Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

In about three years he succeeded Dr. Chauncey; but soon after his entrance on his charge, he was seized by a dangerous illness, which sunk him to such weakness, that the congregation thought an assistant neces. sary, and appointed Mr. Price. His health then returned gradually, and he performed his duty till (1712) he was seized by a fever of such' violence and continuance, that from the feebleness which it brought upon him he never perfectly recovered.

This calamitous state made the compassion of his friends necessary, and drew upon him the attention of Sir Thomas Abney, who received him into his house, where, with a constancy of friendship and uniformity of conduct not often to be found, he was treated for thirty-six years with all the kindness that friendship could prompt, and all the attention that respect could dictate. Sir Thomas died about eight years afterwards; but he continued with the lady and her daughters to the end of his life. The lady died about a year after him.

A coalition like this, a state in which the notions of patronage and dependence were overpowered by the perception of reciprocal benefits, deserves a particular memorial; and I will not withhold from the reader Dr. Gibbon's representation, to which regard is to be paid, as to the narrative of one who writes what he knows, and what is known likewise to multitudes besides.

“Our next observation shall be made upon that remarkably kind providence which brought the Doctor into Sir Thomas Abney's family, and continued him there till his death, a period of no less than thirty-six years. In the midst of his sacred labours for the glory of God, and good of his generation, he is seized with a most violent and threatening fever, which leaves him oppressed with great weakness, and puts a stop at least to his public services for four years. In this distressing season, doubly so to his active and pious spirit, he is invited to Sir Thomas Abney's family, nor ever removes from it till he had finished his days. Here he enjoyed the uninterrupted demonstrations of the truest friendship. Here, without any care of his own, he had every thing which could contribute to the enjoyment of life, and favour the unwearied pursuits of his studies. Here he dwelt in a family, which, for piety, order, harmony, and every virtue, was a house of God. Here he had the privilege of a country recess, thé fragrant bower, the spreading lawn, the flowery garden, and other advantages to soothe his mind, and aid his restoration to health ; to yield him, whenever he chose them, most grateful intervals from his laborious studies, and enable him to eturn to them with redoubled vigour and delight. Had it not been for this most happy event, he might, as to outward view, have feebly, painfully it may be, dragged on through many more years of languor and inability for public service, and even for profitable study, or perhaps might have sunk into his grave under the overwhelming load of infirmities in the midst of his days; and thus the church and world would have been deprived of those many excellent sermons and works which he drew up and published during his long residence in this family. In a few years after his coming hither Sir

Thomas Abney dies; but his amiable consort survives, who shows the Doctor the same respect and friendship as before, and most happily for him and great numbers besides; for, as her riches were great, her generosity and munificence were in full proportion; her thread of life was drawn out to a great age, even beyond that of the Doctor's; and thus this excellent man, through her kindness, and that of her daughter, the present Mrs. Elizabeth Abney, who in a like degree esteemed and honoured him, enjoyed all the benefits and felicities he experienced at his first entrance into this family, till his days were numbered and finished, and, like a shock of corn in its season, he ascended into the regions of perfect and immortal life and joy.". If this quotation

has appeared long, let it be considered, that it comprises an account of six-and-thirty years, and those the years of Dr. Watts.

From the time of his reception into this family, his life was no other. wise diversified than by successive publications. The series of his works I am not able to deduce; their numberand their variety show the intenseness of his industry and the extent of his capacity.

vi

He was one of the first authors that taught the dissenters to court attention by the graces of language. Whatever they had among them before, whether of learning or acuteness, was commonly obscured and blunted by coarseness and inelegance of style. He showed them, that zeal and purity might be expressed and enforced by polished diction.

He continued to the end of his life the teacher of a congregation, and no reader of his works can doubt his fidelity or diligence. In the pulpit, though his low stature, which very little exceeded five feet, graced him with no advantages of appearance, yet the gravity and propriety of his utterance made his discourses very efficacious. I once mentioned the reputation which Mr. Foster had gained by his proper delivery to my friend Dr. Hawkesworth, who told me that in the art of pronunciation he was far inferior to Dr. Watts.

Such was his flow of thoughts, and such his promptitude of language, that in the latter part of his life he did not précompose his cursory sermons; but having adjusted the heads, and sketched out some particulars, trusted for success to his extempore powers.

