklin Square Library.” 4to, pp. 68.  New York: Harper and Brothers.

IMPRESSED by the powerful influence that example exerts upon conduct and character, and acting in a line with the truth condensed by Coleridge into the maxim, “We insensibly imitate what we habitually admire,” Mr. Samuel Smiles has devoted a large portion of an unusually useful and practical life to the preparation of a number of volumes which most emphatically merit the title of the “Self-Help Series.”  Written with such vigorous plainness and simplicity as to be easily comprehended by youthful or unpractised readers, and with such earnestness and dignity as to conciliate their sympathy and respect, these books present in agreeable anecdotal form, combined with pregnant moralizings and reflections which are not pursued to a forbidding length, a large number of examples, drawn from the lives of real and noteworthy men and women, that are worthy of study for the wholesome influence an imitation of their virtues would exert upon the life and morals, the welfare and happiness, of the individual and of society.

    The first of the series, Self-Help, was more especially designed to impress young men just beginning the battle of life with the conviction that their happiness and well-being depended largely upon themselves—upon their diligent self-culture, self-discipline, and self-control, their perseverance and single-mindedness, and, above all, their honesty and uprightness.  In the succeeding volume, Character, Mr. Smiles arrayed a great number of instances of nobility and magnanimity, as illustrated by passages in the lives of many excellent, distinguished, or heroic persons, with the object of making those invigorating virtues attractive to young people.  This was followed by Thrift, which, although more didactic than its predecessors, still adhered to the personal and anecdotal treatment that had made them attractive and influential.  It was specifically addressed to workmen, artisans, mechanics, labourers', clerks, and men in comparatively humble circumstances, who had families dependent upon them, and whom it sought to impress with the dignity of labour.  It also urged them to economize in order that they might secure their personal independence, showed them how they might do so if they were systematic and frugal, and by many strong practical reasons and incentives endeavoured to persuade them to live clean, sober, and manly lives, and to aim to raise themselves to a higher elevation by the practice of morality and religion.  The last of the series, now just published, completes the round of Mr. Smiles’s invaluable practical teachings.  Its topic is Duty, its sphere, its operation upon the conscience and as a rule of conduct, and its effectiveness to ennoble and beautify the world by its outcome of courage, fortitude, honesty, truthfulness, patriotism, heroism, magnanimity, and the virtues generally, whether in prosperity or under stress of trial and adversity, whether at home or in the workshop, in common and every-day business avocations, or in any of the more heroic callings in which one’s life may be cast.  The volume is a richly stored commonplace-book of inspiring and instructive personal anecdote and incident, and also of sententious wisdom, illustrating the influence of a loyal obedience to duty to lift a man out of the rut of ignoble motives and base practices, and to nerve him to the practice of the more trying and heroic virtues, without being disabled for the exercise of the sweet charities and the simple and ordinary offices of daily common life.


Vol. LXXXIV. (1891)

Jasmin: Barber, Poet, Philanthropist. By SAMUEL SMILES, LL.D., Author of Self-Help, Duty, etc. With Portrait. 12mo, Cloth, $1 25. New York: Harper and Brothers.

THE latest example of the power of Self-Help to whom Mr. Smiles has turned his attention is Jacques Jasmin, Barber, Poet, Philanthropist: a man not known in this country at all as a hair-dresser or as a lover of his fellow-men, and only known as a poet by his story of “The Blind Girl of Castèl-Cuillè,” translated by Mr. Longfellow many years ago.  Mr. Smiles, condensing the personal history of Jasmin’s life from Jasmin’s own published account of it, shows us a most remarkable and most interesting character.  He was born of a crippled laundress and a hump-backed tailor, on a raggèd bed, in the rat-haunted garret of a miserable tenement, in the unattractive town of Agen, and at the decrepit close of the cruel eighteenth century—the adjectives are Jasmin's—and he died—the expression is Mr. Smiles’s—a King of Hearts.  Jasmin’s babyhood and boyhood, and even his manhood, were as wretched and as full of unpoetic poverty and hardship as was the scene of his birth; but Heaven helped him because he helped himself, and because he helped others; amid the generation for whom Mr. Smiles writes will get as much help from the example of the Barber Poet of Gascony as they have got in other years from his lives of the Edwardses, of the Stephensons, of the Nasmyths, and of Robert Dick, the Botanical and the Geological Baker of Thurso [Ed.—and correspondent of Hugh Miller].  Young men, whether they are bakers or barbers or students of nature or students of art or students of Football will find in this volume a wide range of delicately implied counsel, expressed in clear and forcible English prose, which will not only entertain but improve them.

    Jasmin’s earliest efforts at verse-making were naturally imperfect.  His present biographer says that he tried to imitate the works of other poets rather than to create poetical images of his own, and that he was influenced by the reading of the French writers, particularly by Béranger who, like himself was the son of a tailor.  His first rhymes were written upon curl-papers, and then used in a professional way to make an impression upon the heads of his customers!  His efforts in classical French had little circulation, therefore, other than was given them by the patrons of his shop, and it was not until he mastered his native dialect, and began to write in Gascon, that he met with recognition outside of hair-dressing circles.

    Robert Nicoll, the Scottish poet, to quote Mr. Smiles, said of his own works: “I have written my heart in my poems; and rude, unfinished, and hasty as they are, it can be read there.”  Jasmin used almost the same words.  “With all my faults,” he said, “I desired to write the truth, and I have described it as I saw it.”  In his “Recollections” he showed his whole heart without reserve; and a good, honest, poetical heart it was.



Vol XC. (1894)

Josiah Wedgwood, F.R.S. His Personal History. By SAMUEL SMILES, LLD. With Portrait. 12mo, Cloth, Ornamental, $1 50. New York: Harper and Brothers.

THE biographer of Mrs. Ritchie’s hero of verse, “Jacques Jasmin, Barber, Poet, Philanthropist,” appears this month as the author of the personal history of Josiah Wedgwood, a shining example of that Self-Help, Duty, Thrift, Character, Courage, Patience, and Endurance, which Dr. Samuel Smiles has been illustrating to the world during nearly forty years.  Wedgwood was a Man of Invention and Industry, who, like Dr. Smiles’s other subjects the Stephensons, inventors; Nasmyth, the Engineer; Dick, the Baker, the Botanist, and the Geologist; and Edwards, the Naturalist, made himself out of lowly material, and without the aid of any one else.  He came of a family of potters—the Wedgwoods had been manufacturers of earthenware for more than two centuries when he was born, in 1730; his family was poor; he was the youngest of thirteen children; he left school at the age of nine, knowing nothing but what Dr. Smiles calls “the beginnings” of reading, writing, and arithmetic.  The rest of his learning and knowledge he accomplished himself.  Like many men of action and enterprise, he was, for the most part, his own educator; he went to the best school that has ever existed since men began to want to know, the School of Experience; and of all its graduates he was, in his own particular branch of study, one of the most distinguished.  As is recorded upon his tombstone, “he converted a rude and inconsiderable manufacture into an elegant art and an important part of national commerce”; he was a Member of the Royal and the Antiquarian Societies; and his eulogist is a Prime Minister of England.  “If the day shall ever come,” said Mr. Gladstone, “when we shall be as eminent in true taste as we now are in the economy of production, my belief is that the result will probably be due to no single man in so great a degree, as to Wedgwood.”

    This is the man who is the theme of Dr. Smiles’s latest lay sermon, preached to his great audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.  He is shown to us as he was, in straightforward, simple words of praise and appreciation, but not of undue laudation.  And underlying the whole narrative is the old, old moral Dr. Smiles has taught so long, that God helps those who know enough to help themselves.



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