Samuel Wesley

Samuel Wesley (1662 - 1735)

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Samuel Wesley
Born in Whitchurch, Dorset, England, United Kingdommap
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Died in Epworth, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdommap
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Categories: Exeter College, Oxford | Corpus Christi College, Cambridge | Poets | Epworth, Lincolnshire | Church of England Priests.


Samuel Wesley was a clergyman of the Church of England, as well as a poet and a writer of controversial prose. He was also the father of John Wesley and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism.
A biographical history of the Wesley family : more particularly its earlier branches by Dove, John Published 1833 Publisher London : Simpkin & Marshall ; Leeds : H. Spink Pages 310

Chalmers' General Biographical Dictionary Page number 296 Volume 31

His Gravestone reads, he departed this life 25 of April 1735 not 5th April as in the biography on findagrave.

He died in debt and despite having spent his own money to rebuild the parsonage after it burnt down, the house was on church-owned land.*youngest child of Samuel & Susanna Wesley[1]

14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)Carr-8686 Following notes added by Carr-8686

Born abt. 1663 Died 25 April 1735 (Aged 72 years) Nationality British Education Exeter College, Oxford Occupation Cleric, author Spouse(s) Susanna Wesley Children 19 Religion Anglicanism (Church of England) Ordained 17 December 1662

Samuel Wesley (baptised 17 December 1662 - 25 April 1735) was a clergyman of the Church of England, as well as a poet and a writer of controversial prose. He was also the father of John Wesley and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism.

Family and early life

Interior of St Andrew, Epworth: The Wesley Family Tree. Samuel Wesley was the second son of Rev. John Westley or Wesley, rector of Winterborne Whitechurch, Dorset. His mother was the daughter of John White, rector of Trinity Church, Dorchester, the so-called "Patriarch of Dorchester".

Following some grammar school education in Dorchester, Wesley was sent away from home to prepare for ministerial training under Theophilus Gale. Gale's death in 1678 forestalled this plan; instead, he attended another grammar school[1] and then studied at dissenting academies under Edward Veel in Stepney and then Charles Morton in Newington Green, where Gale had lived. Daniel Defoe also attended Morton's school, situated "probably on the site of the current Unitarian church",[2] contemporaneously with Wesley.

Samuel resigned his place and his annual scholarship among the Dissenters and walked all the way to Oxford, where he enrolled at Exeter College as a "poor scholar." He functioned as a "servitor", which means he sustained himself financially by waiting upon wealthy students. He also published a small book of poems, entitled Maggots: or Poems on Several Subjects never before Handled in 1685. The unusual title is explained in a few lines from the first page of the work:

In his own defense the author writes Because when the foul maggot bites He ne'er can rest in quiet: Which makes him make so sad a face He'd beg your worship or your grace Unsight, unseen, to buy it

Wesley married Susanna Wesley in 1688. He fathered Samuel (the younger), Mehetabel, John and Charles Wesley. He had 19 children, nine of whom died in infancy. Three boys and seven girls survived.

In 1697 he was appointed to the living at Epworth through the benevolence of Queen Mary. He may have come to the queen's attention because of his heroic poem, "The Life of Christ" (1693) which he dedicated to her. Samuel Wesley's high-church liturgies, academic proclivities, and loyalist Tory politics were a complete mismatch for those of his illiterate parishioners. He was not warmly received, and his ministry was not widely appreciated. Wesley was soon deep in debt and much of his life would be spent trying to make financial ends meet. In 1709 his parsonage was destroyed by fire and son John was barely rescued from the flames.[3]

