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Journal of John Wesley

Unlike his diaries, John Wesley's Journal was deliberately written for publication. During his time in Georgia, he had sent back a number of reports in the form of 'Journal-letters', but the first of the 21 printed 'Extracts' from his Journal, covering that period, was not published until the early summer of 1740 and was a response to charges brought against him by Capt Robert Williams. The second Extract, covering the period of his Aldersgate Street experience and visit to the Moraviansettlement at Herrnhut, appeared later in 1740. In the fourth (published in 1744) he distanced himself from the Moravians and recorded his breach with the Calvinists. In each case the polemical motivation was close to the surface. Further instalments were published on average every three years during the rest of his lifetime, the 21st being brought out by his executors very soon after his death.

The Journal offers a picture of eighteenth century England that reflects Wesley's extensive travels throughout the British Isles and reveals such diverse aspects of his character as the extent to which he was influenced by the Enlightenment and his residual superstition (e.g. his belief in special providence). More importantly, it chronicles the development of that segment of the evangelical revival associated with him, but viewed through the eyes of one man and with the advantage of hindsight, and was one means by which he maintained remote control over the growing Connexion. Because of the time-lag between events and the compilation of the Journal, Wesley's memory sometimes failed him or was coloured by hindsight. The record was understandably selective: damaging or sensitive topics (e.g. the Grace Murray affair, his subsequent marriage, and the 1784 ordinations) were omitted or played down.

Versions of the Journal appeared in Wesley's collected Works, including Jackson's edition. The latter presented a better text than Curnock's 'Standard Edition', though lacking Curnock's editorial apparatus. The vicissitudes through which Wesley's text passed during and after his lifetime were examined by Frank Baker in an article of 1966. The latest edition is that of W.R. Ward in the Bicentenary Edition of Wesley's Works (1988-99).

Sources

  • R. Lee Cole, John Wesley's Journal, an appreciation (1938)
  • George Lawton, 'The Proverbial Element in Wesley's "Journal"', in WHS Proceedings, 29 pp.58-65
  • George Lawton, 'The Colloquial Element in the English of Wesley's Journal', in WHS Proceedings, 32 pp.159-65, 178-85
  • Frank Baker, '"Aldersgate" and Wesley's Editors', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, October 1966, pp.310-19
  • W.R. Ward in Works of John Wesley (Bicentennial Edition) 18 (1988) pp.37-104

Entry written by: JAV
Category: Publication

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