1902 Encyclopedia > Wesley Family

Wesley Family
English ecclesiastical family




WESLEY, an English family of special ecclesiastical distinction, claims descent from the ancient De Wellesleys, one of whom, Guy, was made a thane by Athelstan about 938, the family seat being at Welswe, near Wells, in Somerset. Two brothers, John and Bartholomew, were among the ministers ejected for nonconformity in 1662.

SAMUEL (1662-1735), son of the above John, was born 17th December 1662. He was educated at an academy at Stepney, London, and in August 1683 entered Exeter College, Oxford, as a pauper scholaris, shortly after which he joined the Church of England, a step which so deeply offended his family that they left him henceforth to his own resources. While still an undergraduate he published Maggots, or Poems on Several Subjects never before Handled, 1685. He graduated B.A. 1688, was ordained priest 24th February 1689, and the following year was. presented to the living of South Ormsby, Lincolnshire. In 1697 he removed to Epworth, Lincolnshire, where he died 25th April 1735. Among other works he was the author of Life of Christ (1693), Elegies on Queen Mary and Archbishop Tillotson (1695), History of the Old and New Testaments in Verse (1704), Pious Communicant Rightly Prepared (1700), and Latin Commentary on the Book of Job (1733). After the battle of Blenheim he published (1705) a long poem on Marlborough, or the Fate of Europe, for which Marlborough made him chap-lain of a regiment. He had nineteen children, of whom three sons, Samuel, John, and Charles, acquired eminence.

SAMUEL (1690-1739) was born in London 10th February 1690, and educated at Westminster school, where he was nominated king's scholar. In 1711 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, and on taking his M.A. degree returned to Westminster as tutor. He lived on intimate terms with Harley, earl of Oxford, Pope, Swift, and Prior, and wrote somewhat clever squibs against Sir Robert Walpole, the Whigs, and the Low Church divines. They were col-lected and published 1736, reached a second edition 1743, and were reprinted, with notes by James Nicholls and life by W. Nicholls, in 1862. Wesley became master of Tiverton grammar-school in 1732, and died there 6th November 1739.

JOHN (1703-1791), brother of the preceding and founder of Methodism, was born, probably at Epworth, 17th June (O.S., 28th N.S.) 1703. There was a tradi-tion in the family that he was christened John Benjamin, but he never made use of the second name. When his father's rectory was burnt down in 1709 he was for a time left in the building, and narrowly escaped death. He entered Charterhouse in 1714, whence in 1720 he was elected to Christ Church, Oxford. In 1726 he became fellow of Lincoln, and in 1727 graduated M.A. After acting for some time as his father's curate he settled in November 1729 at Oxford, and began to take pupils. About the same time, along with his brother Charles and others, he commenced that systematic course of religious life which led to their being termed by the Oxonians Methodists. A full record of the religious labours of Wesley is given under METHODISM (vol. xvi. pp. 185-189). In the organization of Methodism he dis-played not only extraordinary energy and capacity for work but remarkable administrative powers. His oratory was colloquial, terse, and homely, but never vulgar, while his expressive and refined features and intense yet reasoned earnestness enabled him to acquire among his followers a personal influence of an unrivalled kind. Although from overwork or exposure he had one or two serious illnesses, he generally enjoyed robust health, an experience probably partly accounted for by his constant journeys on horseback. In 1790 he said, "I do not remember to have felt lowness of spirits for a quarter of an hour since I was born." He preached usually at 5 o'clock in the morning, and frequently twice again in the same day, the number of sermons he delivered in a year being over 800. He continued his labours almost to the last, but wrote, 1st January 1790, "I am now an old man decayed from head to foot." He died 2d March 1791. Wesley translated several hymns from the German for the col-lections edited by him and his brother Charles, but is not known to have been the author of any original hymns (see HYMNS, vol. xii. p. 594). The first collection of Psalms and Hymns edited by the brothers appeared anonymously in 1738, and a Collection of Moved and Sacred Poems, from the Most Celebrated Authors, in 1744. Wesley has no claims to rank as a thinker or even as a theologian, but within certain narrow limits was a skilful controversialist. He was the author of Primitive Physic (1747), Explanatory Notes on the New Testament (1755), Notes on the Old and New Testaments (1764), Doctrine of Original Sin (1757), Survey of the Wisdom of God in Creation (1763), Preservative against Unsettled Notions in Religion (1770), and A Calm Address to our American Colonies (1775). He also edited the Christian Library, in fifty volumes. His Works appeared in 1818, and an eleventh edition, with life by J. Beecham and preface by T. Jackson, was published in 15 vols., 1856-57.

