Watts, Isaac, Dd
Watts, Isaac, D.D.
a celebrated divine and poet, was born at Southampton, England, July 17.1674. His father was the master of a boarding school in that town, a man of strong devotional feeling, and a rigid Nonconformist. He was imprisoned, on account of his Nonconformity, in the time of Charles II; and, during his confinement, his wife sat on a stone at the prison door with Isaac, then an infant, at her breast. Young Watts early displayed a love for books, and imbibed, under the training of his parents, that turn of mind, which prompted him to become a Dissenting minister. He entered upon the study of Latin at four years of age, and very soon after began the study of Greek and Hebrew under the Rev. John Pinhorne, master of the free grammar-school at Southampton. He was very studious, spending for books the little money given him in presents, and devoting his leisure hours to study and reading instead of joining the other boys in play. The progress he made here induced some friends to raise a sum of money sufficient to maintain him at one of the universities; but he decided to remain among the Dissenters, to whom his ancestors had belonged for several generations. Accordingly, in 1690 he was sent to an academy in London kept by Rev. Thomas Rowe, then minister of the Independent meeting-house in Haberdasher's Hall. Here he remained three years, studying with such zeal and application as permanently to injure his health. He allowed himself no time for exercise, and very little for sleep. He used to mark all the books he read, to abridge some, and annotate others of them. Of his classical acquirements at this period, Dr. Johnson says, "Some Latin essays, supposed to have been written as exercises at his academy, show a degree of knowledge both philosophical and theological, such as very few attain even by a much longer course of study." His leisure hours seem to have been early occupied in poetical efforts. — He intimates in his miscellanies that he was a maker of verses from fifteen to fifty. His Latin verses, "written to his brother, in the glyconic measure, at the age of seventeen, are remarkably easy and elegant." He made considerable proficiency in the study of Hebrew, logic, and scholastic divinity; but his acquirements in mathematics and the physical sciences were inconsiderable. In 1693 he joined in communion with the congregation of Mr. Rowe; and in 1694 returned to his father's house, where he spent two years in private study and devotion. It was during this period that the greater part of his hymns, and probably most of his juvenile productions, were composed.
At the end of this time he was invited by Sir John Hartopp to reside in his family, at Stoke Newington, near London, as tutor to his son. Here he remained until 1702; but on the completion of his twenty-fourth year (in 1698), he preached his first sermon, and was chosen soon after assistant to Dr. Chauncy, pastor of the Independent Church then meeting at Mark Lane. In 1702 he was persuaded to succeed Dr. Chauncy in the pastoral office; but soon after his entrance upon this charge he was seized with a dangerous illness, which left him with a constitution so greatly impaired that the congregation decided to procure him an assistant. His health returned gradually, and he continued to labor in this field until 1712, when he was seized by a fever so violent and of such continuance that he never fully recovered. While in this afflicting situation he was invited to the house of Sir Thomas Abney, at Theobalds, whither he went expecting to remain a week, but he continued there for thirty-six years the remainder of his life. Here he continued preaching in his Church, overlooking his congregation, or engaging in literary work, as health and inclination prompted him. During the last years of his life, the conduct of some of his near relatives caused him much bitterness of soul, and seemed to so stupefy him that he took but little notice of anything about him. But the worst part of this misconduct was kept, from him. Says a correspondent of Doddridge, "Lady Abney keeps him in peaceful ignorance, and his enemies at a becoming distance; so that in the midst of this cruel persecution he lives comfortably. And when a friend asks how he does, says, 'Waiting God's leave to die.'" In this peaceful state he died, Nov. 25, 1748, and was buried in Bunhill Fields.
Dr. Watts wrote largely for almost all classes of readers, students of all ages, in science, literature, poetry, and divinity. His principal published works are the following: force Lyricae (Lond. 1706); poems chiefly of the lyric kind: — Hymns (ibid. 1707): — Orthodoxy and Charity United (1707): — Guide to Prayer (1715): The Psalms of David (1719): — Divine and Moral Songs for, Children, (1720): — Sermons on Various Subjects, Divine and A Moral (1721-23): — Logic; or, The Right Use of Reason in the Inquiry after Truth (1725): The Knowledge of the Heavens and the Earth Made Easy; or, The First Principles of Geography and Astronomy explained (1726): — Dissertations Relating to the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity (eod.): — Essay on the Freedom of the Will in God and in Creatures (1732 ): — Philosophical Essays (1733 ): — The World to Come (1738): — Essay on the Ruin and Recovery of Mankind (1740):
— Improvement of the Mind (1741):Glory of Christ as God-man. Unveiled (1746): — Evangelical Discourses (1747): — and many others. His complete works have been published in various editions of from six to nine volumes. Of his literary merits Dr. Johnson, in his Lives of the English Poets, says, "Few men have left behind such purity of character or such monuments of laborious piety. He has provided instruction for all ages- from those who are lisping their first lessons to the enlightened readers of- Maleb-ranche and Locke; he has left neither corporal nor spiritual nature unexamined; he has taught the art of reasoning and the science of the star. His character, therefore, must be formed from the multiplicity and diversity of his attainments rather the an from any single performance, for it would not be safe to claim for him in the highest rank in any single denomination of literary dignity; yet, perhaps, there was nothing in which he would not have excelled if he had not divided his powers to different pursuits. As a poet, had he been only a 'poet,' he would probably have stood high among the authors with whom he is now associated.... He is, at least, one of the few poets with whom youth and ignorance may be safely pleased; and happy will be that reader whose mind is disposed, by his verse or prose, to imitate him, in all but his Nonconformity; to copy his benevolence to man and his reverence to God." Of his Hymns Mr. James Montgomery (Introductory Essay to the Christian Psalmist) says, "Every Sabbath, in every region of the earth where his native tongue is spoken, thousands and tens of thousands of voices are sending the sacrifices of prayer and praise to God in the strains which he prepared for them a century ago; yea, every day he being dead yet speaketh by the lips of posterity in these sacred laws." His works on logic and philosophy are of no great value at the present time, having been superseded by later and more discriminating treatises. Dr. Watts was small in stature, being little more than five feet high; and was never married, although, it is claimed, not by his own fault. Monuments have been erected to his memory in Abney Park and Westminster Abbey; a statue by Chantrey was dedicated at Southampton in 1861; and the foundation of a memorial hall was laid there May 6, 1875. See Southey, Memoir of Isaac Watts, D.D.; Johnson, Life of Watts; Jennings, Sermon on the Death of the Late Rev. Isaac Watts. D.D.; Gibbons, Memoirs of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D.D. SEE HYMNOLOGY.