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DR. ISAAC WATTS AND ABNEY HOUSE. EMINENT men, who have by their labours contributed largely to the instruction and happiness of mankind, ought to be kept in memory. Their virtues ought to be recorded, that they may be regarded as examples which we may strive to imitate; and we ought to be thankful to God for the benefits we have received, and may continue to receive, from the good books which have been written for our instruction.
Dr. Isaac Watts was a very good and learned man, and he wrote many very excellent books on various subjects, which have afforded much valuable information to multitudes of persons of all ages. He was born at Southampton, on the 17th of July, 1674. His father was a dissenter, and kept a boarding-school in that town. At that time dissenters were greatly persecuted by the adherents to the established church. Dr. Watts was the eldest child of a family of eight children. His father and his grandfather suffered for their non-conformity; his father was more than once put into prison because he refused to conform to the established church; and when Dr. Watts was an infant, his mother sometimes suckled him sitting on a stone near the jail where her husband was imprisoned. At a very early age, Dr. Watts gave evidence of the
possession of superior talents. He began to learn Latin when he was only four years old. In the year 1690, he was sent to an academy in the neighbourhood of London; and when in his nineteenth year, he became a member of the church of which his tutor, the Rev. Mr. Rowe, was the pastor. From the ardour with which he pursued his studies, his health became impaired ; and when he was about twenty years old, he returned home to his father's house, where, for the benefit of his health, he had to remain for about two years. Here he spent his time in reading, meditation, and prayer; and preparing himself for the work of the ministry. He was then engaged to be tutor to the son of Sir John Hartopp, and went to reside in his house, at Stoke Newington. Here he continued for five years; and while he instructed his pupil, Mr. Watts was not negligent of his own improvement, and diligently applied himself to the study of the Holy Scriptures.
When Dr. Watts was twenty-four years old, he, on his birth-day, began to preach ; and shortly after, became assistant to Dr. Isaac Chauncy, pastor of a church in Mark-lane, London. His preaching was well received ; but soon his labours were interrupted by a severe illness, which lasted five months. In March 1702, he succeeded Dr. Chauncy, and became the sole pastor of the church. But soon after he was again dangerously afflicted, and he was for a long time in a state of great weakness. His church provided for him 'an assistant minister; and, for some years after his recovery, he continued his ministerial labours with great comfort and success.
In the year 1712, Dr. Watts was seized with a violent fever, which greatly impaired his constitution. In consequence of continued indisposition, he was unable to perform all the duties of his pastoral office, and therefore, Mr. Price, his assistant, was appointed as the co-pastor with Mr. Watts. The latter, at this time, was invited to reside in the house of Sir Thomas Abney, of Abney Park, Stoke Newington. This invitation was accepted, and he resided with this excellent family, on terms of the most affectionate intercourse, for the long period of thirty-six years. Here, as his health permitted, he continued to devote himself to study and the preparation of works designed to promote the welfare of man, and the glory of God.
It was while Dr. Watts was resident in this hospitable mansion — an engraving of which precedes this noticethat he published his very excellent work, entitled “ Divine and Moral Songs for the Use of Children." This valuable work was published in the year 1720. Dr. Watts' Songs for children are admirably suited to the capacity of children—they are beautifully simple, and breathe the true poetic spirit. Immediately after their publication, they had a very extensive sale ; and they still are deservedly greatly admired. We believe that more copies of them have been printed and sold, than of any other uninspired poetic work. Millions of young persons have delighted in reading and committing them to memory. They most interestingly teach the principles of morality and true religion. The young person who has committed them to memory, and who duly thinks upon the truths which they inculcate, will derive therefrom great advantages.
Dr. Watts published several other poetic volumes. His version of the Psalms of David, and his Books of Hymns, for public worship, are used by many Christian congregations; and many of his versions of the Psalms and his hymns are very excellent; and have aided the devotions and been blessed to the edification of countless multitudes.
He also published many excellent works on education, and on religious subjects. His work “On the Improvement of the Mind,” is one which ought to be carefully read by young persons ; and his “Logic, or, The Art of Reasoning,” is a very useful work.
Although Dr. Watts was a very learned man, he was very modest and humble. He did not assume any haughty airs, or proud looks. He was not like some persons, who, having obtained a small amount of knowledge, pretend to be wonderfully wise, and to know everything. Such persons oftentimes render themselves ridiculous by their vain conceits and pretences.
In the year 1728, both the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh, unknown to Mr. Watts, conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. This, however, was well bestowed as a testimonial to superior worth and learning
Dr. Watts was not less esteemed as a preacher than as a writer. His preaching was highly instructive and profitable. With unaffected solemnity he delivered the important truths of Divine revelation.
In the last illness of Dr. Watts, he richly enjoyed the support and comfort which true religion alone can give. He had devoted himself from his youth to the service of God; and although several times he was severely afflicted, and his constitution was much injured thereby and by close study, he lived until he was in his seventy-fifth year. He peacefully fell asleep in Jesus, November 25th, 1748. His remains were buried in Bunhill Fields buryingground.
Abney House, in which Dr. Watts so long resided, has been removed, and the grounds, a few years since, were converted into a cemetery.
We shall close this article with some lines from the pen of Dr. Watts, on the rose“ How fair is the rose ! what a beautiful flower,
The glory of April and May;
And they wither and die in a day.