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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The influence of Paradise Lost on the hymns of Charles Wesley Hannon, Elizabeth


An overview of the prose writings of John Wesley, and the hymn writing of his brother Charles, shows that John Milton was an important influence on both men. A search of the literature indicates that critics have rarely noticed this, and although some work has been done on John's abridgement of Paradise Lost, there are no qualitative studies of its effect on the hymnody of Charles. Although the singing of hymns is a potential way of influencing language and doctrine of all singers, it is particularly important for people who have little other education. Charles Wesley, as the most prolific English hymnwriter, was influential in educating generations of church-goers. He used Paradise Lost in several ways: l)by simple appropriation of diction, 2) by combining it with the Bible in four specific ways, i.e., a) simple addition of images and language from Paradise Lost to biblical sources, b) magnification of a biblical idea by projecting it through a scene in Paradise Lost, as in the case of the hymn, "Soldiers of Christ Arise" which is influenced by Book 5, c) the use of the Bible and Paradise Lost as joint "pre-text" to create a new concept, and d) the use of Paradise Lost to "Christianise" a Psalm. Psalm 24 is used as an example. Obvious reasons why Charles Wesley might wish to imitate Milton, such as Milton's popularity in the eighteenth century, and Wesley family connections with Milton, are explored and considered not significant, but a common classical education is important. The two men have similar theological views in two doctrines essential to the Wesleyan revival: a) justification by faith and b) universal redemption. Other similarities are their expression of views on covenant theology, the nature of the goodness of God, and the name of God as "all in all." Their audiences were different but their purposes were similar: to teach "serious godliness" by inculcating doctrine and inspiring faith in a way that would touch the minds and hearts of their readers. Three appendices are presented: one on the problem of the hymn as a literary genre, the second on the audience for Wesley hymns, and the third on the history of literary criticism of the Wesleys.

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