Before I begin pretending I know what I’m talking about, I want to let it be known that this was the most confusing thing I’ve read since I took Philosophy in the 2019 fall semester. I’m not sure what it was about this text, maybe it was the fact that it’s ancient, maybe it’s because the author is really intelligent, or maybe it’s just because I’m not smart enough. But whatever it was I will admit that I was lost way too many times while reading this. I’m still going to attempt to explain exactly what I read but I cannot emphasize enough how much I believe my analysis of what I read is probably far from what I actually read.
The first chapter of the text is called “Self-Help National And Individual”, and from what I got from the first part of the chapter is probably what the “national” part meant. I can’t go in depth because as I said before I was really confused reading this, but I believe it was stating how important it is for people to help themselves rather than getting help from others. I remember the nation being brought up multiple times and the idea of self-help relating to that so it could possibly be saying with the way society is, helping oneself will always be the best move. As I continued to read I began to notice a pattern, and it was how it kept bringing up stories of people who started at a really low rank with not alot of money and worked their way up to high success all through self-help. A Lot of these consisted of people who taught themselves to read, write and a lot of the skills you would normally get in school. After seeing this pattern over and over again I came across a quote from Sir Humphry Davy on page 26 of the pdf who said “What I am I have made myself: I say this without vanity, and in pure simplicity of heart.” This might seem ridiculous but this quote showed me that, in a way, I was right about what I thought I was reading and these men were in fact starting from the ground and using self-help to become successful.
Chapter 4 is called “Application and Perseverance” and it begins speaking about how these great people who gained success using self-help didn’t gain it just by teaching themselves or starting from the ground, they had qualities that a lot of people don’t have. The application and perseverance it’s referring to makes sense but seems a little extreme. That just goes to show how long ago these stories took place. On page 94, a violinist named Giardini was asked, how long would it take to learn the violin and he replied “Twelve hours a day for twenty years together.” Clearly this is to become a professional at a very high level but this is just one example of a few on how extreme at work some of these stories show. So when application and perseverance is said to be the key to success, it is meant to a very extreme level.
The chapter I chose to read was chapter 3, and it was very similar to chapter 1 and 4 except it included the stories of “Great Potters” specifically. There were 3 stories for 3 different men, Benard Palissy, Johann Friedrich Bottgher, and Josiah Wedgwood. Palissy, Bottgher and Wedgwood in their own ways rose to the top with each having ridiculous stories of self-help. Each of these men required the help of no one and got where they needed to be all on their own through intelligence.
Samuel Smiles is most definetely a very intelligent person and a great author, but the date in which this was written took a big toll on me and I let it confuse me to the point where I’m not sure how correct I am at all. As far as I know, this book is about the successsful people of the past that didn’t have anything handed to them and ever since their youth was working hard at becoming the most successful people they can be.