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Benjamin Franklin, and Electricity.
Just at this juncture, Wesley began to turn his attention to a subject, which afterwards became one of the greatest dis- Age 50 coveries of the age.
A year previous to this, Benjamin Franklin had established the important fact of the identity of lightning and the electric fluid. From time to time, he had sent accounts of his experiments to the Royal Society of England; but the communications were not admitted into the printed transactions of that learned body. They were given, however, to Mr. Cave, the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, who had sense enough to see their superlative importance, and who published them in a pamphlet, with a preface written by Dr. Fothergill. By additions subsequently made, the pamphlet grew into a quarto volume; was translated into French, German, and Latin; and attracted the attention of all the philosophers in Europe. The result was, that even the Royal Society began to reconsider the very experiments which they had treated with ridicule; and admitted Franklin, in 1953, into their honourable corporation, bestowing upon him the Copley medal, and all without solicitation, and without the payment of the customary fees.
With his characteristic keenness, Wesley laid hold of Franklin's facts as soon as they were published. They were new and startling; but he saw, that they were most momentous, and evidently entertained the hope, that they would be turned to practical account, in a way which would excite the amazement and gratitude of the human race. Hear what he says:
"1753, February 17.-From Dr. Franklin's letters, I learned,-1. That electrical fire is a species of fire, infinitely finer than any other yet known. 2. That it is diffused, and in nearly equal proportions, through almost all substances. 3. That, as long as it is thus diffused, it has no discernible effect. 4. That, if any quantity of it be collected together, whether by art or nature, it then becomes visible in the form of fire, and inexpressibly powerful. 5. That it is essentially different from the light of the sun; for it pervades a thousand bodies which light cannot penetrate, and yet cannot penetrate glass, which light pervades so freely. 6. That lightning is no other than electrical fire, collected by one or more clouds. 7. That all the effects of lightning may be performed by the artificial electric fire. 8. That anything pointed, as a spire or tree, attracts the lightning, just as a needle does the electrical fire. 9. That the electrical fire, disM
charged on a rat or fowl, will kill it instantly; but discharged on one dipped in water, it will slide off, and do it no hurt at all. In like manner, Age 50 the lightning, which will kill a man in a moment, will not hurt him, if he What an amazing scene is here opened, for after ages
be thoroughly wet.
Wesley's concluding sentence is remarkable; but even he had no idea that, in little more than a hundred years, electric fire would become the means of sending, almost instantaneously, its wondrous messages from England to India, and from shore to shore of the great Atlantic Ocean. Wesley, however, was one of the first to take an interest in the science of electricity. Six years before this, in 1747, he wrote: "I went to see what are called the electrical experiments. How must these also confound those poor half thinkers, who will believe nothing but what they can comprehend! Who can comprehend how fire lives in water, and passes through it more freely than through the air? How flame issues out of my finger,-real flame, such as sets fire to spirits of wine? How these, and many more as strange phenomena, arise from the turning round of a glass globe? It is all mystery; if haply, by any means, God may hide pride from man!" In 1756, he began to turn the discovery to practical account. Having procured an apparatus, he commenced electrifying persons for various disorders, and soon found his patients so numerous, that an hour every day had to be devoted to trying "the virtue of this surprising medicine." Moorfields, Southwark, St. Paul's, and the Seven Dials were the places of rendezvous; and here thousands resorted to avail themselves of Wesley's remedy. He writes: "Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have received unspeakable good; and I have not known one man, woman, or child, who has received any hurt thereby; so that, when I hear any talk of the danger of being electrified (especially if they are medical men who talk so), I cannot but impute it to great want either of sense or honesty." "We know it is a thousand medicines in one; in particular, that it is the most efficacious medicine in nervous disorders of every kind, which has ever yet been discovered."
On February 26, Wesley left London for Bristol, reading on the road Mr. Prince's "Christian History," concerning which he makes the following remarks:
Wesley's Advice to his Preachers.
