July 17, 1674, Southampton, England.
November 25, 1748, Stoke Newington, London, England.
Bunhill Fields, London, England.
Isaac Watts, D.D., pastor of a Church of Christ in London, successor to the Rev. Joseph Carlyl, Dr. John Owen, Mr. David Clarkson, and Dr. Isaac Chauncey, after fifty years of feeble labours in the Gospel, interrupted by four years of tiresome sickness, was at last dismissed to his rest. Inuno Iesu omnia. 2 Cor. v. 8 Absent from the body, and present with the Lord. Col. iii 4. When Christ, who is my life, shall appear, then shall I also appear with him in glory.
This monument, on which the above modest inscription is placed, by order of the deceased, was erected as a small testimony of regard to his memory, by Sir John Hartopp and Dame Mary Abney.
Watts’ father was a Nonconformist imprisoned twice for his religious views. Isaac learned Greek, Latin, and Hebrew under Mr. Pinhorn, Rector of All Saints, and headmaster of the Grammar School in Southampton.
Isaac’s taste for verse showed itself in early childhood, and his promise caused a local doctor and other friends to offer him a university education, assuming he would be ordained in the Church of England. However, Isaac declined and instead entered a Nonconformist Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690, under the care of Thomas Rowe, pastor of the Independent congregation at Girdlers’ Hall; Isaac joined this congregation in 1693.
Watts left the Academy at age 20 and spent two years at home; it was during this period that he wrote the bulk of his Hymns and Spiritual Songs. They were sung from manuscripts in the Southampton Chapel, and published 1707–09.
The next six years of his life were again spent at Stoke Newington, working as tutor to the son of eminent Puritan John Hartopp. The intense study of these years is reflected in the theological and philosophical material he subsequently published.
Watts preached his first sermon at age 24. In the next three years, he preached frequently, and in 1702 was ordained as pastor of the Independent congregation in Mark Lane. At that time he moved into the house of a Mr. Hollis in the Minories.
His health began to fail the next year, and Samuel Price was appointed as his assistant in the ministry. In 1712, a fever shattered his constitution, and Price became co-pastor of the congregation, which had moved to a new chapel in Bury Street.
It was at this time that Isaac became the guest of Sir Thomas Abney. He lived with Abney (and later Abney’s widow) the rest of his life, mainly at Theobalds in Hertfordshire, then for 13 years at Stoke Newington.
In 1728, the University of Edinburgh awarded Watts a Doctor of Divinity degree. His works include:
One of Watts’ best known secular poems:
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower.
How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.
In works of labour, or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.
In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be past,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.
The Spacious Fields
Your Work Is Vain
Where Are the Mourners?Saith the Lord
Yet,Saith the Lord