14 December 1631
|Died||23 February 1679 (aged 47)|
|Resting place||Holy Trinity Church, Arrow, Warwickshire|
|Children||Heneage Edward Conway|
|Parent(s)||Sir Heneage Finch|
|Relatives||John Finch (brother)|
Anne Conway (also known as Viscountess Conway; née Finch; 14 December 1631 – 23 February 1679) was an English philosopher whose work, in the tradition of the Cambridge Platonists, was an influence on Gottfried Leibniz. Conway's thought is a deeply original form of rationalist philosophy, with hallmarks of gynocentric concerns and patterns that lead some to think of it as unique among seventeenth-century systems.
Anne Finch was born to Sir Heneage Finch (who had held the posts of the Recorder of London and Speaker of the House of Commons under Charles I) and his second wife, Elizabeth (daughter of William Cradock of Staffordshire). Her father died the week before her birth. She was the youngest child. Her early education was by tutors and included Latin, to which she later added Greek and Hebrew. Her half-brother, John Finch, who encouraged her interests in philosophy and theology, introduced Anne to the Cambridge Platonist Henry More, who was one of John's tutors at Christ's College, Cambridge. This led to a lifelong correspondence and close friendship between them on the subject of René Descartes' philosophy, over the course of which Anne grew from More's informal pupil to his intellectual equal. More said of her that he had "scarce ever met with any Person, Man or Woman, of better Natural parts than Lady Conway" (quoted in Richard Ward's The Life of Henry More (1710) p. 193), and that "in the knowledge of things as well Natural and Divine, you have not onely out-gone all of your own Sex, but even of that other also." Conway grew up in the house now known as Kensington Palace, which her family owned at the time.
In 1651, she married Edward Conway, later 1st Earl of Conway, and in the following year More dedicated his book Antidote against Atheism to her. Approximately one year following their wedding, Anne and Edward established their place of residence at Conway's home at Kensington Palace. In 1658, Anne gave birth to her only child, Heneage Edward Conway, who died of smallpox just two years later. Anne herself had also contracted the illness that had killed her son, but had managed to eventually get rid of it and survive the disease.
Her husband was also interested in philosophy and had himself been tutored by More, but she went far beyond him in both the depth of her thought and the variety of her interests. She contacted Elizabeth Foxcroft probably via More and when Elizabeth's husband went to India in 1666 Foxcroft moved in with her and she became her companian and amenuensis. They shared the same interests and Foxcroft lived at Ragley Hall until 1672. Conway became interested in the Lurianic Kabbalah, and then in Quakerism, to which she converted in 1677. In England at that time the Quakers were generally disliked and feared, and suffered persecution and even imprisonment. Conway's decision to convert, to make her house a centre for Quaker activity, and to proselytise actively was thus particularly bold and courageous. Even Conway's own family was not very supportive and liking of Anne's conversion to Quakerism, nonetheless, they still respected her decision.
Her life from the age of twelve (when she suffered a period of fever) was marked by the recurrence of severe migraines. This meant that she was often incapacitated by pain, and she spent much time under medical supervision and searching for a cure (at one point even having her jugular veins opened). Her incapacitation from the pain had led her to pursue her philosophical studies from the comfort of her own home. She had medical advice from Dr. Thomas Willis and many others. The entire Conway family did everything in their power to see to it that Anne was cured of her pain. The Conways had consulted the Swiss royal physician of the time, Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, as well as natural philosopher Robert Boyle. She had also consulted William Harvey, who at the time was a physician and researcher of how blood circulated in the human body. Even though Conway was famously treated by many of the great physicians of her time, none of the treatments had any effect. She died in 1679 at the age of forty-seven.
The text itself was probably written in 1677 and shows the influence of Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont. The text was first published in Latin translation by van Helmont in Amsterdam in 1690 as Principia philosophiae antiquissimae et recentissimae. An English retranslation appeared in 1692. The Principles develops Conway's monistic view of the world as created from one substance. Conway is critical of the Cartesian idea that bodies are constituted of dead matter, of Henry More's concept of the soul in his Antidote Against Atheism, and of dualist theories of the relationship between the body and spirit.
Throughout Anne Conway's life, she had written numerous letters back and forth to Henry More, Francis Mercury van Helmont, and other great thinkers of their time. The Majority of Conway's letters were back and forth to Henry More as they talked about numerous philosophies and theological concepts and even at times, Conway would speak about personal things like the death of her son and other various family-related events. There were also around a dozen letters written to Conway's father-in-law, Lord Conway, and around a dozen addressed to Conway from her brother, John Finch. These letters contained writings of many different things including personal information, talks about philosophy, and social issues. Marjorie Hope Nicolson collected as many letters as she could obtain and in 1930 she wrote a novel using 307 letters containing Conway's correspondence combined with an account of bibliographical information. In 1992 Sarah Hutton wrote a revised version of Nicolson's Conway Letters. Nicolson's version has a primary focus on Conway's social life between her friends and family as well as an analysis of her relationship with Henry More and others.