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HE Poems of Dr. WATTS were by my recommendation inserted in the late Collection; the readers of which are to impute to me whatever pleasure or weariness they may find in the perusal of Blackmore, Watts, Pomfret, and Yalden1.
ISAAC WATTS was born July 17, 1674, at Southampton, where his father, of the same name, kept a boarding-school for young gentlemen, though common report makes him a shoemaker. He appears, from the narrative of Dr. Gibbons 3, to have been neither indigent nor illiterate.
3 Isaac, the eldest of nine children, was given to books from his infancy, and began, we are told, to learn Latin when he was four years old, I suppose at home. He was afterwards taught Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, by Mr. Pinhorne, a clergyman, master of the Free-school at Southampton, to whom the gratitude of his scholar afterwards inscribed a Latin ode".
His proficiency at school was so conspicuous that a subscription was proposed for his support at the University; but he declared his resolution to take his lot with the Dissenters 5.
To the collection of English Poets,' wrote Johnson, 'I have recommended the volume of Dr. Watts to be added; his name has long been held by me in veneration, and I would not willingly be reduced to tell of him only that he was born and died. Yet of his life I know very little. . . . My plan does not exact much; but I wish to distinguish Watts, a man who never wrote but for a good purpose.' Boswell's Johnson, iii. 126; see also ib. iii. 358.
[For Johnson's statement that 'he recommended only Blackmore on the Creation and Watts' see John. Letters, ii. 275 n., and ante, BLACKMORE, 22.]
Of the four poets Pomfret and Yalden were clergymen, Watts a
Nonconformist minister, and Blackmore a writer of religious poetry.
The inclusion of Thomson seems to be due to Johnson. Ante, THOMSON, In.
Southey says of his own 'paper upon Dr.Watts-prefatory to a volume of his poems in the Sacred Classics':'In this I have done what his other biographers have left undone -looked into his opinions.' Corres. with C. Bowles, p. 309.
2 'Gentlemen's sons were sent to it from America and the West Indies.' Gibbons'sMemoirsof Watts, 1780, p.1.
3 This narrative Johnson follows. For Gibbons see post, WATTS, 13. Eng. Poets, lvi. 142.
5 Gibbons, p. 20. "His father was imprisoned more than once for his
Such he was as every Christian Church would rejoice to have adopted.
He therefore repaired in 1690 to an academy taught by 5 Mr. Rowe, where he had for his companions and fellowstudents Mr. Hughes the poet, and Dr. Horte, afterwards Archbishop of Tuam3. Some Latin Essays, supposed to have been written as exercises at this academy, shew a degree of knowledge, both philosophical and theological, such as very few attain by a much longer course of study.
He was, as he hints in his Miscellanies, a maker of verses from 6 fifteen to fifty5, and in his youth he appears to have paid attention to Latin poetry. His verses to his brother, in the glyconick measure, written when he was seventeen, are remarkably easy and elegant. Some of his other odes are deformed by the Pindarick folly then prevailing, and are written with such neglect of all metrical rules as is without example among the ancients; but his diction, though perhaps not always exactly pure, has such copiousness and splendour, as shews that he was but at a very little distance from excellence.
nonconformity; during his confinement his wife has been known to sit on a stone near the prison-door, suckling her son Isaac.' Gibbons, p. 1.
' Watts inscribed an ode, 'To the much honoured Mr. Thomas Rowe, the Director of my youthful studies.' Eng. Poets, lvi. 63. For Rowe's eminence as a teacher of philosophy see Dict. Nat. Biog. xlix. 347. The academy was in Little Britain.
Ante, HUGHES, I.
3 For Watts's lines to him when he was Bishop of Kilmore see Eng. Poets, Ivi. 137.
Swift, in The Storm, makes Pallas describe him as
'A wretch, whom English rogues to
Had lately honour'd with a mitre.'
For a fine letter in which Swift reproaches this 'extremely rich' bishop for his meanness to a printer, who had been thrown into prison for printing a satire by his Lordship, see ib. i. 389, xviii. 426.
Gibbons, p. 21.
5 In his fifty-third year he wrote:— 'I have sported with rhyme as an
His method of study was to impress the contents of his books upon his memory by abridging them, and by interleaving them to amplify one system with supplements from another.
With the congregation of his tutor Mr. Rowe, who were, I believe, Independents', he communicated in his nineteenth year.
9 At the age of twenty he left the academy, and spent two years in study and devotion at the house of his father, who treated him with great tenderness, and had the happiness, indulged to few parents, of living to see his son eminent for literature and venerable for piety 2.
10 He was then entertained by Sir John Hartopp five years as domestick tutor to his son3, and in that time particularly devoted himself to the study of the Holy Scriptures; and being chosen assistant to Dr. Chauncey preached the first time on the birth-day that compleated his twenty-fourth year, probably considering that as the day of a second nativity, by which he entered on a new period of existence.
In about three years he succeeded Dr. Chauncey 5; but, soon after his entrance on his charge, he was seized by a dangerous illness, which sunk him to such weakness that the congregation thought an assistant necessary, and appointed Mr. Price. His health then returned gradually, and he performed his duty, till (1712) he was seized by a fever of such violence and continuance that, from the feebleness which it brought upon him, he never perfectly recovered.
