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Charles Wesley the poet

Charles found it easy to write verse - estimates of his poetic output extend up to 9,000 pieces.

The best of his compositions are of exceptional quality, but others were mediocre and sometimes both traits are apparent in the same poem indicating that fluency was not matched by a talent for revision. It is no coincidence that many of Charles' hymns were edited for publication by other people.

Much of Charles' verse was spiritual in nature, but he also wrote on other themes, from the War of American Independence to the fighting skills of Grimalkin, his children's pet cat.

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Charles Wesley (1707-88)

[Manuscript of "Hark how all the welkin rings"]
Richmond College Manuscript Hymn Book, "Hark how all the welkin rings". Image number JRL021176tr.

Manuscript of "Hark how all the welkin rings" (MCA: Wesley collection)


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Martin Madan (1726-90)

"A collection of psalms and hymns...", image number: JRL0803374dc

The editorial process that routinely preceded publication of Charles' verse is illustrated by comparing the manuscript of the famous carol "Hark how all the welkin rings" with the published version. The original publication of 1739 had only minor amendments, but by 1760 the wording had changed to "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and the number of verses reduced.


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Charles Wesley (1707-88)

[Manuscript of "Love Divine...", image number JRL022001tr]
Manuscript of "Love Divine, all loves excelling" (MCA Charles Wesley Ms Thirty). Image number JRL 022001tr.

Manuscript of "Love Divine, all loves excelling" (MCA: Charles Wesley Ms Thirty)

This is possibly Charles Wesley's most famous work. Here again, the poem was edited prior to publication so as to omit the controversial second verse suggesting that one can be cleansed of sin in this life.


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