John Aiken, M.D., was the son of a dissenting minister, and was born at Kibworth, in Leicestershire, 15th January, 1747. After a good preliminary education from his father, who kept a respectable and well frequented boarding school, and then at the Dissenters’ academy at Warrington, to which his father had been appointed theological tutor, he was apprenticed to Maxwell Garthshore, at that time practising as an apothecary at Uppingham, who afterwards graduated in physic, settled in London as an accoucheur, and has been mentioned in this volume. He studied medicine at Edinburgh; and in 1771 settled as a surgeon at Chester, but soon removed to Warrington, and was appointed lecturer on physiology and chemistry to the Dissenters’ academy there. He proceeded doctor of medicine, at Leyden, 19th July, 1784 (D.M.I. de Lactis Secretione in Puerperis); and then settled as a physician at Yarmouth, where he continued with steadily increasing professional reputation for a period of eight years. Towards the end of that time he became involved in the political agitation consequent on the attempt to obtain a repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts; he took an active part, with the Dissenters, and published two pamphlets on the subject. The clergy of the church of England, who had warmly supported him, now took alarm, withdrew their countenance, and encouraged Dr. Girdlestone to settle at Yarmouth. Dr. Aiken, seeing his prospects in that town destroyed, escaped from the impending bitterness of a personal controversy by removing to London. He was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 25th June, 1792. Although his connexions in London by family and acquaintance were considerable, he never obtained much professional employment. He was little fitted by temper or habit for the fatigue and struggle necessary to success in town, and he willingly and wisely followed the bent of his disposition, and devoted himself almost exclusively to literary pursuits. Immediately after settling in London he commenced, in conjunction with his sister, Mrs. Barbauld, the well-known series entitled " Evenings at Home," which was completed in June 1795, by the publication of the fifth and sixth volumes. This work had a most extensive sale, is still popular, and has been translated into almost every European language. His next and probably most important work was "Letters from a Father to a Son, on various Topics relative to Literature and the Conduct of Life." In 1796 he became the editor of the "Monthly Magazine," and continued so for ten years; and in 1807 started a new magazine, "The Athenæum," which lasted for two years and a half only. In the same year in which he undertook the editorship of the "Monthly Magazine," he commenced, in conjunction with his friend Dr. Enfield, his "General Biographical Dictionary." This work extended to ten quarto volumes, and his own portion is said to have amounted to almost one-half. He was engaged upon it twenty years, the tenth and concluding volume being published in 1815. He undertook the editorship of "Dodsley’s Annual Register," in 1811; and his last publication, "Select Works of the British Poets, with Biographical and Critical Prefaces," made its appearance in 1820. Dr. Aiken died from paralysis at Stoke Newington (where he had resided since 1797), on the 7th December, 1822, in his seventy-fifth year. His portrait, by J. Donaldson, was engraved by C. Knight. He was the author of many other works than those above mentioned, for a list and some particulars of which I must refer to a memoir of his life and writings by his daughter, Lucy Aiken, published in 1823. His medical writings were —
An Essay on the Ligature of Arteries. 8vo. London. 1770.
Observations on the External Use of Preparations of Lead, with Remarks on Topical Medicines. 8vo. Lond. 1771.
Thoughts on Hospitals. 8vo. Lond. 1771.
Specimen of the Medical Biography of Great Britain, with an Address to the Public. 8vo. Lond. 1775.
Biographical Memoirs of Medicine in Great Britain, from the Revival of Literature to the Time of Harvey. 8vo. Lond. 1780.
A Manual of Materia Medica. 8vo. Yarmouth. 1785.