WESLEY, JOHN (1703-1791), evangelist
and leader of methodism, fifteenth child
and second surviving son of Samuel Wesley
(1662-1735) [q. v.], was born at Epworth
Rectory, Lincolnshire, on 17
June 1703. The day and month rest on his
own testimony (Westminster Mag. 1774, p. 181,
the year is deduced from his
father's certificate of his baptism (STEVENSON,
Memorials of the Wesley
Family, 1876, p. 329). Through his father he was descended
from Adam Loftus (1533?-1605) [q. v.], primate of Ireland; his more
on both sides of the house, was nonconformist. Though baptised
John Benjamin (his parents having lost infant sons of those names),
his second name was never in use.
His early education from the age of five was under his mother,
whose methods were exacting; a single day was allowed for
learning the alphabet. His rescue from the fire (9 Feb. 1708-9)
at Epsworth Rectory fixed itself in his mind as a work of divine
providence. He was early noted for firmness
of character and for his reflective turn,
his father remarking that
'our Jack' would do nothing (non etiam crepitare)
'unless he could give a reason for it.' At eight years old he
was admitted to the communion. On the nomination of
his father's patron, John Sheffield, first duke of Buckingham and
Normanby [q. v.], one of the governors, he was admitted (28 Jan.
1713-14) on the foundation of the Charterhouse School,
London. At this time he wrote his surname 'Westley.'
His morning run (by his father's order) thrice round the
Charterhouse green strengthened
his constitution. For some years he fared ill;
the younger boys, robbed of rations by the seniors, had
to make shift with bread. The story is told in a pamphlet of 1792
that the usher Andrew Tooke [q. v.] of the 'Pantheon'
remonstrated with him for associating
with his juniors whom he harangued, and got the answer 'Better
to rule in hell than serve in heaven.'
To his absence at school during the mysterious disturbances
(1716-1717) at Epworth rectory we owe the minute accounts
of this affair, supplied by members of the family
in satisfaction of his curiosity;
in the 'Arminian Magazine' (October-December
1784) he maintained the supernatural character of the occurrence.
His brother Samuel, then head-usher at Westminster school, writes
of him (1719) as a good scholar and 'learning Hebrew'
(WHITEHEAD, i. 381).
On 24 June 1720 (TYERMAN, i. 19) he was
elected scholar of Christ Church, Oxford;
he matriculated on 18 July, when his age
is given as 16 (FOSTER). Just before going up,
he was introduced to Henry Secheverell
[q.v.], whom he found 'as tall as a maypole
and as fine as an archbishop.'
He relates, with great contempt,
Secheverell's advice to him, being 'a very little fellow,'
to 'go back to school' (WAKELEY, Anecdotes of the
Wesleys, 1870, p. 82). He was a diligent
and sprightly student, much pinched for money. In a letter
(17 June 1724) to his brother Samuel he gives a specimen of his
English versifying, a trifle from the Latin on Cloe's 'favourite
flea' (Westminster Mag. ut sup.) The perusal of the 'Essay of
Health and Long Life,' 1724, by George Cheyne [q. v.], about which
he writes to his mother (1 Nov. 1724), fixed his lifelong principle
of spare and temperate diet, to the improving of his health. He
graduated B.A. in 1724. Till the following year he had
apparently no thought of taking orders. He writes
(Journal, May 1738) that his
father pressed him to do so. When he had decided
for this vocation his
mother warmly approved, though 'your father and I seldom think
alike' (letter of 28 Feb. 1724-5), and advised his applying himself
to 'practical divinity' as 'the best study for candidates for orders.'
He was much influenced by writers who inculcated 'the religion of
the heart,' but he used them with discrimination. He read the 'Imitatio
Christi' in Stanhope's version, and was 'very angry at Kempis for being
too strict' (in 1735 he published a revised edition of this version).
Taylor's 'Holy Living and Dying' struck him as inculcating a false
humility. He found difficulties in the Anglican article on
predestination and in the excluding clauses of the Athanasian creed.
His home correspondence on these topics is interesting as showing his
resort to his mother's counsel, and her abhorrence of rigid Calvinism.
On 19 Sept. 1725 he was ordained deacon by
John Potter (1674?-1747) [q. v.], then bishop of Oxford. His first
sermon was preached (16 Oct.) at South Leigh, near Whitney, Oxfordshire.
John Morley (d. 1731), rector of Lincoln College, used
influence for his election (17 March 1726) as fellow; this was a
tribute to his high character, his facility in argument, and his classical
taste. His father writes with pride,
'my Jack is fellow of Lincoln.' The development
of his poetical powers is shown in
a paraphrase of part of Psalm civ, begun (19 Aug.)
at Epsworth. On 7 Nov. he was chosen
Greek lecturer and moderator of the
classes. He graduated M.A. on 9 Feb. 1726-1727
(FOSTER; Whitehead, from Wesley's 'private diary,'
gives 14 Feb.; Stevenson gives 15 Feb.) Long
afterwards he gave curious proof of the soundness of his scholarship.
Warburton, who attacked him in l762, sent the manuscript of his work
to Wesley, who corrected the classical quotations and returned it
(EVERETT, Adam Clarke, 1843, i. 244).
In August 1727 he became his father's curate,
living and officiating
mainly at Wroot, paying visits to Oxford, where he was ordained priest
(22 Sept. 1728) by Bishop Potter. He was much
impressed by a saying of Thomas Haywood (d. 1746), who examined him,
to the effect that entering the
priesthood was 'bidding defiance to all mankind'
(HAMPSON, i. 113). He paid a visit to
Staunton, Worcestershire, the home of Betty Kirkham
(whom Martha Wesley, writing on
7 Feb. 1727-8, calls his 'Varanese'), sister
of Robert Kirkham. About this time he read the
'Christian Perfection' (1726) of William Law
[q. v.], followed by his 'Serious Call' (1729). These writings aided
him by setting a higher standard for the religious life, and
'everything appeared in a new view.' Wesley, in July 1732, made
Law's personal acquaintance at Putney, and was by him introduced to the
and other books of the same class. His break
with the mystics in after life was complete. Jacob Boehme he treated
as 'fustian' (Journal, 4 June 1742), and Swedenborg as a madman
(ib. 28 March 1770). His Severe
'Letter' (1756) to Law has never been reprinted in full.
A kindly letter from Morley (21 Oct.
