1674–1748

Introduction

portrait
portrait

Born: Ju­ly 17, 1674, South­amp­ton, Eng­land.

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

Buried: Bun­hill Fields, Lon­don, Eng­land.

portrait

Book Cover & Tombstone

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

Earth and Heaven

Hast thou not seen, impatient boy!
Hast thou not read the solemn truth,
That grey experience writes for giddy youth
On every mortal joy?
Pleasure must be dashed with pain:
And yet with heedless haste
The thirsty boy repeats the taste,
Nor hearkens to despair,
But tries the bowl again.
The rills of pleasure never run sincere:
(Earth has unpolluted Spring)
From the cursèd soil,
Some dangerous taint they bear;
So roses grow on thorns,
And honey wears a sting.

In vain we seek a Heav’n below the sky;
The world has false, but flattering charms;
Its distant joys show big in our esteem,
But lessen still as they draw near the eye;
In our embrace the visions die,
And when we grasp the airy forms
We lose the pleasing dream.

Earth, with her scenes of gay delight,
Is but a landscape rudely drawn,
With glaring colors, and false light;
Distance commends it to sight,
For fools to gaze upon;
But bring the nauseous daubing nigh,
Coarse and confused the hideous figures lie,
Dissolve the pleasure, and offend the eye.

Look up, my soul, pant toward th’eternal hills;
Those heav’ns are fairer than they seem;
There pleasures all-sincere glide on in crystal rills,
There not a dreg of guilt defiles,
Nor grief disturbs the stream.
That Canaan knows no noxious thing,
No cursèd soil, no tainted spring,
Nor roses grow on thorns,
Nor honey wears a sting.

Isaac Watts, Horæ Lyricæ

Sources

Lyrics