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Stories Before 1850. 0052: Anna Lætitia Barbauld and John Aikin , Evenings at Home. Vol. I

Author: Aikin, John, and Barbauld, Anna Lætitia
Title: Evenings at home; or, the juvenile budget opened: consisting of a variety of miscellaneous pieces for the instruction and amusement of young persons. By J. Aikin, M.D. and Mrs. Barbauld. In six volumes. Vol. I. Eighth edition
Cat. Number: 0052
Date: 1809
1st Edition: 1792-96
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: J. Johnson, No.72, St. Paul's Churchyard
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., iv + 156pp.
Size: 13.5 x 8 cm
Illustrations: None

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0052

Introductory essay

For the contents of the Hockliffe Collection's editions of Evenings at Home see below.

John Aikin (1747-1822) and Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743-1825) were brother and sister. Their father, John Aikin D.D., was a dissenting schoolmaster, first in Leicestershire and later at the famous Warrington Academy in Lancashire. By the 1790s both brother and sister were living in London. John had become a medical doctor and had established himself in practice in Great Yarmouth. His adherence to the dissenting cause during the controversy over the proposed repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, and more particularly his publication of two pamphlets on the subject, made his residence in Great Yarmouth untenable, and he moved to the capital in 1789. Once there, partial paralysis forced him to give up medicine and concentrate on his writing, but he had already published with much success. His Calandar of Nature, designed for the instruction and entertainment of young persons had first appeared in 1784. Equally successful were his England Delineated (1788), his Letters from a Father to his Son (1793), and his biography of his friend, the prison reformer, A View of the Character and Public Services of the Late John Howard (1792).

Anna was also a successful author by the time Evenings at Home was written. Her first published work was a volume of Poems which appeared when she was thirty in 1773. A year later she married one of her father's pupils, the Rev. Rochemont Barbauld, and they moved to Palgrave in Suffolk. Together they established a boys' boarding school and adopted a nephew, both of which may have been instrumental in inspiring Barbauld's two most successful works, Lessons for Children (1778: 0482-0486 in the Hockliffe Collection) and Hymns in Prose for Children (1781: 0398-0401). The profits from these enabled the Barbaulds to give up their school. They moved to London, offering some tutoring at their home in Hampstead before joining John Aikin in Stoke Newington in 1802. After her husband's suicide in 1808, Mrs. Barbauld expanded her literary range, most famously editing a fifty-volume series of The British Novelists (1810).

Evenings at Home was a joint production of Aikin and Barbauld, but perhaps contrary to expectations, it was Aikin who came up with the original idea and wrote the majority of the constituent pieces. This is made clear in the 'preface' to the fourteenth edition, the first after the deaths of Aikin and Barbauld, which attributes eleven twelfths of the project, including the introduction and epilogue, to Aikin and only fifteen pieces to his sister (listed 0054: 1:vi.n.). The work was originally published in six volumes, each appearing separately, volume 1 in 1792, volumes 2 and 3 in 1793, volume 4 in 1794, and volumes 5 and 6 in 1796. Aikin did not originally contemplate so extensive a work, but, the editor of the fourteenth edition reveals, was persauded by the praise the early parts received to expand the project in its successive stages. Only in the fourteenth edition are the pieces arranged in what its new editor (apparently one of Aikin's daughters) thought was an ascending order of difficulty. Before pieces for different ages had been jumbled up together (0054: 1:vii.).

Re-editions started to appear even before all of these six volumes were themselves published, and many new editions, appearing in anything from one to six volumes and revised by various hands, were brought out throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. New editions were still appearing a full century after the original publication. The Hockliffe Collection possess:

• volume 1 from the 6-volume 'eighth edition' of 1809 (0052)
• volumes 1-2, 4 and 6 of the 6-volume 'thirteenth edition' of 1823 (0053)
• volume 1 and 3 of the 4-volume 'fourteenth edition' of 1826 (0054).

Although the formats of later editions varied, there were few substantial alterations made to the first edition.

The central conceit of Evenings at Home is established in the 'Introduction' at the beginning of volume 1 (0052: pp.iii-iv). The Fairbourne family consists of a father and mother and a 'numerous progeny' of children. Some are taught at home, others at school. Visitors are often to be found at their house. Sometimes these visitors write fables or other short pieces for the children. When these have been read, they are deposited in a box, or the 'budget', from which, at holidays when all the children were assembled, the younger children would remove one work at a time for the company to read together. The 'papers' which fill the following volumes are the contents of the budget, which the parents of the household have been prevailed on to publish. The papers are divided into thirty 'evenings', with an average of four or five papers read out in each sitting.