1729) recalled him from his curacy to fulfil
the statutory obligations of his fellowship. He
returned to residence at Lincoln College on
22 Nov., and was at once placed in charge
of eleven pupils. He found his brother
Charles [q. v.] associated with two other undergraduates, William
Morgan (1712-1732), of Christ Church, an Irishman, and Kirkham
(above-mentioned) of Merton; the three were already labelled as
from their strict rules of study and religious observance,
including the practice of weekly
communion. On joining these young methodists John Wesley naturally
became their head, and directed their plans, getting the nickname of
'curator of the holy club,' a
Morton witticism. The company of Oxford methodists never reached large
proportions. Two or three of John Wesley's pupils were admitted to their
meetings in 1730, and one pupil of Charles; Benjamin Ingham [q. v.]
of Queen's, and Thomas Broughton (1712-1777) [q. v.] of Exeter were
admitted in 1732; at later periods of the same year John Clayton
(1709-1773) [q. v.] of Brasenose, with two or three of his pupils, was
admitted, and James Hervey (1715-1758) [q. v.] of Lincoln; George
Whitefield [q. v.] of Pembroke was not admitted till 1735
(see TYERMAN, Oxford Methodists, 1873). Their
proceedings were attacked in 'Fog's Weekly Journal'
of 9 Dec. 1732, and a defensive pamphlet was issued by an outsider,
'The Oxford Methodists' (1732; 2nd edit. 1738). Samuel Wesley, the father,
visited Oxford in January 1732-3 to learn 'what his sons were doing,'
encouraged them to persevere, and helped them from time to time by his
advice. Bishop Potter was friendly to them; though 'irregular,' he
affirmed that they had 'done good.' The Oxford methodists
were assiduous in study (in 1731 John and Charles Wesley began a
lifelong practice of conversing with each other in Latin);
every night they met for consultation before supper; they relieved
the poor, and looked after the clothing and training of school children;
they daily visited the prisoners in the castle, read prayers there on
Wednesdays and Fridays, preached there on Sundays, and administered the
communion once a month. Their religion was formed on the prayer-book;
next to the bible in point of doctrine they valued the books of homilies.
Nor did they deny themselves recreation; it would be unjust to charge
their temper as morbid; their philanthropy kept them in touch with real
life; Wesley's strong sense, his cheerfulness (he did not disdain a game
of cards, as his private accounts show), and his knowledge of human nature,
gave a manly tone to their zeal. The marked divergence of their subsequent
careers, while showing reaction in some cases from an ideal overstrained,
proves also that the discipline of strictness was not ruinous to the
independence of individual minds. Wesley himself was little of an ascetic;
to be methodical and exact was with him an essential part of happiness. He
rose at four to cure himself of lying awake at night. At five, morning and
evening, he spent an hour in private prayer. His diary and accounts
were kept with constant precision. One day a week he allowed for friendly
correspondence. His first publication was a small
collection of daily prayers (1733) for the
use of his pupils. On 11 June 1734 he preached what his brother
Charles calls 'his Jacobite sermon,' before the university, having
taken the precaution to submit it to the vice-chancellor for approval
Between August 1730 and July 1734 he corresponded as 'Cyrus'
with 'Aspasia,' i.e. Mary Pendarves; (formerly Granville,
and better known as Mary Delany [q. v.]); she was a friend of
his 'Varanese.' The correspondence shows warmth of interest
on both sides (TYERMAN, i. 75). In November 1734 his father was
anxious to see him appointed as his successor at Epworth. His
brother Samuel, who had himself declined the post, wrote
strongly, almost angrily, to urge compliance upon him. But Wesley
was moved neither by his father's entreaty nor by his brother's
arguments. He thought there was more good to be done at Oxford,
and that he could do it. The correspondence extended to February
1734-5 (PRIESTLEY, Original Letters, 1791, pp. 17-50). Yet it
appears from a letter of 15 April (when his father was dying)
that he had then applied for the succession to Epworth; Edmund
Gibson [q. v.], bishop of London, was 'the obstacle' to his
promotion (TYERMAN, i. 102). Ten days later he attended his
father's deathbed. What altered his view of the Oxford situation
is not known; but his judgment as to the right field for his
powers must have undergone a revolution, since by
18 Sept. he was ready to undertake the
Georgia mission, promoted by John Burton
[q. v.], one of the Georgia trustees, most of
whom, however, were dissenters. Wesley,
with his brother Charles, was on a visit to
James Hutton (1715-1795) [q. v.] at Westminster,
when he met Burton, who introduced
him to James Edward Oglethorpe [q. v.] His
first extemporary sermon was preached at this
time in Allhallows, Lombard Street, on the
failure of John Heylyn [q. v.]
The Wesleys, with Ingham and Charles
Delamotte (1714-1790), son of a Middlesex
magistrate (he went as John Wesley's
famulus), embarked for Georgia in the
Simmonds at Gravesend on 14 Oct. 1735, though
the vessel did not actually begin her voyage
from Cowes till 10 Dec. On board were
twenty-six German Moravians, with David
Nitschmann (1696-1772), their new-made
(13 March l734-5) bishop.
Wesley at once (17 Oct.) began to learn German (he was
already master of French, 'the poorest, meanest language in Europe;'
he learned Spanish in 1737 to converse with Jews in Georgia).
Savannah was reached on 6 Feb.
1735-6. Next day Oglethorpe introduced
Wesley to August Gottlieb Spangenberg
(1704-1792), afterwards (1744) Moravian
bishop, whose interrogations gave
Wesley a new view of the importance of evangelical
doctrine. For a month he lodged with Spangenberg
and his friends. The ordination
of Anton Seiffart as Moravian bishop for
Georgia, on 28 Feb., greatly impressed him
by its 'simplicity, as well as solemnity.' His
first letter to Zinzendorf was on 15 March 1736-7.
Wesley's Georgia mission lasted less than
two years, the latter part broken by squabbles.
Savannah was his headquarters, but after his
brother's departure he spent much time at Frederica and other places. The whole
of Georgia he considered his parish; he was accused of calling himself
(10 Aug. 1737) 'ordinary of Savannah' (TYERMAN, i.
157). Ingham left for England on 26 Feb.
1736-7, with the object of bringing over
further help, without which there was no
prospect of evangelizing the Indians. On
his side the aims of the mission were not fulfilled,
though Wesley made some attempt in this direction; in
other respects it was unsuccessful in detail. Wesley's preaching was
regarded as too personal, and his pastoral
visitation as censorious. His punctilious insistence on points of primitive
usage (e.g. immersion of infants at baptism and use of the mixed chalice),
his taking the 'morning service' at five, and 'the communion
office (with the sermon) at eleven,' his introduction of unauthorised hymns,
his strictness in the matter of communicants, excluding dissenters as unbaptised,
his holding a private religious 'society,' provoked
the retort 'We are Protestants' (Journal, 22 June 1736).
With Oglethorpe himself
Wesley had no quarrel, and it must be admitted
that, as a whole, Wesley's Georgia
mission, brief and
troubled as it was, impressed men's minds with a new sense of the reality
of religion. His first hymn-book was published at Charlestown in 1737.
On his arrival in Georgia Wesley had made the acquaintance (12 March 1735-6)
of Sophia Christiana Hopkey, an intelligent girl, niece of the
wife of Thomas Causton, chief magistrate of Savannah. Wesley taught
her French; she dressed in white to please him, and tended him through a
feverish attack. Delamotte asked if he meant to marry her. It is certain
that he had proposed to her (TYERMAN, i. 149), and offered
to alter his 'way of life' to gain her
acceptance, which she apparently withheld.
