1793 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Samuel Wesley the Younger

John Whitehead, "Of the Rev. Samuel Wesley Junior" in Life of John and Charles Wesley (1793; 1844) 1:59-71.



SAMUEL WESLEY, M. A., son of Samuel and Susannah Wesley, was born about 1692, a year or two before his parents removed to Epworth; being nearly eleven years older than his brother Mr. John Wesley, and sixteen older than Mr. Charles. He was sent to Westminster School about the beginning of the year 1704, and admitted a King's Scholar in 1707. Before he left home, his mother, by judicious and constant instruction, had formed his mind to a knowledge and serious sense of religion; but she knew the danger of his situation at Westminster, and how exceedingly apt young persons are to be drawn aside from religion and virtue, by improper companions, and bad examples constantly before their eyes. On this account she was anxious for the preservation of his morals, as he grew up and became more exposed to the temptations of evil. After she had recovered from the shock of the fire which destroyed all they had, and from the fury of which they saved themselves with great difficulty, she wrote to him a long letter, dated October, 1709; which, for the importance of the matter, and the energy with which it is written, is highly deserving of preservation; but on account of its length I can insert only a part of it. This part of it, however, will bring forward to the view of parents an example of attention to the best interest of a child, which it will be their happiness and glory to follow.

"I hope," says she, "that you retain the impressions of your education, nor have forgot that the vows of God are upon you. You know that the first fruits are heaven's by an unalienable right; and that, as your parents devoted you to the service of the altar, so you yourself made it your choice when your father was offered another way of life for you. But have you duly considered what such a choice, and such a dedication imports? Consider well, what separation from the world! what purity! what devotion! what exemplary virtue! is required in those who are to guide others to glory. I say exemplary, for low, common degrees of piety are not sufficient for those of the sacred function. You must not think to live like the rest of the world: your light must so shine among men, that they may see your good works, and thereby be led to glorify your Father which is in heaven. For my part, I cannot see with what face clergymen can reprove sinners, or exhort men to lead a good life, when they themselves indulge their own corrupt inclinations, and by their practice contradict their doctrine. If the holy Jesus be in truth their Master, and they are really his ambassadors, surely it becomes them to live like his disciples; and if they do not, what a sad account must they give of their stewardship.

"I would advise you, as much as possible in your present circumstances, to throw your business into a certain method; by which means you will learn to improve every precious moment, and find an unspeakable facility in the performance of your respective duties. Begin and end the day with him who is the Alpha and Omega; and if you really experience what it is to love God, you will redeem all the time you can for his more immediate service. I will tell you what rule I used to observe when I was in my father's house, and had as little, if not less liberty than you have now: I used to allow myself as much time for recreation as I spent in private devotion; not that I always spent so much, but I gave myself leave to go so far, but no farther. So in all things else, appoint so much time for sleep, eating, company, &c. But above all things, my dear Sammy, I command, I beg, I beseech you, to be very strict in observing the Lord's day. In all things endeavor to act upon principle, and do not live like the rest of mankind, who pass through the world like straws upon a river which are carried which way the stream or wind drives them. Often put this question to yourself, Why do I this or that? Why do I pray, read, study, use devotion, &c.? — by which means you will come to such a steadiness and consistency in your words and actions, as becomes a reasonable creature and a good Christian." — These observations were worthy of the mother, and they were properly regarded and followed by the son.

When senior scholar at Westminster, the Bishop of Rochester took him to his seat at Bromley, in Kent, to read to him in the evenings. He was at this time eagerly pursuing his studies, and this circumstance, which for several reasons would have been highly gratifying to many, was to him no small mortification. From this place he wrote a Latin letter to his father, in August, 1710, in which he complains heavily of the bishop for the interruption he gave him in his learning. An extract from this letter I shall insert below, and give the general purport of it in English. Speaking of the bishop, he observes, "He will always be exceedingly troublesome to me both in sacred and profane learning; for he interrupts the studies to which I had applied with all my might. Last year, in the midst of our business in the college, he took me off both from study and from school, not only without any benefit, but without calling me to any thing which had even the appearance of either utility or pleasure. To-day he is from home, or I should scarcely have leisure to write this letter. He chose me from all the scholars, me, who am hoarse and short-sighted, to read to him at night. I am glad you enjoy good health. I beg yours and my mother's blessing. I saw my grandmother in the last holidays; in those which are approaching I cannot, because I am detained by an unfriendly friend."

He was about eighteen years old when he wrote this letter, and not yet removed from school. We may observe in it marks of a strong mind, wholly devoted to the pursuit of classical knowledge; and considering his age and situation at the time, it shows a progress in learning which does him credit.