Career His poetic career began in 1685 with the publication of Maggots, a collection of juvenile verses on trivial subjects, the preface to which apologizes to the reader because the book is neither grave nor gay. The poems appear to be an attempt to prove that poetic language can create beauty out of the most revolting subject. The first poem, "On a Maggot", is composed in hudibrastics, with a diction obviously Butlerian, and it is followed by facetious poetic dialogues and by Pindarics of the Cowleian sort but on such subjects as "On the Grunting of a Hog." In 1688 Wesley took his B.A, at Exeter College, Oxford, following which he became a naval chaplain and, in 1690, rector of South Ormsby. In 1694 he took his MA from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge,[4] and the following year he became rector of Epworth. During the run of the Athenian Gazette (1691-1697) he joined with Richard Sault and John Norris in assisting John Dunton, the promoter of the undertaking. His second venture in poetry, the Life of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour, an epic largely in heroic couplets with a prefatory discourse on heroic poetry, appeared in 1693, was reissued in 1694, and was honored with a second edition in 1697. In 1695 he dutifully came forward with Elegies, lamenting the deaths of Queen Mary II and Archbishop Tillotson. An Epistle to a Friend concerning Poetry (1700) was followed by at least four other volumes of verse, the last of which was issued in 1717. His poetry appears to have had readers on a certain level, but it stirred up little pleasure among wits, writers, or critics. Judith Drake confessed that she was lulled to sleep by Blackmore's Prince Arthur and by Wesley's "heroics" (Essay in Defence of the Female Sex, 1696, p. 50). And he was satirized as a mare poetaster in Garth's Dispensary, in Swift's The Battle of the Books, and in the earliest issues of the Dunciad.

Controversy For a few years in the early eighteenth century Wesley found himself in the vortex of controversy. Brought up in the dissenting tradition, he had swerved into conformity at some point during the 1680s, possibly under the influence of Tillotson, whom he greatly admired (cf. Epistle to a Friend, pp. 5-6). In 1702 there appeared his Letter from a Country Divine to his friend in London concerning the education of dissenters in their private academies, apparently written about 1693. This attack upon dissenting academies was published at an unfortunate time, when the public mind was inflamed by the intolerance of overzealous churchmen. Wesley was furiously answered; he replied in A Defence of a Letter (1704), and again in A Reply to Mr. Palmer's Vindication (1707). It is scarcely to Wesley's credit that in this quarrel he stood shoulder to shoulder with that most hot-headed of all contemporary bigots, Henry Sacheverell. His prominence in the controversy earned him the ironic compliments of Daniel Defoe, who recalled that our "Mighty Champion of this very High-Church Cause" had once written a poem to satirize frenzied Tories (Review, II, no. 87, 22 September 1705). About a week later, Defoe, having got wind of a collection being taken up for Wesley - who in consequence of a series of misfortunes was badly in debt - intimated that High-Church pamphleteering had turned out very profitably for both Lesley and Wesley (2 October 1705). But in such snarling and bickering Wesley was out of his element, and, he seems to have avoided future quarrels.

His literary criticism is small in bulk. But though it is neither brilliant nor well written (Wesley apparently composed at a break-neck clip), it is not without interest. Pope observed in 1730 that he was a "learned" man (letter to Swift, in Works, ed. Elwin-Courthope, VII, 184). The observation was correct, but it should be added that Wesley matured at the end of an age famous for its great learning, an age whose most distinguished poet was so much the scholar that he appeared more the pedant than the gentleman to critics of the succeeding era; Wesley was not singular for erudition among his seventeenth-century contemporaries.

"Essay on Heroic Poetry"

Engraving of Wesley by George Vertue (1732). The Essay on Heroic Poetry, serving as Preface to The Life of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour, reveals something of its author's erudition. Among the critics, he was familiar with Aristotle, Horace, Longinus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Heinsius, Bochart, Balzac, Rapin, Le Bossu, and Boileau. But this barely hints at the extent of his learning. In the notes on the poem itself the author displays an interest in classical scholarship, Biblical commentary, ecclesiastical history, scientific inquiry, linguistics and philology, British antiquities, and research into the history, customs, architecture, and geography of the Holy Land; he shows, an intimate acquaintance with Grotius, Henry Hammond, Joseph Mede, Spanheim, Sherlock, Lightfoot, and Gregory, with Philo, Josephus, Fuller, Walker, Camden, and Athanasius Kircher; and he shows an equal readiness to draw upon Ralph Cudworth's True Intellectual System and Robert Boyle's new theories concerning the nature of light. In view of such a breadth of knowledge it is somewhat surprising to find him quoting as extensively as he does in the "Essay" from Le Bossu and Rapin, and apparently leaning heavily upon them.

