John Aikin (1713-1780)

Before Priestley arrived, the Classics master was John Aikin (1713-1780), the son of a linen-draper from Kirkcudbright, Scotland, and another protege (like Ashworth) of Philip Doddridge. The tight network of Dissenting Classics begins to reveal itself. Aikin was Doddridge’s first pupil at his Northampton Academy, and later completed his education at King’s College, Aberdeen. After briefly teaching for Doddridge, he settled in a school in Kibworth, where he would teach the radical Dissenting classicist, Gilbert Wakefield (to whom we shall return); Wakefield remembered that Aikin

had an intimacy with the best authors of Greece and Rome, superior to what I have ever known in any Dissenting minister from my own experience. His taste for composition was correct and elegant: and his repetition of beautiful passages ... highly animated, and expressive of sensibility.23

Aikin married Jane Jennings, the daughter of the Dissenting minister at Kibworth, John Jennings, who had taught Philip Doddridge, and may be seen as the godfather of 19th-century Dissenting Classics, since Doddridge inherited his pedagogical techniques and developed them. The tiny village of Kibworth—a few hours’ walk south east from the city of Leicester—was the epicentre of a particular blend of radical and Dissenting classical activity, which directly informed the social, political and cultural debates raging throughout Britain in the decades leading up to the French Revolution.

The Aikins’ two children both became renowned literary figures. John received a classical education at Warrington Academy, and became a physician, writer and editor of numerous periodicals, including the Monthly Magazine, the Athenaeum and Dodsley’s Annual Register;14 Anna Laetitia (married name Barbauld, 1743-1825) became a poet, essayist and educationalist. She had convinced her father to teach her Latin and some Greek, which gave her access to the academy’s library.25 Besides classical texts, it held encyclopaedic works of ancient history, classical mythology and works in translation. In 1773 the following books were among those recommended for trainee ministers: Rollin’s Roman History, Temple Stanyan’s History of Greece (1701), Smith’s Thucydides, Basil Kennet’s Antiquities of Rome (1713) and Potter’s Antiquities of Greece.1'' The library also housed:

Vertot’s Roman Revolution

Hooke’s Roman History

La Motte [Le Vayerfs Animadversion[s] upon ... [ancient] Historians Montesquieu’s Reflections on ... the Roman Empire

Josephus’ works

Malley’s observations on the Romans

Mavor’s Universal History, Ancient and Modern

Rollin’s Ancient History

Spence on Pope’s Odyssey

Erasmus’s Apophthegms of the Ancients

D’A may’s Private Life of the Romans

Rene Le Bossu’s Treatise on Epic Poetry.17

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