His mother's advices had a proper effect on his mind, and were the means of preserving him from vices too common to the youth of the place. He retained his sobriety, his reverence for God, and regard for religion. In December this year he wrote to his mother, and the following extract from his letter gives a pleasing view of his simplicity, and serious attention to the state of his own heart, and the first motions of evil. "I received the sacrament," says he, "the first Sunday of this month — I am unstable as water — I frequently make good resolutions and keep them for a time, and then grow weary of the restraint. I have one grand failing, which is, that having done my duty, I undervalue others, and think what wretches the rest of the college are compared with me. Sometimes in my relapses I cry out, 'Can the Aethiopian change his skin, and the leopard his spots, then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil:' but I answer again, 'With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.' Amen."

The next year, 1711, he was elected to Christ Church, Oxford; and here, as well as at Westminster, he acquired the character of an excellent classic scholar. But his mind was too large, and his zeal for religion and the established church too ardent, to be confined within the bounds prescribed by the common exercises of the place.

The following letter shows that he took an active part in some of the principal questions agitated among the literati of that time. It is dated June 3, 1713, when be had been about two years at Oxford; and is addressed to the Honorable Robert Nelson, Esquire. He says, "I hoped long ere this to have perfected, as well I could, my dissertation on Ignatius, and gotten it ready for the press, when I came to town this year. But I found myself disappointed, at first, for some months, by my affairs in the East India House, and since by my charity hymns and other matters. I think I told you some time since that I had laid materials together for a second discourse on that subject, directly against Mr. Whiston's objections to the shorter and genuine copy of Ignatius; whereas my former was chiefly against the larger; because I then thought, if that were proved interpolated, it would be readily granted that the other was the genuine. But having found, when Mr. Whiston's four volumes came out, that he had in the first of them laid together many objections against the shorter epistles, I set myself to consider them; and having now got Archbishop Usher, Bishop Pearson, and Dr. Smyth, on that subject, and as carefully as I could perused them, I found that many of Mr. Whiston's objections were taken from Daille, a few from the writings of the Socinians and modern Arians, though most of them from his own observations. These latter being new, and having not appeared when Bishop Pearson or the others wrote, could not be taken notice of by them, and being now published in the English language, may seduce some well-meaning persons, and persuade them that the true Ignatius was of the same opinion with the Arians (whereas I am sure he was as far from it as light is from darkness) and that the rather because there has been as yet no answer, that I know of, published to them, though they were printed in the year 1711. I know many are of opinion it is best still to slight him and take no notice of him. This I confess is the most easy way, but cannot tell whether it will be safe in respect to the common people, or will tend so much to the honor of our church and nation. Of this, however, I am pretty confident, that I can prove all his main objections, whether general or particular, against the shorter copy, to be notoriously false. Such as that pp. 86, 87, 'that the smaller so frequently call Christ God,' which he says was done to serve the turn of the Athanasians, and cannot in reason be supposed to be an omission in the larger, but must be interpolation in the smaller: whereas I find that the smaller call him God but fifteen times, the larger eighteen, and if we take in those, to Antioch and Tarsus, twenty-two times, for an obvious reason.

"Again, he says, p. 64, that serious exhortations to practical, especially domestic duties, are in the larger only, being to a surprising degree omitted in the smaller. But I have collected above one hundred instances wherein these duties are most pressingly recommended in the smaller.

"But what he labors most, is to prove that the first quotations in Eusebius and others of the ancients are agreeable to the larger, not the smaller — whereas, on my tracing and comparing them all, as far as I have had opportunity, I have found this assertion to be a palpable mistake, unless in one quotation from the Chronicon Alexandrinum, or Paschale — I would gladly see Montfaucon de causa Marcelli, St. Basil contra Marcellum, observations on Pearson's Vindiciae, and some good account of the Jewish Sephiroth; because I think the Gnostics, Basilidians, and Valentinians, borrowed many of their Eons from them, since they have the same names; and this might perhaps give further light to the famous [Greek characters] of Ignatius; for the clearing whereof Bishop Pearson, Dr. Bull, and Grotius have so well labored."

This letter shows the spirit and zeal of Mr. Wesley for sound doctrine, and does credit to so young a student. When he had taken his Master's degree, or perhaps before he took it, he was sent for to officiate as Usher at Westminster school; and soon afterwards he took orders, under the patronage of Dr. Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, and Dean of Westminster. He became an able, judicious divine: his conduct in discharging the various duties of life, was exemplary, and did honor to his profession as a Christian and a minister of the gospel. He was a man who had the nicest sense of honor and integrity; and the utmost abhorrence of duplicity and falsehood. He was humane and charitable; not only administering to the wants of the poor and afflicted, as far as his income would permit, but also using his influence with others to procure them relief. In filial affection and duty to Parents, be was remarkable; no man in the same circumstances ever shone brighter than he, in this branch of christian duty, through the whole course of his life.