The "Essay" was composed at a time when the prestige of Rymer and neo-Aristotelianism in England was already declining, and though Wesley expressed some admiration for Rapin and Le Bossu, he is by no means docile under their authority. Whatever the weight of authority, he says, "I see no cause why Poetry should not be brought to the Test [of reason], as well as Divinity...." As to the sacred example of Homer, who based his great epic on mythology, Wesley remarks, "But this [mythology] being now antiquated, I cannot think we are oblig'd superstitiously to follow his Example, any more than to make Horses speak, as he does that of Achilles." To the question of the formidable Boileau, "What Pleasure can it be to hear the howlings of repining Lucifer?" our critic responds flippantly,"I think 'tis easier to answer than to find out what shew of Reason he had for asking it, or why Lucifer mayn't howl as pleasantly as either Cerberus, or Knoeladus." Without hesitation or apology he takes issue with Rapin's conception of Decorum in the epic. But Wesley is empiricist as well as rationalist, and the judgment of authority can be upset by appeal to the court of experience. To Balzac's suggestion that, to avoid difficult and local proper names in poetry, generalized terms be used, such as Ill-luck for the Fates and the Foul Fiend for Lucifer, our critic replies with jaunty irony, "... and whether this wou'd not sound extremely Heroical, I leave any Man to judge", and thus he dismisses the matter. Similarly, when Rapin objects to Tasso's mingling of lyric softness in the majesty of the epic, Wesley points out sharply that no man of taste will part with the fine scenes of tender love in Tasso, Dryden, Ovid, Ariosto, and Spenser "for the sake of a fancied Regularity." He had set out to defend the Biblical epic, the Christian epic, and the propriety of Christian machines in epic, and no rules or authority could deter him. As good an example as any of his independence of mind can be seen In a note on Bk. I, apropos of the poet's use of obsolete words (Life of Our Blessed Lord, 1697, p. 27): It may be in vicious imitation of Milton and Spenser, he says in effect, but I have a fondness for old words, they please my ear, and that is all the reason I can give for employing them.

Wesley's resistance to a strict application of authority and the rules grew partly out of the rationalistic and empirical temper of Englishmen in his age, but it also sprang from his learning. From various sources he drew the theory that Greek and Latin were but corrupted forms of ancient Phoenician, and that the degeneracy of Greek and Latin in turn had produced all, or most, of the present European tongues (ibid., p. 354). In addition, he believed that the Greeks had derived some of their thought from older civilizations, and specifically that Plato had received many of his notions from the Jews (ibid., p. 230)-an idea which recalls the argument that Dryden in Religio Laioi had employed against the deists, furthermore, he had, like many of his learned contemporaries, a profound respect for Hebrew culture and the sublimity of the Hebrew scriptures, going so far as to remark in the "Essay on Heroic Poetry" that "most, even of [the heathen poets'] beat Fancies and Images, as well as Names, were borrow'd from the Antient Hebrew Poetry and Divinity." In short, however faulty his particular conclusions, he had arrived at an historical viewpoint, from which it was no longer possible to regard the classical standards-much less the standards of French critics-as having the holy sanction of Nature herself.

