Charles Wesley family book collection

Text, notes and listing by Randy L. Maddox, Paul T. Walls Professor of Wesleyan Theology at Seattle Pacific University

One of the significant collections in the Methodist Archives at the John Rylands Library is a group of books identified with the Charles Wesley family. This collection includes over four hundred volumes, containing nearly three hundred distinct titles, of which only a small portion were publications of John and Charles Wesley themselves. As such, it provides the most detailed evidence remaining of what other authors were influential on Charles Wesley and his family.

Unlike the personal library of John Wesley, which was split during his lifetime between the Kingswood school in Bristol and his house in London, and which suffered some depletion over the years at the hands of memorabilia collectors, this library of the Charles Wesley family has been kept largely intact. (1) The pedigree of the collection is also quite clear. It was purchased from Charles Wesley Jr., along with a large collection of family manuscripts, by Thomas Jackson around 1830. Charles Jr. was anxious to sell the collection because his sister Sarah Wesley, who had long helped manage his resources, had recently died, leaving him both anxious about the future of the materials and in need of money. Jackson held the materials - in trust for the Wesleyan Methodist Conference - and added to them a few volumes from other family members. (2) Then, in 1859 his entire personal library of some 7500 volumes was purchased by James Heald, a wealthy Methodist businessman, and donated as the core for library collections at the recently founded Richmond and Didsbury colleges. (3) The Charles Wesley related materials were all located at Richmond, where Jackson was tutor.

While the details are less clear, Jackson also arranged for that part of John Wesley's personal library held at the house at City Road Chapel in London to be part of the collection gathered at Richmond. At some point thereafter the two collections of books owned by the Wesleys were shelved together at Richmond. (4) While we can assume that there was care to keep the collections distinct, we must also note the exigencies of the times. Consider in particular Oliver Beckerlegge's recent comments on his initial days as a student at Richmond College in 1946. The college had been closed during the war, and damaged by a bomb near the end of the war. Beckerlegge was entering just after it reopened, and discovered the bookcases containing the Wesley materials in some disarray. He reports being given permission to clean, dust, and "rearrange" them. (5)

This incident suggests the possibility that there was some mixing of the two collections. A broad intermixing was unlikely, because most books in each set have clear autographs (or initials) to indicate owners. But several books are unsigned and in a few the autographs are indistinct. The ambiguity this raises is clear in a manuscript catalog of the combined collection of "Wesley Family books" at Richmond College that was prepared in January 1951 by two students: John H. Crouch and John P. Horner. (6) The compilers group the books in sections by ownership, starting with books belonging to Charles Wesley Sr., then Sarah Gwynne Wesley, then the children of Charles and Sarah, then some broader family members, and then those belonging to John Wesley. They note that in some cases the decisions are unclear, and there are evidences of correcting earlier entries as the work progressed. There is also evidence of a later hand altering some of the suggested classifications.

This later altering was likely related to the division of the collection that took place when Richmond College was closed in 1972. It was decided to return to City Road Chapel those books originally taken from there—that is, the ones that would have belonged to John Wesley. The remainder were sent to the John Rylands Library for the Methodist Archives as the Charles Wesley family collection. The division between the two collections was apparently guided by John Bowmer, and can be considered broadly reliable. However, it should be noted that there are now two books at City Road that bear Charles Wesley's autograph. (7) Likewise, there is one volume now in the Rylands collection that has John Wesley's autograph, and four or five with inscriptions in John's hand. (8) There are also a couple of volumes in the Rylands collection, without autographs, that other considerations would suggest were originally part of John's library. (9)

Apart from these few cases of possible intermixing, it is significant that the only other volume I have located with a Charles Wesley autograph outside of the Charles Wesley family collection (besides the two books at City Road) is also at the John Rylands library in their larger Methodist Archives holdings. (10) Thus, this collection can be considered a reliable indicator of books owned and read by Charles and Sarah Wesley and their children, with one significant exception - there are no books bearing the autograph of their son Samuel. It is possible that Charles gave some of his library to his younger son Samuel, as he had to Charles Jr., though the strained relationship between Charles and Samuel (due to the latter's interest in Roman Catholicism) in the later years of Charles's life make this unlikely.

The list of the Charles Wesley family collection which follows is in the order they are now shelved in the Rylands, which follows generally the order of the 1951 manuscript list. (11) This means that books belonging to Charles Sr. come first. However, given the ambiguities of the original listing, you will find some books belonging to Charles Sr. also much later in the listing. I list any autographs or inscriptions in the books immediately below the title. Charles Sr.'s autograph has been verified with other examples of his writing. Autographs of other family members have been monitored for consistency, which helps to clarify a few cases of ambiguity between Charles Sr. and Jr., and between Mrs. Sarah Wesley and Miss Sarah Wesley. In replicating the autographs below, I add clarifying indicators in [brackets] to indicate for any ambiguous examples when the autograph style is that of the child rather than the parent.

While these four persons account for most of the autographs, there are some others of interest. For example, there are six volumes that belonged to Samuel Wesley Jr., the older brother of John and Charles, which Charles likely inherited on Samuel's death in 1739. (12) Similarly, there is a volume (#310) given to Charles's sister Martha by their uncle Matthew Wesley (brother of Samuel Sr.). Another volume appears to come from the family line of Charles's mother, Susannah [Annesley] Wesley. (13) There are also a few volumes with signatures from Mrs. Sarah Wesley's extended family, the Gwynnes. And there is one volume (#425) is signed by Mary Wesley, John Wesley's wife.

Finally, I would note two manuscript items in the collection. Item #341 is a notebook containing a manuscript list of Adam Clarke's library and some letters of Samuel Wesley Sr. Item #78 is Charles's personal copy of a book of letters by Mrs. Lefevre that John Wesley published shortly after her death; in the front pages of the book, in Charles's hand, is his poem eulogizing Mrs. Lefevre, dated July 6, 1756 .