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  • The “Joineriana”: Anna Barbauld, the Aikin Family Circle, and the Dissenting Public Sphere *
  • Daniel E. White** (bio)


In 1775, two years after Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose, by J. and A. L. Aikin issued from the press of the Warrington Academy’s London agent Joseph Johnson, Anna Barbauld (Anna Aikin until 1774) wrote to her brother John: “I think we must some day sew all our fragments together, and make a Joineriana of them. Let me see:—I have, half a ballad; the first scene of a play; a plot of another, all but the catastrophe; half a dozen loose similies, and an eccentric flight or two among the fairies.” 1 In her use of the expression “Joineriana,” Anna implies to John that whereas their half-ballads, first scenes, loose similies, and eccentric flights might remain incomplete on their own, by “sewing” these fragments together the siblings could produce a presentable patchwork. Although this particular project never materialized, she continued to conceive of literary production according to a model of familial collaboration. 2 Twelve years later, as she and Rochemont Barbauld were settling into their new home in Hampstead, Anna wrote to John, “We are making a catalogue of our books; and I have left a great deal of space under the letters A. and B. for our future publications” (Works, 2:155). The growth of this catalogue accompanies Anna’s [End Page 511] organization of a new domestic setting in which she, her husband, and their adopted son Charles, the biological child of John and Martha Aikin, will live. The blank space at the beginning of the catalogue, “under the letters A. and B.,” signifies a continuity of past and future literary creation defined by the kindred relationship between brother and sister. As with the sewing metaphor of the “Joineriana,” Anna here represents collaborative production in private, domestic, and familial terms. 3

This essay explores late-eighteenth-century literary collaboration by examining the familial mode of literary production characteristic of the Aikins and the national Dissenting community associated with the nonconformist Warrington Academy (1757–86). 4 With the publication of William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft’s The Poems of Anna Letitia Barbauld (1994), the continuing reevaluation of Barbauld’s career has led critics to place her among the foremost poets of a revised late-eighteenth-century canon. 5 Although until recently Barbauld (1743–1825) has been an all-but forgotten figure, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries she was a prominent presence as a poet, essayist, hymnist, children’s author, campaigner for the repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts and for the abolition of the slave trade, and editor of The British Novelists (1810). Her brother, John Aikin (1747–1822), a practicing physician and a prolific and popular author in his own right, collaborated with her on a volume of prose pieces and on well-known works for children. In 1758, their father Dr. John Aikin accepted the post of tutor in Classics at the Warrington Academy, which became the leading college for Dissenters. 6 Among the tutors at the Academy with whom the Aikin siblings’ careers would be intimately joined were Joseph Priestley, Gilbert Wakefield, and William Enfield. As McCarthy and Kraft have noted, Barbauld spent the most intensely productive period of her poetic career, between the ages of 22 and 31, at Warrington: from 1765 to 1774, she composed more than a third of her surviving poems. At Warrington the family printing press of William Eyres, the establishment of which coincided with the foundation of the Academy, issued numerous works by tutors, former students, and affiliates, often in conjunction with the London publishing firm of Joseph Johnson. 7 By printing and publishing nationally recognized works by John Aikin, Anna Barbauld, Joseph Priestley, William Enfield, Thomas Pennant, William Roscoe, and the prison reformer John Howard, Eyres and Johnson provided a coherent identity for the network of authors associated with Warrington. 8

The Aikins’ collaborative mode, as I will describe it, asserts an integral connection between the “intimate sphere” of the family, the austere virtues of religious nonconformity, and the progressive market ethos of middle-class eighteenth-century life, especially in the commercial centers of northern...

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