1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Wesley

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WESLEY (FAMILY). The Wesley family sprang from Welswe, near Wells in Somerset. Their pedigree has been traced back to Guy, whom Athelstan made a thane about 938. One branch of the family settled in Ireland. Sir Herbert Westley of Westleigh, Devon, married Elizabeth Wellesley of Dangan in Ireland. Their third son, Bartholomew, studied both medicine and theology at Oxford, and, in 1619, married the daughter of Sir Henry CoUey of Kildare. In 1660 he held the rectories of Catherston and Charmouth in Dorset valued at £35, 10s. per annum. He was ejected in 1662 and gained his living as a doctor. He was buried at Lyme Regis on February 15th, 1670.

His son, John Westley, grandfather of the founder of Methodism, was born in 1636 and studied at New Inn Hall, Oxford, where he became proficient in Oriental languages and won the special regard of John Owen, then vice-chancellor. Cromwell's Triers approved him as minister of Winterborn-Whitchurch, Dorset, in 1658. The following year he married the daughter of John White, the patriarch of Dorchester. In 1661 he was committed to prison for refusing to use the Book of Common Prayer. His candour and zeal made a deep impression on Gilbert Ironside the elder, Bishop of Bristol, with whom he had an interview. He was ejected in 1662 and became a Nonconformist pastor at Poole. He died in 1678; his widow survived him for 32 years. One of his sons, Matthew, became a surgeon in London, where ho died in 1737.

Another son, Samuel, was trained in London for the Nonconformist ministry, but changed his views, and, in August 1683, entered Exeter College, Oxford, as a sizar. He dropped the “t” in his name and returned to what he said was the original spelling, Wesley. In 1689 he was ordained and married Susanna, youngest daughter of Dr Samuel Annesley, vicar of St Giles, Cripplegate, and nephew of the 1st earl of Anglesea. Annesley gave up his living in 1662 and formed a congregation in Little St Helen's, Bishopsgate, where he was honoured as the St Paul of the Nonconformists. Samuel Wesley was appointed rector of South Ormsby in 1691, and moved to Epworth in 1697. He had nineteen children, of whom eight died in Infancy. His lawless parishioners could not endure his faithful preaching, and in 1705 he was confined in Lincoln Castle for a small debt. Two-thirds of his parsonage was destroyed by fire in 1702 and in 1769 it was burnt to the ground. He managed to rebuild the rectory, but his resources were so heavily strained that thirteen years later it was only half furnished. Samuel Wesley was a busy author. At Oxford in 1685 he wrote a volume of poems bearing the strange title Maggots. He wrote a Life of Christ in verse (1693), The History of the Old and New Testament in Verse (1701?), a noble Letter to a Curate, full of strong sense and ripe experience, and Dissertations on the Book of Job (1735). He died at Epworth in 1735. Susanna Wesley died at the Foundery, London, in 1742 and was buried in Bunhill Fields.

Their eldest son, Samuel Wesley (1690–1739), was born in London, entered Westminster School in 1704, became a Queen's scholar in 1707 and in 1711 went up to Christ Church, Oxford. Ho returned to Westminster as head usher, took orders and enjoyed the intimate friendship of Bishop Atterbury, Harley earl of Oxford, Addison, Swift and Prior. He became headmaster of Blundell’s School at Tiverton in 1732 and died there on the 6th of November 1739. He was a finished, classical scholar, a poet and a devout man, but he was never reconciled to the Methodism of his brothers. His poems, published in 1736, reached a second edition in 1743, and were reprinted with new poems, notes and a Life by W. Nichols, in 1862.

Charles Wesley (1707–1788) was the eighteenth child of the Rector of Epworth, and was saved from the fire of 1709 by his nurse. He entered Westminster School in 1716, became a King's Scholar and was captain of the school in 1725. He was a plucky boy, and won the life-long friendship of the future earl of Mansfield by fighting battles on his behalf. Garret Wesley of Ireland wished to adopt his young kinsman, but this offer was declined and the estates were left to Richard Colley on condition that he assumed the name Wesley. The duke of Wellington was Colley's grandson, and appears in the Army List for 1800 as the Hon. Arthur Wesley. Charles Wesley was elected to Christ Church in 1726. John had become fellow of Lincoln the previous March. Charles lost his first twelve months at Oxford in “diversions,” but whilst John was acting as their father's curate, his brother “awoke out of his lethargy.” He persuaded two or three other students to go with him to the weekly sacrament. This led a young gentleman of Christ Church to exclaim: " Here is a new set of Methodists sprung up." The name quickly spread through the university and Oxford Methodism began its course. In 1735 Charles Wesley was ordained and went with his brother to Georgia as secretary to Colonel, afterwards General, Oglethorpe, the Governor. The work proved uncongenial, and after enduring many hardships his health failed and he left Frederica for England on July the 26th, 1736. He hoped to return, but in February 1738 John Wesley came home, and Charles found that his state of health made it necessary to resign his secretaryship. After his evangehcal conversion on Whit Sunday (May 21st, 1738), he became the poet of the Evangelical Revival. He wrote about 6500 hymns. They vary greatly in merit, but Canon Overton held him, taking quantity and quality into consideration, to be “the great hymn-writer of all ages.” Their early volumes of poetry bear the names of both brothers, but it is generally assumed that the original hymns were by Charles and the translations by John Wesley. Poetry was like another sense to Charles, and he was busy writing verse from his conversion up to his death-bed when he dictated to his wife his last lines, “In age and feebleness extreme.” For some years he took a full share in the hardships and perils of the Methodist itinerancy, and was often a remarkably powerful preacher. After his marriage in 1749 his work was chiefly confined to Bristol, where he then lived, and London. He moved to London in 1771 and died in Marylebone on March the 29th, 1788. He was strongly opposed to his brother's ordinations, and refused to be burted at City Road, because the ground there was unconsecrated. He was buried in the graveyard of Marylebone Old Church, but this appears to have been unconsecrated also.

Charles Wesley married Sarah Gwynne, daughter of a Welsh magistrate living at Garth, on April 8th, 1749. She died in 1822 at the age of ninety-six. Five of their children died as infants and are buried in St James’s Churchyard, Bristol. Their surviving daughter Sarah, who was engaged in literary work, died unmarried in 1828. Charles Wesley, Junr. (1759–1834) was organist of St George's, Hanover Square. He published Six Concertos for the Organ and Harp in 1778. He also died unmarried. Samuel, the younger brother (1766–1837), was even more gifted than Charles as an organist and composer; he was also a lecturer on musical subjects. Two of his sons were Dr Wesley, sub-dean of the Chapel Royal, and Dr Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810–1876), the famous composer and organist of Gloucester Cathedral.

Bibliography.—A volume of Charles Wesley's sermons with memoir appeared in 1816. Lives by Thomas Jackson (1841) and John Telford (1886). Journal and Letters with Notes by Thomas Jackson (1849); The Early Journal (1736–1739) with additional matter (1910); Poetical works of John and Charles Wesley (13 vols., 1868); Methodist Hymn Book Illustrated by J. Telford (1906); Adam Clarke's Memoirs of the Wesley Family {1822); Dove’s Biographical History of the Wesley Family (1832); G. J. Stevenson, Memorials of the Wesley Family (1876); Tyerman's Life and Times of Samuel Wesley, M.A. (1866)  (J. T*.)