The many papers read out during the course of the many evenings are very varied. Several are animal fables in the manner of Aesop, such as 'Mouse, Lap-dog and Monkey' (0052: p.101) in which a starving mouse learns that it must behave either like a fawning lap-dog or an amusing monkey if it wants to be fed by humans, for simple want is not enough. And many of the papers are simple lessons on a particular subject, such as 'On the Oak', a purely pedagogical discussion of the characteristics and uses of the oak tree (0052: p.3), or 'On Manufactures' (0053: 2:97), in which a father explains to his child how much manufacture increases the value of raw materials, and can greatly enrich towns like Manchester and Birmingham, 'which have arisen to great consequence from small beginnings, almost within the memory of old men now living' (0053: 2:116). Other papers read rather like religious parables (for instance 'The Little Dog', 0052: p.122) or history lessons ('Alfred. A Drama', 0052: p.33). Others have a political resonance, such as 'The Kidnappers', which sharply criticises colonialism and warns against a too ardent nationalism (0053: 2:79) or 'The Colonists', which hypothesises who will be of value in a proposed new colony. In this pantisocracy the farmer, blacksmith, weaver and schoolmaster, amongst others, will be most welcome, but the barber, the lawyer, the soldier and the gentleman will be rejected as useless to the colony's common cause (0054: 1:65). Much less democratic is 'A Dialogue on Different Stations in Life' (0052: p.51), which rams home a strict social quiescence: 'Every thing ought to be suited to the station in which we live, or are likely to live, and the wants and duties of it' (p.58).

The papers which best illustrate Aikin and Barbauld's talent for making their lessons enjoyable, however, are those which have their didacticism couched in the form of a riddle. The eponymous protagonist of 'The Young Mouse' (0052: p.19)learns to be content with what it has by discovering that the dream home it has found - a clean house, with cheese already inside it, and full protection against the cat - is not all it seems. Luckily for the young mouse, its mother knows this place to be a mousetrap, but the fun for the reader has come from guessing what the mouse had found. There are similar guessing games to be played in 'Things by their right name' (0052: p.154) and 'The Masque of Nature' (0052: p.127), but the most assured of these riddles is probably 'Travellers' Wonders' (0052: p.22). Here, Captain Compass is urged by his young audience to describe the sights he has seen on his travels. The place that he describes is actually Britain, but he does not say so, and uses the most de-familiarising language. Butter, for example, he calls grease garnered from a large animal, wool is the skin of an animal taken off while the animal is still living, silk is garnered from caterpillars, coal becomes rock, and so on. The reader is challenged to guess what trick he is playing, but even after his game has been guessed, the rest remains fun to listen to. The two children listening guess only at the end, allowing the reader to have the additional satisfaction of beating them to it. If there is no real satire of British institutions and manners, unlike in the more famous descriptions of Britain by mock-visitors in George Lyttelton's Persian Letters (1735) or Elizabeth Hamilton's Letters of a Hindoo Rajah (1796), say, there is still a lesson to be drawn. As Captain Compass explains,

I meant to show you, that a foreigner might easily represent every thing as equally strange and wonderful among us, as we could do with respect to his country; and also to make you sensible that we daily call a great many things by their names, without ever inquiring into their nature and properties; so that, in reality, it is only their names, and not the things themselves, with which we are acquainted. (p.32)

Against the fun that could be had from these riddle pieces, there is much that is 'old-fashioned', 'prim' and 'sententious', which is how Charles Kingsley described Evenings At Home in 1870 (quoted in Darton 1982: 198: 254). 'The Little Philosopher', for instance, suggests that Aikin and Barbauld's principal aim was not to delight the child reader but to turn him or her, as soon as possible, into an adult, or at least congratulate readers for being half-way there already (0054: 3:34). A boy, Peter Hurdle, catches the bolting horse of Mr. L. The latter tries to reward Peter for his courage and helpfulness, but finds that the boy wants nothing. He was in the field anyway, he explains, digging up weeds and tending the sheep as his father has asked him to do. He likes the job - 'it is almost as good as play' (p.35) - and though he has been there since six o'clock in the morning he does not think about food but waits patiently for dinner, unless perhaps he treats himself to a raw turnip. Mr. L. asks him if he has no playthings, or if he would like some? 'Playthings? what are those?', Peter responds, going on to explain that he sometimes makes a few toys for himself, but has no need of the fancy goods Mr. L. proposes: 'I have hardly time for those [few things he has], for I always have to ride the horses to field, and bring up the cows, and run to the town of [sic] errands, and that is as good as play you know' (pp.36-37). Nor does he want gingerbread, apples, nor even shoes or a hat. At last Mr. L. forces on him two books as a reward, but not fiction, nor even an improving miscellany such as Evenings at Home, but rather 'a Spelling-book and a Testament' (p.39). Having read a piece such as this it is suddenly possible to sympathise with Coleridge's swipe at 'the cursed Barbauld Crew, those Blights and Blasts of all that is Human in man and child' (Lamb 1935: 326). But Evenings at Home is more varied than Coleridge gives Barbauld credit for. Across thirty evenings, the budget contained material to enliven as well as to depress. Having read Aikin's epilogue to the work, it is difficult not to sympathise with the authors and their project.

