JOHN AIKIN (1747 – 7 December 1822)


John Aikin was born on 15 January 1747, at Kibworth Harcourt in Leicestershire. He studied at the Warrington Academy where his father, also John, a Unitarian minister, was one of the tutors. He had been headmaster of the Dissenting Academy in Kibworth Harcourt and minister in the nearby Presbyterian Chapel Nonconformists could not attend Oxford or Cambridge, the only two universities in England, so he went to Edinburgh to study medicine under William Hunter. He worked as a surgeon in Chester and Warrington and then went to Leiden in Holland where he earned an MD in 1780. Leiden had no religious barriers and had become a leading medical centre under Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738) who has been described as the founder of clinical teaching and of the modern academic hospital. His students studied patients in life and then at post-mortem at a time when medical students in England were still learning the works of ancient Greeks such as Hippocrates and Galen and had no contact with patients.

In 1784 John Aikin started a practice in Great Yarmouth and then moved to London as a consultant physician. He began there his literary career and became the first editior of The Monthly Magazine in 1796. John and his sister, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, published six volumes of Evenings at Home, designed for family reading, and these were translated into several languages. (See footnote 1.)

By 1798, John Aikin had retired from medicine and was involved in a number of literary projects such as his his General Biography (10 vols, 1799–1815). His other work included Biographical Memoirs of Medicine in Great Britain (1780),The Arts of Life... described in a series of letters. For the instruction of young persons (1802, reprinted 1807), and The Lives of John Selden, Esq., and Archbishop Usher (1812).

Apart from editing The Monthly Magazine (1796–1807) and Dodsley's Annual Register (1811–1815), Aikin produced a paper called The Athenaeum in 1807–1809, not to be confused with the well-known magazine The Athenaeum (1828–1921).

In connection with the North West he is known for his A Description of the Country from Thirty to Forty Miles Round Manchester (1795). In addition, John Aikin was a member of the Portico Library in Moseley Street in Manchester.

Sir Henry Holland from a Unitarian family in Knutsford, studied at the academy of Dr. Eslin in Bristol before going to Edinburgh to study medicine. He mentions in his autobiography that in 1803 "The Christmas vacation of this Bristol school I passed in London, or rather at Stoke Newington, with Dr. Aikin, a very old friend of my father. His sister, Mrs. Barbauld, (Anna Laetitia Barbauld) who lived close to him, and his daughter, Lucy Aikin, gave a certain literary repute to this then tranquil village; since absorbed, like so many others, into the huge mass of the metropolis. I met in small parties, at one or other of these houses, several writers of repute of that day, now almost or wholly forgotten, — the warm admirers of Mrs. Barbauld’s masculine understanding and gentle feminine character. She well merited this admiration. Of the excellence of her English prose style it is enough to say that I have heard it warmly praised both by Sir James Mackintosh and Thomas Babington Macaulay. Each specified the Essay on the Inconsistency of Human Expectations as an example of this excellence.

Footnote 1.

1. Anna Laetitia Barbauld née Aikin; 20 June 1743 – 9 March 1825, was a poet, essayist and literary critic and the author of children's literature. She was largely forgotten in the 20th century until the rise of feminist literary criticism in the 1980s. She learned Latin, Greek, French and Italian and other subject deemed unnecessary for woman at the time that led her mother to fear she would be a spinster. In May 1774, Anna married Rochemont Barbauld (1749–1808), the grandson of a French Huguenot and a former pupil at Warrington. She was a prominent campaigner against slavery and for the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts, which discriminated against Nonconformists.

Lucy Aikin (1781-1864) was the fourth child Dr. John Aikin. She was an English historical writer, biographer and correspondent.

Sources: Wikipedia and Sir Henry Holland's autobiography "Recollections of Past Life", which I have transcribed and annotated.


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