Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Conway, Anne

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CONWAY, ANNE, Viscountess Conway (d. 1679), metaphysician, was the daughter of Sir Henry Finch [q. v.], recorder of London and speaker of the House of Commons. Besides the usual accomplishments of her sex she was taught the learned tongues; she eagerly perused the works of Plato and Plotinus, Philo Judæus, and the ‘Kabbala Denudata;’ and her ruling passion was for the most abstruse treatises on theosophy and mysticism. On 11 Feb. 1651 she was married to Edward Conway, who was created Earl of Conway in 1679 (Lysons, Environs, iii. 206). She suffered from a severe headache, which never left her, night or day, till her death. On one occasion she went to France in order that her cranium might be opened, but the French surgeons declined the operation, though they are said to have made incisions in the jugular arteries (Ward, Life of Dr. Henry More, p. 206). During her latter years frequent fits increased her torments; and Valentine Greatrakes [q. v.], the renowned Irish ‘stroker,’ exerted his art upon her in vain. In spite of her ailments she studied metaphysical science with extraordinary assiduity. In this she was greatly encouraged by her physician, Francis Mercury van Helmont, who resided with her at Ragley Castle. Her most distinguished friend was Dr. Henry More, with whom she kept up a regular correspondence on theological subjects (Worthington, Diary, i. 140). After much hesitation she adopted the opinions held by the Society of Friends, with the chief founders of which, Fox, Penn, and Barclay, she had held earnest conferences. In spite of More's remonstrances, she adhered steadily to her new belief, in which she died on 23 Feb. 1678–9. Her husband was absent in Ireland at the time of her decease, but in order that he might have a last look at her features Van Helmont preserved the body in spirits of wine, and placed it in a coffin with a glass over the face (Once a Week, xii. 220; Rawdon Papers, pp. 215, 265). She was buried at Arrow, Warwickshire, on the 17th of the following April.

She wrote numerous works, but only one of them has been printed. In 1690 a collection of philosophical treatises appeared in Latin at Amsterdam, the first being a translation of a work by a certain English countess ‘learned beyond her sex.’ Leibnitz, in a German literary journal, ascribes the authorship to the Countess of Conway on the information of Van Helmont (Walpole, Royal and Noble Authors, ed. Park, iii. 211; Gent. Mag. liv. 728, 806, 972). This treatise was retranslated and published with the title: ‘The Principles of the most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, concerning God, Christ, and the Creatures, viz. of Spirit and Matter in general; whereby may be resolved all those Problems or Difficulties, which neither by the School nor Common Modern Philosophy, nor by the Cartesian, Hobbesian, or Spinosian could be discussed. Being a little Treatise published since the Author's Death, translated out of the English into Latin, with Annotations taken from the Ancient Philosophy of the Hebrews; and now again made English. By I. C. Medicinæ Professor,’ London, 1692, 8vo. Probably Jodocus Crull was the translator. Dr. Henry More wrote, under the name of Van Helmont, a preface to Lady Conway's ‘Remains,’ but the projected work was never printed (Ward, Life of Dr. Henry More, pp. 202–9). Her correspondence with More was in the possession of James Crossley of Manchester [q. v.]

[Authorities cited above.]

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