“What an amazing difference is there in the manner wherein God has carried on His work in England and in America! There, above a hundred of the established clergy, men of age and experience, and of the greatest note for sense and learning in those parts, are zealously engaged in the work. Here, almost the whole body of the aged, experienced, learned clergy, are zealously engaged against it; and few, but a handful of raw young men, engaged in it, without name, learning, or eminent sense. And yet, by that large number of honourable men, the work seldom flourished above six months at a time, and then followed a lamentable and general decay, before the next revival of it; whereas, that which God hath wrought, by these despised instruments, has continually increased for fifteen years together; and, at whatever time it has declined in any one place, has more eminently flourished in others."
In the same month, Wesley wrote concerning these "raw young men," as follows:
"LONDON, February 6, 1753
"MY DEAR BROTHER,—It is a constant rule with us, that no preacher should preach above twice a day, unless on Sunday or some extraordinary time; and then he may preach three times. We know nature cannot long bear the preaching oftener than this, and, therefore, to do it is a degree of self murder. Those of the preachers, who would not follow this advice, have all repented when it was too late.
"I likewise advise all our preachers not to preach above an hour at a time, prayer and all; and not to speak louder than the number of hearers require.
"You will show this to all our preachers, and any that desire it may take a copy of it.
"I am your affectionate brother,
"JOHN WESLEY." 1 Such was Wesley's advice; his example, however, was often widely different.
On March 19, Wesley and his wife set out from Bristol for the north of England.
At Evesham, he preached in the town hall, where most of the congregation were still and attentive, excepting some at the lower end, who, he says, "were walking to and fro, laughing and talking, as if they had been in Westminster Abbey."
At Birmingham, he talked with Sarah B-, one of six wild enthusiasts, who had disturbed the society, and, by their antinomian blasphemy, shown themselves fit for Bedlam.
At Nantwich, he was "saluted with curses and hard names ;" and soon afterwards, the mob pulled down the chapel.2
1 Methodist Recorder, Sept. 22, 1865.
1753 Age 50
1753 Age 50
At Davyhulme, he found, what he had never heard of in England, a clan of infidel peasants. He writes: "a neighbouring alehouse keeper drinks, and laughs, and argues into deism all the ploughmen and dairymen he can light on. But no mob rises against him; and reason good: Satan is not divided against himself."
In the Manchester society, he found seventeen dragoons, who had been in the same regiment with John Haime in Flanders; but they utterly despised both John and his Master till they came to Manchester, where they were now a pattern of seriousness, zeal, and all holy conversation."
At Chipping, when he was about to go into the pulpit of his friend, the Rev. Mr. Milner, a man thrust himself before him, and said, "You shall not go into the pulpit;" and by main strength pushed him back. Eight or ten noisy men joined the belligerent, and Wesley thought it best to desire Mr. Milner to read the prayers himself.
At Kendal, he preached in the chapel used by Benjamin Ingham's society; but was disgusted at the people coming in and sitting down, without any pretence to any previous prayer. They let him sing the first hymn solely by himself; but God spake to them in His word, and in the singing of the hymn after the sermon most of them united; while the greatest part of them followed him to his inn, and conversed with him till he went to bed.
He now made his way to Dumfries had two of the most elegant churches he had ever seen. Glasgow he took to be as large as Newcastle. The students of the university wore scarlet gowns, reaching only to their knees, very dirty, very ragged, and of very coarse materials. Here he was the guest of the Rev. John Gillies, the minister of the College kirk, at whose invitation he had come. Mr. Gillies was now preparing his Historical Collections, which, in the year following, he published, in two large octavo volumes. Wesley spent nearly a week with this devout and distinguished man. He assisted him in his "Collections," preached in his kirk, and seems to have been the means of introducing a novelty in the public worship of the Scots-the singing of hymns as well as doggerel versions of the Book of Psalms. At all events, on the first day of his visit, he observes: "After
Singing Hymns in Scotland.
the sermon, Mr. Gillies concluded with the blessing. He then
The friendship thus commenced with Mr. Gillies was con-
"O when shall I get that Divine elenchos you mention, in my own soul!
' Whitehead's Life of Wesley, vol. ii., p. 273.