Methodist Church in the Regency: One Facet of a Changing Society, by Corrie Garrett

Methodist Church in the Regency: One Facet of a Changing Society, by Corrie Garrett

Happy October everyone!
There’s a lot going on this month; it’s National Book Month, for my family, it’s nearly Halloween (I shall have a flying squirrel, a panda, and a pirate), and in at least one of my friend groups, it’s nearly Reformation Day (Martin Luther, 95 theses, October 31). And since I feel like 2020 needs all the holidays it can get, well: Happy Halloween, Happy Reformation Day, and Happy Book Month!

A few posts ago, I mentioned a portraitist character I created for Georgiana Darcy, and since he is also Methodist, I thought I’d spend a moment to describe how that Protestant group was growing during the Regency. I’m not Methodist myself, but having a character who was allowed for all sorts of delightful unexpected moments. The Methodists didn’t drink any alcohol, for example, and we all know from our Regency readings how strange that must have been for someone moving in the upper classes. They also put a lot of emphasis on personal restraint–for instance, they abhorred gambling, extravagance, flippancy toward the church, and of course, adultery. They loved music, but didn’t (at that time) have instruments in the church. They were considered low-class and overly fervent, even emotional, but during the Regency and beyond, the movement grew by leaps and bounds in the lower and middle-class.
The movement started in the 1700s with John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitfield, but by the time of the Regency it was especially growing in the upwardly rising middle-class: people like mill-owners (and workers), steel company owners, middle class artists, and others high up in the newly industrial cities. Many Methodist preachers taught that the working class was equal to the upper class in the eyes of God, which was pretty radical for the time.
Now in the landed upper class, Methodism wasn’t as popular. There were many concerned about the state of the church and the nation, but they were generally turning to the evangelical movement within the Anglican church. Jane Austen herself said, “I am by no means convinced that we ought not all to be Evangelicals, & am at least persuaded that they who are so from Reason & Feeling must be happiest and safest.” (Letter to Fanny Knight, 1814).

One distinctive of early Methodists was their use of Class Tickets (sometimes called Quarterly Tickets), that showed the person was in good standing with the church. There are all sorts of surviving images of these online; I pulled just a few to give an example. It was clearly a significant source of identity for people who joined this movement!

The Methodists, as the name implies, were also very serious about order and method. They were extremely organized (by this point in time) and kept rigorous records of membership. They thought it essential to meet in smaller groups or classes so that each member would personally get to share how “goes it with their soul” and receive encouragement, reproof, etc. This excerpt on how it should work was originally written in 1808 and then updated forty years later:

There are about twelve persons in a class, one of whom is styled the Leader. It is his duty:

1. To see each person in his class once a week at least, in order:

(1) to inquire how their souls prosper; (2) to advise, reprove, comfort or exhort, as occasion may require; (3) to receive what they are willing to give toward the relief of the preachers, church, and poor.

2. To meet the Minister and the Stewards of the society once a week, in order:

(1) to inform the minister of any that are sick, or of any that walk disorderly and will not be reproved; (2) to pay to the stewards what they have received of their several classes in the week preceding.

(The General Rules of the Methodist Class Meetings, Dennis Bratcher, ed.)

In my research on painters, I stumbled across John Wesley Jarvis, a fantastic portraitist of the time, and also a great-great-nephew of one of the founders of Methodism, John Wesley. (Jarvis was born in Sheffield, and his (middle-class) family moved to the US, so he wasn’t perfect for my research, but his pictures really inspired my imagination. Sometimes I struggle to connect with the portraits from Regency times, but his are so lifelike!)

Anne Brown, portrait by J.W. Jarvis
John Wesley Jarvis, self portrait, circa 1812

Jane’s only reference to Methodists was in Mansfield Park, when Mary Crawford responds to Edmund (who was stating that adultery wasn’t just inconvenient or ill-advised, it was wrong)… “A pretty good lecture, upon my word. Was it part of your last sermon? At this rate you will soon reform everybody at Mansfield and Thornton Lacey; and when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists, or as a missionary into foreign parts.”

