Lavington, George (DNB00)

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LAVINGTON, GEORGE (1684–1762), bishop of Exeter, a descendant of a family long resident in Wiltshire, was son of the Rev. Joseph Lavington, who married at Mildenhall in that county, on 27 April 1675, Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. Stephen Constable, rector of the parish and prebendary of Slape in Salisbury Cathedral. He was born at Mildenhall rectory and baptised on the same day, 18 Jan. 1683–4. According to the accepted biographies, his father exchanged his benefice of Broad Hinton in Wiltshire for that of Newnton Longville in Buckinghamshire, which was in the gift of New College, Oxford, and through this connection with the members of that college the boy was sent to Winchester College; but no incumbent of the name of Lavington ever held the living of Broad Hinton, and the rector of Newnton Longville was John Lavington. George was elected scholar of Winchester College in 1698, and among the school exercises preserved there was a Greek translation by him, in imitation of Theocritus, of the eclogues of Virgil. On 1 March 1705–6 he was admitted scholar of New College, Oxford, and two years later he became a fellow. He graduated B.C.L. in 1713, and D.C.L. in 1732. The university was mainly Jacobite, but he was conspicuous for his devotion to the house of Hanover. Ayliffe depicts him 'as (even among his enemies) esteem'd a person of admirable natural parts, good manners, sound judgment, and of a very remarkable sweetness of temper in all conversation.' The college presented him in 1717 to the rectory of Heyford Warren, Oxfordshire, which he resigned in 1730, and Bishop Potter gave him the rectory of Hook Norton in that county. His political principles endeared him to Lord Coningsby [q.v.], who selected him as his domestic chaplain and procured for him the position of chaplain to George I. On the nomination of the crown he was instituted, on 23 Nov. 1719, to the fourth stall in Worcester Cathedral, where Francis Hare [q.v.] was dean, and retained it until 1731, when, on Hare's promotion to the deanery of St. Paul's, Lavington procured the prebendal stall of Wildland in that cathedral (2 Nov. 1731). He also held the rectories of St. Michael Bassishaw (1730–1742) and St. Mary Aldermary (1742–7) in the city of London. Without his solicitation or knowledge the whig peers, Newcastle and Hardwicke, recommended him for the see of Exeter, and on 8 Feb. 1746–7 he was consecrated at Lambeth as its bishop, holding in commendam during his tenure of the bishopric the archdeaconry of Exeter, a prebendal stall in the cathedral, and the rectory of Shobrooke in Devonshire. John Wesley records in his 'Journal' (ed. 1827, iii. 107) that he was 'well pleased to partake in the cathedral of the Lord's supper with my old opponent Bishop Lavington' on Sunday, 29 Aug. 1762. A fortnight later (13 Sept.) the bishop died at Exeter, and was buried on 19 Sept. in a vault in the south aisle of the choir of the cathedral. A plain white marble tablet was placed to his memory behind the throne, the inscription on which, written by Sub-dean Barton, is printed in Polwhele's 'Devonshire,' ii. 14. His wife was Frances Maria Lave of Corfe Mullen, Dorsetshire, daughter of a Huguenot refugee. They were married about 1722, and she outlived the bishop, being buried by his side 29 Nov. 1763. Two of their children were buried in Worcester Cathedral—George on 20 April 1723, and Margaret Frances on 30 April 1726 (Green, Worcester, ii. App. p. xxix). Their only surviving daughter, Ann, married in Exeter Cathedral, on 22 Aug. 1753, the Rev. George Nutcombe Quicke, then rector of Morchard Bishop, near Exeter, who afterwards took the surname of Nutcombe and became chancellor of Exeter Cathedral. She died 16 Jan. 1811. A half-length portrait of the bishop at the episcopal palace represents his features as gross.

Lavington, as a strenuous opponent of methodism, acted with great severity to the Rev. George Thompson, one of its chief supporters in Cornwall, and refused to accept the testimonials of Thomas Haweis [q.v.] because he disliked the views of the signatory clergymen. In 1748 there was printed a fictitious extract from a charge just delivered by him in his diocese which exposed him to the charge of favouring methodism, whereupon he publicly accused its leaders of having promoted the fraud. Through the aid of the Countess of Huntingdon their innocence was proved, and Lavington was induced to retract his accusation. Out of this incident grew 'A Letter to the Bishop of Exeter, by a Clergyman of the Church of England, in Defence of the Methodists,' and it provoked the bishop into issuing, but without his name, his famous work, 'The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists compared [pt. i.], 1749,' in which he paraded the natural excesses committed by the original followers of John Wesley. To this part there speedily appeared answers by Wesley, Whitefield, and Vincent Perronet, and when the bishop wrote a second part in the same year (1749) he prefixed to it a long letter to Whitefield in reply to his pamphlet. Lavington issued a third part in 1751, with a lengthy preface to Wesley in answer to his letter, with the result that Wesley published a second letter (January 1752), and Vincent Perronet composed another pamphlet in refutation of the bishop. In April 1752 there came out 'The Bishop of Exeter's Answer to Mr. Wesley's late Letter to his Lordship,' pp. 15, to which Wesley replied from Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 8 May 1752. The three parts of Lavington's work were published together in 1754, and they were reprinted, 'with notes, introduction, and appendix,' by the Rev. Richard Polwhele so late as 1820. Warburton, in his 'Letters to Hurd' (2nd ed. 1809), acknowledges that Lavington's book was 'on the whole composed well enough—though it be a bad copy of Stillingfleet's famous book of "The Fanaticism of the Church of Rome"—to do the execution he intended,' but sneers at his attempt to make the methodists resemble 'everything that is bad,' while Southey contented himself with vouching 'for the accuracy of Lavington's Catholic references' (Life and Corresp. ii. 345).

A cognate work by Lavington was entitled 'The Moravians compared and detected,' 1755, in which they were likened to 'the ringleaders and disciples of the most infamous Antient Heretics,' but it attracted little attention. He published many sermons, one of which, called 'The Influence of Church Music,' was preached in Worcester Cathedral at the meeting of the three choirs on 8 Sept. 1725, and passed into a third edition in 1753. Two of his letters, the property of Mr. Lewis Majendie, are described in the Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. App. pp. 322–323, and in the 'Discourses and Essays' of Dr. Edward Cobden [q.v.], a contemporary at Winchester College, is a Latin strena in praise of Lavington when made a bishop.

[Kirby's Winchester Scholars, p. 215; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 382, 396, 429, ii. 450, iii. 83; Gent. Mag. 1762, p. 448; Tyerman's John Wesley, ii. 23–5, 91–4, 134, 149–53; Tyerman's Whitefield, ii. 201, 219–22, 380–2; Life and Times of Countess of Huntingdon, ed. 1840, i. 95–6, ii. 55; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. v. 365, 1858; Halkett and Laing's Anon. Lit. pp. 774, 1659; Green's Worcester, ii. App. p. xxix; Polwhele's Devonshire, i. 313–14, ii. 14–15, 36; Oliver's Bishops of Exeter, pp. 163, 273; Trans. Devon. Assoc. xvi. 130; information from Dr. Sewell, New College, Oxford, the Rev. C. Soames of Mildenhall, and Mr. Arthur Burch of the Diocesan Registry, Exeter.]

W. P. C.