John Aikin’s Relationship to John Howard

face of a prisoner

John Aikin’s study of hospital conditions almost surely influenced John Howard’s subsequent examination of prison conditions. Aikin authored Thoughts on Hospitals, published in 1771. Aikin noted that crowded institution produced “jail or hospital fever.” He emphasized the importance of fresh air and described in detail the architecture of hospitals. Aikin also declared, “The absolute necessity of a separate room or cell for every patient is very apparent”. ^ A letter from Thomas Percival, M.D. F.R.S. was appended to Aikin’s book. In that letter, Percival advocated the use of vinegar as a disinfectant and discussed in detail diets for persons in hospitals. Howard’s prison examination followed these concerns about diet. Howard also used vinegar as a disinfectant. Aikin’s study of hospital conditions likely provided motivation and guidance for Howard’s prison examinations in addition to that from the prison bills of 1773.

Aikin was at least acquainted with Howard prior to the first printing of The State of the Prisons of England and Wales in early 1777. John Aikin’s mother was née Jane Jennings. Aikin married Martha Jennings, the widow of Aikin’s mother’s brother, Arthur Jennings. Members of the Jennings family were closely connected to the Coward / Hoxton Academy that Howard attended as a youth. Moreover, Francis Jennings, also Aikin’s mother’s brother, was a brewer in Bedford and attended the same church as John Howard.^ Samuel Whitbread, a close friend to John Howard, was similarly situated. Whitbread was a prominent brewer in Bedford, and Whitbread’s family were members of Howard’s church. The Aikins and the Jennings were important families in eighteenth-century English Dissent. Howard, as a well-off fellow Dissenter with intellectual aspirations, would have made contact with members of these families.

In early 1774, Howard proposed marrying Aikin’s sister, Anna Lætitia. She wrote in 1774:

It was too late, as you say, or I believe I should have been in love with Mr. Howard. Seriously, I looked upon him with that sort of reverence and love which one should have for a guardian angel. God bless him and preserve his health for the health’s sake of thousands.^

Anna Lætitia was then engaged to marry Rochemont Barbauld, whom she married in May, 1774. Nonetheless, she knew enough of Howard in early 1774 to feel deeply for him and for the prison examination work that he had begun late in 1773. John and Anna worked closely together.^ John Aikin probably shared his sister’s admiration for Howard and for Howard’s prison work from its very beginnings.

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