Raised in a family of poets, John Wesley appears to have recognized early that he was not as gifted in creating original verse as his brothers Samuel Jr. and Charles. His undisputed efforts in this capacity are gathered later on this page.

At the same time, John shared the appreciation of his time for the power of poetry to convey convictions, stir the affections, and strengthen moral resolve. He particularly came to value the contribution of hymns to enlivening and shaping Christian life. This led him to devote a significant portion of his vocation to selecting, editing, and publishing collections of poetry and hymns. John drew on a number of authors beyond his family in these collections. This fact led George Osborn to omit many of these works from the 13-volume Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, which is one of the limitations of Osborn’s collection.

View information on short titles and abbreviations used in these collections (pdf).

Citation Guidelines

Citation guidelines are available on the Research Resources page.

Poetry and Hymn Collections

In keeping with its guidelines (available on this page) for creating a standard source for scholarly study and citation of the poetical works of John and Charles Wesley, the present online collection provides the full text of all of John Wesley’s edited volumes of poetry and hymns, including a manuscript collection done during his student years at Oxford.

Note: The texts below are in a .pdf format that is searchable using Adobe Reader 7.0 and above.

Collections in Chronological Order

MS Poetry Miscellany (1730)

 

[original]

 

Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1737)

 

[original]

[modern]

Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1738)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns and Sacred Poems (1740)

 

[original]

[modern]

Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1741)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns and Sacred Poems (1742)

 

[original]

[modern]

Collection of Hymns (1742)

 

[original]

[modern]

Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1743; 2nd edn. of 1741)

 

[original]

[modern]

Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1744; 3rd edn. of 1741)

 

[original]

[modern]

Moral and Sacred Poems (1744), vol. 1

 

[original]

 

Moral and Sacred Poems (1744), vol. 2

 

[original]

 

Moral and Sacred Poems (1744), vol. 3

 

[original]

 

Hymns for Times of Trouble (1744)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns for Times of Trouble and Persecution (1744)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns for Times of Trouble and Persecution (1744), 2nd edn. (1745)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns on the Lord’s Supper (1745)

 

[original]

[modern]

Whitsunday Hymns (1746)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns for Children (1747)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns and Sacred Poems (1747)

 

[original]

[modern]

Watchnight Hymns (1750)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1753)

 

[original]

[modern]

Answer to Gill (1754)

 

[original]

[modern]

Select Hymns (1761)

 

[original]

[modern]

Extract of Paradise Lost (1763)

 

[original]

 

Select Hymns (1761), 2nd edn. (1765)

 

[original]

[modern]

Extract of Young's Night-Thoughts (1770)

 

[original]

 

Select Parts of Herbert (1773)

 

[original]

 

Hymns (1780)

 

[original]

[modern]

Small Collection of Hymns (1781)

 

[original]

[modern]

Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1784)

 

[original]

[modern]

Pocket Hymn Book (1785)

 

[original]

[modern]

Pocket Hymn Book (1787)

 

[original]

[modern]

Hymns for Children (1787)

 

[original]

[modern]

Arminian Magazine (1778–1784)

 

[original]

 

Arminian Magazine (1785–1791) 

 

[original]

 

John Wesley’s Undisputed Verse

Raised in a family of poets, it was natural that John Wesley tried his hand at composing verse. It soon became evident that his gifts were less in original composition than in editing or translating the verse of others. This is where his focus shifted. John was clearly the major person responsible for the editorial appropriation of selections from other English authors and for the translations from German and Spanish included in the collections: CPH (1737), CPH (1738), HSP (1739), HSP (1740), and CPH (1741).

Scholars debate how much of the original verse in these early collections should be credited to John rather than Charles. Since the brothers agreed not to indicate individual authorship, the debate focuses mainly on stylistic and other internal criteria. To develop such criteria, it is important to have some samples that we can be sure come from the hand of John Wesley. The list of such cases is a short one:

For a summary of the criteria proposed from these cases for indicating John’s hand in other early poems and hymns, see Works, 7:35–38.

George Osborn’s Collection of The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley

For over a century the most broadly used source for study and citation of verse by the Wesley brothers has been The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, edited by George Osborn (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference, 1868-72). This 13-volume collection was a herculean effort in its time and played a significant role in preserving access to the Wesleys’ poetry and hymn publications. However it is marked by several characteristics that limit its value as the standard source for scholarly study and citation of the Wesley brothers’ poetical works:

