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NOTES AND ILLUSTRATIONS.
BURNING OF THE PARSONAGE HOUSE AT EPWORTH.
Vol. I.- Page 1.
MR. CHARLES WESLEY was somewhat more than thirteen months old when the parsonage-house at Epworth was burned down the second time. The following is Mrs. Wesley's account of this calamity, in a letter to a Clergyman in the neighbourhood :
“ Epworth, August 24th, 1709. On Wednesday night, February 9th, between the hours of eleven and twelve, some sparks fell from the roof of our house, upon one of the children's (Hetty's) feet. She immediately ran to our chamber, and called us. Mr. Wesley, hearing a cry of Fire' in the street, started up; (as I was very ill, he lay in a separate room from me;) and, opening his door, found the fire was in his own house. He immediately came to my room, and bid me and my two eldest daughters rise quickly, and shift for ourselves. Then he ran and burst open the nursery-door, and called to the maid, to bring out the children. The two little ones lay in the bed with her; the three others, in another bed. She snatched up the youngest, and bid the rest follow; which the three elder did. When we were got into the hall, and were surrounded with flames, Mr. Wesley found he had left the keys of the doors above-stairs. He ran up and recovered them, a minute before the staircase took fire. When we opened the street-door, the strong north-east wind drove the flames in with such violence that none could stand against them. But some of our children got out through the windows, the rest through a little door into the garden. I was not in a condition to climb up to the windows, neither could I get to the garden-door. I endeavoured three times to force my passage through the street-door, but was as often beat back by the fury of the flames. In this distress I besought our blessed Saviour for help, and then waded through the fire, naked as I was ; which
did me no farther harm than a little scorching my hands and my face.
“When Mr. Wesley had seen the other children safe, he heard the child in the nursery cry. He attempted to go up the stairs; but they were all on fire, and would not bear his weight. Finding it impossible to give any help, he kneeled down in the hall, and recommended the soul of the child to God.”
To this account Mr. John Wesley added the following note :
“I believe it was just at that time I waked; for I did not cry, as they imagined, unless it was afterwards. I remember all the circumstances as distinctly as though it were but yesterday. Seeing the room was very light, I called to the maid to take me up. But none answering, I put my head out of the curtains, and saw streaks of fire on the top of the room. I got up and ran to the door, but could get no farther, all the floor beyond it being in a blaze. I then climbed up on a chest, which stood near the window: one in the yard saw me, and proposed running to fetch a ladder. Another answered, “There will not be time; but I have thought of another expedient. Here, I will fix myself against the wall : lift a light man, and set him on my shoulders.' They did so, and he took me out of the window. Just then the whole roof fell in; but it fell inward, or we had all been crushed at once. When they brought me into the house where
he cried out, • Come, neighbours, let us kneel down! Let us give thanks to God! He has given me all my eight children : let the house go; I am rich enough!'
“ The next day, as he was walking in the garden, and surveying the ruins of the house, he picked up part of a leaf of his Polyglot Bible, on which just those words were legible: Vade; vende omnia quæ habes, et attolle crucem, et sequere me. sell all that thou hast; and take up thy cross, and follow me.'”
The most striking description of this terrible calamity is given in the subjoined letter from the Rector of Epworth to his friend, the Duke of Buckingham.
We believe it was never before published.
Righteous is the Lord, and just in all his judgments! I am grieved that I must write what will, I doubt, afflict your Grace, concerning your still unfortunate servant. I think I am enough recollected to give a tolerable account of it.
“On Wednesday last, at half an hour after eleven at night, in a quarter of an hour's time, or less, my house at Epworth was burnt down to the ground: I hope by accident; but God knows all. We had been brewing ; but done all, every spark of fire quenched before five o'clock that evening, at least six hours before the house
was on fire. Perhaps the chimney above might take fire, (though it had been swept not long since,) and break through into the thatch. Yet it is strange I should neither see nor smell anything of it, having been in my study in that part of the house till above half an hour after ten. Then I locked the doors of that part of the house, where my wheat and other corn lay, which was threshed, and went to bed.
“The servants had not been in bed a quarter of an hour when the fire began. My wife being near her time, and very weak, I lay in the next chamber. A little after eleven I heard 'Fire' cried in the street, next to which I lay. If I had been in our own chamber, as usual, we had all been lost. I threw myself out of bed, got on my waistcoat and night-gown, and looked out of the window; saw the reflection of the flame, but knew not where it was ; ran to my wife's chamber with one stocking on, and my breeches in my hand; would have broken open the door, which was bolted within, but could not. My two eldest children were with her. They rose, and ran towards the staircase, to raise the rest of the house. There I saw it was my own house, all in a light blaze, and nothing but a door between the flame and the staircase.