He did not endeavour to assist his eloquence by any gesticulations; for, as no corporeal actions have any correspondence with theological truth, he did not see how they could enforce it.

At the conclusion of weighty sentences he gave time, by a short pause, for the proper impression.

To stated and public instruction he added familiar visits and personal application, and was careful to improve the opportunities which conversation afforded of diffusing and increasing the influence of religion.

By his natural temper he was quick of resentment: but by his established and habitual practice, he was gentle, modest, and inoffensive. His tenderness appeared in his attention to children, and to the poor. To the poor, while he lived in the family of his friend, he allowed the third part of his annual revenue, though the whole was not a hundred a year; and for children he condescended to lay aside the scholar, the philosopher, and the wit, to write little poems of devotion, and systems of instruction adapted to their wants and capacities, from the dawn of reason through its gradations of advance in the morning of life. Every man, acquainted with the common principles of human action, will look with veneration on the writer who is at one time combating Locke, and at another making a catechism for children in their fourth year. A voluntary descent from the dignity of science is perhaps the hardest lesson that humility can teach.

As his mind was capacious, his curiosity excursive, and his industry continual, his writings are very numerous, and his subjects various. With his theological works I am only enougb acquainted to admire his meekness of opposition, and his mildness of censure. It was not only in his book, but in his mind that orthodoxy was united with charity.

Of his philosophical pieces, his Logic has been received into the universities, and therefore wants no private recommendation; if he owes part of it to Le Clerc, must be considered that no man who undertakes merely to methodize or illustrate a system, pretends to be its author.

In his metaphysical disquisitions, it was observed by the late learned Dr. Dyer, that he confounded the idea of space with that of empty space, and did not consider that though space might be without matter, yet matter, being extended, could not be without space.

Few books have been perused by me with greater pleasure than his Improvement of the Mind, of which the radical principles may indeed be found in Locke's Conduct on the Understanding, but they are so expanded and ramified by Watts, as to confer upon him the merit of a work in the highest degree useful and pleasing. Whoever has the care of instructing others, may be charged with deficiency in his duty if this book is not recommended.

I have mentioned his treatises of Theology as distinct from his other productions; but the truth is, that whatever he took in hand was, by his incessant solicitude for souls, converted to Theology. As piety, predominated in his mind, it is diffused over his works ; under his direction it may be truly said, Theologiæ Philosophia ancillatur, philosophy is subservient to evangelical instruction; it is difficult to read a page without learning, or at least wishing to be better. The attention is caught by indirect instruction, and he that sat down only to reason, is on a sudden compelled to pray.

It was, therefore, with great propriety, that in 1728 he received from Edinburgh and Aberdeen an unsolicited diploma, by which he became a Doctor of Divinity. Academical honours would have more value if they were always bestowed with equal judgment.

He continued many years to study and to preach, and to do good by his instruction and example; till at last the infirmities of age disabled him from the more laborious part of his

ministerial functions, and being no longer capable of public duty, he offered to remit the salary appendant to it; but his congregation would not accept the resignation.

By degrees his weakness increased, and at last confined him to his chamber and his bed; where he was worn gradually away without pain, till he expired, Nov. 25, 1748, in the seventy-fifth year of his age.

Few men have left behind such purity of character, or such monuments of laborious piety. He has provided instruction for all ages, from those who are lisping their first lessons, to the enlightened readers of Malbranche and Locke: he has left neither corporeal nor spiritual nature unexamined; he has taught the art of reasoning, and the science of the stars.

His character, therefore, must be formed from the multiplicity and di. versity of his attainments, rather than from any single performance; for it would not be safe to claim for him the highest rank in any single denomination of literary dignity; yet, perhaps, there was nothing in which he would not have excelled, 'if he had not divided his powers to different pursuits.

As a poet, had he been only a poet, he would probably have stood high among the authors with whom he is now associated. For his judgment was exact, and he noted beauties and faults with very nice discernment; his imagination, as the Dacian Battle proves, was vigorous and active, and the stores of knowledge were large by which his fancy was to be supplied. His ear was well tuned, and his diction was elegant and copious. But his devotional poetry is, like that of others, unsatisfactory. The paucity of its topics enforces perpetual repetition, and the sanctity of the matter rejects the ornaments of figurative diction. It is sufficient for Watts to have done better than others what no man has done well.

