The following is an excerpt from John Wesley's Collection of Hymns
for the Use of the People Called Methodists, published in 1779:
[The] Hymn-Book you have now before you . . . It is not so large as to be
either cumbersome or expensive; and it is large enough to contain such a
variety of hymns as will not soon be worn threadbare.
It is large enough to contain all the important truths of our most holy
religion, whether speculative or practical; yea, to illustrate them all
and to prove them both by Scripture and reason; and this is done in a
regular order. The hymns are not carelessly jumbled together, but
carefully ranged under proper heads, according to the experience of real
Christians. So that this book is, in effect, a little body of experimental
and practical divinity.
As but a small part of these hymns is of my own composing, I do not
think it inconsistent with modesty to declare, that I am persuaded no such
hymn-book as this has yet been published in the English language.
In what other publication of the kind have you so distinct and full an
account of scriptural Christianity? Such a declaration of the heights and
depths of religion, speculative and practical? So strong cautions against
the most plausible errors; particularly those that are now most prevalent?
And so clear directions for making your calling and election sure; for
perfecting holiness in the fear of God?
May I be permitted to add a few words with regard to the poetry? Then I
will speak to those who are judges thereof, with all freedom and unreserve.
To these I may say, without offence,
1. In these hymns there is no doggerel; no botches; nothing put in to
patch up the rhyme; no feeble expletives.
2. Here is nothing turgid or bombast, on the one hand, or low and
creeping, on the other.
3. Here are no cant expressions; no words without meaning. Those who
impute this to us know not what they say. We talk common sense, both in
prose and verse, and use no word but in a fixed and determinate sense.
4. Here are, allow me to say, both the purity, the strength, and the
elegance of the English language; and, at the same time, the utmost
simplicity and plainness, suited to every capacity. Lastly, I desire men
of taste to judge, (these are the only competent judges) whether there be
not in some of the following hymns the true spirit of poetry, such as
cannot be acquired by art and labour, but must be the gift of nature. By
labour a man may become a tolerable imitator of Spencer, Shakespeare, or
Milton; and may heap together pretty compound epithets, as "pale-eyed,"
"meek-eyed," and the like; but unless he be born a poet, he will never
attain the genuine spirit of poetry.