Contents of the Hockliffe Collection's editions of Evenings at Home

0052 (8th edition)


1. 'Introduction': p. 1
2. 'On the Oak': pp. 2-3
3. 'The Young Mouse': pp. 18-19
4. 'The Wasp and Bee': pp. 20-21
5. 'Travellers' Wonders': pp. 22-23
6. 'Alfred, a Drama': pp. 32-33
7. 'Discontented Squirrel': pp. 44-45
8. 'Dialogue on different Stations': pp. 50-51
9. Goldfish and Linnet': pp. 60-61
10. 'On the Pine and the Fir': pp. 64-65
11. 'The Rookery': pp. 78-79
12. 'Dialogue on Things to be learned': pp. 86-87
13. 'Mouse, Lap-dog and Monkey': pp. 100-101
14. 'Animals and Countries': pp. 102-103
15. 'Canute's Reproof': pp. 104-105
16. 'Adventures of a Cat': pp. 106-107
17. 'The little Dog': pp. 122-123
18. 'The Masque of Nature': pp. 126-127
19. 'On the Martin': pp. 130-131
20. 'The Ship': pp. 136-137
21. 'Things by their right Names': pp. 154-155

0053 (13th edition)


1. 'Introduction': p. 1
2. 'On the Oak': pp. 2-3
3. 'The Young Mouse': pp. 18-19
4. 'The Wasp and the Bee': pp. 20-21
5. 'Travellers' Wonders': pp. 22-23
6. 'Alfred, a Drama': pp. 32-33
7. 'Discontented Squirrel': pp. 44-45
8. Dialogue on different stations': pp. 50-51
9. 'Goldfinch and Linnet': pp. 60-61
10. 'On the Pine and Fir': pp. 64-65
11. 'The Rookery': pp. 78-79
12. 'Dialogue on Things to be Learned' : pp. 86-87
13. 'Mouse, Lap-Dog and Monkey': pp. 100-101
14. 'Animals and Countries': pp. 102-103
15. 'Canute's Reproof': pp. 104-105
16. 'Adventures of a Cat': pp. 106-107
17. 'The Little Dog': pp. 122-123
18. 'The Masque of Nature': pp. 126-127
19. 'On the Martin': pp. 130-131
20. 'The Ship': pp. 136-137
21. 'Things by their right Names': pp. 152-153
22. 'The Council of Quadrupeds': pp. 156-157


1. 'Transmigrations of Indur': p. 1
2. 'The Native Village': pp. 36-37
3. 'The Swallow and the Tortoise': pp. 50-51
4. 'The Prince of Pleasure': pp. 52-53
5. 'The Goose and Horse': pp. 56-57
6. 'The Grass Tribe': pp. 58-59
7. 'A Tea Lecture': pp. 68-69
8. 'The Kidnappers': pp. 78-79
9. 'The Farm-yard Journal': pp. 86-87
10. 'On Manufactures': pp. 96-97
11. 'The Flying Fish': pp. 118-119
12. 'A Lesson in the Art of Distinguishing': pp. 120-121
13. 'The Phoenix and Dove': pp. 136-137
14. 'The Manufacture of Paper': pp. 140-141
15. 'The Two Robbers': pp. 148-149