Literary tastes Some light is shed on the literary tastes of his period by Epistle to a friend concerning poetry (1700) and the Essay on Heroic Poetry (1697), which with a few exceptions were in accord with the prevailing current. The Life of Our Blessed Lord shows strongly the influence of Cowley's Davideis. Wesley's great admiration persisted after the tide had turned away from Cowley; and his liking for the "divine Herbert" and for Crashaw represented the tastes of sober and unfashionable readers. Although he professed unbounded admiration for Homer as the greatest genius in nature, in practise he seemed more inclined to follow the lead of Cowley, Virgil, and Vida. Although there was much in Ariosto that he enjoyed, he preferred Tasso; the irregularities in both, however, he felt bound to deplore. To Spenser's Faerie Queene he allowed extraordinary merit. If the plan of it was noble, he thought, and the mark of a comprehensive genius, yet the action of the poem seemed confused. Nevertheless, like Prior later, Wesley was inclined to suspend judgment on this point because the poem had been left incomplete. To Spenser's "thoughts" he paid the highest tribute, and to his "Expressions flowing natural and easie, with such a prodigious Poetical Copia as never any other must expect to enjoy." Like most of the Augustans Wesley did not care greatly for Paradise Regained, but he partly atoned by his praise for Paradise Lost, which was an "original" and therefore "above the common Rules." Though defective in its action, it was resplendent with sublime thoughts perhaps superior to any in Virgil or Homer, and full of incomparable and exquisitely moving passages. In spite of his belief that Milton's blank verse was a mistake, making for looseness and incorrectness, he borrowed lines and images from it, and in Bk. IV of The Life of Our Blessed Lord he incorporated a whole passage of Milton's blank verse in the midst of his heroic couplets.

Wesley's attitude toward Dryden deserves a moment's pause. In the "Essay on Heroic Poetry" he observed that a speech of Satan's in Paradise Lost is nearly equalled in Dryden's State of Innocence. Later in the same essay he credited a passage in Dryden's King Arthur with showing an improvement upon Tasso. There is no doubt as to his vast respect for the greatest living poet, but his remarks do not indicate that he ranked Dryden with Virgil, Tasso, or Milton; for he recognized as well as we that the power to embellish and to imitate successfully does not constitute the highest excellence in poetry. In the Epistle to a Friend he affirmed his admiration for Dryden's matchless style, his harmony, his lofty strains, his youthful fire, and even his wit-in the main, qualities of style and expression. But by 1700 Wesley had absorbed enough of the new puritanism that was rising in England to qualify his praise; now he deprecated the looseness and indecency of the poetry, and called upon the poet to repent. One other point calls for comment. Wesley's scheme for Christian machinery in the epic, as described in the "Essay on Heroic Poetry", is remarkably similar to Dryden's. Dryden's had appeared in the essay on satire prefaced to his translation of Juvenal, published late in October 1692; Wesley's scheme appeared soon after June 1693.

The Epistle to a Friend concerning Poetry is neither startling nor contemptible; it has, in fact, much more to say than the rhymed treatises on verse by Roscommon and Buckinghamshire. Its remarks on Genius are fresh, though tantalizing in their brevity, and it defends the Moderns with both neatness and energy. Much of its advice is cautious and commonplace-but such was the tradition of the poetical treatise on verse. Appearing within two years of Collier's first attack upon the stage, it reinforces some of that worthy's contentions, but we are not aware of its having had much effect.

See also icon Poetry portal Charles Wesley John Wesley List of people with the most children Sources This material was originally from the introduction of Augustan Reprint Society's edition of Epistle to a friend concerning poetry (1700) and the Essay on Heroic Poetry (second edition, 1697), volume 5 in the Augustan Reprint series, part of series 2, Essay on Poetry: No. 2, first printed in 1947. It was written by Edward Niles Hooker. It was published in the US without a copyright notice, which at the time meant it fell into the public domain.

References "Wesley, Samuel (1662-1735)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885-1900. The Village that Changed the World: A History of Newington Green London N16 by Alex Allardyce. Newington Green Action Group: 2008. p7. Tyson, John. Assist Me to Proclaim. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008. "Westley, Samuel (WSTY694S)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.

14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)14:02, 9 April 2018 (EDT)~ Samuel Wesley was born in 1662, in Dorsetshire, four months after the English St. Bartholomew's Day, upon which his father and his grandfather were ejected from their livings for Nonconformity.

His father dying when he was a lad, his education was cared for by his mother, and in 1678 some friends of his family sent him to a Nonconformist academy in London. Here he made the acquaintance of the eccentric bookseller and literary man, John Dunton, afterward the editor of the Athenian Gazette, a precursor of the Tatler and Spectator. Here also he obtained entry, as the son and grandson of distinguished confessors, into the best Nonconformist circles, of which one of the leading families was that of a Rev. Dr. Annesley. One of his schoolfellows was Daniel Defoe.

