Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Aikin, Arthur
AIKIN, ARTHUR (1773–1854), chemist and scientific writer, was the eldest son of John Aikin, M.D., and was thus the brother of Lucy Aikin and nephew of Mrs. Barbauld. He was born at Warrington on 19 May 1773, and went at an early age to the free school there, and afterwards to Mr. Barbauld's school at Palgrave in Suffolk. His father took an active part in his education, and prepared for his special use several of his books for youthful readers, including among others his ‘Letters from a Father to his Son.’ Aikin was trained for the unitarian ministry, and in 1786, on the removal of his family to London, he attended the unitarian college at Hackney; but on conscientious grounds he soon changed his plans, and devoted himself exclusively to scientific pursuits. An early acquaintance with Dr. Priestley, his father's friend, had already given him a predilection for chemistry, and under Priestley's guidance he made the study of that science and of mineralogy and botany the chief occupation of his life. In 1797 he published, ‘with Observations in Mineralogy and other branches of Natural History,’ an account of a tour that he took with his brother, Charles Rochemont Aikin [q. v.], and another friend in North Wales and Shropshire. In the next year appeared his ‘Natural History of the Year,’ and in 1799 he delivered a series of lectures in London on chemistry and chemical manufactures, the syllabus of which he published separately.
In 1807 Aikin, who had acquired the reputation of an enthusiastic scientific worker, took a foremost part in founding the Geological Society. To its early ‘Transactions’ he contributed several papers, embodying observations made by him in the west of England, and dealing almost entirely with mineralogy, and about 1811 he became its secretary. He retired from that office, although he remained for many years a member of the council, on his acceptance in 1817 of the more important post of secretary to the Society of Arts, a post which he retained for twenty-three years. In 1818 Aikin was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society, but his only contribution to its ‘Transactions’ was ‘A List of Indian Woods collected by Dr. Wallich,’ which appeared in 1817. On his resignation of the secretaryship of the Society of Arts in 1840 he was appointed chairman of its committee of chemistry, and he was nominated the first treasurer of the Chemical Society, founded in 1841 (Gent. Mag. (new series), xv. 526). In his later years he was chosen a member of the Academy of Dijon in recognition of his lifelong application to chemistry and mineralogy. He died unmarried at his brother's house in Bloomsbury Square, London, on 15 April 1854.
His works, besides those already enumerated, were:
- ‘A Translation of Denon's Travels in Egypt’ (1801).
- ‘Dictionary of Chemistry and Mineralogy’ (1807–14), prepared in conjunction with his brother, C. R. Aikin.
- ‘Manual of Mineralogy’ (1814).
- ‘Account of the most recent Discoveries in Chemistry and Mineralogy’ (1814).
Aikin also edited from 1803 till 1808 a literary periodical entitled the ‘Annual Review,’ to which his sister Lucy, his aunt Mrs. Barbauld, his father Dr. Aikin, Robert Southey, and William Taylor all occasionally contributed. The periodical ceased a few years after Aikin resigned the editorship.
[Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society (1855), p. xli; Annual Register, 1854; Lucy Aikin's Memoir of John Aikin, M.D.; P. H. le Breton's Memoir of Lucy Aikin; Index to Monthly Review, 1790–1816.]