This article analyses the varying contemporary and later responses to Robert Southey's Life of Wesley (1820). Acclaimed for its literary qualities, its appearance in the shadow of the Evangelical Revival and the growing Methodist movement meant that its biographical perspective was long obscured by the nineteenth-century ‘Wesley legend’. Methodist reviewers such as Henry Moore and Richard Watson, repelled by his critique of ‘enthusiasm’ as well as his claim that Wesley was motivated by power and ‘ambition’, questioned Southey's theological credentials and religious orthodoxy. A more nuanced view of Southey's biography was provided by Anglican commentators such as Reginald Heber and Alexander Knox who, while sympathetic to Wesley and the Evangelical Revival, supported many of Southey's judgements from a High Church Anglican standpoint. This article sets Southey's biography within the context of his own theological and political evolution, exploring the issues of authorial motivation and the longer-term literary and historical impact and legacy of his biography.