Samuel Smiles was a Scottish-born reformer and prolific author. He trained as a doctor, but through lack of work decided to become a writer. He is best known today as an author of books that extol the virtues of self-help, character and duty, and of biographies lauding the achievements of famous civil and mechanical engineers.
In 1838 he followed Robert Nicoll into the post of Editor of the Leeds Times, a journal for which Nicoll had written radical editorials exhorting the need for sorely-needed political and economic reform. In 1840, Smiles became Secretary to the Leeds Parliamentary Reform Association, an organization that supported the objectives of Chartism.
In 1845 Smiles relinquished editorship of the Leeds Times to become Secretary to the Leeds and Thirsk Railway, where he worked for almost 9 years. During the 1850s Smiles drifted away from promoting radical parliamentary reform, advocating instead individual self-improvement, as is epitomized in his most famous work Self-Help (1859).
Smiles retired from railway service in 1866 to become President of the National Provident Institution, a position that he held until suffering a debilitating stroke in 1871. Through perseverance he eventually recovered his ability to speak and to write, sufficiently to enable him to resume his literary career and he wrote Thrift in 1875 and Duty in 1880.