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News – Charles Wesley’s diaries

October 2008

Charles Wesley’s diaries


Coded sections of Charles Wesley’s 270-year-old diary have been deciphered by an Anglican priest and professor at Liverpool Hope University. The Rev. Professor Kenneth Newport was the first to crack the cipher and spent nine years transcribing the 1000-page, hand-written manuscript held at John Rylands Library in Manchester.

     The previously hidden material reveals disputes between the Wesley brothers John and Charles over the future of Methodism and offers insights into Charles’ determination to prevent Methodist societies from breaking away from the Church of England and his strong disapproval of his brother’s proposed marriage to Grace Murray.

     The fact of these disputes has been known about for many years, but the diaries, which cover the twenty years to 1756, reveal Charles’s personal thoughts and comments on the issues.

     Wesley’s shorthand omits vowels and abbreviates consonants. It is a highly personalised adaptation of shorthand invented by John Byrom, the 18th century poet, diarist and stenographer. Byrom, whose method was taught at Oxford University, published his New Universal Shorthand in 1740.




Wesley’s version is severely abbreviated, sometimes using a string of consonants without breaks. Whole sentences are elided and the spellings are often phonetic.

     Quoted in The Times newspaper Professor Newport said he was confused, for example, by the repetition of ‘hr’ until he concluded that the letters stood for holy writ. The breakthrough for him came when he discovered that Wesley had rendered part of the scriptures in shorthand and was able to compare the abbreviations against the King James Bible.

     The journals reveal that the two brothers, by then middle-aged and attracting unwanted attentions from the movement’s ‘sisters’, agreed that neither would marry without the other’s approval.

     Charles was alarmed on discovering that John had made overtures to Miss Murray: ‘He is insensible of both his own folly and danger, and of the divine goodness in so miraculously saving him’. Charles even suggested that the dispute with his brother was behind his wife Sally’s miscarriage.

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