1674 - 1748 Author of "My soul forsakes her vain delight" in The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion (New ed. thoroughly rev. and much enl.) Isaac Watts was the son of a schoolmaster, and was born in Southampton, July 17, 1674. He is said to have shown remarkable precocity in childhood, beginning the study of Latin, in his fourth year, and writing respectable verses at the age of seven. At the age of sixteen, he went to London to study in the Academy of the Rev. Thomas Rowe, an Independent minister. In 1698, he became assistant minister of the Independent Church, Berry St., London. In 1702, he became pastor. In 1712, he accepted an invitation to visit Sir Thomas Abney, at his residence of Abney Park, and at Sir Thomas' pressing request, made it his home for the remainder of his life. It was a residence most favourable for his health, and for the prosecution of his literary labours. He did not retire from ministerial duties, but preached as often as his delicate health would permit.
The number of Watts' publications is very large. His collected works, first published in 1720, embrace sermons, treatises, poems and hymns. His "Horae Lyricae" was published in December, 1705. His "Hymns" appeared in July, 1707. The first hymn he is said to have composed for religious worship, is "Behold the glories of the Lamb," written at the age of twenty. It is as a writer of psalms and hymns that he is everywhere known. Some of his hymns were written to be sung after his sermons, giving expression to the meaning of the text upon which he had preached. Montgomery calls Watts "the greatest name among hymn-writers," and the honour can hardly be disputed. His published hymns number more than eight hundred.
Watts died November 25, 1748, and was buried at Bunhill Fields. A monumental statue was erected in Southampton, his native place, and there is also a monument to his memory in the South Choir of Westminster Abbey. "Happy," says the great contemporary champion of Anglican orthodoxy, "will be that reader whose mind is disposed, by his verses or his prose, to imitate him in all but his non-conformity, to copy his benevolence to men, and his reverence to God." ("Memorials of Westminster Abbey," p. 325.)
--Annotations of the Hymnal, Charles Hutchins, M.A., 1872.
Watts, Isaac, D.D. The father of Dr. Watts was a respected Nonconformist, and at the birth of the child, and during its infancy, twice suffered imprisonment for his religious convictions. In his later years he kept a flourishing boarding school at Southampton. Isaac, the eldest of his nine children, was born in that town July 17, 1674. His taste for verse showed itself in early childhood. He was taught Greek, Latin, and Hebrew by Mr. Pinhorn, rector of All Saints, and headmaster of the Grammar School, in Southampton. The splendid promise of the boy induced a physician of the town and other friends to offer him an education at one of the Universities for eventual ordination in the Church of England: but this he refused; and entered a Nonconformist Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690, under the care of Mr. Thomas Rowe, the pastor of the Independent congregation at Girdlers' Hall. Of this congregation he became a member in 1693.
Leaving the Academy at the age of twenty, he spent two years at home; and it was then that the bulk of the Hymns and Spiritual Songs (published 1707-9) were written, and sung from manuscripts in the Southampton Chapel. The hymn "Behold the glories of the Lamb" is said to have been the first he composed, and written as an attempt to raise the standard of praise. In answer to requests, others succeeded. The hymn "There is a land of pure delight" is said to have been suggested by the view across Southampton Water. The next six years of Watts's life were again spent at Stoke Newington, in the post of tutor to the son of an eminent Puritan, Sir John Hartopp; and to the intense study of these years must be traced the accumulation of the theological and philosophical materials which he published subsequently, and also the life-long enfeeblement of his constitution.
Watts preached his first sermon when he was twenty-four years old. In the next three years he preached frequently; and in 1702 was ordained pastor of the eminent Independent congregation in Mark Lane, over which Caryl and Dr. John Owen had presided, and which numbered Mrs. Bendish, Cromwell's granddaughter, Charles Fleetwood, Charles Desborough, Sir John Hartopp, Lady Haversham, and other distinguished Independents among its members. In this year he removed to the house of Mr. Hollis in the Minories. His health began to fail in the following year, and Mr. Samuel Price was appointed as his assistant in the ministry. In 1712 a fever shattered his constitution, and Mr. Price was then appointed co-pastor of the congregation which had in the meantime removed to a new chapel in Bury Street. It was at this period that he became the guest of Sir Thomas Abney, under whose roof, and after his death (1722) that of his widow, he remained for the rest of his suffering life; residing for the longer portion of these thirty-six years principally at the beautiful country seat of Theobalds in Herts, and for the last thirteen years at Stoke Newington. His degree of D.D. was bestowed on him in 1728, unsolicited, by the University of Edinburgh. His infirmities increased on him up to the peaceful close of his sufferings, Nov. 25, 1748. He was buried in the Puritan restingplace at Bunhill Fields, but a monument was erected to him in Westminster Abbey.