Wesley, acting in the spirit of a Moravian,
referred the case to Nitchmann, and agreed,
'after some hesitation,' to abide by the decision
of the Moravian authorities, which was that he should 'proceed no further'
(MOORE, i. 312). The date was probably 4 March 1736-7.
(TYERMAN, i. 148).
On 8 March Sophia became engaged to William Williamson, and married him on
12 March. She showed Wasley's letters to her husband, who 'forbade his wife
attending either his chapel or his house in future' (Gent. Mag. 1792, i. 24).
She was present at the communion
service on 3 July, after which Wesley, as they walked home in the street,
specified some things 'reprovable in her behaviour;' she was naturally indignant.
Wesley wrote (5 July) to Causton implying, as he distinctly
explained next day, that it might be his duty to repel one of his family from
the communion. Causton angrily replied that unless it were himself or his wife he
should not interfere. On 7 Aug. Wesley repelled Mrs. Williamson from the communion.
Williamson obtained the recorder's warrant (8 Aug.) for Wesley's arrest for
defamation, laying damages
at 1,000l. On 22 Aug. the grand jury by a majority of
thirty-two to twelve found a true
bill on ten articles of indictment, including all the
points of ecclesiastical usage objected against Wesley.
Wesley was right in saying that nine of these articles,
being purely ecclesiastical, were not within the cognisance
of a civil court. He repeatedly asked to be tried on the first
article, alleging communications with Mrs. Williamson contrary
to her husband's order. No trial took place. Oglethorpe was in
England. On 2 Dec. the magistrates issued an order forbidding
him to leave the province. He departed the same evening, leaving
Delamotte behind, embarked for England from Charlestown on
22 Dec. 1737-8. Whitefield was just starting for Georgia;
Wesley wrote to dissuade him, but (having drawn a lot) avoided
meeting him. On 4 Feb. he visited Oglethorpe in London, and during
the next fortnight had interviews with the Georgia trustees, giving
reasons for resigning his commission.
On 7 Feb. 1737-8 he met Peter Böhler (1712-1775), just landed
from Germany, took him to Oxford, and to Stanton Harcourt on a visit
to John Gambold [q. v.], and frequented his company till he left
England (4 May). He corresponded with
Böhler as late as 1775. Fetter Lane chapel, where Böhler
founded (1 May) a 'religious society' which Wesley
joined, was the scene of the ministry (1707-1728) of Thomas Bradbury
[q. v.] and is now the oldest nonconforming place of worship in London.
From Böhler the Wesleys imbibed their doctrine of 'saving faith;'
hence Wesley broke with William Law. He was constantly preaching in parish
churches with no variation on established usage, but at society meetings
from 1 April he used extempore prayer. He dates his 'conversion,' following
that of Charles, on 24 May (at a society meeting in Aldersgate Street),
yet there is clear evidence, in his journal and his letters to his brother
Samuel (PRIESTLEY, Original Letters, 1791, pp. 88-6),
that his new experience
was but a stop on the way. His debt to the Moravians impelled him to visit
Herrnhut. Starting on 13 June with Ingham and John Töltschig (1703-1764), he
travelled through Holland and North Germany; at Maxienborn visited
Zinzendorf, who set him to dig in his garden (HAMPSON,
i. 218); reached Herrnhut
on 1 Aug., stayed there a fortnight, and got back to London on 16 Sept. On
21 Oct. he waited with Charles on Edmund Gibson, bishop of London, and asked
whether 'religious societies' were 'conventicles.' Gibson
thought not, adding 'I determine nothing.' After spending a month at Oxford
he drew up rules (end of 1738) for the Moravian band
societies. He was soon to strike out a path for himself.
The example of Whitefield's open-air
preaching was repulsive at first to his sense of 'decency and order;' but
after expounding at Bristol the Sermon on the Mount, a 'pretty remarkable
precedent of field-preaching,
though I suppose there were churches at that time also,' he next afternoon
(Monday, 2 April 1739) preached 'from a little eminence
in a ground adjoining to the city, to about
three thousand people' (Journal).
On 12 May he laid the foundation-stone in the Horse Fair, Bristol, of 'a room'
which, when opened, was called the 'New Room,' and was in fact the first
Methodist chapel. His encounter
at Bath (5 June) with Richard Nash (Beau Nash) [q. v.] exhibits his remarkable
power of conclusive repartee. Of more moment is his interview,
in August (related by himself, Works, xiii. 470),
with Joseph Butler [q. v.] of the 'Analogy,'
then bishop of Bristol. The Bristol societies
had become marked by convulsive phenomena,
to which John Wesley was more inclined
to attach religious importance than Charles, till
he found his Societies invaded by the 'French prophets'
[see LACY, JOHN, fl. 1737].
Butler had 'once thought'
Wesley and Whitefield to be 'well-meaning men;' his altered opinion was
due to 'the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of
the Holy Ghost,' which he characterised as
'a horrid thing, a very horrid thing.' Wesley
declined responsibility for Whitefield's utterances,
denied that he had administered the sacrament in his societies
('and I believe I never shall'), claimed to be 'a priest of the church
universal,' and to Butler's advice 'to go hence,' replied, 'I think I
can do most good here; therefore here I stay.' He does not appear to have
read the 'Analogy' till 21 Jan. 1746 (again, 20 May 1768). He thought it
'far too deep' for its purpose.
On 11 Nov. 1789 Wesley first preached at the Foundery (a long-disused
government building for casting brass ordnance) in Windmill Hill (now
Tabernacle Street, Finsbury Square), London. He afterwards bought the now
ruinous structure for 115l., repaired and enlarged it, and for a generation
it was the headquarters of methodism in London, till superseded by the
opening (2 Nov. 1778) of the City Road chapel (reopened after
reconstruction, 1899). A little later, apparently 24 Dec. 1739
(cf. Journal, and WESLEY's Earnest Appeal, 1743),
was the origination
of the 'united society,' specially formed by Wesley himself, consisting
first of eight or ten persons, who agreed to meet every Thursday evening.
From this date (1739) Wesley usually counts the formation of the methodist
societies, though sometimes from the Oxford society (1729), which had been followed
by the Savannah society (April 1736) and by the Fetter Lane society (1738)
with its offshoots in Bristol and elsewhere. Wesley's severance from this
last organisation was due to the rise in it of a spirit of quietism,
opposed to outward means of religious advance.
He was excluded from the Fetter Lane chapel on 16 July 1740, withdrew
from the society on 20 July, and transferred his own society to the
Foundery on 23 July. It was not, however, till August 1745 that, by
advertisement in the 'Daily Advertiser,' Hutton, acting upon
Zinzendorf's order, formally declared that the Moravians had nothing
to do with Wesley. They made fresh overtures to him in the following year.
