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Isaac Watts, Founder of English Hymnody

Isaac WattsIsaac Watts: Founder of English hymnody; born at Southampton, England, July 17, 1674; died at Stoke Newington, Nov. 25, 1748. He obtained an excellent education at Southampton grammar-school, then, joining the dissenters, he studied at an academy at Stoke Newington, where he acquired his accuracy of thought and habit of laborious analysis; leaving the academy in 1694, he spent two years at home, beginning his hymn-writing. He was private tutor, 1696-1701; became assistant pastor in the chapel at Mark Lane, 1699, and sole pastor, 1702; because of frequent attacks of illness, Samuel Price had assisted him from 1703 and was chosen copastor 1713; his illness increased with time, but the congregation refused to part with one who had become so famous and beloved. Watts was one of the most popular writers of his time; the Haræ Lyricæ (London, 1706) won him fame as a poet, but it was his hymns that so distinguished him. His poetry by giving utterance to the spiritual emotions made hymn-singing an earnest devotional power; the success of his hymns was tremendous, the two staple volumes were the Hymns (1707) and the Psalms of David (1719). The various pieces numbered about 600, of which quite a number are still in general use. His best pieces rank among the finest hymns in English. Watts was also the founder of children's hymnology, writing the Divine Songs (1715). For an estimate of his place in hymnody...

He held liberal views on education, and his learning and piety attracted a great many. His works, outside his hymns, embrace The Knowledge of the Heavens and the Earth Made Easy (London, 1726); An Essay towards the Encouragement of Charity Schools (1728); Reliquiæ Juveniles (1734); Philosophical Essays (3d ed., 2 pts., 1742). His Works appeared ed. D. Jennings and P. Doddridge (6 vols., London, 1753; with Memoirs by G. Burder, 6 vols., 1810-11; 9 vols., Leeds, 1810-11); and Posthumous Works (2 vols., London, 1779).

Bibliography: Lives have been written by T. Gibbons, London, 1780; S. Johnson, London, 1785, 2d ed., 1791; T. Milner, London, 1834; E. Paxton Hood, London, 1875. Consult further: Walter Wilson, Hist. and Antiquities of the Dissenting Churches, 4 vols., London, 1808-14; R. E. A. Willmott, Lives of the Sacred Poets, London, 1838; F. Saunders, Evenings with the Sacred Poets, London, 1870; S. W. Duffield, English Hymns, pp. 61-64, New York, 1886; N. Smith, Hymns historically Famous, pp. 49-55, Chicago, 1901; Julian, Hymnology, pp. 349-350, 920, 1236-1241; DNB, lx. 67-70.

From The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge... New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1912.

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