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Selected Poetry of Isaac Watts (1674-1748)


from Representative Poetry On-line
Prepared by members of the Department of English at the University of Toronto
from 1912 to the present and published by the University of Toronto Press from 1912 to 1967.
RPO Edited by Ian Lancashire
A UTEL (University of Toronto English Library) Edition
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries
© 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto

Image of Isaac Watts

Index to poems

A thousand ages in thy sight
    Are like an ev'ning gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night,
    Before the rising sun.
        (Man Frail and God Eternal)
  1. Against Evil Company
  2. Against Idleness and Mischief
  3. Man Frail and God Eternal (Our God, our help in ages past)


Notes on Life and Works

A nonconformist, Watts was born in Southampton and after a relatively brief career as tutor, writer of a 1714 textbook on logic and the conduct of life used at Oxford, and minister of an independent congregation in Mark Lane, London, he retired in 1712 owing to illness and lived for many years as guest of Sir Thomas Abney at his estate Theobalds in Hertsfordshire. Watts' Divine Songs for the Use of Children, published in 1715 and full of plain moral advice and practical counsel, had gone through hundreds of editions by 1929 and were extremely popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, so much so that Lewis Carroll could parody them in the Alice books. His Art of Reading and Writing English came out in 1721 (see facsimile by Scolar Press, 1972; PE 1137 A2W34 1721A Robarts Library). Much of his verse appears in Reliquiae Juveniles: Miscellaneous Thoughts in Prose and Verse, published in 1734 (Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1968, with an introduction by Samule J. Rogal; BX 5200 W3 1968 Robarts Library). This draws on several earlier collections, Horae Lyricae (1706), Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707), and The Psalms of David (1719). Samuel Johnson thought very highly of Watts and included him in The Lives of the English Poets. A monument in Westminster Abbey celebrates Watts' life and works.

Biographical information

Given name: Isaac
Family name: Watts
Birth date: 17 July 1674
Death date: 25 November 1748
Nationality: English
Family relations
          father: Isaac Watts
          brother: Enoch Watts
          brother: Richard Watts
          sister: Sarah Brackstone
Languages
          English
          Latin
          Greek
          Hebrew
Education
          Southampton grammar school under John Pinhorne
          Academy at Stoke Newington: 1690
Religion: Calvinism
Honour: D.D., University of Edinburgh: 1728
Literary period: Augustan
Occupation: Pastor
Residences
          Theobalds
          Southampton: 17 July 1674
          Stoke Newington: 1735
Buried at: Bunhill Fields
First RPO edition: 1998