Anne Finche, Viscountess Conway (1631-1678 or 79)


"I say, life and figure are distinct attributes of one substance, and as one and the same body may be transmuted into all kinds of figures; and as the perfecter figure comprehends that which is more imperfect; so one and the same body may be transmuted from one degree of life to another more perfect, which always comprehends in it the inferior. We have an example of figure in a triangular prism, which is the first figure of all right lined solid triangular prism, which is the first figure of all right lined solid bodies, where into a body is convertible; and from this into a cube, which is a perfecter figure, and comprehends in it a prism; from a cube it may be turned into a more perfect figure, which comes nearer to a globe, and from this into another, which is yet nearer; and so it ascends from one figure, more imperfect to another more perfect, ad infinitum; for here are no bounds; nor can it be said, this body cannot be changed into a perfecter figure: But the meaning is that that body consists of plane right lines; and this is always chageablee into a perfecter figure, and yet cannever reach to the perfection of a globe, although it always approaches nearer unto it; the case is the same in diverse degrees of life, which have indeed a beginning, but no end; so that the creature is always capable of a farther and perfecter degree of life, ad infinitum, and yet can nerver attain to be equal with God; for he is still infinitely more perfect than a creature, in its highest elevation or perfection, even as a globe is the most perfect of all other figures, unto which none can approach."

from The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, partially reprinted in Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period. p 70-1 (See Sources)

