The Author of these Poems (the Revd. Mr. Samuel Wesley) frankly declares in his preface to the edition published by himself, that "it was not any opinion of excellency in the verses themselves that occasioned their present collection and publication, but meerly 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 favoured and celebrated collections of this kind.
For though it must be owned that a certain roughness may be observed to run thro' them, the vehemence and surprizing vivacity of his temper not suffering him to revise, or as he used to call it to "tinker" what he had once finished with that accuracy and minuteness which a lower genius would more naturally have been inclined to: 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 humourous 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 past thro' the College as a King's Scholar he was elected Student to 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 even in this last mentioned Society so justly famous for polite learning. With these qualifications he was sent for from the University to officiate as one of the Ushers in Westminster-School, and soon after under the direction of Bishop Atterbury then Dean of Westminster, entered into holy Orders: and though he never obtained any Church preferment, yet he applied himself indefatigably to the studies of his profession; and to the character of a sound judicious Divine, added also by his attainments before-mentioned of humane learning that of an excellent Preacher. It may seem almost incredible that a person so engaged in perpetual employment should compass all this: and yet by the help of a resolute spirit, a robust constitution, and an ardent and insatiable desire of knowledge he did it so effectually, that it may be truly said he left few better Scholars than himself behind him.
However, 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, and was so intent upon it as a Duty to help every body as he could, that the number and continual success of his good offices was astonishing even to his friends, who knew with what pleasure and zeal he did them: and he was an instance how exceedingly serviceable in life a person of a very inferior station may be, who sets his heart upon it. As his diligence upon such occasions was never tired out, so he had a singular address and dexterity in solliciting them: 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; so that his life was a series of useful Charity. 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 the year 1719, and he had the satisfaction to see it flourish from a very small beginning to its present happy state, 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.
After this it will easily be believed that he abhor'd and despised that licentiousness of expression, which so many even of the first-rate names in Poetry have unaccountably given into; that levity and indelicacy which so often sacrifices good manners and vertue to an impotent desire of shining in Wit. He has handsomely ridiculed it in these poems, and his conversation was a standing rebuke to it, being a proof how little need a true genius has of such wretched expedients to make itself entertaining. Not but that he was very free and open, though always just and candid in his censures: as no man had a truer respect for all sorts of Merit, or a more compassionate regard for all human frailty; so Hypocrisy and knavery always felt the lash of his honest indignation: in his conversation he animadverted upon them without any reserve, and in his writings he exposed them with a true spirit of Satyr. And hence his papers grew insensibly upon his hands to the bulk which composes this volume; several of them were published singly from time to time and received by the world with great applause, and the whole being afterwards collected by himself and printed in a handsom edition in quarto, met with such encouragement as made up good part of a decent competency he left behind him for his widow and daughter to subsist upon.
The following extracts of letters from his Patron Bishop Atterbury, are too much to his honour not to be here inserted; they were occasioned by that fine poem (printed in this collection) upon 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 upon the death of Mrs. Morice. It is what 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 deed and good work; as a poet and as a man, I thank, 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 — tho' if ever I am, I will; for he has shewn 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 honour he shall find it."
It may be thought and perhaps truly enough that his attachment to this great unfortunate Prelate hindered him from rising higher in the world: but as it was what he always gloried in, so it is obvious to remark that it would be for the credit of human nature if such examples were more frequent, and that Great men did oftener find upon the vicissitudes of fortune such firmness and fidelity from those they have obliged.
Continual application to such various business, and an intense pursuit at the same time of his studies, had at length well nigh wore him out by the time he had reached little more than half the "age of man:" so that being advised to retire his constitution, he was easily prevailed upon to accept a Country School in the West of England, where soon falling into a lingering illness, which in a few years brought him to his end, he lyes buried in the Church-yard with the following inscription upon his grave-stone.
Here lye interr'd
The Remains of the Rev. Mr. Samuel Wesley, A.M.
Sometimes 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 benevolence 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 compliance,
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.