Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Wesley on Old Age
By Robert Southey (17741843)
From Life of Wesley
LEISURE and I, said Wesley, have taken leave of one another. I propose to be busy as long as I live, if my health is so long indulged to me. This resolution was made in the prime of life, and never was resolution more punctually observed. Lord, let me not live to be useless! was the prayer which he uttered after seeing one whom he had long known as an active and useful magistrate, reduced by age to be a picture of human nature in disgrace, feeble in body and mind, slow of speech and understanding. He was favoured with a constitution vigorous beyond that of ordinary men, and with an activity of spirit which is even rarer than his singular felicity of health and strength. Ten thousand cares of various kinds, he said, were no more weight or burden to his mind, than ten thousand hairs were to his head. But in truth his only cares were those of superintending the work of his ambition, which continually prospered under his hands. Real cares he had none; no anxieties, no sorrows, no grief which touched him to the quick. His manner of life was the most favourable that could have been devised for longevity. He rose early, and lay down at night with nothing to keep him waking, or trouble him in sleep. His mind was always in a pleasurable and wholesome state of activity, he was temperate in his diet, and lived in perpetual locomotion; and frequent change of air is perhaps, of all things, that which most conduces to joyous health and long life.
The time which Mr. Wesley spent in travelling was not lost. History, poetry, and philosophy, said he, I commonly read on horseback, having other employment at other times. He used to throw the reins on his horses neck; and in this way he rode, in the course of his life, above a hundred thousand miles, without any accident of sufficient magnitude to make him sensible of the danger which he incurred. His friends, however, saw the danger; and in the sixty-ninth year of his age they prevailed upon him to travel in a carriage, in consequence of a hurt which had produced a hydrocele. The ablest practitioners in Edinburgh were consulted upon his case, and assured him there was but one method of cure. Perhaps but one natural one, says he, but I think God has more than one method of healing either the soul or the body. He read upon the subject a treatise which recommends a seton or a caustic, but I am not inclined, said he, to try either of them; I know a physician that has a shorter cure than either one or the other. After two years, however, he submitted to an operation, and obtained a cure. A little before this, he notices in his Journal the first night that he had ever lain awake; I believe, he adds, few can say this; in seventy years I never lost one nights sleep.
He lived to preach at Kingswood under the shade of trees which he had planted; and he outlived the lease of the Foundery, the place which had been the cradle of Methodism. In 1778 the headquarters of the society were removed to the City Road, where a new chapel was built upon ground leased by the city. Great multitudes assembled to see the ceremony of laying the foundation, so that Wesley could not, without much difficulty, get through the press to lay the first stone, in which his name and the date were inserted upon a plate of brass: This was laid by John Wesley on 1st April 1777. Probably, says he, this will be seen no more by any human eye, but will remain there till the earth and the works thereof are burnt up.