From City Road, London, to [Mary Fletcher]. Fletcher will know from Miss [Sarah] Wesley’s letter why she has been so long in writing. Ritchie only received Wesley’s parcel last night although she has had Sister Thornton’s for near a fortnight. ‘I did not think it well to send it alone as her packet was too large for a frank. Lady Mary [Fitzgerald] has long wanted to send the parcel enclosed in your’s to Mrs Yate. I thought it best to send them together and believe you will excuse me conveying it this way.’
Mr [Robert Carr] Brackenbury has published a volume of poems containing an elegy to [John Fletcher’s] memory addressed to his widow. [Robert Carr Brackenbury, Sacred poems in three parts (London: printed for the author; and sold by George Whitfield and J. Parsons etc, 1791)] It was written some years ago but has never previously been published – Brackenbury asks that Fletcher accept this little book. His mind has lately felt a strong pull towards visiting France to see if the ‘late troubles’ [French Revolution] there had opened up any way for the preaching of the gospel, but at present it does not seem possible. Brackenbury is visiting Lincolnshire and Yorkshire etc until the time of Conference.
Ritchie has more things to say to Fletcher than a letter will allow. Spiritual matters are discussed in detail.
She felt it was a call from God that she should try to take [Hester Ann] Rogers’ place while she was at the time of giving birth. ‘This threw me beneath the sacred roof where my beloved father [John Wesley] gave us his dying blessing. [Wesley died at his house in City Road, London, on 2 March 1791.] For some time after the funeral I could not leave [as] much temporal care had devolved upon me, but oh my dear friend, what did I feel? Every place where I had been wont to receive from my dearest father those blessed truths which had raised my mind from earth to heaven, afresh reminded me what an orphan I was, but it was a means of also afresh turning my mind to my heavenly father. I really think I never so realised this character before. O the mixture my mind often felt of sacred grief and holy joy!…’
As soon as she could be spared, Ritchie left for the country and felt there ‘outward and inward rest’ and she felt in a state of spiritual peace and resignation. She needed the rest as the ‘state of the family at the chapel house’ had not allowed the opportunity for a break. Spiritual matters are discussed in detail.
Ritchie returned to London a few days ago feeling physically much better and ‘truly happy in my blessed Lord.’ The people here in general seem to have reaped spiritual benefit from Wesley’s death, although some of Ritchie’s wounds have been reopened by recent events concerning some very senior preachers – ‘They have had several meetings and are much dissatisfied respecting a deed referred to in Mr Wesley’s will, executed last October, wherein he invests the copyright of the books…for the carrying on of the work in the hands of seven men (they are Mr [Alexander] Mather, Mr [James] Rogers, Mr [John] Valton, Mr [Andrew] Blair, Mr Joseph Taylor, Dr [Thomas] Coke and Mr [Peard] Dickinson). Many are offended at this. They go far enough to say [that] Mr Wesley was persuaded into it etc and have sent a printed letter to desire the trustees to give up their trust. I enclose now the answer of two of them and the three executors which may give you a little light into how matters stand. I felt myself sensibly affected at the first…Yesterday a letter came in consequence of a meeting of the preachers held at Leeds to the purport “that if the trustees nominated in the deed would give up their right to men chosen by the Conference, then they would let all drop and search no further into anything respecting the making of it.” But how can the trustees do so? The deed is legal and several persons know Mr Wesley executed it as a thing he thought likely to be of use to the body at large and the most likely way of securing things upon the old plan. I see it my business to pray much and say little…’
Poor [Thomas] Coke will have trouble to deal with when he returns home [Coke was engaged on one of his transatlantic missions. ] ‘as the chief suspicions of his brethren fall upon him.’ However, some of Coke’s opponents have admitted that they heard Wesley speak of drawing up such a deed at least three years since. All this proves to Ritchie what she has long known, namely that the Methodists are from being as pure a body as they ought to be. [The controversy over control of the right to publish John Wesley’s works, a major source of income for the Connexion, was part of the struggle over the future leadership of Methodism. Many preachers suspected the ambitious Dr Thomas Coke of regarding himself as the natural successor to John Wesley.] However the Lord is with them and ‘our dear father’s last words will yet be fulfilled amongst us. [No quotation marks follow this point so it is unlikely that Ritchie, who was present at the deathbed, is actually repeating Wesley’s final words, which are commonly reported to have been simply “Farewell”.] God will proclaim himself with those that cleave unto him and the clouds shall drop fatness.’
Ritchie longs to see Fletcher especially since the awful recent event of Wesley’s death. She thinks that she will visit Madeley before the summer is over and would love to spend the time of Conference with Fletcher [held in Manchester between 26 July and 9 August 1791] – ‘I cannot think of being in the midst of what I fear will then be brought forward.’ Ritchie told a friend the other day who had kindly invited to stay with her in Manchester during Conference that she would rather spend that time with her dear ‘praying’ friend Fletcher. She trusts that things will turn out well in this important gathering ‘but some spirits must either be changed or we shall have divisions.’
Reference is made to Mrs Greenwood and Miss Marshall.
- Robert Carr Brackenbury (1752-1818) was born at Pagnton House near Wragby in Lincolnshire, the oldest surviving son of a wealthy landowner. He was educated at St Catherine’s College Cambridge and appears to have converted shortly after graduation. Brackenbury started to preach and was introduced to John Wesley in 1776. Brackenbury built Raithby Hall in his native county and built a chapel over the stables which was opened by John Wesley in 1779. Brackenbury was held in high regard by the Methodist leader and accompanied Wesley on many preaching tours. After Brackenbury’s first wife died, he moved to the ChAnnl Islands and established societies there in the face of heavy opposition. He moved on to the Isle of Portland in 1790 and enjoyed a similar level of success. Brackenbury married Sarah Holland in 1795 and continued to preach until the time of his death. Brackenbury’s home at Raithby Hall was a centre of hospitality for visiting preachers and he was friendly with all the eminent Methodist ministers of his day including Alexander Kilham who had once served as Brackenbury’s assistant. An extremely modest man, Brackenbury ordered all his private papers to be destroyed after his death. Source: Dictionary of Evangelical Biography 1739-1860, edited by Donald M. Lewis (1995)
- Andrew Blair (1748-1793) was converted in 1771 by the preaching of John Smith at which time Blair was resident in Old Cleens, Enniskillen in County Fermanagh. Blair entered the Irish itinerancy in 1778 and served with conspicuous success in several circuits. He was held in high regard by John Wesley and was appointed in 1784 to the Legal Hundred. In 1785 he was transferred to the English work and spent the next five years in the circuits of Birmingham, Chester and Leeds. Blair returned to Ireland in 1790 and was stationed in Dublin at the time of his death in April 1793. Blair was appointed one of John Wesley’s literary executors in his will of October 1790. Source: Irish Conference Minutes 1793, Robert Gallagher, Pioneer Preachers of Irish Methodism (Wesley Historical Society (Irish branch), 1965) and MAM/FL/6/6/23 (MARC)
- Joseph Taylor (1752-1830) entered the itinerancy in 1777 and was ordained by Wesley for work in Scotland in 1785. He was a member of the Legal Hundred and was also appointed one of John Wesley's literary executors. He served as President of the Wesleyan Conference in 1802. Source: Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974)