Henry Coventry (writer)

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Henry Coventry (c. 1710–1752) was an English religious writer.



He was the son of Henry Coventry, younger brother of William Coventry, 5th Earl of Coventry and a landowner of Cowley, Middlesex, and his wife Ann Coles, and was born at Twickenham around 1710; the writer Francis Coventry was a cousin. He was educated at Eton College. He matriculated at Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1726, where he graduated B.A. in 1730 and became a Fellow, and M.A. in 1733. [1] [2]

Coventry was an associate of Conyers Middleton, Horace Walpole and William Cole. [3] Cole wrote that, as an undergraduate, Coventry was a friend of Thomas Ashton, and they prayed with prisoners; but that later he was an "infidel". [4] He was a correspondent of John Byrom, who had taught him shorthand at Cambridge in 1730; [5] [6] and was on good terms with William Melmoth the younger, a contemporary at Magdalene, who called him "my very ingenious friend, Philemon to Hydaspes", and dedicated to him his first work, Of an Active and Retired Life (1735). [7] [8] He died on 29 December 1752. [3]


With Charles Bulkley and Richard Fiddes, Coventry was a prominent defender of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury. [9] He wrote Philemon to Hydaspes, relating a conversation with Hortensius upon the subject of False Religion, in five parts, 1736–37–38–41–44. After his death, it was republished in 1753 by Francis Coventry, in one volume. [3]

This work has been taken as deist; [10] and it is replete with positive references to Shaftesbury. [11] John Mackinnon Robertson listed it as a "freethinking treatise". [12] Coventry is taken to have innovated in using the term "mysticism" against fanaticism of a sectarian nature. [13] In questioning the language and "luscious images" used in devotional literature, he cited The Fire of the Altar of Anthony Horneck, and wrote of the "wild extravagances of frantic enthusiasm". [14]

Coventry incurred the displeasure of William Warburton: who accused him of plagiarism in this work. That was in relation to Warburton's Hieroglyphics; [5] also of making unfair use of information communicated in confidence, which was to be published in the second volume of The Divine Legation of Moses . [3] John Brown, a Warburton ally, implied that Henry Coventry was a slavish disciple of Shaftesbury, and Francis Coventry rebutted the allegation. [11] [15]

Coventry was one of the authors of the Athenian Letters . A pamphlet entitled Future Rewards and Punishments believed by the Antients, 1740, has been attributed to him. [3]


  1. Levin, Adam Jacob. "Coventry, Henry". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/6478.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. "Coventry, Henry (CVNY726H)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1887). "Coventry, Henry (d.1752)"  . Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 12. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  4. Original Letters Illustrative of English History ; Including Numerous Royal Letters : from Autographs in the British Museum, and One Or Two Other Collections with Notes and Illustrations by Henry Ellis. Second Series. 1827. p. 485 note.
  5. 1 2 Remains, Historical and Literary, Connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester. Chetham Society. 1855. p. 564 and note 2.
  6. Timothy Underhill, John Byrom and Shorthand in Early Eighteenth-Century Cambridge, Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society Vol. 15, No. 2 (2013), pp. 229–277, at p. 253. Published by: Cambridge Bibliographical Society JSTOR   24391728
  7. A History, Critical And Biographical, Of British Authors, From The Earliest To The Present Times: 2. William and Robert Chambers. 1844. p. 245.
  8. Wilson, Penelope. "Melmoth, William, the younger". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/18536.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  9. Klein, Lawrence E. "Cooper, Anthony Ashley, third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/6209.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  10. McCabe, Joseph (1920). A biographical dictionary of modern rationalists. London, Watts. p. 95.
  11. 1 2 Alfred Owen Aldridge, Shaftesbury and the Deist Manifesto, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 41, No. 2 (1951), pp. 297–382, at p. 376. Published by: American Philosophical Society. JSTOR   1005651
  12. Robertson, John Mackinnon (1899). A short history of freethought, ancient and modern. London; New York: S. Sonnenschein & Co. Ltd; The Macmillan Co. p. 320 note.
  13. Leigh Eric Schmidt, The Making of Modern "Mysticism", Journal of the American Academy of Religion Vol. 71, No. 2 (Jun., 2003), pp. 273–302, at p. 277. Published by: Oxford University Press JSTOR   1466552
  14. Coventry, Henry (1736). Philemon to Hydaspes: Relating a Conversation with Hortensius, Upon the Subject of False Religion. J. Roberts. pp. 543 and note, 544.
  15. Nichols, John (1812). Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century. p.  569 note.

Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1887). "Coventry, Henry (d.1752)". Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 12. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

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