CHARLES (1708-1788), brother of the preceding, was born prematurely at Epworth, 18th December 1708. He entered Westminster school in 1716, was admitted a king's scholar in 1721, and entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1726. He accompanied his brother John to Georgia in 1735 as secretary to the managing committee, having been ordained priest a few days before leaving England ; but on account of a strong feeling of opposition manifested against him in the religious communities of Frederica he left Georgia for England five months after landing. To a serious illness which happened to him in February 1738 he attributed a moral change which he associated with conversion and a conscious sense ot pardon. He seconded his brother in his evangelizing labours in England with unceasing diligence, and, al-though not possessing his brother's gifts of oratory and personal magnetism, contributed by his hymns an element of success to the movement of prime and permanent importance. He published no fewer than 4100 hymns of his own composition, and left about 2000 in manuscript. Numerous editions both of the special and general col-lections of his hymns have been published. Both as regards the number of his compositions and their various excellences, he is entitled to the chief place among Methodist hymn writers (see HYMNS, ut supra). He died 29th March 1788. His Sermons, with memoir, appeared in 1816; a Life, by Bev. Thomas Jackson, in 1841 ; and his Journal, with notes by Bev. Thomas Jackson, 1849.

Two sons of Charles Wesley attained eminence as musicians :—
CHARLES (1757-1815), organist of St George's, Hanover Square, London, who in 1778 published Six Concertos for the Organ andLLarp; and SAMUEL (1766-1837), organist of the Chapel Boyal, noticed below.

See, in addition to the authorities already mentioned, the Lives by Hampson (1791), Coke and Moore (1792), Whitehead (1793-96), Southey (1820), Moore (1824), Watson (1831), Miss Wedgwood (1870), and Tyernian (exhaustive and complete) (1870); J. Dove, Biographical History of the Wesleys (1833); and G. J. Stevenson, Memorials of the Wesley Family (1876).

WESLEY, SAMUEL (1766-1837), musical composer, son of Charles Wesley (see above), was born at Bristol, February 24, 1766, and developed so precocious a talent for music that at three years old he played the organ and at eight composed an oratorio entitled Ruth—a fact which is duly chronicled on a curious portrait, painted in 1774, and afterwards engraved, wherein he is represented in the childish costume of the period. Though suffering for many years from an accidental injury to the brain, Wesley was long regarded as the most brilliant organist and the most accomplished extempore fugue-player in England. He may indeed be regarded as the father of our present style of organ-playing, for he it was who, aided by his friends Benjamin Jacob and C. F. Horn, first introduced the works of Sebastian Bach to English organists, not only by his superb playing, but by editing with Horn, in 1810, the first copy of Das wohltem-perirte Clavier ever printed in England. Wesley's last per-formance took place, September 12, 1837, at Christ Church, Newgate Street, London, where, after hearing the wonder-ful performances of Mendelssohn, he was himself induced to play an extempore fugue. He died, October 11, 1837, leaving a vast number of MS. and printed compositions.

His brother
Charles (1757-1815) was also an accomplished organist, and still more famous was his son, Samuel Sebastian, (1810-1876), Mus. Doc, and organist of Gloucester cathedral.







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