The phrase "Victorian morality" is often used with contempt. It has come to imply prudery, hypocrisy, sexual repression, and rigid social control. This chapter explores certain widespread Victorian moral ideals in order to understand their value--and their failings. Remember, however, that "widespread" does not mean "universal." All stereotypes simplify the real world, and most people's values are too complex to express in easy maxims.
The climate of mental and moral improvement was a distinctive feature of the age. Victorians believed in progress, and they believed people could change their lives and rise in the world through self-help. Although Samuel Smiles did not invent the concept, he wrote bestselling books that spread its precepts. Self-Help was published in 1859; other Smiles titles include Character ( 1871), Thrift ( 1875), and Duty ( 1887).
A man perfects himself by work more than by reading.
It is the diligent hand and head alone that maketh rich--in self-culture, growth in wisdom, and in business.