Conybeare, John

, a learned divine and prelate of the church of England, was born at Pinhoe, near Exeter, on the 31st of January, 1691-2. His father was the rev. John Conybeare, vicar of Pinhoe; and his mother, Grace Wilcocks, was the daughter of a substantial gentleman farmer of that place. At a proper age, he was sent to the free-school of Exeter for grammatical education, where Hallet and Foster, afterwards two eminent dissenting divines, were his contemporaries. On the 23d of February, 1707-8, Mr. Conybeare was admitted a battler of Exeter college, Oxford, under the tuition of Mr. Thomas Kennel, afterwards Dr. Kennel, many years rector of Drew’s Teington, Pevon. Mr. Conybeare, on his coming to the university, was, according to the language of that place, chum with Mr. Richard Harding, who was elected fellow of Exeter college in 1709, and died rector of Marwood in Devonshire, in 1782, in the ninety-fifth year of his age. How early our young student obtained the esteem of the learned society with which he was connected, appears from his having been chosen on the 30th of June, 1710, and admitted on the 8th of July following, a probationary fellow of his college, upon sir William Petre’s foundation, in the room of Mr. Daniel Osborrie. When he was proposed as a candidate, it was only with the design of recommending him to future notice; but such was the sense entertained of his extraordinary merit, that he was made the | object of immediate election. Mr. Harding used to say, that Mr. Conybeare had every way the advantage of him, excepting in seniority; and that he should have had no chance in a competition with him, if they had both been eligible at the same time. The patronage of Dr. Ilennel, Mr. Conybeare’ s worthy tutor, concurred with his own desert, in bringing him forward thus early to academical advantages. On the 17th of July, 1713, he was admitted to the degree of bachelor of arts; and at the next election of college officers, upon the 30th of June, 1714, he was appointed praelector, or moderator, in philosophy. On the 19th of December following, he received deacon’s orders from the hanclaof Dr. William Talbot, bishop of Oxford; and on the 2rikof May, 1716, he was ordained priest by sir Jonathan Trelawny, bishop of Winchester. On the 16th of April, 1716, he proceeded to the degree of master of arts; soon after which he entered upon the curacy of Fetcham, in Surry, where he continued about a year. He was advised to this change of scene for the benefit of his health, which was always delicate, and had been greatly impaired by the intenseness of his application. Upon his return from Fetcham to Oxford, he became a tutor in his own college, and was much noticed in the university as a preacher. In the beginning of the year 1722, he published a sermon, which he had delivered before the university, on the 24th of December preceding, from Hebrews ii. 4, entitled “The nature, possibility, and certainty of Miracles, &c.” This discourse was so well received, that it went through four editions. Mr. Conybeare was hence encouraged to commit to the press a second sermon, from 1 Corinthians xiii. 12, which he had preached before the university, on the 21st of October, 1724, and the title of which was, “The Mysteries of the Christian Religion credible.” It is probable, that the reputation our author gained by these discourses, recommended him to the notice of the bishop of London (Dr. Gibson), who appointed him one of his majesty’s preachers at Whitehall, upon the first establishment of that institution. The esteem in which his abilities and character were held, procured him, also, the favour of the lord chancellor Macclesfield, who, in May 1724, presented him to the rectory of St. Clement’s in Oxford; a preferment of no great value, but which was convenient to iiim from his constant residence at that place, and from its being compatible | with his fellowship. In 1725, he was chosen senior proctor of the university, which office he served in conjunction with Mr. Barnaby Smyth, fellow of Corpus-Christi college, and a scholar of eminence. In the same year, Mr. Conybeare was called upon to preach a visitation sermon before the bishop of Oxford, at whose request it was published, under the title of “The Case of Subscription to Articles of Religion considered,” and obtained no small degree of celebrity, being referred to in the controversy relating to subscription. The position of Mr. Conybeare is, that “every one who subscribes the articles of religion, does thereby engage, not only not to dispute or contradict them; but his subscription amounts to an approbation of, and an assent to, the truth of the doctrines therein contained, in the very sense in which the compilers are supposed to have understood them.” Mr. Conybeare’s next publication was an assize sermon, preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford, in 1727, from Ezra vii. 26, and entitled “The Penal sanctions of laws considered.” This discourse was dedicated by him to the honourable Charles Talbot, at that time solicitor-general, afterwards lord high chancellor of Great Britain, who had honoured our author with the care of his two eldest sons, Mr. Charles Talbot, celebrated by the poet Thomson, and the late earl Talbot, steward of his majesty’s household. On the llth of July, 1728, Mr. Conybeare was admitted to the degree of bachelor of divinity; and on the 24th of January following, he took his doctor’s degree. In the year 1729, he again appeared from the press, in a sermon that had been preached before the lord mayor and aldermen at St. Paul’s cathedral, and which was entitled ^The Expediency of a Divine Revelation represented.“It was accompanied with a dedication to bishop Talbot, father of the solicitor-general. From Dr. Conybeare’s introduction to this family, and the reputation he had acquired as a divine, it was expected that he would soon have been promoted to some dignity in the church. But the good bishop was taken off before he had a proper opportunity of carrying his benevolent intentions in our author’s favour into execution. In 1730, the headship of Exeter college becoming vacant, by the death of Dr. Hole, Dr. Conybeare was chosen to succeed him. His competitor, on this occasion, was the rev. Mr. Stephens, vicar of St. Andrew’s, Plymouth, a truly worthy clergyxpan, and the author of several ingenious discourses, | Nevertheless, as he had retired early from the society, he could not be supposed to carry such weight with him as Dr. Conybeare, who had resided constantly in the college. In this year Dr. Tindal’s famous deistical book had appeared, entitledChristianity as old as the Creation, or the Gospel a Republication of the Law of Nature.“This work excited the greatest attention, and drew forth the pens of some of the ablest divines of the kingdom, both in the church of PZngland, and among the protestant dissenters. Bishop Gibson, who had himself engaged in the controversy in his” Pastoral Letters,“encouraged Dr. Conybeare to undertake the task of giving a full and particular answer to Tindal’s production. Accordingly, he published in 1732, his” Defence of Revealed Religion,“Londoq, 8vo, by which he gained great credit to himself, and performed an eminent service to the cause of Christianity. In his dedication to the learned prelate now mentioned, he observes, that if he has not succeeded in his book according to his wishes, he may plead that it was drawn up amidst a variety of interruptions, and under a bad state of health.” This,“says he,” will in some sort excuse the author, though it may detract from the performance.“But Dr. Conybeare’s work did not stand in need of an apology. It is distinguished by the perspicuity of its method, and the strength of its reasoning; and is, indeed, one of the ablest vindications of revelation which England has produced. So well was the work received, that the third edition of it was published in 1733. Dr. Warburton justly styles it one of the best reasoned books in the world. It is likewise recommended by the temper and candour with which it is composed. Dr. Conybeare‘ s Defence will always maintain its rank, and perhaps be thought to sustain the first place among the four capital answers which Tindal received. The other three were, Foster’s” Usefulness, Truth, and Excellency of the Christian Revelation;“Leland’s” Answer to a late book, entitled Christianity as old as the Creation;“and Mr. Simon Browne’s” Defence of the Religion of Nature and the Christian Revelation."

