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Gareth Lloyd writes:

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Portrait engraving of Charles Wesley (Ref: MARC MAW Ms 279).

Charles Wesley (1707-88) is regarded by many people as the finest hymn writer in the Christian tradition. Works like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” occupy an important place in hymnals of most denominations and are familiar even to non-Church goers. Yet, other aspects of his life and ministry are often overlooked.

This is about to change as the complete surviving letters of the co-founder of Methodism are published for the first time. The collection contains approximately 700 texts, which document the many twists and turns of a remarkable life from Charles’s undergraduate days at Oxford to his death sixty years later.

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The letters reveal a man who was far more than just a writer of hymns. Wesley’s genius as a preacher and religious leader contributed to the birth of the evangelical movement, probably the greatest success story of the modern Church. Another key theme of the collection is relationships. Charles was a family man devoted to his much younger wife and their three children; he was also a brother who clashed bitterly in his later years with his domineering sibling and ministerial partner John Wesley. All of these aspects, and many more, are displayed in a collection, which shows that Charles Wesley was not only an accomplished poet, but also a vigorous and eloquent prose stylist.

Letter of Charles Wesley to John Wesley, 5 May 1729 (Ref: MARC DDCW 1-3)

Letter of Charles Wesley to John Wesley, 5 May 1729 (Ref: MARC DDCW 1-3)

The letters are a significant resource for the study of public, private and religious life in Georgian Britain at a time of rapid economic and social change, seen through the eyes of a man who ministered to the urban poor and mixed with the social elite, observing both with a keen eye and ready wit. They offer a sometimes radically different perspective to traditional views of the rise of Methodism and are rich in spiritual insight.

The letters were transcribed and edited for publication by Dr Gareth Lloyd of The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library and Professor Kenneth Newport of Liverpool Hope University. The first volume containing texts written between 1728 and 1756 was published on 25th April; volume 2 containing the rest of the collection will follow in approximately three years.

The publication of volume 1 attracted considerable interest from the mainstream media including coverage in and the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, which managed to forge a link with the recent death of Margaret Thatcher.

A description of the book appears on the website of Oxford University Press.