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1 '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 Yalden!
2 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 », 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. 4
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 Nonconformist minister, and BlackPoets,' wrote Johnson, 'I have re- more a writer of religious poetry. commended the volume of Dr. Watts The inclusion of Thomson seems to be added; his name has long been to be due to Johnson. Ante, THOMheld by me in veneration, and I SON, in. would not willingly be reduced to tell Southey says of his own 'paper of him only that he was born and Dr.Watts--prefatory to a volume died. Yet of his life I know very of his poems in the Sacred Classics':little. . . . My plan does not exact 'In this I have done what his other much; but I wish to distinguish biographers have left undone - looked Watts, a man who never wrote but into his opinions.' Corres. with C. for a good purpose.' Boswell's John- Bowles, p. 309. son, iii. 126 ; see also ib. iii. 358.
2 'Gentlemen's sons were sent to (For Johnson's statement that 'he it from America and the West Indies.' recommended only Blackmore on the Gibbons'sMemoirsof Watts, 1780, p.1. Creation and Watts' see John. Let- 3 This narrative Johnson follows. ters, ii. 275 n., and ante, BLACKMORE, For Gibbons see post, WATTS, 13. 22.]
Eng. Poets, lvi. 142. Of the four poets Pomfret and 5 Gibbons, p. 20. His father was Yalden were clergymen, Watts a 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 Tuam. 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 fifty, 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 confine- amusement in the younger years of ment his wife has been known to sit life, and published some religious on a stone near the prison-door, composures to assist the worship of suckling her son Isaac.' Gibbons, p. I. God. ... The gay colours of imagery
* Watts inscribed an ode, 'To the and the spritely relish of verse die much honoured Mr. Thomas Rowe, away and vanish in my advancing the Director of my youthful studies.' age ; for I have almost left off to read Eng. Poets, lvi. 63. For Rowe's as well as to write that which once eminence as a teacher of philosophy was so much engaging. Gent. Mag. see Dict. Nat. Biog. xlix. 347. The 1734, p. 746. academy was in Little Britain.
Gibbons, p. 64; Eng. Poets, lvi. ? Ante, HUGHES, I.
For Watts's lines to him when he Ante, COWLEY, 143; Gibbons, was Bishop of Kilmore see Eng. Poets, p. 59.
In Two Happy Rivals, Devotion Swift, in The Storm, makes Pallas and the Muse, Watts writes :describe him as
"Wild as the lightning, various as the A wretch, whom English rogues to
moon, spite her
song : Had lately honour'd with a mitre.'
Works, xiv. 294. Are my thoughts and wishes free, For a fine letter in which Swift re- And know no number nor degree? proaches this 'extremely rich' bishop Such is the Muse: Lo, she disfor his meanness to a printer, who
dains had been thrown into prison for print- The links and chains, ing a satire by his Lordship, see ib. Measures and rules of vulgar i. 389, xviii. 426.
strains, Gibbons, p. 21.
And o'er the laws of harmony a 5 In his fifty-third year he wrote:
Sovereign Queen she reigns. "I have sported with rhyme as an
Eng. Poets, lv. 129.
7 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. 8 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? 10 He was then entertained by Sir John Hartopp five years as
domestick tutor to his son, 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. 11 In about three years he succeeded Dr. Chauncey S; 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 well as the Scholar.' They lived as 'the Church of Protestant Dis- at Stoke Newington. Gibbons, p. 92. senters now (1780) meeting at Haber- Isaac Chauncy. 16. p. 96. He dashers' Hall.
had studied theology at Harvard. The son, in his sixty-third year, Dict. Nat. Biog. x, 171. wrote to his father when on his death- s'He accepted the call the day bed :—' I feel old age daily advancing King William died, notwithstanding on myself. Ib. p. 3.
the fears with which that event filled Sir John Hartopp, son of a Round- the hearts of Dissenters in general.' head Colonel, married a daughter of Gibbons, p. 97:
For the Meeting General Fleetwood. Burke's Peerage. House see N. & l. 7 S. iii. 416. To his son Watts dedicated his Samuel Price. Gibbons, p. 99. Logick, so written, he hoped, 'that ? Alderman of London. Upon the the Gentleman and the Christian day he entered on his office as Lord might find their account in the perusal 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”, 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 », 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 the opulent to Prior (ante, PRIOR, supper, went to his house, there per- 41 n. 3), to Fenton (ante, FENTON, formed family worship, and then re- 16), to Gay (ante, GAY, 24), and to turned to the company. Gibbons, Akenside ( post, AKENSIDE, 11). Such P. 104.
a refuge Johnson found in Thrale's * In 1722. 16. p. 105.
town and country house, and Cole3 'In a situation of this kind a ridge in Gillman's. Wordsworth enperson of pure and exalted character, joyed the bounty of the second Earl such a man as Ken was among the of Lonsdale and of Sir George Beaunonjurors and Watts among the non- mont. conformists, may preserve his dignity, Gibbons, p. 113. 'Dr. Gibbons and may much more than repay by being mentioned, Dr. Johnson said, his example and his instructions the “I took to Dr. Gibbons." And, adbenefits which he receives. But to dressing himself to Mr. Charles Dilly, a person whose virtue is not high added, " I shall be glad to see him. toned this way of life is full of peril.' Tell him if he'll call on me, and MACAULAY, Hist. of Eng. v. 93. dawdle over a dish of tea in an after
Among the poets of the Lives a noon, I shall take it kind.", Boswell's refuge was granted in the houses of Johnson, iv. 126.
LVES OY POETS. 111
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 14 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. 15 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 ?; their number and their variety shew the intenseness of his industry, and the
extent of his capacity. 16 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.