Conway Timeline

1631. 7, December. Heneage Finch, father of Anne Finch dies suddenly. One week later on December 14, Elizabeth Cradock Finch gives birth to Anne Finch. There is very little record of Anne Finch's childhood, except that she had an appealing personality and was by nature, a solitary child. She spent her childhood at Kensington. Anne developed a strong and "passionate" love and confidence in her elder brother, John Finch which continued throughout her life. December 31, young Henry More is admitted at Christ's College, Cambridge which became his home for more than fifty years.
1641 or 42.February, John Finch and his younger brother are admitted as "gentlemen commoners" at Balliol. John continues his close relationship with Anne through letters. He sen ds her the philosophical treatises and intellectual guidance she desires and Anne's lifelong love of the study of philosophy begins.
1643.Anne suffers from an illness accompanied by fever which changes her life. After her recovery from the fever, a debilitating and recurring headache plagues her for the remainder of her life.
1645.John Finch is admitted at Christ's College, Cambridge.
1647.John Finch returns to Balliol for his degree, then returns to Christ's and chooses Henry More as his tutor.
1650.A marriage between Anne and Edward Conway is arranged. This year also reveals the earliest letters between Anne and Henry More. During this beginning correspondence, More sends translations of some sections of Descartes. The following sporadic correspondence indicates Annes desire for a clear understanding of Descartes and More's willingness to carefully discuss the difficult passages. Majorie Hope Nicholson notes in her Conway Letters, that there is no indication of condescension, "no attempt on the part of the teacher to pass over problems too difficult for the female mind." (p47) Thus begins the lifelong correspondence between Anne Finch and Henry More.
1651.17 February, Anne Finche marries Edward Conway. Correspondence indicates that she continues to reside at Kensington. Conway's responsibilities coupled with Anne's need of constant medical treatment dictate the need for her to remain at home rather than accompany her husband. In October, John Finch embarks on a jou rney through France to Italy, depriving Anne of her primary intellectual correspondant. The frequency of Anne's and More correspondence increases.
1652.More produces his first important prose work, An Antidote Against Atheism and dedicates it to Anne as "one whose Genius I know to be so speculative, and Wit so penetrant, that in the knowledge of all things as well Naural as Divine, you have not onely outgone all of your own Sex, but even of that other also, whose ages have not given them over-much the start of you."
1655 or 56.At some time in these years, Anne Conway begins residence in her husband's home, Ragly Hall. More becomes a frequent visitor, spending time not claimed by Cambridge at the Conway home. Anne's headaches increase in frequency and pain requiring her to spend days in her darkened chamber. She attempts all treatments, including coffee and tobacco, as well as the famous Ens veneris of Robert Boyle, prepared by his own hands. Other cures, some very dangerous, such as opium, mercury, and laudenum are also attempted.
1656.April, Anne's excrutiating pain forces her to decide to journey to France to undergo a surgery known as the trepan. (Without anesthetics, the skull is opened to allow pressure to be released). More refuses to allow her to undertake the journey with only her servants in accompaniment, and joins her in her journey. The French surgeons were fearful of opening Anne's skull and opened her jugular arteries instead. Edward Conway attempts to join his wife and More, but is captured by the Dutch, stripped and thrown into prison. A ransom is speedily acquired and Conway joins his wife and More, then travels back to England with them. Anne's headaches continue.
1657.Anne Conway's headaches increase to such a severity that all fear her life will end. However, she recovers somewhat and physicians discover she is pregnant. More spends most of his Summer at Ragley, working on his Immortality of the Soul, which he and Anne spend hours discussing.
1658.6 February, Anne gives birth to her only child, a son named Heneage. Although friends and family hoped the birth would cure her headaches, they continued.
1660.Summer, John Finch returns to England. More, Anne, and John spend the Summer together. John is knighted by His Majesty and More is awarded Doctor of Divinity at Cambridge.
1660.14 October, Little Heneage Conway dies of smallpox. Anne, who refused to be parted from her ill child, lies desperatly ill with smallpox. Once again, friends and family fear her life is ending. More writes unfailingly what comfort he can, but acknowledges his own lack of experience in the face of such extreme suffering. Anne begins to slowly recuperate.
1665.England is struck by the plague. Anne remains safe at Ragley, but her headaches reach new heights of severity. She is in constant pain with frequent paroxyxms of even more agonizing pain. Edward Conway hears of Valentine Greatrakes, a man in Ireland rumored to cure people simply by laying his hands on them. After much discussion and pleading, Greatrakes agrees to journey to England to attempt to cure Anne Conway. He arrives at Ragley January 27. Among the people gathered to witness the event were More, Ralph Cudworth, and Benjamin Whichcote, all of whom were keenly interested in such unexplainable healings. Before attempting to heal Lady Conway, Greatrakes heals some of the tenants. More and Lord Conway are favorably impressed, but when Greatrakes attempts to heal Anne, he is a failure. But this does not lessen the respect of the great men witnessing his ability. Whichcote and Robert Boyle personally attest to witnessing numerous healings and Cudworth publically professes his gratitude to Greatrakes for healing his son.
1670.19 November, Francis Mercury van Helmont, son of the last of the famous alchemists, Jean Baptiste van Helmont, visits Ragley to personally investigate Anne's illness. Anne's personality impresses him so much, he decides to return as soon as he completes unfinished business elsewhere. Prior to his visit, van Helmont visits More at Cambridge and the men develop a personal and professional friendship. Van Helmont stays at Ragley with minor visits to other areas, from 1670 -1679. At first, there is some indication of relief for Lady Conway under the care of van Helmont, but her disease returns with greater pain than before.
1675.van Helmont begins to attend Quaker meetings. Lady Conway reassures More that neither van Helmont or herself have converted and are merely intellectually interested. More corresponds with William Penn, is visited by Robert Barclay, John and George Whitehead and George Keith. Edward Conway is increasinly away from home due to court matters and is unable to return even when Anne is feared close to death.
1677.Anne Conway becomes a Quaker. In addition to Van Helmont, Keith, Isaac Penington, and William Penn, as well as many unnamed Quaker women were frequent visitors at Ragley betwe en 1675 and 1677. Majorie Hope Nicholson posits that it was the tales ofthe sufferings and degradation of these women in English prisons that may have swayed Lady Conway, who had endured a lifetime of pain and suffering as well. "Like frail humanity from the beginning, she reached out her groping hand to see and feel the wounds; and in the constant presence in her chamber of "such living examples of great patience under sundry heavy exercises," she found at length visible denial of her doubts, and living affirmation of her "faythe"-the Word made flesh." It was George Keith who helped More to realize the truth and sincerity of the Quakers, but in return, their conversation eventually led to Keith's renouncement of Quakerism.(412-13)
1679.18 February, Lady Anne Conway, after tourturous suffering dies in the evening. Van Helmont prepares a double coffin, the inner one of glass, the outer of rossined and pitched wood. He places her body in the coffin and preserves it with spirits of wine so that Edward Conway can look upon his wife one last time before her burial. When More is notified, he replies, "I perceive and bless God for it, that my Lady Conway was my Lady Conway to her last Breath; the greatest Example of Patience and Presence of Mind, in highest Extremities of Pain and Affliction, that we shall easily meet with: Scarce any thing to be found like her since the Primitive times of the Church." (Conway letters, 450).
1690.Anne Conway's philosophical system is published due to a joint effort by van Helmont, who probably found the manuscript, and More, believed to have translated the work into Latin. It is estimated that this, her only treatise, was written sometime between 1671 and her conversion to Quakerism. More noted that it was written abruptly and scatteredly...in a Paper-Book, with a Black-lead Pen." (Conway Letters, 453)

Conway Time Line Sources