12 This calamitous state made the compassion of his friends necessary, and drew upon him the attention of Sir Thomas Abney', who received him into his house, where, with a con
'Gibbons (p. 20) describes them as the Church of Protestant Dissenters now  meeting at Haberdashers' Hall.'
2 The son, in his sixty-third year, wrote to his father when on his deathbed:-'I feel old age daily advancing on myself.' Ib. p. 3.
3 Sir John Hartopp, son of a Roundhead Colonel, married a daughter of General Fleetwood. Burke's Peerage. To his son Watts dedicated his Logick, so written, he hoped, 'that the Gentleman and the Christian might find their account in the perusal
as well as the Scholar.' They lived at Stoke Newington. Gibbons, p. 92.
Isaac Chauncy. Ib. p. 96. He had studied theology at Harvard. Dict. Nat. Biog. x. 171.
5 He accepted the call the day King William died, notwithstanding the fears with which that event filled the hearts of Dissenters in general.' Gibbons, p. 97. For the Meeting House see N. & Q. 7 S. iii. 416.
• Samuel Price. Gibbons, p. 99. 'Alderman of London. Upon the day he entered on his office as Lord Mayor (A.D. 1700) he, without any
stancy of friendship and uniformity of conduct not often to be found, he was treated for thirty-six years with all the kindness that friendship could prompt, and all the attention that respect could dictate. Sir Thomas died about eight years afterwards', but he continued with the lady and her daughters to the end of his life. The lady died about a year after him.
A coalition like this, a state in which the notions of patronage 13 and dependence were overpowered by the perception of reciprocal benefits, deserves a particular memorial 2, and I will not withhold from the reader Dr. Gibbons's representation, to which regard is to be paid as to the narrative of one who writes what he knows 3, and what is known likewise to multitudes besides.
'Our next observation shall be made upon that remarkably kind Providence which brought the Doctor into Sir Thomas Abney's family, and continued him there till his death, a period of no less than thirty-six years. In the midst of his sacred labours for the glory of God, and good of his generation, he is seized with a most violent and threatening fever, which leaves him oppressed with great weakness, and puts a stop at least to his publick services for four years. In this distressing season, doubly so to his active and pious spirit, he is invited to Sir Thomas Abney's family, nor ever removes from it till he had finished his days. Here he enjoyed the uninterrupted demonstrations of the truest friendship. Here, without any care of his own, he had every thing which could contribute to the enjoyment of life, and favour the unwearied pursuits of his studies. Here he dwelt in a family, which, for piety, order, harmony, and every virtue, was an house of God. Here he had the privilege
notice, withdrew from Guildhall after supper, went to his house, there performed family worship, and then returned to the company.' Gibbons, p. 104.
In 1722. Ib. p. 105.
In a situation of this kind a person of pure and exalted character, such a man as Ken was among the nonjurors and Watts among the nonconformists, may preserve his dignity, and may much more than repay by his example and his instructions the benefits which he receives. But to a person whose virtue is not high toned this way of life is full of peril.' MACAULAY, Hist. of Eng. v. 93.
Among the poets of the Lives a refuge was granted in the houses of
of a country recess, the fragrant bower, the spreading lawn, the flowery garden, and other advantages, to sooth his mind and aid his restoration to health; to yield him, whenever he chose them, most grateful intervals from his laborious studies, and enable him to return to them with redoubled vigour and delight. Had it not been for this most happy event he might, as to outward view, have feebly, it may be painfully, dragged on through many more years of languor, and inability for publick service, and even for profitable study, or perhaps might have sunk into his grave under the overwhelming load of infirmities in the midst of his days; and thus the church and world would have been deprived of those many excellent sermons and works, which he drew up and published during his long residence in this family. In a few years after his coming hither Sir Thomas Abney dies; but his amiable consort survives, who shews the Doctor the same respect and friendship as before, and most happily for him and great numbers besides; for, as her riches were great, her generosity and munificence were in full proportion; her thread of life was drawn out to a great age, even beyond that of the Doctor's; and thus this excellent man, through her kindness, and that of her daughter, the present Mrs. Elizabeth Abney, who in a like degree esteemed and honoured him, enjoyed all the benefits and felicities he experienced at his first entrance into this family, till his days were numbered and finished, and, like a shock of corn in its season, he ascended into the regions of perfect and immortal life and joy.'
If this quotation has appeared long let it be considered that it comprises an account of six-and-thirty years, and those the years of Dr. Watts.
From the time of his reception into this family his life was no otherwise diversified than by successive publications. The series of his works I am not able to deduce 2; their number and their variety shew the intenseness of his industry, and the extent of his capacity.
He was one of the first authors that taught the Dissenters to court attention by the graces of language. Whatever they had among them before, whether of learning or acuteness, was commonly obscured and blunted by coarseness and inelegance of style. He shewed them that zeal and purity might be expressed and enforced by polished diction.
These grounds have long formed Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington.
'A catalogue of his writings' is given in Gibbons, p. 471.