Editorial Guidelines

Wesley Works LogoJohn Wesley’s in-correspondence has been prepared for this website following the editorial guidelines established by Dr. Frank Baker in his excellent introductory essay to the unit on Wesley’s correspondence in Vol. 25 of The Bicentennial Edition.

It should be stated first that Wesley received far more letters than we present in this collection. The majority have not survived, because Wesley commonly burned them, either after replying or in periodic sessions of weeding his papers (see Baker’s summary, 25:81). We have indirect evidence of many of these letters, which can be found in the comprehensive indices that are appended to volumes 25–31. We include here only those instances where the letter itself or some record of its content has survived.

One set of editorial guidelines concerns the sources privileged in providing the text of letters included. We present the text of the actual letter that Wesley received (the holograph) whenever it has survived. In the absence of a surviving holograph, on a few occasions we have the writer’s working draft, or a copy that either the writer or Wesley made for their records. For many of the letters that Wesley received the only surviving evidence is the transcription that he published in the Arminian Magazine (because, again, he typically destroyed the original after it was published). Two potential limitations should be borne in mind in this instance. By Wesley’s admission, and the evidence of the few cases where an original remains to compare, he often published only extracts from these in-letters, not their entirety. He also typically corrected grammatical issues and abridged for conciseness. Finally, there are a few instances where editors (other than Wesley) or researchers had access to holographs that no longer survive or are now in undiscovered private hands. In this situation we are dependent upon either the earliest (or most complete and detailed) published transcription, or on a manuscript transcription in surviving records. In every case we identify the type of item that is serving as our source

A second set of guidelines govern presentation of the text of Wesley’s correspondence. Frank Baker depicted the approach of The Bicentennial Edition of Wesley’s correspondence as a careful balance between historical accuracy, showing the writers ‘warts and all’, and modern readability (25:123–28). This collection of Wesley’s in-correspondence continues Baker’s practice of retaining colloquialisms, contractions, and outdated grammatical usages. But, like Baker, we routinely expand abbreviations (whenever clear), including abbreviated names. We also silently update archaic spellings (though retaining typical British spellings). Likewise we have followed Baker’s precedent in imposing modern practices of capitalization and (British) punctuation. We keep editorial additions to the text of letters at a minimum, and clearly identify them with [square brackets]. A few of the manuscript sources have been damaged or have obscured text. In these cases we have reconstructed the missing text as much as possible, placing the reconstructed text within 〈angled brackets〉.

Instances of emphasis deserve special notice. In manuscript materials writers usually show emphasis by underlining. We have generally rendered such material in italics (as the modern parallel for printed material). But, as was typical in the eighteenth century, writers often also use underlining in manuscripts to identify direct quotations from Scripture. We have rendered these instances within quotation marks, unless there was some ambiguity about whether they were intending emphasis as well. These principles have their corollary in cases where the source is a published transcription of a letter that Wesley received. Eighteenth-century printing conventionally placed direct quotations of Scripture in italics, which we have altered in all clear instances to standard font and quotation marks. Similarly, printed works of this period typically italicize proper names of people, places, languages, and the like; all of which we render in standard font, unless there is reason to assume that emphasis was intended.

In a slight variation from Baker’s precedent in Vols. 25–26, this collection standardizes the format of Wesley’s in-letters. The current date and the place from where the author is writing is placed at the top of the letter, regardless of its location in the original. We also reconstruct missing place or date information, placing it in [square brackets], to the degree possible. Another change from Baker’s practice is that the header line for female writers identifies them by maiden and married names (if known). Thus, for example, ‘From Mrs. Susanna Wesley’ becomes ‘From Susanna (Annesley) Wesley’. Finally, we render the closing of letters in a uniform format.

A third set of guidelines for this collection of Wesley’s in-correspondence focuses on the information given at the end of holograph letters. Four types of information are potentially listed:

Address: Giving the address exactly as written, without expanding abbreviations or correcting spelling.
Postmark: Some holographs have only the ‘Bishop Mark’ indicating the month and date of posting. Others have as well a stamp of the town where the letter was posted. A few contain more than one listing because the letter was redirected. All marks that are legible are indicated.
Charge: This mark records the charge to be paid when the letter was collected or delivered (it became common only near the end of the eighteenth century for the sender to pay the charge).
Endorsement: Many of the holographs have annotations of when they were received, and sometimes short summaries of their contents or the recipient’s response. There are also later cataloguing remarks on some letters. We typically present here only annotations that appear to be contemporary to when the letter was received. We indicate whenever it is clear that the annotation is in John Wesley’s hand.


The final set of guidelines for this collection relates to annotation of the letters. We privilege original sources in documenting quoted material in the letters and in providing background information, in part because these older sources are increasingly available over the web. Whenever possible we give the full name of both Wesley’s correspondents and other persons mentioned in the letters. More detailed information can be then be located in the Biographical Index in the Research Resources section of this site. Finally, we identify quotations from Scripture, and particularly significant allusions to Scripture, using ‘cf.’ and ‘see’ in the specific manner described below.


[ ] Square brackets enclose editorial insertions or substitutions in the original text, or (with a query) doubtful readings.
〈 〉 Angle brackets enclose conjectural readings where the original text is defective or obscured.
An ellipsis indicates a passage omission identified by the preparer of the original source—for this purpose Wesley generally employed a dash.
[…] An ellipsis within square brackets indicates a passage omitted silently by Wesley from a text he was quoting, to which the present editor is drawing attention.
(()) Double parentheses enclose words that have been struck through by the author in the original manuscript (particularly drafts), to indicate their omission.
[[]] Double square brackets enclose passages supplied from shorthand or cipher, or from an abstract or similar document in the third person.
/ A solidus or slant line marks the division between two lines of text in the original manuscript.
a,b,c Small superscript letters indicate footnotes supplied in the manuscript or original published transcription.
1,2,3 Small superscript numbers indicate footnotes we have supplied in this collection.
Cf. Before a scriptural or other citation, indicates that the writer was quoting with more than minimal inexactness, yet nevertheless displaying the passage as a quotation.
See Before a scriptural citation indicates an undoubted allusion or a quotation that was not displayed as such by the writer, and that is more than minimally inexact.

Wesley’s publications
: Where a work by Wesley was first published separately, its title is italicized; where it first appeared within a different work such as a collected volume, the title appears within quotation marks.

Book-titles in Wesley’s text are italicized if accurate, and given in roman type with capitals if inaccurate. If a title consists of only one generic word that forms a major part of the original title, it is italicized; but if it is inaccurate (such as ‘Sermons’ for a volume entitled Discourses), it is printed in lower case roman type.

Common Abbreviations in footnotes: c[irca], ed[itio]n, n[ote], orig[inal], and st[anza]