Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Aikin, Lucy

AIKIN, LUCY (1781–1864), daughter of the preceding, was born at Warrington in the year 1781. She resided with her parents at Yarmouth and Stoke Newington till the death of her father in 1822, when she removed to Hampstead, where, with the exception of a short interval at Wimbledon, she spent the remainder of her life. She died in 1864. Miss Aikin was in early life a diligent student of French, Italian, and Latin, and at the youthful age of seventeen began to contribute articles to magazines and reviews. In 1810 appeared her first considerable work, ‘Epistles on Women,’ a poem in spirited but conventional heroics; and in 1814 she wrote her only work of fiction, entitled ‘Lorimer, a Tale.’ These were her earlier efforts, but her reputation was gained entirely by her historical works published between the years 1818 and 1843; namely, ‘Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth’ (1818); ‘Memoirs of the Court of James I.’ (1822); ‘Memoirs of the Court of Charles I.’ (1833); and the ‘Life of Addison’ (1843). The last of these books, which contains many letters of Addison never before published, is the subject of an essay by Macaulay, who, while praising Miss Aikin's other works, and especially her ‘Memoirs of the Court of James I,’ observes that she was ‘far more at home among the ruffs and peaked beards of Theobalds than among the steenkirks and flowing periwigs which surrounded Queen Anne's tea table at Hampton.’ Of her other memoirs she herself writes, on the completion of her ‘Charles I:’ ‘I am resolved against proceeding farther with English sovereigns. Charles II is no theme for me; it would make me contemn my species.’ She also wrote a life of her father, and of her aunt, Mrs. Barbauld, and many minor pieces. Miss Aikin's conversational powers were remarkable, and she was a graceful and graphic letter writer. Her letters to her relatives and intimate friends show her relish for society, and are full of mother wit and lively anecdotes of distinguished literary persons. She maintained for almost sixteen years (1826 to 1842) a graver correspondence with the Rev. Dr. Channing, of Boston, on religion, philosophy, politics, and literature. Strong opinions freely expressed characterise these shrewd and vigorous letters. In religion, Miss Aikin was, like the other members of her family, a unitarian—a circumstance which, added to a keen recollection of hardships, one might almost say persecutions, endured by herself as a child, and by her father, at Yarmouth, gave her a liberal, but by no means a tolerant, political creed. Writing to Dr. Channing on the progress of tractarianism in England, she pronounces ‘our Church Establishment the most systematically servile in Christendom.’ In discussing the first Reform Bill, she defines radicalism as ‘the supremacy of the rude and selfish and ignorant many.’ Miss Aikin was, in fact, a whig, with a generous love of liberty wherever she found it under any conditions, but with cultivated tastes that precluded sympathy with democracy. In her letters to Dr. Channing she warmly praises the whig aristocracy, and defends with a certain degree of conservatism English manners and customs from the criticism of her correspondent. These letters, which were not published till after Miss Aikin's death, are not among her best known writings; but they record in an interesting manner both her own opinions and those of the unitarian body of her time.

[Lucy Aikin, Memoirs, Miscellanies, and Letters, edited by P. H. Le Breton; unpublished Letters and Reminiscences.]

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