Poor Edmund! Now I just want to read Mansfield Park again.
In closing, I’ll just give a brief excerpt from my story, A True Likeness.

As they walked through the shrubbery at Longbourn, Darcy smiled at Lizzy, as he invariably did when she teased him, but he still looked disquieted. “I am a little anxious. I fear Georgiana might be growing overly pious. I thought she was recovering from Ramsgate quite well, but perhaps I was wrong.”

“Overly pious?” She chuckled, but then her earlier intuition came to mind and she bit her lip. “Has she been speaking with Mr. Turner?”

Stephen van Rensselaer III, portrait by J.W. Jarvis (long married to “Peggy” Schuyler of Hamilton fame!)

“Yes. Though I daresay she might have come upon the idea even without his influence. It hadn’t previously occurred to me, but for a sensitive girl like her, feeling guilty and shamed over the incident with Wickham, this is a very possible reaction.”

“Is piety so terrible?”

“No, but hearing her talk just now… I fear she is a few steps from a nunnery.”

“I think she is more likely to become a Methodist.”

Darcy cocked his head quizzically. “Because that is the particular brand of zealotry she is exposed to just now?”

“I think…” Lizzy struggled with how much to say. “I think because she cares for Mr. Turner.”

Darcy stopped walking. “Excuse me?”

Lizzy winced. “I am not at all sure, only it has once or twice seemed to me that she is not indifferent to him.”

“Mr. Turner? No, I do not think you can be right. John Turner for Miss Georgiana Darcy? It is ridiculous.”

Philip Hone, by J.W. Jarvis, 1812

Lizzy faced him. “As ridiculous as Elizabeth Bennet for Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy?”

“No. No, that is not what I meant.”

“Isn’t it?”

A faint color rose in his cheeks. “I admit you have reason to think so, but truly the circumstances are different. My attitude toward you and your family was quite wrong, I have owned it. But your father is a gentleman, you are clearly a lady—it was my pride that was at fault. Mr. Turner is essentially a tradesman, from a large working-class family—it is quite different. It is not what our mother would want for her.”

“Would they have approved of me?” Lizzy put her hand on his arm as his eyes grew distant. “I don’t want to wound you, but I think you might consider that times do change. And you are the one here.”

“It is easier to make decisions for myself. For Georgiana… Lizzy, how I wish my mother was still alive.”

Lizzy turned pink.

“Wishes are nonsense, of course.” He visibly drew himself together, the rare vulnerability disappearing. “Shall we return to the house?”

Lizzy put one finger to his lips to stop him. “You finally called me Lizzy.”

“Oh? Yes, I suppose I did—”

Lizzy stretched up on her toes to kiss him, the first time she had initiated such a thing.

All the best to you, folks!

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November 3, 2020 6:18 PM

Corrie, I grew up attending a Methodist church. Thank you for this fascinating post.

October 29, 2020 7:06 PM

Interesting post. Enjoyed the excerpt.

Riana Everly
October 29, 2020 5:43 PM

That was very interesting! I knew some of the broad strokes, but I loved learning a few of the details. And I loved the excerpt. Poor Darcy is a bit slow to learn sometimes, isn’t he?

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
October 29, 2020 3:35 PM

Great excerpt. Ole Darc stepped in it this time. He almost didn’t get out before he let his mouth get him in trouble. LOL! Lizzy was cute as she held him accountable for his opinion. This sounds interesting. Blessings, all… stay safe and healthy.

lona manning
lona manning
October 29, 2020 10:25 AM

I grew up in the AME church — African Methodist Episcopal. As a child, I had no idea of the radical roots of the church. Very good summary of Edmund’s response to Mary in MP — I might quote it!

Mirta Ines Trupp
October 29, 2020 9:06 AM

I loved the history you’ve shared and enjoyed the excerpt. Thank you!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
October 29, 2020 8:24 AM

I knew a lot of that history as I am Methodist and proud of it! Loved the excerpt!

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