Mr. Samuel Wesley was highly esteemed by Lord Oxford, Bishop Atterbury, Mr. Pope, and several other persons among the first characters in the kingdom, for rank and literary talents. With Lord Oxford and Mr. Pope he held a friendly correspondence; with Bishop Atterbury he was in close habits of friendship. Atterbury was a man of first-rate abilities: he had a fine genius improved by study, and a spirit to exert his talents. His notions of Church government were very high, and on this subject there was perfect harmony between them. The bishop had made himself an object of hatred to Walpole and the rest of the King's ministers, by the opposition which he gave, in the House of Lords, to their measures; being generally among the protestors, and drawing up the reasons of the protests with his own hand. On the 24th of August, 1722, he was apprehended under a suspicion of being concerned in a plot to subvert the government, and bring in the Pretender. Mr. Wesley, by his intimacy with him, became an object of dislike to Walpole; and on this ground, only, I believe, has of late years been accused of Jacobitism. But from the note below it does not appear probable, that Atterbury was guilty of the things alleged against him; and Mr. John Wesley vehemently affirmed that his brother Samuel was not disaffected to the present reigning family. If we consider, that his Father was the first who wrote in defence of the Revolution, and that he mentions this circumstance, apparently with pleasure, it will not appear probable that he was a Jacobite. As Mr. Wesley acted on principle in every part of his conduct, so the banishment of Atterbury made no change in his friendship for him. If he had full conviction of the bishop's innocence, which is probable, it must have given him great pain, to see his friend persecuted, oppressed, and banished by the manoeuvres of a Minister of State. It is no wonder this treatment of his friend should raise his indignation to the highest pitch; which seems to have been the case and will be some apology for the severity of his satire in the following verses, which, I believe, he wrote on this occasion.

When patriots sent a bishop cross the seas,
They met to fix the pains and penalties:
While true blue blood-hounds on his death were bent,
Thy mercy, Walpole, voted banishment!
Or forc'd thy sov'reign's orders to perform,
Or proud to govern as to raise the storm.
Thy goodness shown in such a dang'rous day,
He only, who receiv'd it, can repay;
Thou never justly recompens'd canst be,
Till banish'd Francis do the same for thee.

Though some would give Sir Bob no quarter,
But long to hang him in his Garter;
Yet sure he well deserves to have
Such mercy as in pow'r he gave.
Send him abroad to take his ease
By act of pains and penalties:
But if he e'er comes here again,
Law take its course, and hang him then.

Four shillings in the pound we see,
And well may rest contented,
Since war (Bob swore't should never be)
Is happily prevented.

But he, now absolute become,
May plunder ev'ry penny;
Then blame him not for taking some,
But thank for leaving any.

Let H— his treasures now confess,
Display'd to ev'ry eye:
'T was base in H— to sell a peace,
But great in Bob to buy.

Which most promotes great Britain's gain
To all mankind is clear:
One sends our treasure cross the main,
One brings the foreign here.

But if 'tis fit to give rewards
Or punishments to either,
Why, make them both together Lords,
Or hang them both together.

At scribblers poor, who rail to eat,
Ye wags give over jeering;
Since gall'd by Harry, Bob the great
Has stoop'd to pamphleteering.

Would not one champion on his side,
For love or money venture;
Must knighthood's mirror, spite of pride,
So mean a combat enter.

To take the field his weakness shows,
Though well he could maintain it:
Since H— no honor has to lose,
Fray how can Robin gain it?

Worthy each other are the two,
Halloo! Boys fairly start ye;
Let those be bated worse than you,
Who ever strive to part ye.

A steward once, the scripture says,
When ordered his accounts to pass,
To gain his master's debtors o'er,
Cried, for a hundred write fourscore.

Near as he could, Sir Robert, bent
To follow gospel precedent,
When told a hundred late would do,
Cried, I beseech you, sir, take two.

In merit which should we prefer,
The steward or the treasurer?
Neither for justice car'd a fig,
Too proud to beg, too old to dig;
Both bountiful themselves have shown,
In things that never were their own:
But here a difference we must grant,
One robb'd the rich, to keep off want;
T' other, vast treasures to secure,
Stole from the public and the poor.