1. 'Perseverance Against Fortune': p. 1
2. 'On Metals', pt.1: pp. 30-31
3. 'The Price of a Victory': pp. 50-51
4. 'Good Company': pp. 60-61
5. 'The Dog balked of his dinner': pp. 68-69
6. 'The Umbelliferous Plants': pp. 70-71
7. 'The Kid': pp. 80-81
8. 'How to make the best of it': pp. 88-89
9. 'Eyes, and no Eyes': pp. 92-93
10. 'Earth and Sun': pp. 108-109
11. 'Sunday Morning': pp. 118-119
12. 'On Metals', pt.2: pp. 122-123
13. 'What animals are made for': pp. 146-147


1. 'The Compound Flowered Plants': p. 1
2. 'Great Men': pp. 10-11
3. 'Order and Disorder': pp. 18-19
4. 'The Four Sisters': pp. 28-29
5. 'Power of Habit': pp. 36-37
6. 'Wise Men': pp. 46-47
7. 'The Bullies': pp. 54-55
8. 'A Friend in Need': pp. 58-59
9. 'Master and Slave': pp. 78-79
10. 'Earth and her Children': pp. 84-85
11. 'Providence; or, The Shipwreck': pp. 90-91
12. 'Envoy and Emulation': pp. 102-103
13. 'The Hog and other Animals': pp. 108-109
14. 'The Birth-Day Gift': pp. 114-115
15. 'A Globe Lecture': pp. 118-119
16. 'The Gain of a Loss': pp. 138-139
17. 'A Secret Character Unveiled': pp. 146-147
18. 'Epilogue': pp. 168-169
19. Book-list: pp. 170-171

0054 (14th edition)


1. 'Preface': p. v
2. 'Introduction': pp. viii-1
3. 'The Young Mouse': pp. 2-3
4. 'The Wasp and Bee': pp. 4-5
5. 'The Goose and Horse': pp. 6-7
6. 'The Flying Fish': pp. 8-9
7. 'The Little Dog': pp. 10-11
8. Travellers' Wonders': pp. 14-15
9. 'The Discontented Squirrel': pp. 24-25
10. 'On the Martin': pp. 32-33
11. 'Mouse, Lap-Dog and Monkey': pp. 38-39
12. 'Animals and their Countries': pp. 40-41
13. 'The Farm-Yard Journal': pp. 44-45
14. 'The Rat with a Bell': pp. 58-59
15. 'The Dog Balked of his Dinner': pp. 60-61
16. 'The Kid': pp. 64-65
17. 'Order and Disorder': pp. 74-75
18. 'Live Dolls': pp. 84-85
19. 'The Hog and Other Animals': pp. 94-95
20. 'The Bullies': pp. 98-99
21. 'The Travelled Ant': pp. 100-101
22. 'The Colonists': pp. 116-117
23. 'The Dog and his Relations': pp. 126-127
24. 'The History and Adventures of a Cat': pp. 130-131
25. 'Canute's Reproof to his Courtiers': pp. 144-145
26. 'Dialogue of Things to be Learned': pp. 148-149
27. 'On the Oak': pp. 162-163
28. 'Alfred. A Drama': pp. 178-179
29. 'On the Pine and the Fir Tribe': pp. 190-191
30. 'A Dialogue on Different Stations in Life': pp. 204-205
31. 'The Rookery': pp. 214-215
32. 'The Ship': pp. 222-223
33. 'Things By Their Right Names': pp. 238-239

Vol. 3

1. 'Phaeton Junior': p. 1
2. 'Why an Apple Falls': pp. 8-9
3. 'Nature and Education': pp. 14-15
4. 'Aversion Subdued': pp. 18-21 (first pages missing)
5. 'The Little Philosopher': pp. 34-35
6. 'What Animals are made for': pp. 40-41
7. 'True Heroism': pp. 48-49
8. 'On Metals', pt.1: pp. 54-55
9. 'Flying and Swimming': pp. 74-75
10. 'The Female Choice': pp. 80-81
11. 'On Metals', pt.2 : pp. 86-87
12. 'Eyes and no Eyes': pp. 110-111
13. 'Why the Earth moves round the Sun': pp. 126-127
14. 'The Umbelliferous Plants';: pp. 136-137
15. 'Humble Life; or, the Cottagers': pp. 146-147
16. 'The Birthday Gift': pp. 158-159
17. 'On Earth and Stones': pp. 162-163
18. 'Show and Use': pp. 196-197
19. 'The Cruciform-flowered Plants': pp. 202-203
20. 'The Native Village': pp. 214-215

Darton, F. G. Harvey, Children's Books in England: Five centuries of social life, Cambridge: CUP, 1932; third edition, revised by Brian Alderson, 1982

Lamb, Charles and Mary, Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas. London: Dent and Methuen, 1935