Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
The Origin of Methodism
By Robert Southey (1774–1843)
 
From Life of Wesley

CHARLES, then pursuing contentedly his scholastic course, had been elected from Westminster to Christ Church, just after his brother John obtained his fellowship. He was diligent in study, and regular in his conduct; but when John sought to press upon him the importance of austerer habits, and a more active devotion, he protested against becoming a saint all at once, and turned a deaf ear to his admonitions. While John, however, resided at Wroote, the process which he had vainly sought to accelerate in his brother was going on. His disposition, his early education, the example of his parents and of both his brethren, were in unison: not knowing how or when he woke out of his lethargy, he imputed the change to the efficacy of another’s prayers—most likely, he said, his mother’s; and meeting with two or three undergraduates, whose inclinations and principles resembled his own, they associated together for the purpose of religious improvement, lived by rule, and received the sacrament weekly. Such conduct would at any time have attracted observation in an English University: it was peculiarly noticeable at that time, when a laxity of opinions as well as morals obtained, and infidelity, a plague which had lately found its way into the country, was becoming so prevalent, that the vice-chancellor had, in a programmæ, exhorted the tutors to discharge their duty by double diligence, and had forbidden the undergraduates to read such books as might tend to the weakening of their faith. The greatest prudence would not have sufficed to save men from ridicule, who, at such an age, and in such a scene, professed to make religion the great business of their lives: and prudence is rarely united with enthusiasm. They were called in derision the Sacramentarians, Bible-bigots, Bible-moths, the Holy, or the Godly Club. One person, with less irreverence and more learning, observed, in reference to their methodical manner of life, that a new sect of Methodists was sprung up, alluding to the ancient school of physicians known by that name. Appellations, even of opprobrious origin, have often been adopted by the parties to which they were applied, as well as by the public, convenience legitimating the inventions of malice. In this instance there was neither maliciousness nor wit, but there was some fitness in the name; it obtained vogue; and though long, and even still sometimes indiscriminately applied to all enthusiasts, and even to all who observe the forms of religion more strictly than their neighbours, it has become the appropriate designation of the sect of which Wesley is the founder.
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  It was to Charles Wesley and his few associates that the name was first given. When John returned to Oxford, they gladly placed themselves under his direction; their meetings acquired more form and regularity, and obtained an accession of numbers. His standing and character in the University gave him a degree of credit; and his erudition, his keen logic, and ready speech commanded respect wherever he was known. But no talents, and, it may be added, no virtues, can protect the possessor from the ridicule of fools and profligates. “I hear,” says Mr. Wesley, “my son John has the honour of being styled the Father of the Holy Club: if it be so, I am sure I must be the grandfather of it; and I need not say, that I had rather any of my sons should be so dignified and distinguished, than to have the title of His Holiness.”  2
 
 
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