His known attachment to Atterbury, and opposition to Walpole, blocked up his way to preferment at Westminster; he therefore left his situation at this place about the year 1732, for the free grammar school at Tiverton, in Devon, over which he presided till his death. In 1736 he published a quarto volume of poems, for which he obtained a numerous and respectable list of subscribers. Many of these poems possess a considerable share of excellence; the tales are admirably well told, and highly entertaining: the satire is pointed, and the moral instructive. — The following beautiful verses are a paraphrase on these words in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah: "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, and the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand forever." They were occasioned by the death of a young lady.

The morning flow'rs display their sweets,
And gay their silken leaves unfold;
As careless of the noon-day heats,
And fearless of the evening cold.

Nipp'd by the wind's unkindly blast,
Parch'd by the sun's directer ray,
The momentary glories waste,
The short-liv'd beauties die away.

So blooms the human face divine,
When youth its pride of beauty shows;
Fairer than spring the colors shine,
And sweeter than the virgin rose.

Or worn by slowly rolling years,
Or broke by sickness in a day;
The fading glory disappears,
The short-liv'd beauties die away.

Yet these, new rising from the tomb,
With lustre brighter far shall shine,
Revive with ever-during bloom,
Safe from diseases and decline.

Let sickness blast, and death devour,
If heav'n must recompense our pains;
Perish the grass, and fade the flow'r,
If firm the word of God remains.

Mr. Samuel Wesley was a very high churchman; and it must be owned, that he was extremely rigid in his principles, which is perhaps the greatest blemish in his character. It has lately been said, that he was prejudiced against some of the highest truths of the gospel, because many of the Dissenters insisted upon them. This is a heavy charge, and if true, would show him to have been a man almost void of Principle; but happily it is wholly without foundation: ignorance and prejudice have given it existence.

As an high churchman, Mr. Wesley had objections to extempore Prayer. In the duodecimo edition of his poems are the following lines on forms of prayer, which, for the sprightly turn of thought they contain, I shall insert.

Form stints the spirit, Watts has said,
And therefore oft is wrong;
At best a crutch the weak to aid,
A cumbrance to the strong.

Old David, both in prayer and praise,
A form for crutches brings;
But Watts has dignified his lays,
And furnish'd him with wings.

Ev'n Watts a form for praise can choose,
For prayer, who throws it by;
Crutches to walk he can refuse,
But uses them to fly.

Mr. Samuel Wesley's principles led him to disapprove of the conduct of his brothers, Mr. John and Charles Wesley, when they became itinerant preachers; being afraid they would make a separation from the Church of England. Several letters passed between him and his brother John Wesley, both on the doctrine which he taught, and on his manner of teaching it. I shall have an opportunity of considering some of these letters when I come to that period of Mr. John Wesley's life in which he and Mr. Charles become itinerants.

Mr. Wesley had a bad state of health some time before he left Westminster, and his removal to Tiverton did not much mend it. On the night of the 5th of November, 1739, he went to bed, seemingly as well as usual; was taken ill about three in the morning, and died at seven, after about four hours' illness. But the following letter will state the circumstances more minutely. It was written to the late Mr. Charles Wesley, and by means of a friend I obtained it from among his papers.

"Tiverton, Nov. 14, 1739.

REV. AND DEAR SIR,—

Your brother and my dear friend (for so you are sensible he was to me) on Monday the 5th of November went to bed, as he thought, as well as he had been for some time before; was seized about three o'clock in the morning very ill, when your sister immediately sent for Mr. Norman, and ordered the servant to call me. Mr. Norman came as quick as he possibly could, but said, as soon as he saw him, that be could not get over it, but would die in a few hours. He was not able to take any thing, nor able to speak to us, only yes or no to a question asked him, and that did not last half an hour. I never went from his bed-side till he expired, which was about seven the same morning. With a great deal of difficulty we persuaded your dear sister to leave the room before he died — I trembled to think how she would bear it, knowing the sincere affection and love she had for him — But blessed be God, he hath heard and answered prayer on her behalf, and in a great measure calmed her spirit, though she has not yet been out of her chamber. Your brother was buried on Monday last in the afternoon — and is gone to reap the fruit of his labors. — I pray God we may imitate him in all his virtues, and be prepared to follow. I should enlarge much more, but have not time; for which reason I hope you will excuse him who is under the greatest obligations to be, and really is, with the greatest sincerity, yours in all things,

Amos MATTHEWS."

In the second edition of his poems in duodecimo, printed at Cambridge, in 1743, there is some account of the author, by a friend, prefixed to it. I know not who the writer of this account was, but as it was written soon after his death, and by a person who seems to have been well acquainted with him, I shall give a short extract from it.

