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ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748)

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Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 423 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748), English theologian and hymn writer, son of a clothier, was born at Southampton on the 17th of July 1674. The father, who afterwards had a boarding-school at Southampton, also wrote poetry, and a number of his pieces were included by mistake in vol. i. of the son's Posthumous Works. Isaac Watts is stated to have begun to learn Latin when only in his fifth year, and at the age of seven cr eight to have composed some devotional pieces to please his mother. His nonconformity precluded him from entering either of the universities, but in his sixteenth year he went to study at the nonconformist academy at Stoke Newington, of which the Rev. Thomas Rowe, minister of the Independent meeting at Girdlers' Hall, was then president. On leaving the academy he spent more than two years at home, and began to write his hymns, but in the autumn of 1696 he became tutor in the family of Sir John Hartopp at Stoke Newington, where he probably prepared the materials of his two educational works—Logick, or the Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry after Truth (1725), and The Know-ledge of the Heavens and the Earth made easy, or the First Principles of Geography and Astronomy Explained (1726). In his twenty-fourth year Watts was chosen assistant to Dr Isaac Chauncy (1632-1712), pastor of the Independent congregation in Mark Lane, London, and two years later he succeeded as sole pastor. The state of his health, which he had injured by overwork, led to the appointment of an assistant in 1703. In 1704 the congregation removed to Pinner's Hall, and in 1708 they built a new meeting-house in Bury Street. In 1712 Watts was attacked by fever, which incapacitated him for four years from the performance of his duties. In 1712 he went to live with Sir Thomas Abney of Abney Park, where he spent the remainder of his life, the arrangement being continued by Lady Abney after her husband's death. Watts preached only occasionally, devoting his leisure chiefly to the writing of hymns (see HYMNS), the preparation of his sermons for publication, and the composition of theological work. In 1706 appeared his Horae Lyricae, of which an edition with memoir by Robert Southey forms vol. ix. of Sacred Classics (1834); in 1707 a volume of Hymns; in 1719 The Psalms of David; and in 1720 Divine and Moral Songs for Children. His Psalms are free paraphrases, rather than metrical versions, and some of them (" 0 God, our help in ages past," for instance) are amongst the most famous hymns in the language. His religious opinions were more liberal in tone than was at that time common in the community to which he belonged; his views regarding Sunday recreation and labour were scarcely of puritanical strictness; and his Calvinism was modified by his rejection of the doctrine of reprobation. He did not hold the doctrine of the Trinity as necessary to salvation, and he wrote several works on the subject in which he developed views not far removed from Arianism. He died on the 25th of November 1748, and was buried at Bunhill Fields, where a tombstone was erected to his memory by Sir John Hartopp and Lady Abney. A memorial was also erected to him in Westminster Abbey, and a memorial hall, erected in his honour at Southampton, was opened in 1875. Among the theological treatises of Watts, in addition to volumes of sermons, are Doctrine of the Trinity (1722); Discourses on the Love of God and its Influence on all the Passions (1729) ; Catechisms for Children and Youth (1730) ; Essays towards a Proof of a Separate State for Souls (1732); Essay on the Freedom of the Will (1732); Essay on the Strength and Weakness of Human Reason (1737) ; Essay on the Ruin and Recovery of Mankind (1740); Glory of Christ as God-Man Unveiled (1746); and Useful and Important Questions concerning Jesus, the Son of God (1746). He was also the author of a variety of miscellaneous treatises. His Posthumous Works appeared in 1773, and a further instalment of them in 1779. The Works of. . Issac Watts (6 vols.), edited by Dr Jennings and Dr Doddridge, with a memoir compiled by G. Burder, appeared in 1810-1811. His poetical works were included in Johnson's English Poets, where they were accompanied by a Life, and they appear in subsequent similar collections. See also The Life, Times and Correspondence of Isaac Watts (1834) by Thomas Milner. WATTS-DUNTON, WALTER THEODORE (1832- English man of letters, was born at St Ives, Huntingdon, on the 12th of October 1832, his family surname being Watts, to which he added in 1897 his mother's name of Dunton. He was originally educated as a naturalist, and saw much of the East Anglian gypsies, of whose superstitions and folk-lore he made careful study. Abandoning natural history .for the law, he qualified as a solicitor and went to London, where he practised for some years, giving his spare time to his chosen pursuit of literature. He contributed regularly to the Examiner from 1874 and to the Athenaeum from 1875 until 1898, being for more than twenty years the principal critic of poetry in the latter journal. His article on " Poetry " in the ninth edition of the Ency. Brit. (vol. xix., 1885) was the principal expression of his views on the first principles of the subject, and did much to increase his reputation, which was maintained by other articles he wrote for the Encyclopaedia Britannica and for the chief periodicals and reviews. Mr Watts-Dunton had considerable influence as the friend of many of the leading men of letters of his time; he enjoyed the confidence of Tennyson, and contributed an appreciation of him to the authorized biography. He was in later years Rossetti's most intimate friend. He was the bosom friend of Swinburne (q.v.), who shared his home for nearly thirty years before he died in 1909. The obituary notices and appreciations of the poets of the time, which he contributed to the Athenaeum and other periodicals, bore testimony to his sympathy, insight and critical acumen. It was not, however, until 1897 that he published a volume under his own name, this being his collection of poems called The Coming of Love, portions of which he had printed in periodicals from time to time. In the following year his prose romance Aylwin attained immediate success, and ran through many editions in the course of a few months. Both The Coming of Love and Aylwin set forth, the one in poetry, the other in prose, the romantic and passionate associations of Romany life, and maintain the traditions of Borrow, whom Mr Watts-Dunton had known well in his own early days. Imaginative glamour and mysticism are their prominent characteristics, and the novel in particular has had its share in restoring the charms of pure romance to the favour of the general public. He edited George Borrow's Lavengro (1893) and Romany Rye (1900); in 1903 he published The Renascence of Wonder, a treatise on the romantic movement; and his Studies of Shakespeare appeared in 1910. But it was not only in his 'published work that Mr Watts-Dunton's influence on the literary life of his time was potent. His long and intimate association with Rossetti and Swinburne made him, no doubt, a unique figure in the world of letters; but his own grasp of metrical principle and of the historic perspective of the glories of English poetry made him, among the younger generation, the embodiment of a great tradition of literary criticism which could never cease to command respect. In 1905 he married. His life has been essentially one of devotion to letters, faithfully and disinterestedly followed.
End of Article: ISAAC WATTS (1674-1748)
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