The Loves of Wesley

Transcription of article published in the Primitive Methodist Magazine by J.C. Wright F.R.S.L.

THOUGH the life of John Wesley looms so large in the religious world of England there are comparatively few who know of his friendships with women prior to his marriage. But that he was keenly susceptible to the charms of “the softer sex” is abundantly proved. When only twenty-four, and after he had obtained a Fellowship at Oxford, he became acquainted with the daughter of a clergyman, the Rev. Lionel Kirkham. The brother of the young lady was an intimate college friend of Wesley’s, and became one of the original band of Methodists. Now this brother was particularly anxious that Wesley should be his brother-in-law, and in a letter to Wesley he writes:— “Your most deserving queer character, your worthy personal accomplishments, your noble endowments of mind, your little and handsome person, and your obliging and desirable conversation have been the pleasing subject of our discourse. You have often been in the thoughts of M.B. (Miss Betty Kirkham), which I have curiously observed, when with her alone, by inward smiles and sighs, and abrupt expressions concerning you. Shall this suffice?” But though Wesley corresponded with Miss Kirkham for upwards of three years, and the friendship appeared to be leading to the result the young lady’s brother so ardently desired, it was finally broken off. We do not know the reason, but it would seem some unsurmountable obstacle made such a union impossible.

Wesley’s next admirer was Mrs. Delany, who had been left a widow after her first marriage with a Mr. Pendarves and had subsequently married Dr. Delany who became Dean of Down. As the widow of Mr. Pendarves, she had corresponded with Wesley, and, losing her second husband, it appeared at one time likely that she would take the place formerly occupied by Miss Betty Kirkham. Her charm of manner and intellectual conversation fairly captivated the young clergyman. It was the custom in those days for friends to have fictitious names by which to address each other. Miss Kirkham’s was “Varanese”; Mrs. Delany’s “Aspasia”; John Wesley’s “Cyrus”, his brother Charles’s “Araspes.” The correspondence, though intensely interesting, has never been published in its entirety, though portions have appeared from time to time, and from these we find that John Wesley’s letters to “Varanese” were couched in admiring terms, and there is an abandon about them which contrasts strongly with those to “Aspasia,” which were formal and reserved.

As everyone knows, John Wesley left England about this time to go out as a missionary to Georgia. Here he became enamoured with the niece of the Chief Magistrate of the Colony, Miss Sophia Hopkey. That he ever proposed to her is extremely improbable, for his friends, it is said, persuaded him that his marriage with the lady would be against the will of God. And Wesley bowed to the decision of his elders, though not without considerable reluctance. Thus ended the third love affair of a man who was destined to become one of the greatest religious teachers of the eighteenth century.

And now we come to a later period of John Wesley’s life. He was forty-six. He had become a renowned preacher. His brother Charles had married, and he was contemplating taking a similar step himself. The object of his choice was one Grace Murray, a young widow, who had been led to attend the Methodist preaching, and was much influenced by a sermon of Wesley’s. Ultimately she engaged in religious work, had numerous classes, and assisted generally in the new movement. When Wesley proposed to marry her she answered, “This is too great a blessing for me; I can’t tell how to believe it.” Yet there was at her time a rival in the field—one of Wesley’s preachers named Bennet. But she appears to have accompanied Wesley to Ireland, and in Dublin a contract of marrlage was entered into. His brother Charles, however, opposed because he considered Mrs, Murray was not of equal social position to John Wesley. The upshot was that the lady married—not Wesley, but Bennet. It was an unfortunate affair; she appeared to be eminently suitable to become the great preacher’s helper, but circumstances were allowed to overrule common sense, and Grace Murray was lost to John Wesley for ever.

And the sequel ended badly also. Was it brought about by the somewhat trivial accident that befel Wesley at this time? Anyhow, it happened that, while in London, he fell on the ice, and suffered so severely that he was obliged to remain in the neighbourhood, and took up his quarters in Threadneedle Street, the residence of Mrs. Vazeille. A fortnight later, we are told, he set out for Bristol, “being tolerably able to ride, but not to walk.” He appears to have been favourably impressed with Mrs. Vazeille, and, having known her previously for some two years, he determined to marry her—the most unfortunate incident in his eventful life. With her husband she travelled about the country for a few years, but she never understood him or the work to which he had devoted his life. Finally, she quarrelled with him, vowing that she would never see him again! And how did the great evangelist regard this sore trial? He told his friend Moore that he believed God had overruled this sorrow for his good, for had Mrs. Wesley been a better wife he might not have succeeded so well in his mission. And perhaps Wesley was right.


Primitive Methodist Magazine 1913/270

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