Monday, April 16, 2007

Smiles and Self-Help

Oh how I loved** finding out this morning that the author of the first Self-help guide was called Samuel Smiles, almost as much as the fact his research owed a debt to G. L. Craik's Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties. There was no easy ride with Smiles though, no mere listening on your ipod to someone else doing the hard work for you while you relax and emerge a a person of supreme confidence. I wonder how many books Samuel Smiles would sell these days if you picked this blurb up in the self-help section:
The object of the book briefly is, to re-inculcate these old-fashioned but wholesome lessons-which perhaps cannot be too often urged, that youth must work in order to enjoy,-that nothing creditable can be accomplished without application and diligence,-that the student must not be daunted by difficulties, but conquer them by patience and perseverance,-and that, above all, he must seek elevation of character, without which capacity is worthless and worldly success is naught. If the author has not succeeded in illustrating these lessons, he can only say that he has failed in his object.

I can see already that this is going to be one of those internet trails I enjoy so much. While googling Craik, I came on this article on the 'problems' of working class poetry in Victorian times. Apparently one of the solutions was that working class poets should:
Accept a more modest role as a means of developing class identity and solidarity – become a means of articulating commonly held values and beliefs in unambitious but memorable form. The poet thus becomes a slightly more articulate friend or neighbour.

So working class poets are allowed, so long as they are 'unambitious' (and, reading between the lines, male). I think this calls for more exploration, but in the meantime my writing prompt for today is... the unambitious poet.

**ps. I nearly wrote 'I heart' here but then I realised I wasn't talking to my teenage kids and it wouldn't annoy you nearly as much as it does them. It's one of the joys of teenage parenting no one tells you about - watching their body language as you get the names of bands wrong, be enthusiastic about things they like and so ruin them forever, hijack their slang etc etc etc. Come to think of it, it's making me re-evaluate my own teenage days and wonder if my own parents were really as naive as I gave them credit for. My own slamming door moment was when I nearly shared a flat with members of the Boomtown Rats and my mother went around saying 'Sarah's going to be sharing with some rodents apparently'. She did snigger then too, now I remember it without wanting to murder her. Ho hum.


Jan said...

1.I think I like a bit of "oldfashionedandwholesome" (in many respects, anyway)...but then I more and more become my mother's daughter..
2.Poor workingclass poets. What hell.
3.And you NEARLY lived with those wonderful Rats??

Cathy said...

Parenting teens can be funny, can't it?

My son recently announced very proudly that Dermot O'Leary was to replace Kate Thornton on the X Factor ( as announced in Heat magazine). I just smiled sweetly at him and told him that I had known that for days ....saw it on the web!

Did you nearly live with Bob Geldof? Or was it just the others??

Sarah said...

Yep, I did nearly live with members of the band. How cool am I? Let me just flick my hair back - although sadly, it has to be said, most of my celeb stories involve the word 'nearly'...

Kathmcg said...

Cor, just think, you could have been Bob Geldof's flatmate, fallen in love, got married, and now you'd be the mother of Fifi Trixiebelle, Peaches and the other one.

They'd have given you some teenage-parenting nightmares, I reckon. You're probably better off as you are.