Biographical Treatment of Howard’s Religious Zeal

face of a prisoner

John Howard’s religious zeal created controversy among biographers of that pioneering social scientist. In 1831, “a gentleman of Boston” (Rev. Louis Dwight) abridged and published a cheap, accessible form of Brown (1818) as Brown (1831). In its “Editor’s Preface,” the first reason given for the latter publication is:

That Howard the Philanthropist might be seen as a Christian. Aikin’s Life of Howard does not exhibit his Christian character. Brown’s Life of Howard, on the contrary, does exhibit it, most satisfactorily. If Howard, in Christian experience, was like BRAINERD {David Brainerd (1718-1747) was a Christian missionary to native Americans on the east coast of North America.}, and if his letters and diary, and covenants, show this, a Life of Howard, in which all these things are omitted, is greatly defective, and one in which they are retained is important to the churches. In this little volume they are retained.

Howard’s religious views were the subject of a heated exchange of letters following Howard’s obituary in Gentleman’s Magazine. Howard’s friend John Aikin participated in that exchange. He argued “of all men, it seems absurd to charge him {Howard} with lying under the practical influence of rigid predestinarian notions,” because Howard sought to improve the conditions of prisoners. Aikin also expressed the hope that Howard’s religious sect “does not infuse a secret prejudice against him in the breasts of persons of a different persuasion.”^ Concern about reactions to Howard’s religious belief may have motivated Aikin to efface them in his Life of Howard. That choice in turn motivated Dwight’s production of Brown (1831).

In 1873, William A. Guy’s account of John Howard for the Statistical Society of London presented Howard as sober and scientific.

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