Thus severed from his Moravian friends, he proceeded to dissociate himself
from Calvinism by the publication this same year of his 'free grace' sermon
(preached at Bristol); he had drawn lots to determine whether he should
publish or not (HAMPSON, iii. 198). Whitefield replied in a
Letter,' written on 24 Dec. 1740, and published in March 1741
in spite of Charles Wesley's remonstrance. Wesley would have been willing
to work with Whitefield, but not on terms of silence respecting the points
in dispute. 'So there were now two sorts of methodists' (WESLEY,
335). The divergence produced the separate organisation (5 Jan. 1742-3) of
the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists, founded
(1738) by Howel Harris [q. v.] (Wesley attended
their conference in January 1745-6), and the 'Connexion,' founded (about
1756) by Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon
[q. v.] Wesley and Whitefield became personally
reconciled in 1742; in January
1749-50 they conducted services together.
Whitefield's funeral sermon, at his own desire,
was preached by Wesley. The breach with Hervey did not occur till 1755.
The controversy with Calvinism was resumed, in a very acute form, owing to
Wesley's biting summary (March 1770) of the positions of Augustus
Montague Toplady [q. v.], who had originally sided with him. Toplady's
extreme virulence in reply caused Wesley (after
1771) to leave him in the hands of
Walter Sellon; but the most
powerful writing on Wesley's side was in the 'Checks to Antinomianism'
(1771-5), by John William Fletcher
or de la Flechere [q. v.] The dispute
raged, with considerable personality, till
Toplady's death, some months after which Wesley established
(1 Jan. 1778) the 'Arminian Magazine' as an organ of his teaching.
Moderate Calvinists, such as Charles Simeon [q. v.] never had any quarrel
with Wesley (TYERMAN, iii. 510.)
Standing clear of Moravian and Calvinistic allies, Wesley
developed by degrees the organization of his own movement. His first
preacher was Joseph Humphreys, in 1738 (WESLEY,
Works, iv. 473), who seceded
(April 1741) to the Calvinistic side. The next was John Cennick
(1718-1755), who led (6 March 1740-1) 'the first schism in methodist
i. 345). These failures naturally made Wesley cautious.
Of Thomas Maxfield (d. 1783) he writes to his brother
Charles (21 April 1741): 'I am not clear that Brother
Maxfield should not expound at Greyhound Lane; nor
can I as yet do without him.' Whitehead
(i. 60) has a story of Wesley's acting on his mother's judgment in
countenancing a lay-preacher; Moore (i. 606) says this was Maxfield,
who left Wesley on 28 April 1763, led away by the millenary fanaticism
of George Bell.
In forming by degrees a strong band of missionary preachers from the
laity, Wesley was unconsciously working on the lines of Vavasor
Powell [q.v.] and George Fox (1624-1691) [q.v.] But his preachers
were to be communicants of the Anglican church, and their preachings
were not to take the place of church services, but be 'like the sermons
at the university' (Minutes, 1766).
Wesley's own activity in the itinerant
ministry would be unexampled were it not
for the example of Fox. The class-meetings
began in Bristol (15 Feb. 1741-2) on the
suggestion of Captain Fry, and primarily as
a means of raising funds ('a penny a week')
to discharge a chapel debt. Wesley at once
perceived the germ of an organisation for
moral and spiritual inspection; the class
system was extended to London on 25 March.
The 'society tickets' (renewable quarterly)
were now first issued. Constant care was
taken to remove unworthy members; the
process acted as a check on the rapid growth
of the societies; 'number,' said Wesley, 'is
an inconsiderable circumstance' (Journal,
25 June 1744). Two remarkable sermons
belong to this period. The first, his 'almost
Christian' sermon, at St. Mary's, Oxford
(26 July 1741), illustrates Wesley's discretion;
he had prepared in Latin and English
a discourse of much more severity, with a
galling text (TYERMAN, i. 362); he made inquiry
at this date about the exercises for B.D.,
but did not proceed with the matter; his last
university sermon was on 24 Aug. 1744. The
other, at Epworth, on the evening of 6 June
1742, was preached (as John Romley, the
curate, excluded him from the church)
standing on his father's tombstone, and was
the first of four addresses delivered in the
same circumstances (for the tradition which
sees Wesley's footprints in 'sections of two
ferruginous concretions in the slab,' see
communications in Notes and Queries, 1866 and 1872).
In 1743 Wesley opened two additional
chapels in London: one (29 May) in West
Street, Charing Cross Road, formerly French
protestant; this was the headquarters of
methodist work at the west end till 1798; the
other (8 Aug.) in Snow's Fields, Bermondsey,
formerly Arian [see RUDD, SAYER].
In all his chapels men and women sat apart;
they were noted for 'swift singing,' without
organ accompaniment. The first methodist
conference or 'conversation' (25-30 June
1744) was held at the Foundery by the
Wesleys, four other clergymen (three of them
beneficed), and four lay preachers, of whom
but one, John Downes (d. 1774), remained
constant to Methodism. By the institution
of this conference Wesley consolidated his
movement and provided a safety-valve for
divergences of opinion; the choice of those
invited to consultation rested with him, and
he retained an uncontrolled power of direction.
The method of conducting business by
answers to queries had been anticipated in the
quaker organism, of which apparently Wesley
knew nothing; quaker doctrine, as taught in
Barclay's 'Apology,' repelled him (1748) by
its lack of sacraments and its silent meetings;
yet he had reprinted (1741) extracts from
Barclay on predestination. This first conference
began the division of the country into
methodist 'circuits.' While the first conference
affirmed the duty of canonical obedience
to the bishops 'so far as we can with a safe
conscience,' and declared against separation
from the church, pressure of circumstances
was rapidly altering Wesley's views of ecclesiastical
order. At the second conference (Bristol,
1-3 Aug. 1745) it is clearly affirmed that
Wesley 'may be called the bishop or overseer'
of all congregations gathered by him as 'a
preacher of the Gospel' (Minutes, 1862, i.
26-7). On the road to Bristol he read (20 Jan.
1745-6) the 'Enquiry into the Constitution
. . . of the Primitive Church,' published
anonymously in 1691 (enlarged 1713) by
Peter King, first lord King [q.v.] It seems
to have taught him nothing (though he refers
to it as late as 1784), for his two deductions
from it, 'that bishops and presbyters are
(essentially) of one order, and that originally
every Christian congregation was a church
independent on all others,' are anticipated in
the conference minutes of 1745. In his
noteworthy correspondence (May 1745 to
Februnry 1748) with 'John Smith,' i.e. Thomas
Secker [q.v.] (whose attitude is in
curious contrast to that of George Lavington
[q.v.] a little later) he treats all ecclesiastical
order as subordinate to spiritual
needs (Works, xii. 75; the whole correspondence
is in MOORE, vol. ii. App.) His own
reiterated account refers his change of view
to the influence of the 'Irenicum' (1660-1)
by Edward Stillingfleet [q.v.] (Works, xii.