He heard Stephen Charnook and John Bunyan preach, made notes of many sermons, and wrote some verses and unwise lampoons. He was about twenty years of age when he was asked to answer some strictures made upon the Dissenters, and while studying the subject he decided to leave Nonconformity and go over to the Established Church. With that quick impulse which distinguished all his subsequent life, he rose early one morning and started afoot for Oxford University, 'entering Exeter College as a servitor, with only two pounds and five shillings in his pocket.

The young collegian met his expenses partly by teaching and partly by his pen. He collected his poetical pieces, which were published under the title of Maggots; or Poems on several subjects never before handled, by a Scholar, London. The claim to novelty for "several subjects" is sustained by the tittles of the pieces: The Grunting of a Hog, A Cow's Tail, A Hat Broke at Cudgels, The Tobacco Pipe, The Tame Snake in a Box of Bran.

This curious book is extremely scarce. It was published by that odd John Dunton, with whom, as we know, Wesley was acquainted before he went to Oxford. Dunton had married Elizabeth Annesley, the sister of Susanna, who six years afterward became Wesley's wife. At Oxford Samuel Wesley's character ripened. There was awakened in him a true pastoral feeling of compassion and responsibility by visiting the prisoners in the castle; as his sons did fifty years later, when he wrote to them, "Go on in God's name in the path your Saviour has directed and that track wherein your father has gone before you; for when I was an undergraduate at Oxford I visited them in the castle there, and reflect on it with great satisfaction to this day." As quaint old Fuller says, "Thus was the prison his first parish; his own charity his patron presenting him to it; and his work was all his wages."

He took his degree of B. A. in 1688, signing his name Wesley instead of Westley. He received his M. A. degree later from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Returning to London, he was ordained deacon by the time-serving but able Bishop of Rochester, Dr. Thomas Sprat, whom Dunton eulogized thus: Nature rejoiced beneath his charming power; His lucky hand made everything a flower. On earth the king of wits (they are but few), And, though a bishop, yet a preacher too!

Twelve days after the Prince and Princess of Orange were proclaimed as King William III and Mary, Samuel Wesley was ordained a priest of the Church of England by Bishop Compton, of London, in St. Andrew's Church, Holborn.

Samuel Wesley became "passing rich" on 'a38 a year as a London curate, then obtained a naval chaplaincy, commenced his metrical Life of Christ, and in 1689 married Dr. Annesley's accomplished daughter Susanna on another London curacy of 'a330 a year. The young couple commenced their married life in Holborn, in lodgings somewhere near the quaint old houses still standing opposite Gray's Inn Road.

Samuel Wesley, the son of John Wesley, was baptized December 17, 1662 at Winterbourne Whitchurch. He received his education at the Dorchester Free School, where he remained until he was fifteen years of age. His widowed mother being at this time very poor, he was sent, through the kindness of Dissenting friends, to an academy at Stepney, in the hope that he would enter the Dissenting Ministry. Encouraged by the offer of an exhibition of 'a310, he decided to go to Oxford.

Entering himself as a servitor of Exeter College, he supported himself for five years, took his degree, and moved to London, where he was ordained deacon on August 7, 1688. Samuel obtained a curacy, with an income of 'a328, and afterwards a then a chaplaincy on board a man-of-war.

He then obtained another curacy, and soon after married Susanna the daughter of Dr. Annesley, a leading Nonconformist divine. In 1691, he was appointed to the parish of South Ormesby, with an income of 'a350 and a house.

Here he spent nearly six of the best years of his life, and wrote some of his most able works. Five of his children were born were born here. It was about 1696 or 1697 he moved with his wife and family to Epworth.

It was into this family, on the seventeenth day of June, 1703, that the eleventh child, and fourth son, of the nineteen children of Samuel and Susanna Wesley, was born at Epworth parsonage, a few hours after his birth, being weakly, he was baptized by his father. The baby was named John Benjamin


  1. Greetham, Mary. "Susanna Wesley Mother of Methodism." Foundery Press, Great Britain, 1988.

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