His learning and piety, gentleness and largeness of heart have earned him the title of the Melanchthon of his day. Among his friends, churchmen like Bishop Gibson are ranked with Nonconformists such as Doddridge. His theological as well as philosophical fame was considerable. His Speculations on the Human Nature of the Logos, as a contribution to the great controversy on the Holy Trinity, brought on him a charge of Arian opinions. His work on The Improvement of the Mind, published in 1741, is eulogised by Johnson. His Logic was still a valued textbook at Oxford within living memory. The World to Come, published in 1745, was once a favourite devotional work, parts of it being translated into several languages. His Catechisms, Scripture History (1732), as well as The Divine and Moral Songs (1715), were the most popular text-books for religious education fifty years ago. The Hymns and Spiritual Songs were published in 1707-9, though written earlier. The Horae Lyricae, which contains hymns interspersed among the poems, appeared in 1706-9. Some hymns were also appended at the close of the several Sermons preached in London, published in 1721-24. The Psalms were published in 1719. The earliest life of Watts is that by his friend Dr. Gibbons. Johnson has included him in his Lives of the Poets; and Southey has echoed Johnson's warm eulogy. The most interesting modern life is Isaac Watts: his Life and Writings, by E. Paxton Hood. [Rev. H. Leigh Bennett, M.A.]
A large mass of Dr. Watts's hymns and paraphrases of the Psalms have no personal history beyond the date of their publication. These we have grouped together here and shall preface the list with the books from which they are taken.
(l) Horae Lyricae. Poems chiefly of the Lyric kind. In Three Books Sacred: i.To Devotion and Piety; ii. To Virtue, Honour, and Friendship; iii. To the Memory of the Dead. By I. Watts, 1706. Second edition, 1709. (2) Hymns and Spiritual Songs. In Three Books: i. Collected from the Scriptures; ii. Composed on Divine Subjects; iii. Prepared for the Lord's Supper. By I. Watts, 1707. This contained in Bk i. 78 hymns; Bk. ii. 110; Bk. iii. 22, and 12 doxologies. In the 2nd edition published in 1709, Bk. i. was increased to 150; Bk. ii. to 170; Bk. iii. to 25 and 15 doxologies. (3) Divine and Moral Songs for the Use of Children. By I. Watts, London, 1715. (4) The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, And apply'd to the Christian State and Worship. By I. Watts. London: Printed by J. Clark, at the Bible and Crown in the Poultry, &c, 1719. (5) Sermons with hymns appended thereto, vol. i., 1721; ii., 1723; iii. 1727. In the 5th ed. of the Sermons the three volumes, in duodecimo, were reduced to two, in octavo. (6) Reliquiae Juveniles: Miscellaneous Thoughts in Prose and Verse, on Natural, Moral, and Divine Subjects; Written chiefly in Younger Years. By I. Watts, D.D., London, 1734. (7) Remnants of Time. London, 1736.
454 Hymns and Versions of the Psalms, in addition to the centos are all in common use at the present time.
--Excerpts from John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)
Watts, I. , p. 1241, ii. Nearly 100 hymns, additional to those already annotated, are given in some minor hymn-books.
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, Appendix, Part II (1907)
Watts, I. , p. 1236, i. At the time of the publication of this Dictionary in 1892, every copy of the 1707 edition of Watts's Hymns and Spiritual Songs was supposed to have perished, and all notes thereon were based upon references which were found in magazines and old collections of hymns and versions of the Psalms. Recently three copies have been recovered, and by a careful examination of one of these we have been able to give some of the results in the revision of pp. 1-1597, and the rest we now subjoin.
i. Hymns in the 1709 ed. of Hymns and Spiritual Songs which previously appeared in the 1707 edition of the same book, but are not so noted in the 1st ed. of this Dictionary:—
On pp. 1237, L-1239, ii., Nos. 18, 33, 42, 43, 47, 48, 60, 56, 58, 59, 63, 75, 82, 83, 84, 85, 93, 96, 99, 102, 104, 105, 113, 115, 116, 123, 124, 134, 137, 139, 146, 147, 148, 149, 162, 166, 174, 180, 181, 182, 188, 190, 192, 193, 194, 195, 197, 200, 202.
ii. Versions of the Psalms in his Psalms of David, 1719, which previously appeared in his Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1707:—
On pp. 1239, U.-1241, i., Nos. 241, 288, 304, 313, 314, 317, 410, 441.
iii. Additional not noted in the revision:—
1. My soul, how lovely is the place; p. 1240, ii. 332. This version of Ps. lxiv. first appeared in the 1707 edition of Hymns & Spiritual Songs, as "Ye saints, how lovely is the place."
2. Shine, mighty God, on Britain shine; p. 1055, ii. In the 1707 edition of Hymns & Spiritual Songs, Bk. i., No. 35, and again in his Psalms of David, 1719.
3. Sing to the Lord with [cheerful] joyful voice, p. 1059, ii. This version of Ps. c. is No. 43 in the Hymns & Spiritual Songs, 1707, Bk. i., from which it passed into the Ps. of David, 1719.
A careful collation of the earliest editions of Watts's Horae Lyricae shows that Nos. 1, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, p. 1237, i., are in the 1706 ed., and that the rest were added in 1709. Of the remaining hymns, Nos. 91 appeared in his Sermons, vol. ii., 1723, and No. 196 in Sermons, vol. i., 1721. No. 199 was added after Watts's death. It must be noted also that the original title of what is usually known as Divine and Moral Songs was Divine Songs only.
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, New Supplement (1907)
See also in:
Hymn Writers of the Church