Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


Anna Letitia Barbauld, Enlightenment, Religion, Romantic Literature


There has been a remarkable rise of interest during the last decade in Anna Letitia Barbauld's (nee Aikin) significance in the formation of Romantic literature, and Religious Dissent and the Aikin-Barbauld Circle 1740-1860 places her appropriately within the thriving nexus of her intellectually creative Dissenting family. This volume of nine essays has its origins in a conference at Dr. Williams's library, currently the engine room of many initiatives into British dissenting history. The Aikins were a talented, hardworking, group of men and women down several generations, sparking off each other, inspired by their non -trinitarian Christian faith, and making complex contributions to British culture for more than a century. In the first chapter, Felicity James introduces the "Circle": men and women of sensibility and aimiable conversation at one level, but not in the least escapist; they were ready to stand up for the ideals of the French Revolution as well as for scientific advance. David L. Wykes then treats the, as it were, founding father of the Circle, John Aikin senior (1713-80). John was a product of Philip Doddridge's Academy in Northampton and King's College in Aberdeen. In time, he set up his own school at Kibworth Harcourt in Leicestershire. Before he moved on to teach at that celebrated flagship of Rational Dissent, Warrington Academy, John had built up a formidable pedagogical reputation for Kibworth and connected it fully into the nationwide Dissenting network. Wykes argues forcefully for seeing John's school years rather than his Warrington years as making "the greater contribution to Dissent and education" (43).