Cracked: the Wesley code

Tension between Charles and John has been laid bare by translation of 270-year-old diary. By James Macintyre

A 270-year-old diary of Charles Wesley, one of the country's foremost hymn-writers, has revealed the extent of the author's depression, anxiety over his wife's miscarriage and disputes over the future of the Methodist Church founded by his brother John.

The coded diary, written between 1736 and 1756, has been decrypted by a Liverpool professor who worked on 1,000 hand-written pages for 10 years. It sheds a highly personal and human as well as religious light on the author of a number of famous hymns including "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and "Soldiers of Christ, Arise".

The passages, previously hidden by a heavily abbreviated code, reveal that Charles strongly disapproved of John's marriage and disagreed with his brother over the question of a breach with the Church of England, into which both brothers had been ordained.

The diaries' code was cracked by the Rev Professor Kenneth Newport, Liverpool Hope University's pro vice-chancellor for research and academic development. By using transcribed gospels written in the same code by Wesley for his own use, and comparing the passages with those in the King James Bible using the code's symbols and abbreviations, Professor Newport was able to translate the diaries and shed light on the disputes, which have previously been skirted over in separate Wesley manuscripts.

"The code is abbreviated severely, often without vowels," said Professor Newport. "A lot of it is religious language, and he would abbreviate common phrases with one letter – so 'righteousness' would become an 'r', 'wickedness' would become a 'w', so seeing how severely he was abbreviating things was quite helpful."

Professor Newport, an Anglican priest, says he has long been "inspired by Charles Wesley on a number of fronts". "The interesting thing about the journal is what you get is a raw, unedited version of things," he said. "When history is written it is largely based on a sanitised version: shorthand is a way of storing away information.

"This is a warts-and-all portrait of what was happening on the ground; it's the eerie privilege of peering over the shoulder of one long-dead and looking into their world. It is in many ways an ordinary diary. Wesley was quite often depressed about things and you see him struggling in depression, and you see his faults as well as his strengths and virtues."

The diaries confirm Wesley's clear opposition to a break-off from the Church of England. "There was a suspicion of lay preaching and Methodism was frowned upon by the established church," said Professor Newport. "Charles had a very clear line on separation. He wrote: 'I am for church first and then Methodism.'"

One personal section of the diaries reveals an unusual pact made by the brothers. Charles wrote: "My brother and I having promised each other that we would neither of us marry, or take any step towards it, without the other's knowledge and consent," he wrote. Later, however, Charles expressed his frustration when John planned to marry Grace Murray. "He [John] is insensible of both his own folly and danger, and of the divine goodness in so miraculously saving him," Charles wrote

He also wrote of his own wife's miscarriage, and speculated whether he was partly to blame. "Sally is slowly recovering her strength after her miscarriage last week," he wrote. "How far it was occasioned by our late affliction, I cannot say, but my brother has cast poison into the cup of temporal blessings, and destroyed as far in him lay all future usefulness to the church."

Brothers in alms

Charles Wesley (1707 – 1788)

Followed his father and brother into the Methodist Church in 1735, and emerged as a leading member of the Methodist movement. Charles is best known for the string of popular hymns he wrote. He founded Wesley Chapel in Brayton, south of Selby.

John Wesley(1703 – 1791)

Founded the Methodist Church. A popular figurehead, he was responsible for the emergence of a radical new form of Evangelicalism in the UK, but – partly on the advice of his brother – he stayed within the Anglican Church.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back