(b Epworth, Lincs., 18 Dec 1707; d London, 29 March 1788). Clergyman and hymn writer, 18th child and youngest son of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford and ordained an Anglican clergyman. In 1749 he settled in Bristol, then moved to St Marylebone, London, in 1771. Although remaining more consistently Anglican, he supported and followed his brother John Wesley in all his work. His particular contribution to Methodism was in the writing of hymns. He is said to have written over 8000, and they include some of the greatest in the English language; hundreds are still in use today. They were innovative in their use of the first person, expression of intense personal feeling, and vivid depiction of the suffering of Christ.
As his hymns show, Wesley was profoundly affected by music. His son Samuel recalled that he was ‘fond of the Old Masters Palestrina, Corelli, Geminiani, Handel, and among the English chamber composers Croft, Blow, Boyce, Greene’. As an itinerant preacher he made constant use of singing in varying circumstances: Carlton Young has assembled more than 100 references to singing in Wesley's journal (1736–56). He adapted many songs of art and folk music to sacred words, and some of his best-known hymns are pointed religious parodies of secular poems intended for use with their tunes, such as He comes, he comes, the judge severe (after Henry Carey's ‘He comes, he comes, the hero comes’) and Love divine, all loves excelling (after Purcell's ‘Fairest isle, all isles excelling’).
Late in life he encouraged the talents of his two musically gifted sons, (3) Charles and (4) Samuel, despite his brother's disapproval, and placed them under the influence of leading musicians of the day. Between 1779 and 1787 he gave a series of private concerts at his house in Marylebone, entirely secular in content. Their programmes were not unlike those of the Ancient Concerts, with the addition of compositions by the two boys.
T.Jackson, ed.: Journal of the Rev. Charles Wesley, M.A. (London, 1849/R)
R.W.Brown: Charles Wesley, Hymnwriter (Bristol, 1993)
C.R.Young: Music of the Heart: John & Charles Wesley on Music and Musicians (Carol Stream, IL, 1995)
J.R.Watson: The English Hymn: a Critical and Historical Study (Oxford, 1997), chap.10
(3) Charles Wesley (ii)
(b Bristol, 11 Dec 1757; d London, 23 May 1834). Composer, elder son of (2) Charles Wesley (i). He inherited musical ability from both parents. In infancy he displayed a talent almost without parallel: before he was three years old he could ‘play a tune on the harpsichord readily and in just time’ and ‘always put a true bass to it’. His later development hardly fulfilled this promise. During his childhood and adolescence his father discouraged him from becoming a professional musician, and would not let him take up an appointment as chorister or (later) organist at the Chapel Royal. But under Joseph Kelway he became an excellent organist, and held appointments at several dissenting chapels, the Lock Hospital Chapel (1797–1801) and finally St Marylebone parish church. He learnt composition chiefly from William Boyce, to whom he dedicated his set of string quartets. His brother Samuel called him an ‘obstinate Handelian’ and indeed his compositions, especially those for organ and piano, are extremely conservative in style. In 1822 he published a revised edition of John Wesley's Sacred Harmony.