Samuel Wesley (1662 – 1735) was a clergyman of the Church of England, as well as a poet and a writer of controversial prose.
His father was John Westley, ejected rector of Winterborne Whitechurch, Dorset. His mother was the daughter of John White, ejected rector of Trinity Church, Dorchester, the so-called "Patriarch of Dorchester". Following grammar school education in Dorchester, Wesley was sent away from home to prepare for ministerial training under Theophilus Gale. Gale's death in 1678 forestalled this; instead, he attended another grammar school and then studied at Dissenting academies under Edward Veel (or Veal) in Stepney then Charles Morton in Newington Green, where Gale had lived. Daniel Defoe also attended Morton's school contemporaneously with Wesley. Samuel resigned his place and his annual scholarship among the Dissenters and walked all the way to Oxford, where he enrolled at Exeter College as a "poor scholar" or "servitor" (ie he sustained himself financially by waiting on wealthy students). He also published a small book of poems, entitled Maggots: or Poems on Several Subjects never before Handled in 1685. The unusual title is explained in a few lines from the first page of the work: In his own defence the author writes Because when the foul maggot bites He ne'er can rest in quiet: Which makes him make so sad a face He'd beg your worship or your grace Unsight, unseen, to buy it
Wesley married Susanna Wesley in 1688. He fathered Samuel, John and Charles. He had 19 children, nine of whom died in infancy. Three boys and seven girls survived. In 1697 he was appointed to the living at Epworth through the benevolence of Queen Mary. He may have come to the queen's attention because of his heroic poem, "The Life of Christ" (1693) which he dedicated to her. Samuel Wesley's high-church liturgies, academic proclivities and loyalist Tory politics were a complete mismatch for those of his illiterate parishioners. He was not warmly received and his ministry was not widely appreciated. Wesley was soon deep in debt and much of his life would be spent trying to make financial ends meet. In 1709 his parsonage was destroyed by fire and son John was barely rescued from the flames.
His poetic career began with the publication of Maggots. The poems appear to be an attempt to prove that poetic language can create beauty out of the most revolting subject. The first poem, "On a Maggot", is composed in hudibrastics, with a diction obviously Butlerian, and it is followed by facetious poetic dialogues and by Pindarics of the Cowleian sort but on such subjects as "On the Grunting of a Hog." In 1688 Wesley took his BA, at Exeter College, Oxford, following which he became a naval chaplain and, in 1690, rector of South Ormsby. In 1694 he took his MA from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and the following year he became rector of Epworth. During the run of the Athenian Gazette (1691–1697) he joined with Richard Sault and John Norris in assisting John Dunton, the promoter of the undertaking. His second venture in poetry, The Life of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour, an epic largely in heroic couplets with a prefatory discourse on heroic poetry, appeared in 1693, was reissued in 1694, and was honoured with a second edition in 1697. In 1695 he dutifully came forward with Elegies, lamenting the deaths of Queen Mary II and Archbishop Tillotson. An Epistle to a Friend concerning Poetry (1700) was followed by at least four other volumes of verse, the last of which was issued in 1717. His poetry appears to have had readers on a certain level, but it stirred up little pleasure among wits, writers or critics. Judith Drake confessed that she was lulled to sleep by Blackmore's Prince Arthur and by Wesley's "heroics" (Essay in Defence of the Female Sex, 1696, p. 50). And he was satirised as a mere poetaster in Garth's Dispensary, in Swift's The Battle of the Books, and in the earliest issues of the Dunciad.
For a few years in the early 18th century Wesley found himself in the vortex of controversy. Brought up in the dissenting tradition, he had swerved into conformity at some point during the 1680s, possibly under the influence of Tillotson, whom he greatly admired (cf. Epistle to a Friend, pp. 5–6). In 1702 there appeared his Letter from a Country Divine to his friend in London concerning the education of dissenters in their private academies, apparently written about 1693. This attack upon dissenting academies was published at an unfortunate time, when the public mind was inflamed by the intolerance of overzealous churchmen. Wesley was furiously answered; he replied in A Defence of a Letter (1704), and again in A Reply to Mr. Palmer's Vindication (1707). It is scarcely to Wesley's credit that in this quarrel he stood shoulder to shoulder with that most hot-headed of all contemporary bigots, Henry Sacheverell. His prominence in the controversy earned him the ironic compliments of Defoe, who recalled that our "Mighty Champion of this very High-Church Cause" had once written a poem to satirise frenzied Tories. About a week later Defoe, having got wind of a collection being taken up, for Wesley - who in consequence of a series of misfortunes was badly in debt - intimated that High-Church pamphleteering had turned out very profitably for both Lesley and Wesley. But in such snarling and bickering Wesley was out of his element, and, he seems to have avoided future quarrels. His literary criticism is small in bulk. But though it is neither brilliant nor well written (Wesley apparently composed at a break-neck clip), it is not without interest. Pope observed in 1730 that he was a "learned" man (letter to Swift, in Works, ed. Elwin-Courthope, VII, 184). The observation was correct, but it should be added that Wesley matured at the end of an age famous for its great learning, an age whose most distinguished poet was so much the scholar that he appeared more the pedant than the gentleman to critics of the succeeding era; Wesley was not singular for erudition among his 17th-century contemporaries.