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Arthur Aikin

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Arthur Aikin (1773-1854)

1807 Founding member of the Geological Society



1855 Obituary [1]

MR. ARTHUR AIKIN was born on the 19th May 1773, at Warrington, in Lancashire, where his Grandfather, the Rev. John Aikin, D.D., had long filled, with distinguished ability, the offices first of classical, and afterwards of divinity tutor, in Warrington Academy, an institution founded by Presbyterian Dissenters, and celebrated for the eminent men who filled its chairs.

His Father, the late Mr. John Aikin, M.D., afterwards known as the author of many valuable works in biography, criticism, general literature, and most popularly by his ‘Evenings at Home’ and other books for the young, and especially by his admirable ‘Letters to a Son,’ who was then practising professionally in the town.

Arthur’s love of knowledge developed itself at a very early age and the generous flame was fanned unceasingly. After receiving a solid foundation of classical learning in the free school of his native town, he was transferred to Palgrave school, where his Aunt, the celebrated Mrs. Barbauld, gave to the pupils of her husband, lessons in English composition, to which more than one writer of distinguished skill and classical elegance has owned his lasting obligations.

He was afterwards a student of Hackney College, where with Belsham for his theological tutor, Wakefield to direct his classical studies, and Priestley to inspire him with that ardour for chemical science which never forsook him, he laid the foundation for his future useful career.

Springing from such parentage and enjoying the advantages of the good example, and instruction of such intellectual society, it, is not surprising that the naturally good abilities and amiable disposition of Arthur Aikin should have been early developed, and his mind well stored with useful knowledge ; indeed during the course of education he followed, under such able guidance, he imbibed the love of acquiring information, and the habit of storing it for use at a fitting period, for which he was remarkable.

He commenced his worldly career as the pastor of a Presbyterian congregation at Shrewsbury, where he secured the general esteem of his flock and made many valuable friendships; but from conscientious motives he soon resigned his office and pitted the ministry. During the latter part of his life one of his favourite occupations was to examine and collate the books of the New Testament, and among his MSS. would doubtless be found the result of these useful labours. He studiously avoided discussion on religious topics, but those who enjoyed the advantages of intimate communication with him, could not fail to be struck with the simplicity and truthfulness of his views of religion, and of the social duties of man.

On quitting Shrewsbury, Mr. Aikin made some extensive tours in North Wales, during which he collected the information for his first literary work, ‘ A Journal of a Tour in North Wales, &C.,’ and for the paper subsequently published in the fourth volume of the Transactions of the Geological Society,’ wherein he acted as the precursor of Murchison, and first described the geology of Shropshire? Botany was always one of his favourite pursuits, and he contributed, in 1807, the botanical chapters to Pinkerton’s Geography ; papers equally remarkable for extent of knowledge and for their descriptive eloquence.

In 1802 he engaged with Messrs. Longman and Co. to edit the ‘Annual Review,’ which he conducted through six volumes and then resigned in favour of more congenial pursuits. At this period he had settled in London, residing chiefly with his brother, the late Mr. Charles Rochemont Aikin, M.R.C.S., in conjunction with whom he produced the Chemical Dictionary, and so intimate was the concert between the brothers that, although each had his own peculiar department, none of the articles can now be correctly assigned to their respective authors, so equally did they share the labour and furnish the knowledge.

Henceforth his time was almost entirely devoted to scientific pursuits; he became chemical lecturer at Guy’s Hospital, a position which he held for thirty-six years, part of the time in conjunction with the late Mr. William Allen and Dr. Bostock, -always conscientiously revising his lectures, to bring them up to the last discoveries, or corrections made by British, or foreign chemists.

He was an early and indefatigable labourer in the establishment and support of the Scientific Societies of the Metropolis ; was one of the founders of the Geological Society; the happy first thought of the Zoological Gardens was his; for thirty-six years he was a Fellow of the Linnaean Society, and was the first President of the Chemical Society; in the year 1817 he became the Secretary of the Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, in the Adelphi, a post which he filled for twenty-two years with great credit, and during that period he introduced, with excellent effect, the delivery of lectures before the Members, setting the example, by reading more than forty himself, which now form the substance of the volume of 'Illustrations of Arts and Manufactures.' His 'Manual of Mineralogy,' in like manner contained the principal points of the lectures delivered by him before the Geological Society in 1814, when he for a short time filled the post of Honorary Secretary.

In the infancy of the Institution of Civil Engineers, he cordially proffered his assistance and was appointed the Honorary Secretary ; but there are no traces of his ever having performed any active duties, though his advice was doubtless sought by the zealous founders of the Society.

For many years, his established reputation in science caused him to be extensively employed in drawing specifications of patents for improvements in chemical manufactures ; in which no less an authority than Mr. Copley, now Lord Lyndhurst, held him to excel all other persons ; partly from his never permitting his client to claim too much. He was likewise actively engaged to the very last in making chemical analyses for patentees and public companies, and was often summoned as a witness, before committees of the House of Commons, for these objects. During the course of an unusually long and active career, he had opportunities which he always embraced, of affording advice and assistance to many ingenious men, whose inventions would probably never have been perfected, but for the aid he gave, or procured for them, and thus to him may in some degree be attributed many of the useful scientific innovations of the past half century. His benevolence of disposition and freedom from selfishness, induced him to take a warm interest in all that could improve, or benefit society, and his great pleasure consisted in contributing to the happiness and prosperity, not only of the families of his brothers, but of many pupils and friends, who unite with his relatives in mourning for his loss as for a Father.

Mr. Aikin survived all his Brothers, but at his decease, which occurred at his residence in Bloomsbury-square, on the 15th of April 1854, in the eighty-first year of his age, he left an only Sister, Miss Lucy Aikin, a lady well known in the literary world as the author of the 'Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth,’ and of 'King James I.,’ and other valuable works ; and who in writing of her Brother said- 'Through a long career, he preserved without the smallest deviation the even tenor of his way. A total absence of ambition,- a natural shyness which shrunk from all display,- a taciturnity often painful and mortifying to his friends, - withheld him from ever taking in mixed society, or in popular estimation, the place to which his eminent abilities, his scientific skill, and the extraordinary variety, extent and accuracy of his knowledge, justly entitled him; on the other hand, he was fully appreciated by the judging few;- he never engaged in a controversy and never made an enemy. His wants were few; his manners simple, kind and courteous; his affections tender and constant; his temper was imperturbable; his charity unfailing; his disinterestedness exemplary; his morals spotless.'


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