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a caricature portrait of the author); he also contributed verses to ‘Strenæ Natalitiæ Academiæ Oxoniensis’ (1688, fol.) in honour of the birth of the Pretender.
Wesley's conformity was probably influenced by his admiration of Tillotson, to whose memory he subsequently penned an elegy. It is clear also that he was repelled by the tone of the political dissenter, and found Oxford society more congenial than he expected. He was ordained deacon by Thomas Sprat [q. v.] at Bromley on 7 Aug. 1688; priest, by Henry Compton (1632–1713) [q. v.], at St. Andrew's, Holborn, on 24 Feb. 1689–90. After serving a curacy, and acting as chaplain to a man-of-war, he obtained a curacy in London of 30l. a year, and married (about 1690) Susanna (b 20 Jan. 1669–70; d 23 July 1742), youngest daughter of Samuel Annesley [q. v.], who had already abandoned her father's nonconformity, and ‘had reasoned herself into Socinianism, from which her husband reclaimed her’ (Southey). His wife's grandfather was John White (1590–1645) [q. v.], the centuriator. Her sister, Elizabeth (d. 28 May 1697), was the first wife of John Dunton.
On 25 June 1690 Wesley was instituted to the rectory of South Ormsby, Lincolnshire, in the patronage of the Massingberd family, worth 50l. a year, with a ‘mean cot’ for residence (his first entry in the parish register is dated 26 Aug. 1690). He assisted Dunton in conducting the ‘Athenian Gazette’ (17 March 1691 to 14 June 1697); the articles of agreement between Wesley, Richard Sault [q. v.], and Dunton, are dated 10 April 1691; the numerous answers to the theological and kindred questions are probably Wesley's. Much other literary work was done by him at Ormsby. John Sheffield [q. v.], then Marquis of Normanby, who had made him his chaplain, proposed him for an Irish bishopric in 1694 (Birch, Tillotson, 1753, p. 307; Tillotson spells the name Waseley). In the same year he was incorporated M.A. at Cambridge. He was compelled to resign Ormsby owing to his refusal to allow the visits of the mistress of James Saunderson (afterwards Earl of Castleton), who rented a house in the parish.
In 1695 (Foster) Wesley became rector of Epworth, Lincolnshire, a crown living worth 200l. a year. He was already 150l. in debt, a fact easily accounted for by his growing family, and by his having to contribute to his mother's support. By 1700 his indebtedness had reached 300l., partly owing to losses in farming operations, for which he was unfitted. Several friends, including Gilbert Burnet [q. v.], helped him; and John Sharp (1645–1714) [q. v.], archbishop of York, offered to apply to the House of Lords for a brief in his behalf. This Wesley declined, though his life was henceforth a continuous struggle with pecuniary difficulties. In 1697 his barn had fallen; in July 1702 his rectory was burned; in 1704 a fire destroyed all his flax; in June 1705 he was imprisoned for debt in Lincoln Castle, and lay there several months; in February 1708–9 his rebuilt rectory was burned down with all its contents (among these was the parish register, the loss of which has left uncertainty about the births of some of his children). He continued to ply his pen, publishing both in verse and prose. In 1701 he was first elected to convocation as proctor for the Lincoln diocese; in 1710 he was re-elected, and gave regular attendance so long as convocation was allowed to transact business. A story to the effect that he stayed away from home ‘for a twelvemonth’ prior to the death of William III because his wife refused to say ‘amen’ to the prayer for that sovereign, though vouched for by his son John, is disproved by Tyerman on the evidence of his own letters. He offered his services in 1705, without result, as a missionary to India, China, and Abyssinia. In the same year he published a poem on the battle of Blenheim, which Marlborough acknowledged by bestowing on him the chaplaincy of Colonel Lepell's regiment, but he was not allowed to hold it long, perhaps because the regiment was ordered abroad.
As far back as 1690, after attending a meeting of the Calves Head Club in Leadenhall Street, Wesley had written an account of the inner life of nonconformist academies, in the shape of a letter intended for Robert Clavel [q. v.], but apparently not sent to him by Wesley and not meant to be published. Without Wesley's knowledge or consent, Clavel at length published the document, anonymously, as ‘A Letter from a Country Divine to his Friend in London, concerning the Education of Dissenters in their Private Academies … offered to the Consideration of the Grand Committee of Parliament for Religion’ (1703, 4to). A controversy followed with Samuel Palmer (d. 1724) [q. v.] Wesley's ‘Defence’ (1704) and ‘Reply’ (1707) were in his own name. The ‘Reply’ was revised by William Wake [q. v.], then bishop of Lincoln. There is no doubt that Wesley hits blots in the contemporary nonconformist training and temper, in London especially. The enmity of dissenters is said (but this is doubtful) to have deprived him of his regimental chaplaincy, and disappointed his hopes of a prebend. According to his son