37, xiii. 200, 223).
Wesley had published in l743 his 'Thoughts
on Marriage and Celibacy,' giving a preference
to the latter. His opinion was modified by a discussion
at the conference of June 1748.
Taken ill in the following August at Newcastle-on-Tyne, he was nursed
for four days by Grace Murray, then in charge of his orphan house there.
Grace (b. 18 Jan. 1715-16, d. 23 Feb. 1803),
daughter of poor parents, Robert (d. 1740) and Grace Norman, had
married (13 May 1736) Alexander Murray, a sailor, drowned in 1742.
Wesley proposed marriage to her, and she did not refuse. He took her with
him on his missionary errands through Yorkshire and Derbyshire,
and left her in Cheshire with one of his preachers, John Bennet
(d. 24 May 1759, aged
44), to whom a a day or two she engaged herself. Having convinced her
that this engagement was not binding, Wesley in April 1749 took her to
Ireland, employed her there in religious work, and before leaving
Dublin in July became contracted to her there. She
resumed correspondence with Bennet in a
groundless fit of jealousy about one Molly
Francis, and for some weeks, while accompanying Wesley on
his journeys, was on and off with Bennet. Wesley,
learning this, and assured by Grace that she loved him best, would
neither give her up nor consent to an immediate marriage. On 7 Sept. he
wrote to Bennet, claiming Grace as his own. He sent a copy of the
letter to Charles Wesley, who at once interfered, calling in the aid of
Whitefield, who seems to have acted against his own judgment, as
expressed to Wesley. In their presence Mrs. Murray (though 'at her
request' the Dublin contract with Wesley had been renewed before witnesses
on 20 Sept.) was married to Bennet at St. Andrew's, Newcastle,
on 3 Oct. 1749. Wesley met the pair at Leeds on 6 Oct.; he did not
again see Mrs. Bennet till 1788, in company with Henry Moore (1751-1844)
[q. v.], who was very favourably impressed by her (Addit. MS. 7119,
with Wesley's autography corrections; printed in Hook's Narrative
of a Remarkable Transaction in the Early Life of John Wesley, 1848; 2nd
edit., with HUNTER's Review, 1862;
C. WESLEY, Journal, i. 225; MOORE, ii. 171;
BENNET, Memoirs of Mrs. Grace Bennet, 1803). Wesley's
keen smart of disappointment was also embodied in verses, written on
8 Oct., and first printed by Moore (the copy in Addit. MS. 7119 has four
He received sympathy from Vincent Perronet [q. v.],
and it was Perronet who convinced him that he ought to marry.
Having reached this conviction on 2 Feb. 1750-1, he
lost no time in acting upon it. His choice was Mary Vazeille, a lady seven
years his junior, originally a domestic servant, now
the widow of Anthony Vazeille (d. 1747), a London merchant, with a
fortune of 3,000l., in half of which she had only a life interest.
She had four children, the youngest
(Noah) under five years old. Charles Wesley had made her acquaintance
through Edward Perronet, and had been her guest; of the match
he 'never had the least suspicion' (C. WESLEY, Journal,
ii. 78). On 9 Feb. a marriage settlement was executed, securing
Mrs. Vazeille's property to her own exclusive use. On Sunday, 10 Feb.,
Wesley sprained his ankle, and 'spent the remainder of the
week' under Mrs. Vazeille's roof in Threadneedle Street, 'partly in
writing a Hebrew grammar.' By 4 March he was still unable to walk (he
preached on his knees), but on 18 or 19 Feb. he was married to Mrs.
Vazeille (it is said, by Charles Manning, vicar of Hayes, Middlesex),
his brother Charles being 'one of the last that heard of his unhappy
marriage' (ib. ii. 79). Moore speaks of
Mrs. Wesley as 'well qualified' for her position; she agreed that
her husband should relax none of his labours, and for four years
usually accompanied him on his journeys, travelling with him on his
second visit to Scotland in 1753. She was tart of temper, and Wesley's
ways were trying. Conscious of purity of intent, he corresponded
with his women helpers with a familiarity which his wife deeply
resented. This has been set down to jealousy, but may be construed as
reasonable distrust of women whom she know much better than he. When
Wesley made Sarah Ryan (1724-1768) his housekeeper at Kingswood, and
confided to her (writing as her 'affectionate brother') his domestic
sorrows, his wife finding Mrs. Ryan presiding at the preachers' dining-table,
referred to the fact of her having 'three husbands living' (of three
different nationalities) in terms inelegant but exact. The serious
breach began in September 1755, when Mrs. Wesley opened a packet of her
husband's letters, sent for delivery not through her, but through
Charles Parronet. That she used violence, dragging her husband by the
hair, rests on Hampson's testimony (HAMPSON, ii. 127;
TYERMAN, ii. 110. Charles Wesley
proved a most ineffective intermediary; Mrs. Wesley
was zealous for her husband's position, and contrasted his labours
with Charles's comparative ease (WATSON, p. 260). Wesley's
letters to her are full of excellent sense, but show a fatal failure of
sympathy. In his
will of 1768 he made her his residuary legatee. His well-known 'non
revocabo' (23 Jan. 1771), when she left him for her married daughter at
Newcastle, was not the end of their connection. In July 1772 she
returned, took part in his mission work, and did not finally desert him
till 1776. She is then accused of publishing garbled extracts from his
letters to damage his character (TYERMAN, iii. 233). The
manuseript account of the Grace Murray episode (see above) came
through her son Noah to Naphtaly Hart, who owned it in 1788, and
bequeathed it (1829) to the British Museum. She died on 8 Oct. 1781,
and was buried in the church-yard of St. Giles, Camberwell; her tomb-stone
has disappeared, the widened roadway now passes over her grave.
By her will (dated 4 Sept. 1779) she left Wesley a 'mourning gold ring,
in token that I die in love and friendship towards him.' His last
reference to her (in a letter of 25 July 1788) is not unkindly. The
children of her married daughter are mentioned in his will as 'my dear
His marriage involved the resignation
(1 June 1751) of his fellowship; from his
society he never received more than 30l. a year and part of his
(TYERMAN, iii. 615), but his income from his
publications was by this time considerable, and
was all spent on purposes of religion and charity. By the sale of
cheap books and tracts for the people, he says (1789) 'I
unawares became rich.' When he thought
himself dying in 1753, and wrote his own epitaph, he made a
point of his 'not leaving, after his debts are paid, ten pounds behind
him.' To the commissioners of excise in 1776 he gravely returned the
amount of his plate as 'two silver teaspoons at London, and two at
Bristol.' His charities often exceeded 1,000l. a year
(TYERMAN, iii. 616).
