Charles Wesley Papers

Scope and Content

The collection falls into the following main physical categories:

Loose Letters

There are approximately one hundred of these covering the period of sixty years from 1728 until shortly before Wesley's death. They deal with both personal and official matters and were written to various correspondents.

Loose literary manuscripts and Literary notebooks

This category consists of poems or hymns in Wesley's hand, written at different times and largely undated. Some were set to music and used by the Methodist and other Churches, but a great many others remained unpublished until very recently. Very little of the verse show signs of alteration and so can be considered to represent final copies of the poem in question.

A large number of poems are also to be found within letters, especially those to members of the family or close friends.

Folio Scrapbooks

During the nineteenth century many manuscripts were fixed into three large scrapbooks, containing a total of about four hundred items. This was not done in accordance with any recognisable order or arrangement. The manuscripts include correspondence, so-called journal letters, poems, financial papers, and copies of original documents, many of which are now lost.

Notebooks

In addition to the literary note books referred to above, there are several manuscript account books containing very detailed household and other accounts covering the years which the Wesley family spent in London. The collection also includes several other note books containing shorthand and other miscellaneous notes.

A draft manuscript journal covering the years is also preserved within the collection. This is complemented by the journal letters in the scrap books.

Unless otherwise stated all the letters and hymns listed in this catalogue were written by Charles Wesley, and similarly in the case of letters written by other people, the addressee is Charles Wesley.

For the sake of consistency, poems written by Charles Wesley are referred to in the catalogue as hymns.

Wherever possible people and places mentioned in the collection have been identified in notes after each entry, and their significance indicated. All the source material used in this identification can be consulted at the John Rylands University Library, and wherever possible widely available sources such as the Dictionary of National Biography, or the Encyclopedia of World Methodism are cited.

Where documents have been transcribed or quoted in printed sources, this has been indicated at the end of each entry.

In the case of undated manuscripts every effort has been made to date the item from internal evidence and the use of chronological tables - such dates have been placed in square brackets at the end of the entry. Dr Frank Baker of Duke University in North Carolina, has also kindly assisted in the dating of several of the letters.

Letters written by or addressed to John Wesley have not been catalogued in detail, as these have been largely published, most recently in the Oxford edition of Wesley's Works.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles Wesley was born at Epworth in Lincolnshire, the son of a poverty-stricken clergyman. He received his early education from his mother Susanna, before being sent to Westminster School, where his eldest brother was a master.

In 1726 he went up to 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. Wesley graduated in 1730 but stayed on as a College tutor.

Despite his membership of the Holy Club, Wesley remained very unsure in his faith, and it was only with great difficulty that his brother John persuaded him to seek ordination, before becoming a missionary in the new North American colony of Georgia.

Wesley's stay in Georgia was not a success. Plagued by self-doubt and the petty intrigues of the colonists, he returned to England in December 1736, after a stay of less than a year.

Charles Wesley underwent a conversion experience in London in May 1738, a few days before John Wesley's famous Aldersgate experience. After Whitefield's example, he commenced preaching in the open air in July 1739.

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.

In 1749 he married Sarah Gwynne, the daughter of a wealthy convert, and despite an age difference of nineteen years the union proved to be a very happy one. He withdrew from the itinerancy in 1756, and settled first in Bristol, and then London. He exercised a very active ministry in both these key cities until almost the end of his life.

Charles Wesley's greatest legacy to Methodism are his hymns, which are regarded as among the finest ever written. The Methodists gave the singing of hymns a central place in worship, contrary to contemporary Anglican practice. The fervour and Christian joy of the early Evangelicals are reflected in Wesley's hymns, and they contain many key elements of Methodist doctrine. They formed the basis of the Methodist hymn-books of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and are still sung all over the world by Christians of every denomination.

Arrangement

Given the size and physical nature of the collection, it has been catalogued in four series:

  • DDCW/1-2 - Charles Wesley correspondence.
  • DDCW/3-4 - Loose manuscript items.
  • DDCW/5-7 - Folio scrapbooks.
  • DDCW8-10 - Notebooks and manuscript items.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The Methodist Church

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue of the Collection was produced by Gareth Lloyd in 1994. The present catalogue has been produced to replace this with an ISAD(G) compliant catalogue.

Alternative Form Available

The items listed below have been published as a part of the microfiche collection: Clive Field (ed.), The people called Methodists: a documentary history of the Methodist church in Great Britain and Ireland on microfiche (Leiden, Netherlands: IDC Publishers, 1998). The description here is that contained in the published Guide to the microform collection, which contains the John Rylands University Library reference, followed by the microfiche reference in square brackets.

  • Wesley, Charles. In-letters, 1752-83. DDCW/2/1-14. [MP-642 mf. 1-1].
  • Wesley, Charles. Out-letters, 1728-87. DDCW/1/1-93. [MP-643 mf. 1-8].
  • Wesley, Charles. Out-letters, 1739-66. DDCW/5/1-112. [MP-645 mf. 1-8].
  • Wesley, Charles. Out-letters, 1740-83. DDCW/6/32-34, 38-45. [MP-646 mf. 1-1].
  • Wesley, Charles. Out-letters, 1748-87. DDCW/7/1-122. [MP-647 mf. 1-9].

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

Following the death of Charles Wesley, his personal papers were preserved by his family, although some destruction of sensitive material may have taken place. His daughter Sally took a particular interest in ensuring that her father was portrayed sympathetically. Her correspondence with Dr Adam Clarke is particularly illuminating in this respect. After her death the collection, which included the papers of Charles's wife and other close relations, was acquired by the Wesleyan Conference and was preserved in London as part of what became the Methodist Archives. It was regularly augmented by the addition of material acquired from several sources, most notably from private collectors.

In 1976 the Charles Wesley papers were transferred to the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, where they form an integral part of the Wesley family collection.

Related Material

The Charles Wesley papers should be used in conjunction with the Wesley family archive, of which they form an integral part. The family archive contains hundreds of letters and associated papers written by close family members, including Charles's parents, and his own children. It also contains a stray collection of two hundred letters by Charles Wesley himself. The archive has been catalogued and indexed in the same way as the Charles Wesley collection - see the DDWF and DDWes catalogues.

Bibliography

Frederick C. Gill, Charles Wesley: the first Methodist (London: Lutterworth, 1964)

Gareth Lloyd, Charles Wesley and the struggle for Methodist identity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Newport, Kenneth (ed.), The Sermons of Charles Wesley: A critical edition with introduction and notes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)

Newport, Kenneth and Kimbrough, S.T. (eds.), The manuscript journal of the Reverend Charles Wesley 2 volumes (U.S: Abingdon Press, 2007)

Family Names