His poems, on other subjects, seldom rise higher than might be expected from the amusements of a man of letters, and have different de. grees of value as they are more or less laboured, or as the occasion was more or less favourable to invention.

He writes too often without regular measures, and too often in blank verse; the rhymes are not always sufficiently correspondent. He is particularly unhappy in coining names expressive of characters. His lines are commonly smooth and easy, and his thoughts always religiously pure; but who is there that, to so much piety and innocence, does not wish for a greater measure of sprightliness and vigour ? He is at least one of the few poets with whom youth and innocence may be safely pleased; and happy will be that reader whose mind is disposed by his verses or his prose, to imitate him in all but his non-conformity, to copy his benevolence to man, and his reverence to God.

PRE FACE.

rowed from several parts of the Holy Scriptor's Preface, as it contains the plan of ture. Where the Psalmist describes relihis version of the Psalms, may be found gion by the fear of God, I have often joined useful :

faith and love to it. Where he speaks of “I come therefore to explain my own the pardon of sin, through the mercies of design, which is this, To accommodate the God, I have added the merits of a Saviour. Book of Psalms to Christian worship. And Where he talks of sacrificing goats or bulin order to this, it is necessary to divest locks, I rather choose to mention the sacriDavid and Asaph, &c. of every other cha- fice of Christ the Lamb of God. When he racter but that of a psalmist and a saint, attends the ark with shouting into Zion, I and to make them always speak the com- sing the ascension of my Saviour into heamon sense and language of a Christian. ven, or his presence in his church on earth.

" Attempting the work with this view, I Where he promises abundance of wealth, have entirely omitted several whole psalms. honour, and long life, I have changed some and large pieces of many others : and have of these typical blessings for grace, glory, chosen out of all of them such parts only and life eternal, which are brought to light as might easily and naturally be accommo- by the gospel, and promised in the New dated to the various occasions of the Chris- Testament. And I am fully satisfied, that tian life, or at least might afford us some more honour is done to our blessed Saviour, beautiful allusion to Christian affairs. These by speaking his name, his graces, and acI have copied and explained in the gene- tions, in his own language, according to ral style of the gospel ; nor have I con- the brighter discoveries he hath now made, fined my expressions to any particular party than by going back again to the Jewish or opinion; that in words prepared for pub- forms of worship, and the language of lic worship, and for the lips of multitudes, types and figures. there might not be a syllable offensive to sincere Christians, whose judgments may Of choosing or finding the Psalm. differ in the lesser matters of religion.

" Where the Psalmist uses sharp invec- By consulting the Index at the end, any tives against his personal enemies, I have one may find hymns very proper for many endeavoured to turn the edge of them occasions of the Christian life and worship; against our spiritual adversaries, sin, Sa- though no copy of David's Psalter can protan, and temptation. Where the flights of vide for all, as I have shown in the Prehis faith and love are sublime, I have often face to the large edition. sunk the expressions within the reach of an Or, if he remembers the first line of any ordinary Christian : where the words im- Psalm, the Table of the first lines will diply some peculiar wants or distresses, joys, rect where to find it. or blessings. I have used words of greater latitude and comprehension, suited to the

Of singing in course. general circumstances of men. * Where the original runs in the form

If any shall think it best to sing the Psalms

in order, in churches or families it may of prophecy concerning Christ and his salvation, I have given an historical turn to

be done with profit. provided those Psalms the sense: there is no necessity that we

be omitted that refer to special occurrences should always sing in the obscure and

of nations, churches, or single Christians. doubtful style of prediction, when the

Of dividing the Psalms. things foretold are brought into open light by a full accomplishment. Where the If the Psalm be too long for the time or writers of the New Testament have cited custom of singing, there are pauses in or alluded to any part of the Psalms, I many of them at which you may properly have often indulged the liberty of para-rest; or you may leave out those verses phrase according to the words of Christ or which are included with crotchets ( ). withhis apostles. And surely this may be es- out disturbing the sense ; or, in some places, teemed the word of God still, though bor- you may begin to sing at the pause.

« PoprzedniaDalej »