Letters of 'Hark the Herald' composer published

April 25, 2013

The private letters of the composer of some of the world's most popular hymns have been published, providing a rare glimpse into the birth of Methodism.

The collection of Charles Wesley's letters are edited by Dr Gareth Lloyd of The University of Manchester's and Professor Kenneth Newport of Liverpool Hope University.

The Oxford University Press edition is the first of two volumes containing all 700 surviving letters of the preacher, who co-founded Methodism with his brother John, written over sixty years from 1727 to 1788.

Wesley's "Hark the Herald" has been recorded by artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra and The Fall and has featured in TV programmes like "South Park" and the classic movie "It's a Wonderful Life".

Most of the previously unpublished collection is kept at the world-famous John Rylands Library, and gives a fascinating insight into Wesley and his followers as well as the rich tapestry of public, private and religious life in Britain.

The early Methodists were viewed by their opponents as dangerous extremists: they had visions, fell into trances and some even developed a reputation for possessing supernatural power.

Some of the letters were written in a complex 18th century shorthand developed by John Byrom, sometimes inter-mixed with Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

Dr Lloyd, one of only a handful of people who can read the shorthand, took ten years to complete volume 1 of the project with his co-editor. Work is well-advanced on the remaining letters, which will be published in volume 2.

Dr Lloyd said: "The publication of this collection will shine a light on a remarkable man living in one of the most significant periods in British history.

"Charles Wesley was more than just a hymn writer. As co-founder of the Methodist movement, he established a family of Churches with an estimated 75 million members and one which is still growing in many countries.

"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.

"His life and ministry, even within Methodism, have received scant attention, so we are pleased that this collection will change that."

"The early Methodist movement attracted the young, the rebellious and sometimes the downright eccentric, which is somewhat removed from the image of Methodism today."

Professor Newport said: "These letters tell the fascinating story of a man who struggled against depression and crises of faith to create poetry that still has the power to move and inspire.

"They show Wesley as a devoted, but sometimes rather puzzled, family man who struggled at times to curb his young wife's extravagance.

"Wesley was an entertaining and forthright correspondent; his letters paint in vivid detail the everyday reality of 18th century life with its squalor, colour, laughter and tragedy.

"In short, the letters present a rich tapestry of public, private and religious life in 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."

Explore further: Australian tissue bank begins operations

More information: The Letters of Charles Wesley: A Critical Edition, with Introduction and Notes: Volume 1 (1728-1756). Edited by Kenneth G. C. Newport and Gareth Lloyd (Oxford University Press)

Related Stories

Australian tissue bank begins operations

April 4, 2007

Australia's new Wesley Research Institute Tissue Bank began accepting cancer tissue this week -- the first tissue bank of its kind in Queensland.

Treasure trove of medieval manuscripts published

December 16, 2010

The largest surviving family-owned library of medieval manuscripts in Britain can now be enjoyed by everyone thanks to the publication of a new book telling its fascinating story.

Recommended for you

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.