"The author of these poems, the Rev. Mr. Samuel Wesley, frankly declares in his preface to the edition published by himself, that it was not any opinion of excellence in the verses themselves, that occasioned their present collection and publication, but merely the profit proposed by the subscription. If his modesty had permitted him to have been sensible of his own merit, he might, without this, or any other apology, have safely trusted them to speak for themselves: and perhaps the candid reader, upon an impartial perusal, will hardly think them inferior to the most favored and celebrated collections of this kind.

"For though it must be owned, that a certain roughness may be observed to run through them, the vehemence and surprising vivacity of his temper not suffering him to revise, or, as he used to call it, to tinker what he had once finished — yet strong, just, manly sentiments every where occur, set off with all the advantage which a most luxuriant fancy, and a very uncommon compass of knowledge could adorn them with; together with a flowing and unaffected pleasantness in the more humorsome parts, beyond what could proceed from even the happiest talent of wit, unless also accompanied with that innocence and cheerfulness of heart, which to him made life delightful in his laborious station, and endeared his conversation to all, especially his learned and ingenious friends; and many such he had, of all ranks and degrees.

"He was the son of a clergyman in Lincolnshire, from whence he was brought to Westminster school; where having passed through the college as a King's Scholar, he was elected Student of Christ Church in Oxford. In both these places, by the sprightliness of his compositions, and his remarkable industry, he gained a reputation beyond most of his cotemporaries, being thoroughly and critically skilful in the learned languages, and master of the classics to a degree of perfection, perhaps not very common in this last mentioned society, so justly famous for polite learning.

"It must be observed, in justice to his memory, that his wit and learning were the least part of this worthy man's praise. An open, benevolent temper, which he had from nature, he so cultivated upon principle, that the number and the continual success of his good offices was astonishing even to his friends. He was an instance how exceedingly serviceable in life a person of a very inferior station may be, who sets his heart upon it. His own little income was liberally made use of, and as his acquaintance whom he applied to, were always confident of his care and integrity, he never wanted means to carry on his good purposes. One particular must not be omitted; he was one of the first projectors, and a very careful and active promoter, of the first Infirmary set up at Westminster, for the relief of the sick and needy, in 1719, and had the satisfaction to see it flourish, and to propagate by its example, under the prudent management of other good persons, many pious establishments of the same kind in distant parts of the nation."

The following extracts of letters from his patron, Bishop Atterbury, are too much to his honor not to be mentioned here; they were occasioned by that fine poem on the death of Mrs. Morice, his Lordship's daughter.

"April 24, 1730.

I have received a poem from Mr. Morice, which I must be insensible not to thank you for, your Elegy on the death of Mrs. Morice — I cannot help an impulse upon me, to tell you under my own hand, the satisfaction I feel, the approbation I give, the envy I bear you, for this good work; as a poet and as a man, I thank you, I esteem you."

"Paris, May 27, 1730.

I am obliged to W. for what he has written on my dear child; and take it the more kindly because he could not hope for my being ever in a condition to reward him — though if ever I am, I will — for he has shown an invariable regard for me all along in all circumstances; and much more than some of his acquaintance, who had ten times greater obligations."

"Paris, June 30, 1730.

The Verses you sent me touched me very nearly, and the Latin in the front of them as much as the English that followed. There are a great many good lines in them, and they are writ with as much affection as poetry. They came from the heart of the author, and he has a share of mine in return; and if ever I come back to my country with honor, he shall find it."

These extracts do honor to the feelings of Atterbury as a man; and they give a noble testimony to the disinterested and unchangeable friendship of Mr. Wesley for a person whom he esteemed, and whom he thought deeply injured.

The author of "Some Account of Mr. Samuel Wesley," prefixed to his poems, informs us that the following inscription was put upon his grave-stone in the church-yard at Tiverton.

Here lie interr'd
The remains of the Rev. SAMUEL WESLEY, A. M.
Some time Student of Christ Church, Oxon:
A man, for his uncommon wit and learning,
For the benevolence of his temper,
And simplicity of manners
Deservedly beloved and esteemed by all.
An excellent Preacher:
But whose best sermon
Was, the constant example of an edifying life.
So continually and zealously employed
In acts of beneficence and charity,
That he truly followed
His blessed Master's example
In going about doing good.
Of such scrupulous integrity,
That he declined occasions of advancement in the world
Through fear of being involved in dangerous compliances,
And avoided the usual ways to preferment
As studiously as many others seek them.
Therefore after a life spent
In the laborious employment of teaching youth,
First, for near twenty years
As one of the Ushers in Westminster School;
Afterwards for seven years
As Head Master of the Free School at Tiverton,
He resigned his soul to God,
Nov. 6, 1739, in the 49th year of his age.