As I have for the past few days I will be writing a letter to the person that I read John Wesley wrote letters to. Today’s letter is addressed to Sarah Ryan. What you might find interesting is how John Wesley addresses the letter. This is not something that I chose to do, but how John actually addresses all his letters to Sarah Ryan. I have chosen to write more about the aftermath of the altercation between Sarah and John’s wife. I hope you enjoy this letter.
My Dear Sister,
It has been yet a few days since the incident at dinner with my wife. I cannot help but feel that I am partially to blame because as I have written earlier, it was my letter to you that led her to interrupt our dinner that night. I pray that you did not at any moment that night felt the sting of danger. I pray that your days have gotten better since this incident with my wife and that it does not deter you from continuing sending letters to me. Your letters often find me when I need them most, and for that I thank you. I pray that my wife has not scared you away from doing your Christian duty and serving God as you have been these past weeks. Stay strong in faith and in this movement in which we are a part of. Do not forget that the Lord loves and is the only judge when our earthly bodies breathe their last breathes, let no human, and whether that be male or female deter you from doing God’s work. I am eager to receive your next letter with excitement as always.
Your affectionate brother
So it has finally appeared. In a previous blog post I wrote on the confrontation between John Wesley’s wife and a woman by the name of Sarah Ryan. Sarah Ryan was believed to be a woman that John was enamored with, at least that is what his wife grew to believe. In this altercation John’s wife bursts into the room in which Sarah Ryan is serving dinner to John and his guests. John’s wife then proceeds to ridicule and judge Sarah Ryan, her lifestyle, and her history of men. The problem with that past post was that there was no actual account or backlash to this point. What I was writing on at this point was based on biographies and not on the actual written work of John Wesley. Well readers, this is no longer so, because in today’s reading I read several letters written by John Wesley to the woman Sarah Ryan. More importantly there is a letter that is written shortly after the incident between John’s wife and Sarah Ryan.
John’s letter that followed the incident reads as such: “Last Friday, after many severe words, my —— left me, vowing she would see me no more. As I had wrote to you the same morning, I began to reason with myself, till I almost doubted whether I had done well in writing, or whether I ought to write to you at all. After prayer that doubt was taken away. Yet I was almost sorry that I had written that morning. In the evening, while I was preaching at the chapel, she came into the chamber where I had left my clothes, searched my pockets, and found the letter there, which I had finished, but had not sealed. While she read it, God broke her heart; and afterwards found her in such a temper as I have not seen her in for several years. She has continued in the same ever since. So I think God has given a sufficient answer, with regard to our writing to each other.” John will later conclude the letter with questions that deal with how Sarah’s life is going, not as one that is too much of a spiritual nature but more of a general interest.
I find that this letter adds so much more to the story of Sarah Ryan and John Wesley. All of this will make an appearance in the show because Sarah Ryan was deeply important to the person of John Wesley. She is one of a handful of women that John wrote to on a regular basis and he often wrote about how she had renewed his strength in God. I would like to show more about Sarah Ryan than just her altercation with John’s wife. I desire to write about more of how Sarah renewed John’s strength, but I also realize the power that lies in the scene with the altercation. I am extremely grateful for John Wesley writing more about this event. It should be interesting to see what happens as I take this letter, other similar letters, and research I have gotten from the biographies to write the scene, or scenes, for the show. Stay tuned to see what happens in the future with John Wesley and Sarah Ryan when their characters are portrayed on stage.
Well followers of my blog, there have been some interesting developments that I did not expect to read in this reading. For many days now I had been wondering about the wife of the great John Wesley. In all of my readings there has been countless pages about the loves that got away, for instance Grace Murray and Sophy Hopkey. There has been little writing in these biographies about John Wesley’s wife. This all changed today when Roy Hattersley wrote in depth on the subject of Mary Wesley and her life with John Wesley. I was truly surprised to read the stories that Hattersley had dug up from the history of John and Mary Wesley. Here is what Roy Hattersley has found and shared in his biography of John Wesley.