  1. Osborn framed his collection to contain only those poems and hymns that he believed were original to John or Charles Wesley. This meant excluding John’s first two published collections, CPH (1737) and CPH (1738), which were comprised entirely of items that John adapted or translated from other authors. It also ruled out major sections of similar material in other early collections. While these materials are not original compositions by John, they are important indicators of the influences upon him and many of them were standards in early Methodist worship for decades. Moreover, careful consideration of John’s editorial reshaping of the source hymns often yields insight into his theological convictions. As such, these appropriated hymns are very relevant to scholarly study and citation.
  2. Despite his intentions, Osborn included — unawares and without indication — some hymns or poems from the early collections that were not composed by John or Charles Wesley. John often neglected to indicate when he was appropriating verse from other authors and Osborn lacked the electronic databases that now help identify these cases.
  3. Osborn is to be commended for locating the vast majority of the original verse that was published by either John or Charles Wesley. But there are a few scattered items he missed, such as the “Hymn for Mary Langson” (1770) and the “Hymn for John Wesley” (1779).
  4. The general flow of the text in Osborn’s collection is chronological, moving from earlier works issued by the Wesley brothers to later works. However, he frequently alters the structure of the works included. Sometimes this occurs because Osborn does not want to duplicate material that appeared in more than one work. Sometimes it occurs because he decided to group individual poems and hymns by topic. For example, he chose to follow a manuscript collection that gathered Charles Wesley’s poetic adaptations of the Psalms in one setting. Many of these were originally published in collections by John that were ordered according to the weekly rhythms of Anglican worship. This intent is obscured when they are found only in a gathered setting. For scholarly study and citation it is important to have access as well to the original setting.
  5. One of the most puzzling decisions that Osborn made was to mix items from published collections of Charles Wesley’s verse with items that Charles left in manuscript. This is particularly problematic in volumes 9–13, where there is no indication of which hymns included appeared in Charles Wesley’s 2-volume Scripture Hymns (1762) and which are from manuscript sources. Nor does Osborn indicate when he is using a later manuscript version to revise or enlarge the form found in Scripture Hymns (1762). Scholarly study and citation needs to observe both the distinction between what was purposefully printed or left in manuscript and the relative dating of various items.
  6. It should also be noted that Osborn chose to publish only select portions of the manuscript verse of Charles Wesley of which he was aware. Access to the remaining manuscript items was limited until publication of the 3-volume Unpublished Poetry of Charles Wesley, ed. by S T Kimbrough Jr. and Oliver A. Beckerlegge (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 1988-92).
  7. For the items from published collections, Osborn usually prints the text of the last edition issued during John Wesley’s life. While many of these collections underwent little change, there were occasional significant revisions or variant readings between editions, none of which are noted in Osborn. A standard for scholarly study and citation typically builds on the text of the first edition, annotating subsequent changes or additions.
  8. On occasion the text printed by Osborn for a specific item departs from all earlier published versions. In most of these cases Osborn is opting to print manuscript corrections that John Wesley made in his personal copy of texts that Charles had published independent of John’s editorial control. Since Osborn gives no indicator of these insertions, the original emphasis of Charles — and John’s disagreement with it — is often obscured.
  9. Osborn also consistently modernizes spellings and expands many of the contractions that appeared in the original Wesley publications. While this move may be helpful to modern readers, scholars often desire greater historical accuracy.
  10. Osborn provides very few introductions to enlighten the occasion and context of the works included in his collection.
  11. Samuel Rogal has recently begun to issue A New and Critical Edition of George Osborn’s “The Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley” (1868—1872), with the Addition of Notes, Annotations, Biographical and Background Information (Edwin Mellen, 2009ff). This edition adds background on Osborn and identifies sources for some hymns in the early collections that are not by the Wesley brothers. But it simply replicates Osborn’s text of the hymns. Thus, nearly all of the limitations noted above remain in this edition, in terms of its reliability for scholarly access to and citation of poetical works by the Wesley brothers.
  12. Finally, the indexing in the Osborn collection is uneven. In particular, there is no separate first-line index for the materials gathered in volumes 9-12.
Guidelines for the Presentation of Published Verse

This online collection is intended to provide a standard source for scholarly study and citation of the poetical works of John and Charles Wesley. The sections presenting verse that John and Charles Wesley published during their lifetime were developed under the following guidelines to maximize reliability and usefulness.

  1. A comprehensive collection of verse published by John and Charles Wesley was compiled, drawing on Frank Baker’s copious research into publishers’ records and library holdings. Cf. Frank Baker. A Union Catalog of the Publications of John and Charles Wesley. Second (revised) ed., Stone Mountain, GA: George Zimmermann, 1991.
  2. The collection is organized in separate sections to allow study of John Wesley’s editorial role in collecting verse from a number of sources while highlighting the verse that can reasonably be ascribed to Charles Wesley’s hand.
  3. The collection is presented in chronological order, with short introductions for each listing that identify its original setting and its textual history.
  4. The first edition (or first available edition) of each work is used as the base text, with significant revisions or variant readings in later editions of that work identified in footnotes.
  5. The pagination of the first edition is preserved to help standardize references.
  6. When individual hymns or poems occur in more than one Wesley publication, the first occurrence is consistently footnoted in later settings.
  7. John Wesley’s occasional manuscript corrections of or comments on Charles’s independent publications are indicated in footnotes as appropriate.
  8. The text for John Wesley’s collections of hymns and poems includes all items, with those appropriated from other authors identified in the footnotes.
  9. The “original” version of the texts reproduces the spelling and punctuation used in the printed first edition, with the following exceptions:
    1. minor typographical errors are silently corrected
    2. modern principles of capitalization are adopted, since there was unevenness on this matter in various editions
    3. uses of cou’d, wou’d, and shou’d were expanded to could, would, and should — again, because of unevenness in this usage in later editions
  10. The “modern” version of the texts replaces archaic spellings (while retaining distinctive British spellings), expands contractions where modern pronunciation would not change the metre of the line, replaces Roman numerals with Arabic, and adopts the modern form for scripture citation.