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Charles Wesley Papers

Date range: 1726-1787.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was born at Epworth in Lincolnshire, the son of a poverty-stricken clergyman.

He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he was one of the founder members of the Holy Club or Oxford Methodists, a small Christian group which included the Wesley brothers, and their fellow Evangelists George Whitefield and Benjamin Ingham.

After his ordination and a brief period spent as a missionary in Georgia, Charles Wesley underwent a conversion experience in London in May 1738, a few days before John Wesley's famous Aldersgate experience.

For seventeen years after his conversion Charles Wesley was one of the central figures in the great Evangelical revival which saw the birth of the Methodist Church.

He travelled constantly in England, Wales and Ireland, suffering frequent harassment, which was often instigated by fellow clergymen. While his brother John was without doubt the leader of the Methodist movement, Charles was his most trusted colleague, and often exercised a restraining influence on those Methodists who wished to break away from the Church of England.

Charles Wesley's greatest legacy to Methodism is his hymns which are regarded as among the finest ever written. The Methodists gave hymn-singing a central place in worship, contrary to contemporary Anglican practice. Wesley's hymns formed the basis of the Methodist hymn-books of the 18th and 19th centuries, and are still sung all over the world by Christians of every denomination.

The collection is of major importance for studies of the history of Methodism and for many other aspects of eighteenth-century British history.

It comprises:

  • approximately 100 letters written by Wesley from 1728 until shortly before his death, dealing with personal and official matters, and fourteen in-letters
  • loose literary manuscripts and notebooks,  containing autograph poems or hymns in Wesley’s hand
  • three folio scrapbooks containing correspondence, journal letters, poems, financial papers and copies of original documents which are now lost
  • several notebooks containing very detailed household and other accounts covering the years which the Wesley family spent in London

A draft manuscript journal covers the years 1736–56. The collection contains several thousand of Charles Wesley’s autograph poems, including such well-loved hymns as ‘Love Divine, All Love Excelling’ and ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.

See also

The Wesley Family papers and the Early Preachers collection.

Finding aids

  • Catalogue available online via ELGAR.
  • See also Gareth Lloyd, 'Charles Wesley and Methodist Religious Life, 1750-1775: the manuscript sources', Proceedings of the Charles Wesley Society, vol. 1 (1994), pp. 33-45.

Location

The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library

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