Mary Vazeille, who would later become Mary Wesley, was a merchant’s widow with a “jointure of £300 per annum and a grown-up son” (Hattersley 2002, 241). Mary came into John’s life through his brother Charles, who met Mary in July. John does not write in his journal anything about his first meeting with his future wife but in the summer of 1750 he wrote to her to cement their relationship. John Wesley begun to think of Mary as the woman who would protect him from the distractions of the society around him, he would write “I admire your indefatigable industry, your exact frugality, your uncommon neatness and the cleanness both of your person, your clothes, and all things around you” (Hattersley 2002, 242). If that does not show love I do not know what does. Now John was weary about fatherhood and as Hattersley points out “Mrs. Vazeille was well beyond childbearing age. She could become his wife without jeopardizing the itinerancy with demands of fatherhood” (Hattersley 2002, 242). John Wesley did not follow the rules that him and Charles agreed upon, meaning he did not tell Charles about his plans to marry Mary; for fear that Charles would steal his woman from him again. John and Mary ended up marrying, but this would not be a happy marriage.
Hattersley writes “during the first three or four years after her sudden wedding, she accompanied her husband on most of his journeys around the golden triangle and seemed at least to accept her lot with fortitude” (Hattersley 2002, 272). John Wesley was often traveling and through these first years, both he and his new bride were often attacked, but John was usually shielded by fellow Methodists while Mary would be attacked. For the first few months their writings back and forth show the love that they may have had for each other, if not it at least showed the infatuation they had for the other. Mary did have problems with John’s brother Charles. Hattersley writes “Mrs. Wesley resented her husband’s deeply emotional relationship with his brother and was deeply envious of John’s close ties to his favourite preachers” (Hattersley 2002, 274). The greatest problem Mary Wesley had was with the other women in John’s life. John allowed his wife to open the letters that he was sent, Mary decided to also open the letters that John was sending himself. In February of 1756 Mary found three letters from three women in John’s pockets. One of these women was Sarah Ryan, of whom I have talked about in other blog posts. Sarah was an interesting women and I plan on using her relationship with John in the show, but the interaction between Sarah Ryan and Mary Wesley is one of great proportions. Hattersley describes the event as such “a dinner at which John Wesley presided during the Bristol conference of 1757 was interrupted by a furious Mary Wesley, who announced to the assembled guests, ‘The whore who is serving you has three husbands.’ Whether or not the description of Sarah Ryan was correct, the impression which it created of her complicated marital state was undoubtedly true” (Hattersley 2002, 275). This interaction would be amazing to see on stage but the interaction that truly surprised me was the one in which she was violent to John Wesley himself.
John Wesley and Mary Wesley were often separated, with Mary being the one that left John, however, Mary would often return but the bliss of marriage would not always work. In all of the readings the stories of Mary leaving are what are shown, but Roy Hattersley shows a more violent story between Mary and John. Hattersley writes “the relationship, which Charles Wesley thought could deteriorate no further, became violent as well as vindictive. John Hampson – a Methodist preacher as well as early biographer – ‘went into a room and found Mrs. Wesley foaming with fury. Her husband was on the floor where she had been trailing him by the hair of his head; and she herself was still holding in her hand venerable locks which she had plucked up by the roots” (Hattersley 2002, 277). This scene is powerful and shows that John was not always in control, and the marriage with Mary was far from happy. There are other stories of John being locked into rooms till Mary let him out after he shouted a catalogue of his several sins through the door. The dynamic power struggle between John and Mary would play out very well in the drama.
I was happy to have found these scenes out of Roy Hattersley’s book. I now have a better idea of who Mary Wesley was, as well as Sarah Ryan. I see this triangle of love, violence, and frustration playing out on stage. I love the dynamic between Mary and John. They both married for different reasons, none of which seems to be love, but there was at least some infatuation. I am excited to write the character of Mary Wesley and show some of her side of the story, but when it comes down to it all, her and John were not the best married couple. I am interested now to see what other characters get fleshed out in my next biography, so as always, stay tuned fellow travelers.