“I ran back to my wife, who by this time had got out of bed naked, and opened the door. I bade her fly for her life. We had a little silver, and some gold; about £20. She would have stayed for it; but I pushed her out; got her and my two eldest children down stairs, (where two of the servants were now got,) and asked for the keys. They knew nothing of them. I ran up stairs, and found them; came down, and opened the street-door. The thatch was fallen off, all on fire. The north-east wind drove all the sheets of flame in my face, as if reverberated in a lamp. I got twice on the steps, and was drove down again. I ran to the garden-door, and opened it. The fire was there more moderate. I bade them all follow, but found only two with me, and the maid with another * in her arms that cannot go; but all naked. I ran with them to my house of office in the garden, out of the reach of the flames; put the least in the other's lap; and not finding my wife follow me, ran back into the house to seek her, but could not find her. The servants and two of the children were got out at the window. In the kitchen I found my eldest daughter naked, and asked her for her mother. She could not tell where she was. I took her up, and carried her to the rest in the garden ; came in the second time, and ran up stairs, the flame breaking through the wall at the staircase ; thought all my children were safe, and hoped my wife was
• This must have been Charles.
some way got out. I then remembered my books, and felt in my pocket for the key of the chamber which led to my study. I could not find the key, though I searched a second time. Had I opened that door, I must have perished.
“I ran down, and went to my children in the garden, to help them over the wall. When I was without, I heard one of my poor lambs left still above-stairs, about six years old, cry out dismally, • Help me!' I ran in again to go up stairs ; but the staircase was now all a-fire. I tried to force up through it the second time, holding my breeches over my head; but the stream of fire beat me down. I thought I had done my duty; went out of the house to that part of my family I had saved, in the garden, with the killing cry of my child still in my ears. I made them all kneel down ; and we prayed God to receive his soul.
“I tried to break the pales down, and get my children over into the street, but could not : then went under the flame, and got them over the wall. Now I put on my breeches, and leaped after them. One of my maid-servants, that had brought out the least child, got out much at the same time. She was saluted with an hearty curse by one of the neighbours, and told that we had fired the house ourselves, the second time, on purpose. I ran about, inquiring for my wife, and other children; met the chief man and Chief Constable of the town, going from my house, not towards it, to help me. I took him by the hand, and said, “God's will be done!' His answer was, · Will you never have done your tricks? You fired your house once before. Did you not get money enough by it then, that you have done it again ?' This was cold comfort. I said, 'God forgive you! I find you are chief Maw still. But I had a little better soon after, hearing that my wife was saved ; and then I fell on mother earth, and blessed God.
“I went to her. She was alive, and could just speak. She thought I had perished, and so did all the rest, not having seen me, nor any share of eight children, for a quarter of an hour; and by this time all the chambers, and everything, was consumed to ashes; for the fire was stronger than a furnace, the violent wind beating it down on the house. She told me afterwards how she escaped. When I went first to open the back-door, she endeavoured to force through the fire at the fore-door, but was struck back twice to the ground. She thought to have died there, but prayed to Christ to help her. She found new strength, got up alone, and waded through two or three yards of flame, the fire on the ground being up to her knees. She had nothing on but her shoes, and a wrapping-gown, and one coat on her arm. This she wrapped about her breast, and got safe through, into the yard ; but no soul
yet to help her. She never looked up, or spake, till I came : only when they brought her last child to her, bade them lay it on the bed. This was the lad whom I heard cry in the house ; but God saved him by almost a miracle. He only was forgot by the servants, in the hurry. He ran to the window towards the yard, stood upon a chair, and cried for help. There were now a few people gathered ; one of whom, who loves me, helped up another to the window. The child, seeing a man coming into the window, was frighted, and ran away, to get to his mother's chamber. He could not open the door, so ran back again. The man was fallen down from the window, and all the bed and hangings in the room where he was were blazing. They helped up the man the second time, and poor Jacky leaped into his arms, and was saved. I could not believe it till I had kissed him two or three times. My wife then said unto me, 'Are your books safe?' I told her, it was not much, now she and all the rest were preserved; for we lost not one soul, though I escaped with the skin of my teeth. A little lumber was saved below-stairs, but not one rag or leaf above. We found some of the silver in a lump, which I shall send up to Mr. Hoare to sell for me.
“ Mr. Smith, of Gainsborough, and others, have sent for some of my children. I have left my wife at Epworth, trembling; but hope God will preserve her, and fear not but He will provide for us. I want nothing, having above half my barley saved in my barns, unthreshed. I had finished my alterations in the Life of Christ' a little while since, and transcribed three copies of it. But all is lost. God be praised !
“I know not how to write to my poor boy* about it; but I must, or else he will think we are all lost. Can your Grace forgive this, and all the rest ?
“I hope my wife will recover, and not miscarry, but God will give me my nineteenth child. She has burnt her legs ; but they mend. When I came to her, her lips were black. I did not know her. Some of the children are a little burnt, but not hurt, or disfigured. I only got a small blister on my hand. The neighbours send us clothes, for it is cold without them."
• His eldest son Samuel, who was then at Westminster School, and about seventeen years of age.