His journal of missionary travel would serve as a guide-book to the
British Isles, and is replete with romantic incident and graphic pictures
of life and manners. Forty-two times (from 1747) he crossed the Irish Sea
(the first Irish conference was held at Limerick on
14 Aug. 1752). A mission tour in Holland was a recreation of his
eightieth year. In Scotland, which he constantly visited (from 1751),
his religious apart from his theological influence was greater than is
generally allowed; in 1772 he received the freedom of the city of
Perth (28 April) and the town of Arbroath (6 May). He was several times
in the Isle of Man, and rejoiced to find there neither papist nor
dissenter, but would have made an end of the Manx language. That he
encountered much rough and even violent usage was a consequence of his
determination to reach the lowest stratum of the population and
compel a hearing. His perception that his 'building materials'
(TYERMAN, iii. 325) were to be found in the neglected
classes was justified by results. More has been made of his exclusion
from churches than the facts warrant. As the real nature of his
movement became apparent, prejudice declined
(see the instructive story regarding
Richard Cordeux, of St. Saviour's, York, TYERMAN, ii. 571).
Secker admirably describes Wesley's aim as
'labouring to bring all the world to solid,
inward, vital religion' (MOORE, ii. 475).
Throughout his work he was the educator
and the social reformer as well as the evangelist.
His brother Charles said of him that he was 'naturally and
habitually a tutor, and would be so to the end of the chapter'
(HAMPSON, iii. 37). He found 'more profit in sermons
on either good tempers, or good works, than in what are vulgarly called gospel
sermons' (Works, xiii. 34). His 'Christian
Library (1749-1755) in fifty handy volumes
('if angels were to write books, we should
have very few folios,' Arminian Maqazine,
1781, pref.) gave the cream of English practical divinity. With
amazing industry and versatility he provided his followers with manuals
of history, civil and religious, physics,
(including 'the best English Dictionary in the world'), abridging Milton
to suit their capacity, and condensing for their use a novel, 'The
Fool of Quality' (1766), by Henry Brooke (1703?-1783) [q. v.]
(see anecdote in EVERETT, Adam Clarke, 1844,
ii.83). The marriages, dress, diet, and sanitary arrangements of his
community were matters of his constant vigilance, along with the care
of the poor, a system of loans for the struggling, provision for
orphans, institution of Sunday schools (in which he was one of the
first followers of Robert Raikes [q. v.]). It must be owned that, with
the exception of Thomas Tryon [q. v.], no educator had a worse system
with children; they were neither to 'play nor cry' (GORDON,
Christian Developments, 1853, p. 110); Tryon would not let them
even laugh. Wesley's treatise on medicine, 'Primitive Physic,' was
published in 1747, reached its twentieth edition in 1781, and its
thirty-sixth in 1840. It contains definitions of diseases, followed by
prescriptions for their cure, many of which are taken from the writings
of Sydenham, Dover, Mead, Cheyne, Lind, and Boorhaave. The only
efficient remedy for ague, chinchona bark, is omitted as 'extremely
dangerous,' while onions, groundsel, frankincense, yarrow,
and cobwebs are prescribed. In the edition of 1760 and thenceforward the
use of electricity is recommended in several diseases.
By 1763 Wesley was practically the only
itinerating clergyman, and the need of clerical
provision for his societies began to be acutely felt.
His lay preachers were ready
for separation as early as the conference of
1755. The celebration of the eucharist by
lay preachers had already, begun at Norwich
in 1760, while Wesley was in Ireland
[see WESLEY, CHARLES].
Earlier than this he said to Charles
(19 Oct. 1754) 'We have in effect ordained already,' and 'was inclined
to lay on hands' (TYERMAN, ii. 202). Maxfield,
who quitted Wesley in 1763, had
been ordained by William Barnard [q. v.],
bishop of Derry, 'to assist that good man,
that he may not work himself to death'
(Journal, 23 April 1763). His place as
Wesley's London assistant was taken by
John Richardson, a curate from Sussex.
In April 1764 Wesley projected in vain a
union of Methodist clergy; the Calvinists held aloof. In and about November 1764, Wesley
obtained ordination for several of his preachers from a certain Erasmus, bishop
of Arcadia in Crete, of whose episcopal character
he had 'abundant
unexceptionable credentials' (Works, x. 432). Erasmus know no English,
and his candidates knew no Greek (HAMPSON, iii. 188).
It is not stated whether Erasmus ordained them to the priesthood; it is
certain that two of them, John Jones and Lawrence Coughlan, on leaving
Wesley, were again ordained by the bishop of London. Toplady and
Rowland Hill (1744-1833) [q. v.] affirmed that Wesley had asked
Erasmus to consecrate him bishop and been refused, a statement denied
by Wesley in both its parts (Olivers's Letter to Toplady, 1771, p. 50).
Much later (20 Sept. 1788) he writes 'men may call me a knave or a
fool, a rascal, a scoundrel, and I am content; but they shall never, by
my consent, call me a bishop' (Works, xiii. 71). Yet he considered
(8 June 1780) that he had 'as good a right to ordain as to
administer the Lord's Supper' (Works, xii. 137). However in August
1780 he made a second application to Robert Lowth or Louth [q. v.]
for the ordination of a
preacher for America, and was refused because the candidate was no
classical scholar. Two of Lady Huntingdon's clergy (Wills and
Taylor), having been prosecuted for irregularity, seceded from the
Anglican church, and held a public ordination on 9 March 1783. Wesley
must have strongly felt the pressure of this example.
On 28 Feb. 1784 he executed the 'deed of declaration,' which was
enrolled in the court of chancery, and constitutes the charter of
Wesleyan methodism and the beginning of its modern history. Its object
was to settle the uses of the methodist chapels (359 in number) after
the deaths of Wesley and his brother; and for this purpose to create
a legal 'conference,' limiting its number to a hundred preachers
(selected out of 192), and defining its powers and procedure. In this
measure, Wesley's chief adviser was Thomas Coke [q. v.], whom he first
met in 1776; the limitation and selection of the 'legal hundred'
was Wesley's own act, overriding Coke's judgment.
Coke was destined,
with Francis Asbury [q.v.] to act as joint superintendents of the
methodists in America (a chapel had been opened in New York in 1767).
At Bristol, on 1 Sept. 1784, Wesley in conjunction with Coke and James
Creighton, an Anglican clergyman
[See SCARLETT, NATHANIEL] ordained Richard
Whatcoat and Thomas Vasey as presbyters for the American mission.
On 2 Sept. Coke, in presence of Creighton and others,
was 'set apart as a superintendent'
by the imposition of Wesley's hands
(certificate in DREW's Life of Coke, 1817,
p. 66. Next Christmas, Coke and his
coadjutors exercised their ordaining powers
on Asbury; Wesley severly rebuked Coke's
assumption of the title of bishop. On 1 Aug.
1785 Wesley 'set apart' John Pawson,
Thomas Hanby, and Joseph Taylor for
Scotland. At the conference of 1786 Joshua
Keighley and Charles Atmore were 'set
apart' for Scotland, William Warrener for
Antigua, and William Hammet for Newfoundland.
