Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hall, Westley

HALL, WESTLEY (1711–1776), eccentric divine, son of Thomas Hall of Salisbury, matriculated at Lincoln College, Oxford, on 26 Jan. 1730–1, aged 20, and became a pupil of John Wesley. He took no degree. Wesley describes him as a student ‘holy and unblamable in all manner of conversation,’ and he was always noted for his plausibility. He became intimate with Wesley's family, and visited Wesley's parents at Epworth, Lincolnshire. Early in 1734 he was ordained, and about the same time secretly engaged himself to Martha (b. 1707), Wesley's elder sister. A few months later he proposed marriage to Keziah (b. 1710), Wesley's younger sister, and was accepted, with the consent of her family, as her future husband. Thereupon Martha revealed her own engagement with him, and he, throwing over Keziah, straightway married Martha. The brothers Charles and Samuel Wesley denounced Hall's conduct, the former in a poem, and the latter in letters to his family, in which he described Hall as a smooth-tongued hypocrite. John Wesley afterwards declared that his sister Keziah never recovered from the effects of Hall's duplicity. Verses, however, published in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for September 1735, soon after the marriage, eulogised both Hall and his wife as models of virtue and piety. In October 1735 Hall and his wife arranged to accompany John Wesley to Georgia, but Hall suddenly changed his mind, and took a curacy at Wootton Rivers, Wiltshire. Keziah Wesley consented to reside with the Halls, and in 1737 her mother, Susanna Wesley, who had become a widow in 1735, joined them. The whole household removed to London in 1739, where Hall took an active part in the management of the Wesleys' newly formed methodist society. He insisted on the expulsion of two members on the ground that they had disowned the church of England, and in September 1739 converted Susanna Wesley to her son's doctrine of ‘the witness of the Spirit.’ In 1740 he preached at Fetter Lane, but joined John Wesley in warning his auditors of the Moravian ‘leaven of stillness.’ In 1741 he adopted the whole of the Moravian tenets, in spite of the Wesleys' opposition; but when, in the same year, John Wesley and Whitefield quarrelled over the doctrine of free grace, he persuaded Whitefield to abandon his intention of publicly preaching against Wesley. In 1742 he removed with his family to the Foundry, the Wesleys' residence, and during Wesley's absence in the north on an organising tour, openly denounced his management of the society and his religious views. Charles Wesley spoke of him at the time as ‘poor moravianised Mr. Hall.’

Hall returned to Salisbury in 1743, and formed a new religious society. He and his congregation formally left the church of England, and he quarrelled with his wife because she declined to abandon it. In 1745 he wrote long letters to the Wesleys, urging them to follow his example, and pointing out the inconsistency of their continued connection with the church. Hall, indefatigable ‘in field and house preaching, drew multitudes of the meaner sort …’ to attend him; but his views changed rapidly. He began to preach pure deism; recommended polygamy, and was personally guilty of gross immorality. On 20 Oct. 1747 he took leave of his followers at Salisbury, and boldly defended his evil practices (cf. Gent. Mag. 1747, p. 531). John Wesley solemnly remonstrated with him by letter on his degraded conduct and neglect of his wife, but he persisted in his loose kind of life apart from his family, chiefly in London. In 1750 and 1751 he made himself conspicuous by disturbing Charles Wesley's prayer-meetings at Bristol, and Charles Wesley attacked him violently in his ‘Funeral Hymns,’ 1759, No. xi. Hall afterwards migrated with a mistress to the West Indies, but soon returned home, and died at Bristol on 3 Jan. 1776. His wife and her brothers, in spite of his gross misconduct, treated him with kindness to the last. Mrs. Hall, the last survivor of the Wesley family, died on 12 July 1791, and was buried in the burial-ground attached to the Wesleys' chapel in the City Road, London. Besides illegitimate issue, Hall had ten children by his wife. They all died young. The longest-lived—a son, Westley—was the subject of one of Charles Wesley's ‘Funeral Hymns’ (1759), No. x. For the use of ‘Westley Hall, jun.,’ his father printed in a broadside sheet ‘The Art of Happiness, or the Right Use of Reason,’ in which all religious belief was attacked. The boy died of small-pox at the age of fourteen.

[Tyerman's Oxford Methodists, 1873; Adam Clarke's Memoirs of the Wesley Family.]

S. L. L.