1674–1748

Introduction

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Born: Ju­ly 17, 1674, South­amp­ton, Eng­land.

Died: No­vem­ber 25, 1748, Stoke New­ing­ton, Lon­don, Eng­land.

Buried: Bun­hill Fields, Lon­don, Eng­land.

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illustration

Isaac Watts, D.D., pas­tor of a Church of Christ in Lon­don, suc­cess­or to the Rev. Jo­seph Car­lyl, Dr. John Ow­en, Mr. Da­vid Clark­son, and Dr. Is­aac Chaun­cey, af­ter fif­ty years of fee­ble la­bours in the Gos­pel, in­ter­rupt­ed by four years of tire­some sick­ness, was at last dis­missed to his rest. Inu­no Ie­su om­nia. 2 Cor. v. 8 Ab­sent from the bo­dy, and pre­sent with the Lord. Col. iii 4. When Christ, who is my life, shall ap­pear, then shall I al­so ap­pear with him in glo­ry.

This mo­nu­ment, on which the ab­ove mo­dest in­scrip­tion is placed, by or­der of the de­ceased, was erect­ed as a small test­i­mo­ny of re­gard to his me­mo­ry, by Sir John Har­topp and Dame Mary Ab­ney.

Biography

Watts’ fa­ther was a Non­con­form­ist im­pris­oned twice for his re­li­gious views. Is­aac learned Greek, La­tin, and He­brew un­der Mr. Pin­horn, rec­tor of All Saints, and head­mas­ter of the Gram­mar School in South­amp­ton.

Isaac’s taste for verse showed it­self in ear­ly child­hood, and his prom­ise caused a lo­cal doc­tor and oth­er friends to of­fer him a un­i­ver­si­ty ed­u­ca­tion, as­sum­ing he would be or­dained in the Church of Eng­land.

How­ev­er, Is­aac de­clined and in­stead en­tered a Non­con­form­ist Acad­e­my at Stoke New­ing­ton in 1690, un­der the care of Tho­mas Rowe, pas­tor of the In­de­pen­dent con­gre­ga­tion at Gird­lers’ Hall; Is­aac joined this con­gre­ga­tion in 1693.

Watts left the Acad­e­my at age 20 and spent two years at home. It was dur­ing this per­i­od that he wrote the bulk of his Hymns and Spir­it­ual Songs. They were sung from man­u­scripts in the South­amp­ton Cha­pel, and pub­lished 1707–09.

The next six years of his life were again spent at Stoke New­ing­ton, work­ing as tu­tor to the son of em­in­ent Pur­i­tan John Har­topp. The in­tense stu­dy of these years is re­flect­ed in the the­o­log­ic­al and phil­o­soph­ic­al ma­ter­ial he sub­se­quent­ly pub­lished.

Watts preached his first ser­mon at age 24. In the next three years, he preached fre­quent­ly, and in 1702 was or­dained as pas­tor of the In­de­pend­ent con­gre­ga­tion in Mark Lane. At that time he moved in­to the house of a Mr. Hol­lis in the Mi­nor­ies.

His health be­gan to fail the next year, and Sam­u­el Price was ap­point­ed as his as­sist­ant in the min­is­try.

In 1712, a fe­ver shat­tered his con­sti­tu­tion, and Price became co-pas­tor of the con­gre­ga­tion, which had moved to a new cha­pel in Bu­ry Street.

It was at this time that Is­aac be­came the guest of Sir Tho­mas Ab­ney. He lived with Ab­ney (and lat­er Ab­ney’s wi­dow) the rest of his life, main­ly at The­o­balds in Hert­ford­shire, then for 13 years at Stoke New­ing­ton.

In 1728, the Un­i­ver­si­ty of Ed­in­burgh award­ed Watts a Doc­tor of Div­in­ity de­gree.

Publications

Introduction

One of Watts’ best known sec­u­lar po­ems:

How Doth the Little Busy Bee

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower.

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labour, or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be past,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

Sources

Lyrics