In the course of my work in the Archive, I have recently come across a tiny gem in the College collection of Wesleyana: The Methodist Pocket Book for the Year of our Lord 1798. The volume measures 8 x 12 cm and contains “poetry, anecdotes and a variety of useful and edifying articles” as well as blank spaces where the owner could record expenditure. The book was printed for G. Whitfield, City Road [Chapel], London and could be bought at Methodist Chapels “in Town & Country”. George Whitfield had been left John Wesley’s types and presses in his will, and he was a prominent publisher of Methodist works in the period following Wesley’s death.
This volume was published just seven years after John Wesley’s death, a period when Methodism was still in its infancy following the split from the Church of England. The Pocket Book guides people in how to live a Methodist life by providing practical guidance: chapel locations, Hackney coach fares to chapels, service times, dates of holidays, the lunar cycle and a marketing table. It also gives daily passages of scripture (with longer sections on Sundays) and hymns and biographies of prominent preachers, including some with graphic accounts of their cause of death.
As well as reflective of a larger movement, the small volume is also intensely personal. The weekly accounting tables have been filled in by its owner with the routine expenditure of daily life: Lodging 5s 3d, Meat 7s 7p…Thimbles 1s 6d, Gloves 6s 6p…Bathing 3s 0p. The vade mecum also provides several larger blank areas; in one the owner recorded a more serious affair: June 22 Brother William Died. Though published for 1798, it was still in use in 1820 when this death was recorded. One wonders how the owner used it during the intervening years, particularly as many sections were left incomplete.
The Pocket Book publishes a letter from John Wesley to William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth written December 24, 1775. Legge was Secretary of State for the Colonies at the date of the letter, and Wesley writes, “The Nation is already involved in many troubles. And we know not how many more may follow. Are we able to extricate ourselves out of them all?” Wesley continues further along, “…and [God] placed you so near his Majesty, that he might have one Counsellor at least, who dares not flatter, but will speak the truth from his heart…May the God of Wisdom direct you in all your counsels…to do and suffer whatever may be for his glory and for the public good.” Accessible through this book, this letter of Wesley’s provided insight for Methodists into his thinking on international affairs and his desire to influence events through correspondence with the prominent figures of the day.
I have not yet been able to identify the original owner of the volume; it appears to have come to Lincoln’s collections with the bequest of Albert F. Hall, a Methodist minister and collector of printed works and memorabilia related to John Wesley and early Methodism. This is believed to be the only edition of The Methodist Pocket Book still surviving for this particular year, so it is fitting that this unique item is kept in a place with such strong links to Wesley’s life and legacy.