How the Wesleys Were Brought up by John Wesley

From the Journal of John Wesley

For the benefit of those who are entrusted, as she was, with the care of a numerous family, I cannot but add one letter more, which I received many years ago:

July 24, 1732

“To the Rev. Mr. Wesley,

“In St. Margaret’s Churchyard, Westminster.”

“Dear Son,

“According to your desire, I have collected the principal rules I observed in educating my family; which I now send you as they occurred to my mind, and you may (if you think they can be of use to any) dispose of them in what order you please.

“The children were always put into a regular method of living, in such things as they were capable of, from their birth; as in dressing, undressing, changing their linen, and so on. The first quarter commonly passes in sleep. After that, they were, if possible laid into their cradles awake and rocked to sleep; and so they were kept rocking till it was time for them to awake. This was done to bring them to a regular course of sleeping, which at first was three hours in the morning and three in the afternoon; afterward two hours, till they needed none at all.

“When turned a year old (and some before), they were taught to fear the rod and to cry softly; by which means they escaped abundance of correction they might otherwise have had; and that most odious noise of the crying of children was rarely heard in the house, but the family usually lived in as much quietness as if there had not been a child among them.

“As soon as they were grown pretty strong, they were confined to three meals a day. At dinner their little table and chairs were set by ours, where they could be observed; and they were suffered to eat and drink as much as they would but not to call for anything. If they wanted aught, they used to whisper to the maid which attended them, who came and spoke to me; and as soon as they could handle a knife and fork, they were set to our table. They were never suffered to choose their meat, but always made to eat such things as were provided for the family.

“Mornings they had always spoon-meat; sometimes at nights. But whatever they had, they were never permitted to eat, at those meals, of more than one thing; and of that sparingly enough. Drinking or eating between meals was never allowed, unless in case of sickness, which seldom happened. Nor were they suffered to go into the kitchen to ask anything of the servants, when they were at meat: if it was known they did, they were certainly beaten, and the servants severely reprimanded.

“At six, as soon as family prayers were over, they had their supper; at seven, the maid washed them; and, beginning at the youngest, she undressed and got them all to bed by eight, at which time she left them in their several rooms awake; for there was no such thing allowed of in our house as sitting by a child till it fell asleep.

“They were so constantly used to eat and drink what was given them that when any of them was ill there was no difficulty in making them take the most unpleasant medicine: for they durst not refuse it, though some of them would presently throw it up. This I mention to show that a person may be taught to take anything, though it be never so much against his stomach.

“Conquer the Child’s Will”

“In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer their will and bring them to an obedient temper. To inform the understanding is a work of time and must with children proceed by slow degrees as they are able to bear it: but the subjecting the will is a thing which must be done at once; and the sooner the better. For by neglecting timely correction, they will contract a stubbornness and obstinacy which is hardly ever after conquered; and never, without using such severity as would be as painful to me as to the child. In the esteem of the world they pass for kind and indulgent, whom I call cruel, parents, who permit their children to get habits which they know must be afterward broken. Nay, some are so stupidly fond as in sport to teach their children to do things which, in a while after, they have severely beaten them for doing.

“Whenever a child is corrected, it must be conquered; and this will be nor hard matter to do if it be not grown headstrong by too much indulgence. And when the will of a child is totally subdued and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies and inadvertences [1] may be passed by. Some should be overlooked and taken no notice of, and others mildly reproved; but no willful transgression ought ever to be forgiven children without chastisement, less or more, as the nature and circumstances of the offense require.

“I insist upon conquering the will of children betimes, because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education; without which both precept and example will be ineffectual. But when this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by the reason and piety of its parents, till its own understanding comes to maturity and the principles of religion have taken root in the mind.

“I cannot yet dismiss this subject. As self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever cherishes this in children insures their after-wretchedness and irreligion; whatever checks and mortifies it promotes their future happiness and piety. This is still more evident if we further consider that religion is nothing else than the doing the will of God and not our own: that the one grand impediment to our temporal and eternal happiness being this self-will, no indulgencies of it can be trivial, no denial unprofitable. Heaven or hell depends on this alone. So that the parent who studies to subdue it in his child works together with God in the renewing and saving a soul. The parent who indulges it does the devil’s work, makes religion impracticable, salvation unattainable; and does all that in him lies to damn his child, soul and body forever.

They Had Nothing They Cried For

“The children of this family were taught, as soon as they could speak, the Lord’s Prayer, which they were made to say at rising and bedtime constantly; to which, as they grew bigger, were added a short prayer for their parents and some collects; a short catechism and some portion of Scripture, as their memories could bear.

“They were very early made to distinguish the Sabbath from other days, before they could well speak or go. They were as soon taught to be still at family prayers and to ask a blessing immediately after, which they used to do by signs, before they could kneel or speak.

“They were quickly made to understand they might have nothing they cried for and instructed to speak handsomely for what they wanted. They were not suffered to ask even the lowest servant for aught without saying, ‘Pray give me such a thing’; and the servant was chid 77 Correct if she ever let them omit that word. Taking God’s name in vain, cursing and swearing, profaneness, obscenity, rude, ill-bred names were never heard among them. Nor were they ever permitted to call each other by their proper names without the addition of brother or sister.

“None of them were taught to read till five years old, except Kezzy, in whose case I was overruled; and she was more years learning than any of the rest had been months. The way of teaching was this: The day before a child began to learn, the house was set in order, everyone’s work appointed them, and a charge given that none should come into the room from nine till twelve, or from two till five; which, you know, were our school hours. One day was allowed the child wherein to learn its letters; and each of them did in that time know all its letters, great and small, except Molly and Nancy, who were a day and a half before they knew them perfectly; for which I then thought them very dull; but since I have observed how long many children are learning the hornbook, I have changed my opinion.

“But the reason why I thought them so then was because the rest learned so readily; and your brother Samuel, who was the first child I ever taught, learned the alphabet in a few hours. He was five years old on February 10; the next day he began to learn, and as soon as he knew the letters, began at the first chapter of Genesis. He was taught to spell the first verse, then to read it over and over, till he could read it offhand without any hesitation, so on to the second, and so on, till he took ten verses for a lesson, which he quickly did. Easter fell low that year, and by Whitsuntide he could read a chapter very well; for he read continually and had such a prodigious memory that I cannot remember ever to have told him the same word twice.

 

 

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