« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
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.
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.
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 Freeschool 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;
1 Johnson, in writing to beg for details of Watts's life, says: “I wish to distinguish Watts, a man who never wrote but for a good purpose.” See Letter to Mr. W. Sharp, Boswell's Johnson, vol. iii. p. 159.
2 Mr. P. Cunningham states that this is a mistake.
3 Dr. Gibbons, 1720-1785. In 1743 he was “ called” to the pastoral charge of the Independent congregation at Haberdasher Hall, and continued it till his death. He wrote a life of Isaac Watts (1780), and assisted Johnson with materials for his life of Watts. Boswell's Johnson, vol, iv. p. 76 note.
but he declared his resolution to take his lot with the Dissenters. Such he was as every Christian Church would rejoice to have adopted.
He therefore repaired in 1690 to an academy taught by 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 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.
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.
1 His father was a Nonconformist, and in the reign of Charles II. was imprisoned for nonconformity, and on his release was, as his son records, “ forced to leave his family, and live privately in London for two years." Milner, Life of Watts, 8vo, 1834, p. 60.
Glyconic, a kind of verse so called from its inventor Glycon. It consisted of three feet, a spondee, a pyrrhic, and a choriamb.
At the age of twenty he left the academy, and spent two Che years in study and devotion at the house of his father, who
treated him with great tenderness; and had the happiness, med indulged to few parents, of living to see his son eminent fill for literature and venerable for piety."
He was then entertained by Sir John Hartopp five years,
as domestick tutor to his son; and in that time particusbilarly devoted himself to the study of the Holy Scriptures ; laps and being chosen assistant to Dr. Chauncey, preached the
first time on the birth-day that compleated his twentyfourth 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; 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. This calamitous state made the compassion ef his friends
nd drew u the attention of Sr Thamas Al
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 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 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
1 Thomas Gibbons, D.D., in his Memoir of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D.D. Lond. 1780.
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 ; 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 coarse