D.D., University of Edinburgh


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.

  • Rivers, Isabel. "Watts, Isaac (1674–1748)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oct. 2008.