ELHAS News - November 2017

Meeting Report November 2017

Our November meeting saw us welcoming Geoffrey Forster to deliver an illustrated talk entitled "The Creation of a Victorian Best Seller - Samuel Smiles and the Writing of Self Help"

Geoffrey worked at the Leeds Library for 30 years, 26 of them as Chief Librarian so it was no surprise to us that he had an interest in books. Although now working as the Administrator at Mill Hill Chapel, his interest is maintained by speaking to groups such as ours, something he has been doing for the past couple of years.

Geoffrey began his talk by telling us that on the same day that the widely known book 'The Origin of the Species' by Charles Darwin was published , the book 'Self Help' by Samuel Smiles was also published. This book, first published in November 1859, went on to sell a quarter of a million copies by 1904, the year of the author's death, and was the most widely read book other than the Bible. It also sparked a tradition of self help books, probably the most well known of which is 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' by Dale Carnegie published in 1937. Geoffrey told us that 'Self Help' has been reprinted numerous times and is still available today.

Having introduced the book, Geoffrey went on to tell us about the author Samuel Smiles, a man probably not well known to his audience, although by the end of the talk we were left wondering why this was so. Samuel was born in 1812 at Haddington in Scotland, one of eleven children. He was trained as a Doctor at Edinburgh University. However, he decided that his future lay in writing and in 1838 he came to Leeds to take over the editorship of the Leeds Times. He was to spend the next 20 years in the city. During his term in Leeds he was a prominent and influential member of society and we were surprised to hear that he was also politically motivated, and greatly concerned by the plight of the working classes in Victorian England. He was a great believer in people trying to better themselves by their own efforts and felt that the key to this was education for the masses, a cause he promoted throughout his life. This was the motivation for writing 'Self Help' in which he described the lives of such successful men as Thomas Carlyle and George Stephenson. However, Geoffrey advised us that he wrote several other books including 'The lives of the Engineers' which featured amongst others the famous Leeds civil engineer John Smeaton.

Another cause he was involved in whilst in Leeds was universal suffrage and to further this he organised the Grand Suffrage Festival which took place in January 1841 at Marshalls Temple Mill in Holbeck. Eventually he decided that he had achieved all he could as editor and subsequently partner in the Leeds Times and in 1854 left Leeds to take up the post of under secretary of the Leeds and Thirsk railway. He was never to see realised, his dream of the first public library in Leeds, even though he had long lobbied for this as another route to education and the progression of the working classes. It was information like this which showed to his audience why Geoffrey had such admiration and interest in Smiles, and after the talk we realised ourselves how much more there was to this man than many of us had formerly realised.

The next meeting on Monday 29th January 2018 will be an illustrated talk by Jackie Dupelle entitled "Views of the Fulneck Moravian Settlement".