In 1787 five were 'set apart.'
In 1788 John Barber and Joseph Cownley were
'set apart' in Scotland; and, at the
conference of that year, seven others, Alexander
Mather being set apart as a superintendent.
On Ash Wednesday (27 Feb.)
1789 Wesley, with Creighton and Peard
Dickenson, an Anglican clergyman (1759-1802),
set apart Henry Moore (1751-1844)
[q. v.] and Thomas Rankin as presbyters
(certificate in SMITH's Life of Moore, 1844,
p. 121). These were the last ordained. Entitled
to administer sacraments and transmit
this right, they were to exercise it as Wesley's
deputies, within a defined sphere of labour.
'Whatever is done in America and Scotland,' wrote Wesley in 1786, 'is
no separation from the church of England' (TYERMAN,
iii. 442), an argument inapplicable to the last three cases.
Creighton affirms that Wesley repented of his action
(HAMPSON, ii. 216; TYERMAN, iii.
441). His sermon on 'the ministerial office' (Cork, 4 May 1789) denies
that the unordained may administer sacraments, and was regarded,
somewhat unreasonably, as receding from his earlier
position (see criticism in MOORE, ii. 339).
As early as 1760 methodists at Norwich had
taken the benefit of the Toleration Act. On
3 Nov. 1787 Wesley, under legal advice,
decided to license all his chapels and travelling
preachers 'not as
dissenters but simply "preachers of the gospel"' (Journal).
Owning that he 'varied' from the church
(Cork sermon) he would never allow that
this amounted to separation; he laid stress
on the fact that he was under no ecclesiastical
censure. His position was not unlike that
of Richard Baxter [q. v.], whose spirit he contrasts
(Journal, 1 May 1755) with the bitterness
of Michaijah Towgood [q.v.] With few exceptions
(e. g. Doddridge)
he had no personal relations with dissenters, though he expresses high
admiration of the ejected nonconformists of 1662, as known to him
Wesley writes (26 June 1785), 'I am become,
I know not how, an
honourable man.' His attitude (from 1775) towards the revolt of the
American colonies (earlier he had somewhat favoured their cause)
contributed to his popularity, and severed him from the
politics of dissent. Johnson, the arguments of whose 'Taxation no
Tyranny' he embodied in his own 'A Calm Address to our American
Colonies' (1775, 4to), wrote to express his satisfaction at having
'gained such a mind as yours' (6 Feb. 1776). On the same subject Wesley
added 'A Calm Address to the Inhabitants of England' (1777) and 'A
Serious Address' (1778). In this connection it should be noted that he
was the earliest religious leader of the first rank to join the protest
against slavery. He lost no popularity
by his protest (21 Jan. 1780)
against toleration of Roman Catholics; this brought him into
controversy with Arthur O'Leary [q. v.], whom he met on friendly terms
in 1787. At the same time he denounced the mischievous folly of the
Irish penal laws against Roman Catholics.
After 1787 he published nothing except in the 'Arminian Magazine,' but
to the last continued to travel. He is said to have preached forty
thousand sermons and travelled 250,000 miles. He suffered from
various ailments, including hereditary gout (of which his mother died),
had undergone a surgical operation (1774), and was attacked by diabetes
in 1789. His last entry in his account-book is dated 16 July 1790; his
last sermon (at Leatherhead) was preached on 23 Feb. 1791; his last
letter (to Wilberforce) was written the following day. John Whitehead
(1740?-1804) [q. v.] attended him from 25 Feb.; he declined further
On 2 March 1791 he died at the chapel-house in City Road. His body was
visited by vast crowds, both at the house and (8 March) in the chapel.
At the early hour of five on the morning of 9 March he was buried in a
vault to the rear of the chapel, Richardson, his assistant, reading the
burial service (substituting 'father' for 'brother'). Whitehead
preached the funeral sermon. The body was recoffined in 1828. In addition
to the inscribed tomb, there is a marble tablet within the chapel, and
a statue in front of the building. Of other monumental memorials the
most notable is the tablet (1871) in Westminster Abbey with profile
likenesses of John and Charles Wesley. His will (dated 20 Feb. 1789;
codicil 25 Feb.) is printed by Whitehead and other biographers.
Like all the Wesleys, he was of short stature; his person was slim and
his countenance fresh-coloured. His eye was 'the brightest and most piercing
that can be conceived' (HAMPSON, iii. 167). From early life he
wore his (originally auburn) hair in long locks reaching to his
shoulders. For a story of the cropping of his hair by a virago at
Savannah, see 'Gentleman's Magazine,'
1792, i. 24; on the question whether he ever wore a wig, see 'Notes
and Queries,' 28 Dec. 1867 p. 519, 18 Jan. 1868 p. 65; on his very
numerous portraits, see 'Notes and Queries,' 4 Feb. 1865 p. 103, 1
April 1865 p. 256. He himself preferred the paintings by J.
Williams (1741; engraved
1742) and by Romney (1789; engraved 1790). The National Portrait
Gallery has his portrait by Nathaniel Hone (1766), and another by
William Hamilton (1789); also a marble bust, of unknown date. In
January 1774 he sat for his effigy in wax for Mrs. Wright's museum in
New York. No likeness gives
a better idea of his person than the
etching (1790) by John Kay (1742-1826)
[q. v.], which shows him walking between
James Hamilton, M.D. (1740-1827), and
Joseph Cole (d. 1826). A very impressive profile
sketch, taken after death,
was engraved in 1791. His punctual habits and even temper
gave him happiness in a life severely laborious. 'It was impossible to be
long in his company without partaking his hilarity' (HAMPSON, iii.
178). He was a good swimmer, in early life a great walker; on horseback
he read as he rode, holding up the book to his eyes owing to near
sight; only in late life did he take to a chaise. He early learned to
sleep on the floor. In 1742 he left off tea. At seventy-one he thought
preaching at five in the morning 'one of the most healthy exercises in
the world;' at seventy-seven he recommended fasting on Fridays as a
remedy for nervous disorders, and affirmed that he had not 'felt
lowness of spirits for one quarter of an hour' since he was born; at
eighty-five he had 'never once lost a night's sleep.' Of his
preaching there are interesting notices by Horace Walpole (10 Oct.
1766), who thought him 'as evidently an actor as Garrick;' by Sir
Walter Scott, who heard him in 1782, and speaks of his sermons as
'vastly too colloquial,' but with 'many excellent stories;' and by
Henry Crabb Robinson [q. v.], who draws an impressive picture of his preaching at
Colchester (October 1790), held up in the
pulpit by two ministers. In his ordinary services he rarely preached more than twenty
minutes, taking his text from the gospel or epistle for the day;
his matter, according to Henry Moore's personal testimony, was
very unequal (unpublished letter; HAMPSON, iii. 169). To his
conversational powers Johnson (who introduced
him to Boswell, thinking 'worthy and religious men ought to be acquainted')
bears testimony, lamenting that he was 'never at leisure.' He said himself,
'though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry' (10 Dec. 1777),
in this resembling Priestley, with whom he
shared many traits of character. His correspondence
is wonderful for terse clearness, lighted by irony,
full of epigram, often abrupt, rarely betraying any
trace of sentiment. In controversy he was a consummate
master of apt and telling statement of a case; as he
never wrote without conviction, he convinced others.
