Corners are the places I relish, enticed and drawn towards them in obscure settings, often by a sense of intrigue, where you stumble on the least expected. uncover lost secrets, past history, forgotten stories and hidden images. Shadows protect conceal and tempt us to reveal the possibility of a unique discovery of interest and curiosity. Junk shops or Rastros as we call them here in Spain, have some of the best corners, and for me become more appealing when you stumble excitedly across a pile of old and dusty books, ceremoniously stacked between two walls.
Books are my passion, and I adore the old tattered ones. Somehow they take me back to distant memories of childhood holidays when my parents would take us away to small cottages for short holiday breaks. The books left behind by previous guests line bookcases with a variety of stories for adults and children, where, if you were lucky you could usually find a book on how to do stuff. The musty smell wafting up from pages, un-read and closed together over long periods of time, conjure up memories of summer breaks and early nights. Imagine my delight as I discover a huge tower of them gathering dust in the corner of a large ‘rastro’ in Campello near to where I was staying for Christmas.
I flicked through the abandoned selection, part of some house clearance, possibly cleared by a relative who had little room for them and no love of books and stories. Sandwiched between paperback novels, purchased in airports then abandoned by tourists, there were some old classics just waiting to be found and added to my collection at home.
Most were school prize books and contained messages. Two Charles Dickens novels printed around 1910 by Chapman and Hall. The Christmas Books and Little Dorrit. A child’s copy of English Literature by Marshall, a larger book with hand-cut pages and presented to a Mabel Naylor, for general progress in 1921 from Brownhill Road Central School. But it was a quirky book called SELF HELP by a Dr Smiles which caught my interest. It was written in 1859. Now this will be interesting, I giggle to myself. wondering how far we have come in the self-help industry. People warn you not to look at old medical books, could this be any different?
I snuggle and cozy up, facing a log fire and begin to flick through the pages of Dr Smiles. I have read a few self-help books in my time. Assuming this author will be expressing his views on self-help, backwardly from an era bearing little relevance in today’s fast-moving world, where we press buttons and tap keyboards, amidst rolling out our yoga mats, to enhance the flexibility of bodies and minds. From battling our mindsets with Buddha quotes, to striving chaotically, with the constant need to stay connected. How on earth would Dr Smiles write anything that I could learn? apart from the wisdom of hindsight.
I re-check the date, 1859, Dr Smiles opens his first chapter and asserts his views, ‘self-help is all about the power of the inner man within.’ Hmm, where have I read that before? I am loving it already. No mention of the inner woman within yet, but I am only into the first chapter. I will add, the women, usually the wives of the powerful and industrious, benefit from some recognition throughout his writing, but later on.
Dr, Smiles wants us to know about the humble beginnings of some of the most industrious men we should be guided to admire. He gives examples, filling over six pages, Cardinal Wolsey, De Foe, Akenside and Kirke White were the sons of butchers, he writes. Bunyan was a tinker and Joseph Lancaster a basket maker, and so on.
NOT WITHSTANDING THEIR COMPARATIVELY ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES IN EARLY LIFE, THESE DISTINGUISHED MEN ACHIEVED A SOLID AND ENDURING REPUTATION BY THE EXERCISE OF THEIR GENIUS, WHICH ALL THE WEALTH IN THE WORLD COULD NOT HAVE PURCHASED.
I love the way he begins to put it.
Now please forgive me here, I had been under the impression that back in the old days, you had to have the luxury of wealth, to become educated and gain success. My mother had instilled a belief in me that I could be anything I wanted to be. True, but I thought this was a somewhat new and liberating issue, of a new age, and one I should be proud to be growing up in. It seems that our reaches for success, are in no way different, to back then in 1859. I might like to add here, because I think it has importance, hardships were harder, horrible and hell for many. Success was a much longer and laborious climb. Today we groan on with the ‘It is alright for you,’ attitude.
There comes a realisation that those who are prepared to graft and get up off their rear ends to make things happen, are the people who inevitably change the world. Toil is the best school says, Dr Smiles.
Turning the pages to his next chapter, titled Leaders of Industry – Inventors and Producers. Who would we be giving examples of in today’s self-help books?
Back then, Dr Smiles talks of great men. Inventors of weaving machines and looms. The Industrial age was having an impact so strong, that it could be possible to assume, the minds of our forefathers would be blown with our talk of a technical age.
Richard Arkwright, described as a mechanician by Smiles, sprang up from the ranks and spent years working with machines for the cotton and textile mills. Successful in business, his determination kept him focused. However, and no different from instances today, his success was met with resistance, some of a violent nature.
Smiles writes about Arkwright, ‘But he does not seem, notwithstanding his pushing character, to have done more than earn a bare living’ Is that not something we all deeply desire? Yet the mere hint of someone’s success, sends us spiralling with thoughts of suspicion of their character.
Today we use social media to view our opinions, we wind ourselves up in conspiracy theories and take issue over the powerful. The rich and famous, become targets of distaste, as we, the masses, believe we have inside knowledge of who they are and what ulterior motives they are likely to possess. Richard Arkwright, love him or hate him became a successful inventor, but as his success grew and began to appear more certain, the Lancashire manufacturers fell upon Arkwright’s patent to pull it to pieces. Arkwright was denounced as an enemy of the working people. You could say, ‘there was trouble at mill.’ The Lancashire men refused to buy his materials yet they were the best on the market at the time. At 50 years of age Arkwright still determined to improve his status, set to work to learn English grammar and improve his writing skills. Eighteen years after he had constructed his first machine, he was appointed High Sherriff of Derbyshire. Good on Yer Richard, I say. He never let the bastards get him down.
Reading Dr Smiles, it is sad to think how little we have travelled through the time of progress, when we link it to self help and success. A person is conditioned from an early age to feel good when he or she does well, yet I personally have been inclined to play down any successes I have achieved, for being frowned upon. We strive to gain riches and then can be attacked unfairly if we succeed them. If Bill Gates had never climbed the ranks of success, would we still be inclined to believe he had an ulterior motive?
I cannot do a book review here as I am still enthralled, my nose, only into the first few chapters, I love it when I get caught up in the need to share something following my first taste of it. You will have to wait and see if I can get through it all for further comments. I may even be willing to sell you my copy, at a profit of course.
For just a few euros, I can find Joy. Maybe that is a lesson in self-help I cannot ignore. What is your intrigue? I would love to hear your comments and feedback.