Isaac Watts was born at Southampton on July 17, 1674, the eldest of his father’s nine children. Isaac Watts, senior, stood as a respected Nonconformist, one so serious about his essentially Puritan religious convictions that he served two prison terms rather than conform to the establishment. After his release, he maintained a successful boarding school at Southampton. Young Watts began his education under the direction of the Reverend John Pinhorne, rector of All Saints Church and headmaster of the Southampton Grammar School, who taught him Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. The boy’s talent for learning and his taste for verse prompted citizens of the city to offer him a university education for eventual ordination into the Church of England. Of course he refused, which meant that he drifted, in 1690, toward the Nonconformist academy at Stoke Newington, London, under the care of Thomas Rowe, pastor of the Independent congregation at Girdler’s Hall. Watts joined that congregation three years later.
In 1694, at the age of twenty, Watts left Rowe’s academy and returned to Southampton. During this period, he wrote the majority of the hymns that would appear in Hymns and Spiritual Songs: “Behold the glories of the Lamb” was supposedly the first, composed in an attempt to elevate the standards of praise and prayer. Others followed, principally the results of requests from friends: “There is a land of pure delight” came from an uplifting...
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