Essay / On This Day

Today Wesley Fell for His Wife Molly (1751)

grim old Wesley face He really fell for her, and I wish it were a wonderful love story, but it’s not. On February 10, 1751, John Wesley slipped on the ice on London Bridge, and hurt his ankle so badly that his next few sermons had to be delivered sitting down or kneeling. He chose to convalesce at the home of a widow, Mary (or Molly as she was called) Vazeille. In just over a week, they were married.

John Wesley had spiritual oversight over many preachers, and he gave them all good advice about marriage: It had to be subordinate to ministry, it probably wasn’t the best option for serious preachers, and at any rate, if you were considering getting married, you should seek discernment and accountability from your closes friends in ministry. For Wesley himself, following this advice would have meant conferring with his brother Charles at least, and with many other leaders and friends in the movement he was spearheading.

But Wesley broke all his own rules when he married Molly, and got what he deserved. Early Methodist historians painted Molly as an unstable woman of sour disposition and a flaring temper, and posed questions like, “How did so wise and great a man come to make so unhappy a choice?” She does seem a bit crazed with jealousy, but then again when Molly opened the mail, she found letters from Wesley’s many –female– admirers. And she found in his coat pocket a letter of spiritual advice to a woman which included the words, “The conversing with you, either by speaking or writing, is an unspeakable blessing to me. I cannot think of you without thinking of God. Others often lead me to Him; but it is, as it were, going round about: you bring me straight into His presence.” That’s enough to get some dishes flying around anybody’s house. How did so wise and great a man manage to be so foolish and petty?

John Wesley’s marriage really was the great tragedy of his life, a dark cloud with no silver lining. Molly stormed out of the marriage several times, and eventually she stayed gone. Wesley’s diary entry for June 23, 1771, is famously cold: “For what cause I know not, my wife set out for Newcastle, purposing ‘never to return.’ Non eam reliqui; non dimisi; non revocabo.” –that is, “I did not forsake her, I did not dismiss her, I will not recall her.” Ten years later, in October of 1781, Wesley arrived in London and was notified that his wife has died, more than thirty years after that fateful slip on London Bridge.

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