Adam Clarke on Mrs Hall, Sister of John Wesley

(Extract from "Memoirs of the Wesley Family.")

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 2, edited by Charles A. Read

Mrs. Hall could not endure the sight of misery which she could not relieve; it quite overwhelmed her. One day she came to the house of her brother Charles apparently sinking under distress, and looking like a corpse. On inquiry it was found that a hapless woman had come to her and related such a tale of real woe that she took the creature into her own lodgings, and had kept her for three days; and the continual sight of her wretchedness, wretchedness that she could not fully relieve, so affected her, that her own life was sinking into the grave. The case was immediately made known to that son of consolation her brother John, whose eye and ear never failed to affect his heart at the sight or tale of misery. He took immediate charge of his sister's unfortunate guest, and had her provided for according to her wants and distresses.

All Mrs. Hall's movements were deliberate, slow, and steady. In her eye, her step, her speech, there appeared an innate dignity and superiority; which were so mingled with gentleness and good nature, as ever to excite respect and reverence, but never fear; for all children loved her and sought her company.

She spent much time, at his own particular request, with Dr. Samuel Johnson, who was strongly attached to her, and ever treated her with high reverence and respect. The injuries she had sustained, and the manner in which she had borne them, could not but excite the esteem of such a mind as his.

They often disputed together on matters of Theology and Moral Philosophy; and in their differences of opinion, for they often differed, he never treated her with that asperity with which he often treated those opponents who appeared to plume themselves on their acquirements. He wished her very much to become an inmate in his house, and she would have done so had she not feared to provoke the jealousy of the two females already there, Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Du Moulin, who had long resided under his roof, and whose queer tempers much embittered his social hours and comforts. She ventured to tell him the reason; and he felt its cogency, as no doubt the comparison between the tempers would have created much ill-will. As a frequent visitor, even they, cross-tempered as they were, highly valued Mrs. Hall.

It is no wonder that Dr. Johnson valued her conversation. In many cases it supplied the absence of books, her memory was a repository of the most striking events of past centuries, and she had the best parts of all our poets by heart. She delighted in literary discussions and moral argumentations, not for the display, but for the exercise of her mental faculties, and to increase her fund of useful knowledge; and she bore opposition with the same composure as regulated all other parts of her conduct.

The young and inexperienced who had promising abilities she exhorted to avoid that blind admiration of talents which is apt to regard temper and the moral virtues as secondary; and infused an abhorrence of that satire and ridicule which too often accompany wit. Of wit she used to say she was the only one of the family who did not possess it; and Mr. Charles Wesley used to remark that "Sister Patty was always too wise to be witty." Yet she was very capable of acute remark; and once at Dr. Johnson's house, when she was on a grave discussion, she made one which turned the laugh against him, in which he cordially joined, as he felt its propriety and force.

In his house at Bolt Court one day when Mrs. Hall was present the doctor began to expatiate on the unhappiness of human life. Mrs. Hall said, "Doctor, you have always lived among the wits, not the saints; and they are a race of people the most unlikely to seek true happiness, or find the pearl without price." I have already remarked that she delighted in theological discussions. It was her frequent custom to dwell on the goodness of God in giving his creatures laws; observing, "that what would have been the inclination of a kind nature was made a command that our benevolent Creator might reward it, he thus condescending to prescribe that as a duty which to a regenerate mind must have been a wish and delight, had it not been prescribed." She loved the name of duties; and ever blessed her gracious Redeemer who enabled her to discharge them. In a conversation there was a remark made, that the public voice was the voice of truth, universally recognized; whence the proverb Vox populi, vox Dei. This Mrs. Hall strenuously contested, and said, the "public voice" in Pilate's hall was "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

She had an innate horror of melancholy subjects. "Those persons," she maintained, "could not have real feeling who could delight to see or hear details of misery they could not relieve, or descriptions of cruelty they could not punish." Nor did she like to speak of death. It was heaven, the society of the blessed, and the deliverance of the happy spirit from this tabernacle of clay, not the pang of separation (of which she always expressed a fear), on which she delighted to dwell. She could not behold a corpse, "because," said she, "it is beholding sin sitting upon his throne." She objected strongly to those lines in Mr. Charles Wesley's funeral hymns:—

"Ah, lovely appearance of death, "What sight upon earth is so fair," &c.

Her favourite hymn among these was:—

"Rejoice for a brother deceased," &c.

It excited her surprise that women should dispute the authority which God gave the husband over the wife. "It is," she said, "so clearly expressed in Scripture that one would suppose such wives had never read their Bible." But she allowed that this authority was only given after the fall, not before; but "the woman," said she, "who contests this authority should not marry." Vixen and unruly wives did not relish her opinions on this subject, and her example they could never forgive.

In all her relations, and in all her concerns, she loved order. "Order is heaven's first law" was a frequent quotation of hers; it produces, she would say, universal harmony.

Conversing on the times of Oliver Cromwell and the conduct of the Republicans, she got a little excited, and said, "The devil was the first Independent."

The works of Dean Swift were held in high esteem by all the Wesley family but herself. She could not endure the description of the Yahoos in Gulliver's Travels; and considered it as a reflection on the Creator thus to ridicule the work of his hands. His Tale of a Tub she considered as too irreverent to be atoned for by the wit.

Of her sufferings she spoke so little that they could not be learned from herself; I could only get acquainted of those I knew from other branches of the family. Her blessings and the advantages she enjoyed she was continually recounting. "Evil," she used to say, "was not kept from me; but evil has been kept from harming me."

Though she abhorred everything relative to death, considering it as the triumph of sin, yet she spoke of her own removal with serenity. When her niece, Miss Wesley, asked her if she would wish that she should attend her in her last moments, she answered, "Yes, if you are able to bear it; but I charge you not to grieve more than half an hour."