Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Venn, Henry (1725-1797)

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VENN, HENRY (1725–1797), evangelical divine, third son of Richard Venn [q. v.], was born at Barnes, Surrey, on 2 March 1724–1725. He was admitted at St. John's College, Cambridge, in June 1742, but soon migrated to Jesus College, having been appointed to a Rustat scholarship there. He graduated B.A. in honours, 1745–6, and M.A. 1749. He was nominated by William Battie [q. v.] in 1747 to the university scholarship which Battie had just founded, and was elected to a fellowship at Queens' College on 30 March 1749, which he held till his marriage in 1757. He was ordained deacon in June 1747, and priest in June 1749, and for some time served as curate at Barton, Cambridgeshire, and elsewhere in the neighbourhood. In 1750 he left Cambridge and went as curate to Adam Langley, who held the livings of St. Matthew, Friday Street, and West Horsley, Surrey. In these years he changed his father's high-church principles for others of an evangelical character. In 1753 he was elected lecturer of St. Swithun's, London Stone. In 1754 he accepted the curacy of Clapham, where he commenced a lifelong friendship with John Thornton and others of his family [see under Thornton, Henry]. In 1759 he became vicar of Huddersfield. During the twelve years that he remained there he produced a profound impression by his piety and earnestness (see Life, pp. 38–47). In 1771, being completely broken down in health by his exhausting labours, he accepted the small living of Yelling, Huntingdonshire, about twelve miles from Cambridge, which he held till his death.

Venn is commonly spoken of as a Calvinist, but his opinions were far from extreme, and he had a strong dislike to this and other party names. His disposition, far from being gloomy, was remarkably cheerful and happy. The letters published in his ‘Life’ were naturally selected for their devotional character, but his large unpublished correspondence shows a mind of much natural shrewdness, playfulness, and affection. The singular charm of his conversation was admitted by all who met him. As one of the prominent leaders of the evangelical revival in the church of England, he became widely known by his labours as a preacher, by his writings, and, in later years, by his large correspondence and his strong personal influence on many young men who used to visit him from Cambridge. Among these were Charles Simeon [q. v.], William Farish [q. v.], and Joseph Jowett [q. v.] His most popular work was the ‘Compleat Duty of Man.’ The title was doubtless suggested by the well-known ‘Whole Duty,’ but the views expounded were widely different. It had a very large circulation. The first edition was published in 1763, and many subsequent editions followed.

Venn died at Clapham, where his son was rector, on 24 June 1797, and was buried in the old churchyard.

He married twice: first at Clapham, on 10 May 1757, Eling (d. 1767), daughter of Thomas Bishop, minister of the Tower church, Ipswich, by whom he had one son, John (see below), and four daughters. Of these, the eldest, Eling, married Mr. Charles Elliott, and was the mother of Edward Bishop Elliott [q. v.] and Henry Venn Elliott [q. v.] He married, secondly, in July 1771, a widow, Catherine Smith, daughter of James Ascough, vicar of Highworth, Wiltshire.

Venn's other works were: 1. ‘A Volume of Sermons,’ 1759. 2. ‘The Examination of Dr. Priestley's Free Address on the Lord's Supper,’ 1769. 3. ‘Mistakes in Religion exposed: an Essay on the Prophet Zacharias,’ 1774. 4. ‘Memoirs of Sir John Barnard, Mayor of London,’ 1786; and a number of separate sermons, one of these being preached at Bath on the death of George Whitefield, as ‘a token of respect.’

There are two portraits of him in possession of the family, one of them by John Russell (1745–1806) [q. v.]

His son, John Venn (1759–1813), a central figure of the group of religious philanthropists known as the ‘Clapham sect,’ was born at Clapham while his father was curate there, on 9 March 1759. He entered at Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge, graduated B.A. in 1781, and M.A. in 1784. He was rector of Little Dunham, Norfolk, from 1783 to 1792, and rector of Clapham from 1792 to his death. He was one of the original founders of the Church Missionary Society in 1797, and was an active participator in the labours of his friends in the suppression of the slave trade and other philanthropic efforts. He died at Clapham on 1 July 1813. He married first, at Trinity Church, Hull, on 22 Oct. 1789, Catherine, daughter of William King, merchant, of Hull. By her he had Henry Venn (1796–1873) [q. v.] and John, for many years vicar of St. Peter's, Hereford; also five daughters, of whom Jane, the second, married James (afterwards Sir James) Stephen [q. v.], and was mother of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen [q. v.] and of Sir Leslie Stephen. He married, secondly, on 25 Aug. 1812, Frances, daughter of John Turton, esq., of Clapham. A volume of his sermons was published after his death.

[Venn's Life was commenced by his son John, and completed, with a selection of his letters, by his grandson Henry in 1834. See also Sir James Stephen's account of the Clapham Sect in his Essays on Ecclesiastical Biography, and Notes and Queries, 9th ser. iv. 4.]

J. V.