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A brief history of the various books used by Wesleyan Methodism

I have tried to list all the books produced by the various branches of the Methodist Church on the 'Methodist Hymn Books' page. As you will see, I have copies of very many of these books (and if you can fill in any of my blanks, I would be very grateful).

This page, however, concentrates solely on the history of the hymn books produced within Wesleyan Methodism: I may later publish details of the other branches of British Methodism.

Between them, the two Wesley brothers, John and Charles, published many hymn books. The earliest book that John published was 'A Collection of Psalms and Hymns', 1737, printed in Charlestown, for use by the congregations in his charge in Georgia, consisting of 70 hymns, half of them by Isaac Watts; a second book with the same title was published on his return to England, invoiced on that important day 24th May, 1738. He produced yet another 'Psalms and Hymns' in 1741, which passed through many editions (and, enlarged by Dr. Coke, was officially commended by the conference of 1816 to be used at morning worship).

Charles Wesley, by this time, had also started his career as a hymn-writer. The actual number of hymns he wrote is disputed (estimates varying between 6,500 to over 7,000). In 1739 John published 'Hymns and Sacred Poems', containing hymns by Charles for the major festivals of the year. In successive editions of this book, and others, Charles covered all aspects of Christian doctrine and personal faith.

In 1753 John published 'Hymns and Spiritual Songs Intended for the Use of Real Christians of all Denominations', which was drawn entirely from 'Hymns and Sacred Poems'. This book achieved over thirty editions.

His 'Select Hymns with Tunes Annext', 1761, enlarged in 1765, provided a music section, entitled 'Sacred Melody', which provided a tune for each hymn.

His most important (at least in the sense of long-lasting) work was the 1780 'A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists' (also known as the 'Large Hymn Book') This book contained 525 hymns, seven written by Isaac Watts, two by Henry More and one each by George Herbert, John's father, Samuel Wesley (Rector of Epworth) and the Rev. Samuel Wesley, his elder brother, schoolmaster. Nineteen were his own translations from the German hymns, one from Spanish and one, certainly, at least, edited by him, from the French. The number of original hymns contributed by John is still under debate. Dr. Henry Bett, in 'The Hymns of Methodism', 1945, working from literary criteria, attributed sixteen to him. The rest were undoubtedly by Charles Wesley.

He later published two smaller selections, 1785 (220 hymns) and 1787 (250) under the title 'A Pocket Hymn Book for the Use of Christians of all Denominations'; both had tunes assigned and both adhered to the subject arrangement and aims of the 1780 book.

Editions supervised by Wesley and all, to some extent, revised, appear in 1781, 1782, 1784, 1788 and 1791, although the last may not have come into circulation until after his death on 2nd March.

Following Wesley's death, changes were made by the Bookroom. In the edition of 1796 there were nine substitutions, two additions by duplication of numbers, including the hymn by Addison, 'When all thy mercies O my God', and twelve others in a section headed 'Additional Hymns'. Seven of these were taken from the Wesley Tract, 'Hymns on the Lord's Supper'. The changes of 1797 were increased to twenty eight substitutions, twelve additions by duplication of numbers, with twenty five under 'Additional Hymns'. Authors included Addison, Hart, Bakewell and William Cowper.

The Conference of 1799 intervened, appointing a committee, Drs. Thomas Coke and Adam Clarke, editor George Storey and Henry Moore, to "reduce the book to its primitive simplicity as in the 2nd edition" but granted them "discretionary powers" respecting additional hymns. The work was completed in 1803 when all but four of the original hymns were restored and the number of hymns increased to 551.

A revision of 1808 discontinued, except in one instance, the device of duplication of numbers, divided six long hymns into parts, treating each as a separate hymn, providing 561 hymns. Except for the return at No.126 to the original hymn of that number, 'Too strong I was to conquer sin' as in 1780, this selection remained unchanged for 67 years.

However, many Methodist churches continued to use 'Psalms and Hymns', as enlarged by Dr. Coke, for morning worship, and there was a desire for a single book suitable for all services. More hymns were required for the celebration of the festivals of the Christian Year. A further requirement was a new copyright, on account of piratical editions, and these considerations led Conference to appoint Revs. Thomas Jackson and Richard Watson, (later joined by Dr. Jabez Bunting) to submit a fuller selection. The result was the publication, in 1831, of a 'Supplement' of two hundred and nine hymns, while leaving the parent book virtually untouched.

Published and unpublished poems of Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts were freely drawn upon; fresh contributors included Ken, Merrick, Dryden, Doddridge, Anne Steele, Toplady, Rhodes and Olivers. Included for the first time were such favourites as: Charles Wesley's 'Hark, the herald-angels sing'; Isaac Watts' 'When I survey the wondrous cross' and 'Jesus shall reign where'er the sun'; 'Rock of Ages', 'The spacious firmament on high', 'This, this is the God we adore', and many others.

A large committee was appointed in 1874 to prepare the revision and enlargement, which was issued in 1876. The standard hymn book was retained in the form Wesley gave it but each hymn was critically compared with its original and forty nine were either omitted or changed in some particulars, reducing the 560 hymns chosen by Wesley to 539.

The 'Supplement' they added was nearly as large, containing 487 hymns, drawing upon the great hymns of the centuries, provided one hundred and two metrical versions or paraphrases of the Psalms and a judicious selection from the contemporary hymnody - including 'The Lord's my Shepherd', 'Through all the changing scenes of life', 'Glorious things of thee are spoken', 'O worship the King, All glorious above' and 'How sweet the name of Jesus sounds', to name but a few hymns which are very familiar to us, but which have only been within the general Methodist repertoire since 1876.

A tune book was issued in which text and music were printed together.

In 1904, in collaboration with the Wesleyan Reform union and the Methodist New Connexion, they produced a completely new hymn book, arranged differently (and for the first time broke away from John Wesley's title - the new book was called, prosaically, 'The Methodist Hymn Book').

Following union of the main branches of Methodism, a new book, also called 'The Methodist Hymn Book' was published in 1933. In 1969 'Hymns and Songs - A Supplement to The Methodist Hymn Book' was published, and then, in 1983 a completely new hymn book, 'Hymns and Psalms', was published. This remains the position today, although with the vast number of new hymns and worship songs produced in the latter part of the twentieth century, many Methodist churches also use other books, overhead projectors, back-projectors and other means to provide a variety of material to their congregations.