Though Dr. Conybeare, by his promotion to the headship of Exeter college, had obtained a considerable rank in the university, he did not, by the change of his situation, make any addition to his fortune. Indeed, the emoluments of his new place were so small, that he was much | richer as a private fellow and tutor, than as the governor of his college. It may be presumed that this circumstance in part, and still more the reputation he had acquired by his answer to Tindal, induced the bishop of London, who at that time had great influence in the disposal of ecclesiastical preferments, to exert himself more vigorously in our author’s behalf. This the good prelate so effectually did, that on the death of Dr. Bradshaw, bishop of Bristol, and dean Of Christ church, Oxford, in December, 1732, Dr. Conybeare was appointed to succeed him in the latter dignity. Accordingly the doctor was installed dean of that cathedral in the month of January following. On this occasion, he resigned the headship of Exeter college; and not long after, he gave up likewise the rectory of St. Clement’s, in favour of a friend, the rev. Mr. Webber, one of the fellows of Exeter. On the 6th of June, 1733, dean Conybeare married Miss Jemima Juckes, daughter of Mr. William Juckes, of Hoxton-square, near London; and in the same year he published a sermon, which he had preached in the cathedral of St. Peter, Exon, in August 1732, from 2 Peter iii. 16, on the subject of scripturedifficulties. In the beginning of the next year, he had the honour of entertaining the prince of Orange at the deanery of Christ church. The prince, who had come into England to marry the princess royal, being desirous of visiting Oxford, and some of the places adjacent, took up his residence at Dr. Conybeare’s apartments; and how solicitous the dean was to treat his illustrious guest with a proper splendour and dignity, appears from his having received, by the hands of one of her servants, the especial thanks of queen Caroline on the occasion.

When in 1737, Morgan had published his “Moral Philosopher,” the dean had it in contemplation to answer that work, so far as the general scheme of the writer might be thought to deserve it; and he had prepared many materials for this purpose. The design, for what reason we know not, was never carried into execution; and the omission may be regretted, though it must at the same time be acknowledged, that Dr. Morgan was encountered by a number of very able and successful antagonists. It is to the honour of dean Conybeare’s temper, that he expressed his hope, that none of the animadverters on the “Moral Philosopher” would be provoked to imitate his scurrilities. In 1738, the dean was requested to preach the sermon at the | annual meeting of the several charity-schools in London, which he did from Galatians vi. 9; and the discourse was published. In 1747, he met with a great domestic affliction, in the loss of his lady, who departed this life on the 29th of Octoher, after their union had subsisted not much longer than fourteen years. When, on the 25th of April, 1749, a day of solemn thanksgiving was held, on account of the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which had been signed on the 18th of October in the preceding year, Dr. Conybeare was fixed upon to preach before the honourable house of commons on this occasion. The subject was, “True Patriotism.