Hampson says (iii. 160) he offered his services to the
government in answer to 'Junius;' if this is true, the
government missed a powerful ally. Controversy never
soured him against persons; he rejoiced to receive the
communion (1762) with his old adversary
Lavington; William Dodd [q. v.], who had bitterly opposed him, turned at
once to Wesley in his distress; and he never deserted a fallen friend
(cf. his relations with Westley Hall [q. v.], and the case of William
Shent, TYERMAN, iii. 289). His prejudices
were vivid rather than strong, for his mind opened to facts with the
utmost readiness; when young, he was 'sure of
everything,' but in a few years 'not half so sure of most things'
(London Magazine, 1765, p. 26. To claim him for any one ecclesiastical
party is as futile as to fix the religion of Shakespeare. He
was continually breaking bounds. He had 'no
doubt' of the salvation of Marcus Antoninus, whom he contrasts with
'nominal Christians' (Journal, 11 Oct.
1745). Those who adopted John Taylor's view of original sin were
'silver-tongued antichrists' (ib. 28 Aug. 1748); yet his challenge to
Taylor (3 July 1759) is a fine specimen of the true temper of serious debate;
nay, he could 'guess' Pelagius to be 'a wise and a holy man' 17 July 1761;
Works, xii. 224), and he had used exactly the same expressions of
Servetus (in a Dialogue, 1741, mainly borrowed from Thomas Grantham
(1634-1692) [q. v.], but this phrase is Wesley's own); in 1786 he
abridged the life of Thomas Firmin [q. v.] for the 'Arminian Magazine,'
with a preface allowing that an antitrinitarian
might be 'truly pious.' His intense biblicism
(he called himself a 'Bible bigot') led
him to write 'the giving up witchcraft is, in effect, giving up the Bible'
(Arminian Magazine, 1782, p. 366); but, after reading
(1769) Glanville's 'Saducismus Triumphatus' (1681) he remarks 'supposing the
facts true, I wonder a man of sense should attempt to
account for them at all.' Yet he had his heresies; he was
for marriage with a deceased wife's sister,
and he believed in a future life for the brute creation. Great as
methodism is, as a religious power, the personal influence of Wesley is
greater, and has affected every section of English religion.
As a religious poet his reputation has
paled beside that of Charles Wesley; but allowing for Charles greater spontaneity and
(at his best) richer quality, it must not be forgotten that his hymns were indebted to
John Wesley's editing hand. The latter's
best hymns are translations from the German
(for his conspicuous merits as a translator see HATFIELD,
John Wesley's Translations of German Hymns, Baltimore, 1896).
Wesley, by himself or with Charles, published between 1737 and
1786 twenty-three collections of hymns, including compositions by
various writers (for the bibliography see JULIAN, Dictionary of
Hymnology, 1892). His pieces are contained in Osborn's 'Poetical
Works of John and Charles Wesley,' 1868-1872, 13 vols.; but it is
difficult to apportion in all cases the respective work of the two
Wwley's prose 'Works' were first collected
by himself (Bristol, 1771-4, 32 vols. 12mo).
The edition used above is the eleventh (1856-62,
15 vols. 12mo), containing only the religious writings, edited
by Thomas Jackson (1783-1873) [q. v.], whose first edition is
1829-31, 14 vols. 8vo. Tyerman gives under each year an
annotated list of Wesley's publications; to pursue the bibliography
of reprints would be endless. Green's 'Bibliography' (1896) of the works
of John and Charles Wesley gives
the fullest account of original editions. Wesley's 'Sermons,'
numbering 141 (1726-1790), and his 'Notes on the New Testament'
(1754) are of special importance, as containing the authorised
standard of methodist doctrine, specified as such in chapel deeds.
His copy of Shakespeare, the margin 'filled with critical
notes,' was destroyed by John Pawson (WAKELEY, Anecdotes
of the Wesleys, 1870, p. 319).
[Wesley's public career is best studied in his published Journals
(extending from 1735 to 1790) and his correspondence, parts of which
are collected in his Works (vols. xii. xiii.) Omitting brief pamphlets,
the first biography is the Life (1791, 3 vols.) by John Hampson
[q.v.], a publication viewed by Methodists with suspicion, but
containing some valuable details. The Life by Coke and Moore (chiefly
by the latter) was issued by conference in 1792 to forestall
Whitehead, and had the disadvantage of being drawn up without access to
Wesley's papers. For the dispute see MOORE, HENRY
Whitehead's Life was published 1791-3, 2 vols. The best proof of its
worth is the constant borrowing from it by Moore in his amended Life,
1824-5, 2 vols. Southey's Life (1820, 2 vols.) had not the advantage of
Moore's additions; it first brought home to the public mind a distinct
sense of Wesley's place in the history of English religion. It should
with the additions (1846) of Coleridge's Notes,
and Remarks by Alexander Knox [q. v.], who
knew Wesley from 1765. The Life (1831) by
Richard Watson is a good compendium, with some new points. Southey's work
left room for the valuable monographs, Wesley and Methodism, by Isaac
Taylor (1787-1865) [q. v.], and John Wesley and the Evangelical
Reaction of the Eighteenth Century (1870), by Julia Wedgwood. Luke
Tyerman's Life and Times of Wesley (1870-1, 3 vols.) is a cyclopedia of
materials, drawn from published and unpublished sources, throwing new
light on nearly every phase of Wesley's career.
Out of this multitude of briefer biographies, Dr. J. R. Rigg's The Living
Wesley (1875), the Memoir by Green (1881), and Overton's
(1891) merit special attention. From different points of view,
of Methodism (1807) and Urlin's Wesley's
Place in Church History (1870) will repay study. See also Myles's
Chronological History of Methodists,
1799; Stevens's History of
Methodism, ed. Willey, 1863-5; Stevenson's City Road Chapel, 1872;
Stevenson's Memorials of the Wesley Family, 1876; Foster's Alumni
Oxon. 1715-1886. A complete collection of Wesley's Correspondence
is still a desideratum. Masses of his manuscripts (some recently brought
to light) remain in the possession of the Wesleyan authorities. A number
of early diaries and papers (used by the present writer) were acquired
by the late J. J. Colman, esq., M.P., from William Gandy,
executor of Henry Moore. The will of Anthony Vazeille (dated 22 March
1745-6) and Mary Wesley have also been consulted. Other authorities
are cited above.]
From: Dictionary of National Biography
See also Works by John and Charles Wesley at the
Christian Classics Ethereal Library.