Covel, Dr. John

, a very learned English divine, was born at Horningsheath in Suffolk, in 1638, and educated in classical learning in the school of St. Edmund’s Bury. March 31, 1654, he was admitted of Christ’s college, in Cambridge; of which, after taking his degrees in arts, he was elected fellow. Some time after he went into orders, and in 1670 went as chaplain to sir Daniel Harvey, ambassador from Charles II. to the Porte; where he served, in that quality, both him and his successor, sir John Finch, for the space of seven years. Upon his return to England in 1679, he was created D. D. and the same year chosen lady Margaret’s preacher in the university of Cambridge. March 15, 1680, he had institution to the sinecure rectory of Littlebury in Essex’, to which he was presented by Gunning, bishop of Ely. In 1681 he got the college living of Kegworth in Leicestershire, and was also made one of the | chaplains to the Princess of Orange, afterwards queen Mary, and oil that account resided at that court, till, for some cause or other, which he never would mention to his most intimate friends, he was dismissed his attendance at three hours warning, and came over to England. On Nov. 9, 1687, he was installed into the chancellorship of York, conferred upon him by the king during the vacancy of that see. July 7, 1688, he was elected master of Christ’s college, in Cambridge, and the same year he was made vice-chancellor of the university. In October, 1689, king William being at Newmarket, came to Cambridge; and it being commonly known that Dr. Covel was in disgrace with his Majesty, it was asked his Majesty whether he would be pleased to see the vice-chancellor; to which he replied, that he knew how to distinguish Dr. Covel from the vice-chancellor of Cambridge; and it was remarked, that the royal visitor was more than usually gracious and affable with him. In 1708 he again served the office of vice-chancellor; and in 1722, just before his death, published his account of the Greek church.

At length, after having led a kind of itinerant life, as he himself informs us, at York, in Holland, and elsewhere, he arrived at his long journey’s end Dec. 19, 1722, in hi* 85th year, and was buried in the chapel of Christ’s college, where there is an epitaph to his memory. He gave a benefaction of 3l. a year to the poor of the parish of Littlebury above mentioned. Mr. Thomas Baker, who was well acquainted with him, says that he was a person noted for polite and curious learning, singular humanity, and knowledge of the world.

As the famous dispute between M. Arnauld, of the Sorbonne, and M. Claude, minister at Charenton, concerning the faith of the Greek church in the article of the real presence, was then in its full height, which much interested learned men of all denominations in Europe, and particularly the English clergy, Dr. Cove! was desired, by some of the principal persons of the university of Cambridge, particularly the doctors (afterwards bishops) Gunning, Pearson, and Sancroft, to inquire into this matter at Constantinople. When he arrived there, the controversy was handled with great warmth by the Roman Catholic party, at the head of which was the marquis de Nointel, ambassador from the king of France at the Porte, a man of great learning; but Dr. Covel’s disputes with him were | conducted rather in an amicable manner, Nointel being a man of a liberal mind. Dr. Covel remained here, as we have already noticed, for the space of seven years, daring which he had an opportunity of informing himself well of the ancient and present state of the Greek church; and having collected several observations and notices relating thereto, digested them afterwards into a curious and useful book, entitled “Some account of the present Greek church, with reflections on their present doctrine and discipline, particularly in the Eucharist,” &c. Cambridge, 1722, folio. In the preface he informs us, that Arnauld, not content to say that the church in all ages believed transubstantiation, did also positively affirm, that all the eastern churches do at this very day believe it, in the same sense as it was defined by the council of Trent. Claude, in answer to him, brought most authentic proofs of the contrary; upon which Arnauld set all the missionaries of the East at work to procure testimonies for him: these, by bribes and other indirect means, they obtained in such numbers, that there was soon after a large quarto in French, printed at Paris, full of the names of patriarchs, bishops, and doctors of those churches, who all approved the Roman doctrine. But Claude, having had most certain information, by means of a French gentleman at Colchis, that some of those testimonies were mere fictions, and others quite different from what they were represented, sent some queries into the East, and desired the English clergymen residing there to inquire of the Greeks, and other eastern Christians of the best note, who had no connections with the Romanists, “Whether transubstantiation, or the real and natural change of the whole substance of the bread into the same numerical substance as the body of Christ, which is in heaven, be an article of faith amongst them, and the contrary be accounted heretical and impious?” Dr. Covel, having instituted this inquiry, published the result in the volume above mentioned.

It has been objected that he ought to have published his report on his return, when public curiosity was eager for information; but he delayed it, for whatever reason, until the decline of life, and when public curiosity had much abated. It is thought also that he put many things into it, transcribed from his memoranda on the spot, which he would have suppressed had he undertaken to write his work sooner. Of his general accuracy, however, there can be | no doubt; and as he had made use of several curious, and before unknown, Mss. he took care, for the reader’s satisfaction, to deposit them in the late earl of Oxford’s library at Wimple, near Cambridge; and some are now in the Harleian collection, in the British Museum, particularly five Mss. of different parts of the New Testament, which were collated by Mill. The 1st contains the four Gospels; the second is a manuscript of the Acts, Epistles, and Revelation, written in i-he year 1087: from several of its very extraordinary readings, it appears to be of no great value: the 3d has the Acts of the Apostles, beginning with chap. i. 11. with all the Epistles, and was supposed by Mill to be 500 years old the 4th contains the Acts and Epistles, written in a modern hand the 5th, called likewise Sinaiticus, because Covel brought it from mount Sinai, contains the Acts, Epistles, and Revelation; but it has been injured, and rendered illegible in many places, by the damp, which has had access to it. It begins with Acts i. 20. and the last lines of the book of Revelation are wanting. The first, second, and fourth, have been examined by Griesbach.

With respect to his election to the mastership of Christ’s college, we are told that the society elected him immediately on the death of Dr. Cudworth, in order to prevent a mandate taking place, which they heard had been obtained of king James; and when the king was told whom they had chosen, he assented to their choice. But it is thought, that if the election had been more free, Dr. Covel would not have been successful. 1

1 Biop. Brit. Cole’s ms Athena: and ms collections, vol. XX. in Bat. Blut.