As Dr. Conybeare was raised early in life to so conspicuous a station as that of the deanery of Christ church, it might have been expected, from his eminent merit and learning, that he would sooner have been called to the higher honours of his profession. But it is to be remembered, that not long after his promotion to the deanery, his good friend, the bishop of London, lost his influence at court; and the lord chancellor Talbot dying in the year 1737, our author had no particular patron to recommend him to royal favour. It was not, therefore, till the latter end of 1750, that he attained the mitre; and this was more owing to his acknowledged abilities and character, than to any personal interposition. On the translation of Dr. Joseph Butler to the see of Durham, Dr. Conybeare was appointed to the bishopric of Bristol, and was consecrated at Lambeth chapel, on the 23d of December. The consecration sermon, which was soon afterwards published, was preached by Francis Webber, D. D. rector of Exeter college. The promotion of Dr. Conybeare to the prelacy, whilst it raised him to the highest order of the church, and enlarged his sphere of usefulness, was injurious to his private fortune. The slender revenues of his bishopric were not equal to the expences which accrued from his necessary residence sometimes at Bristol, and sometimes at London *. Four discourses were published by our author after he became a bishop. The first was the Easter Monday sermon, in 1751, from Proverbs xi. 17, before the

* By a ms letter from Dr. Lyttel- he was bishop, except one fine of six

ton, afterwards bishop of Carlisle, we guineas, which was all he received.

Jearn that bishop Couybeare made no Bishop Newton’s account of this bimore than 350l. clear per annum of shopric is, we believe, much the same, this bishopric, during the whole time | lord mayor and aldermen of the city of London, in which the virtue of being merciful was stated and enforced. The second was preached before the house of lords, on the llth of June, in the same year, from Psalm Ixxviii. 72, upon occasion of his majesty’s accession to the throne: the subject treated of, was civil government. The third was from Matthew xviii. 10, 11, in favour of the Irish protestant schools; and the fourth, from James i. 27, was before the sons of the clergy, at Bristol. Both these discourses were printed in 1752. It may be observed, with regard to the twelve single sermons published by our prelate, that they were not vague, declamatory essays, calculated only to answer a present purpose, but judicious and solid compositions, in which important topics were discussed with great perspicuity of method and language, and with equal strength of reasoning; so that it is not a little to be regretted, that they have not been collected together in a volume. Dr. Conybeare did not long enjoy a good state of health, after his being raised to the bishopric of Bristol. He was much afflicted with the gout; and, having languished about a year and a half, was carried off by that disorder at Bath, on the 13th of July, 1755. He was interred in the cathedral church of Bristol, where, some time after his death, an inscription was erected to his memory.

Bishop Conybeare had by his lady five children, three of whom died in their infancy. A daughter and a son survived him. The daughter, Jemima, departed this life at Oxford, on the 14th of March 1785. The son, William, is the present Dr. Conybeare. As our worthy prelate died in but indifferent circumstances, and consequently left behind him a very slender provision for his children, it was proposed by some friends of the family, to publish two volumes of sermons by subscription. The scheme succeeded so well that the number of subscribers amounted to nearly four thousand six hundred persons, many of whom took more than one copy. Such an almost unparalleled subscription can only be accounted for from Dr. Conybeare’ s numerous connections, in consequence of his having presided over such a society as that of Christ-church, with the greatest reputation, for twenty- two years and a half; from the general estimation in which his abilities and character were held in the world, among men of all denominations; and from the disinterestedness of his temper in | making but a small provision for his family. Besides this, his majesty, king George II. was pleased, in consideration of the bishop’s merits, to bestow upon the family, for the life of miss Jemima Conybeare, a pension, the clear produce of which was about one hundred pounds a year.

Dr. Conybeare’s connection with bishop Gibson, and the Talbot family, has already been mentioned. Amongst his most intimate private friends may be reckoned Dr. Hayter, successively bishop of Norwich and London, Dr. Atwell, and the famous Dr. Rundle (afterwards bishop of Derry.) The latter gentleman is understood to have been instrumental in recommending our author to the notice of the Talbots. There subsisted, likewise, a great intimacy between Dr. Conybeare and Dr. Seeker. When Seeker entered himself a gentleman commoner at Exeter college, with a view of taking a degree at the university of Oxford, Mr. Conybeare was appointed his nominal tutor. The present Dr. William Conybeare enjoys the rectory of St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate, as an option of archbishop Seeker’s.

Bishop Conybeare’s character appears to have been, in every view of it, respectable and excellent. Whilst he was a firm and faithful adherent to the doctrine and constitution of that church of which he was so great an orna-. ment, he was candid in his sentiments, and friendly in his conduct xvith regard to the protestant dissenters. 1


Biog. Brit. -—Leland’s Deistical Writers,