Isaac Watts: A Biographical Sketch, Part 2
To say that Watts possessed a superior intellect is no stretch. It is reported that when he was a child and was given any money he would exclaim “A book, a book, buy a book!” When he was just four years of age he began learning Latin and soon after, Greek. At six years of age (1680), he began attending a free grammar school in Southampton where he was tutored by Rev. John Pinhorne, a gentleman whose influence on Watts would extend for ten years.
By 1687, at the age of thirteen, his language skills would include French and Hebrew. The young student was taken notice of by learned men of the day. He was noted, said a Dr. Jennings”
“…for his sprightliness and vivacity: talents which too often prove fatal snares to young persons but, through the power of Divine grace, he was not only preserved from criminal follies, but had a deep sense of religion upon his heart…”
(Memoirs of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D.D., 1780, by Thomas Gibbons pg. 5)
At sixteen (1690) he was ready to leave home for further education. A physician, Dr. John Speed, and others who could see his mental powers urged him to forsake the ranks of the dissenters so that he could attend a prestigious university. He refused, even though full tuition was offered to him. As Watts himself declared, he was determined to “take his lot among the dissenters.” He moved to Stoke Newington and took up his studies for the ministry at a school under the leadership of the Rev. Thomas Rowe, the pastor of the Independent Church that assembled at Girdlers’ Hall in the city, a church he would formally join in 1693. (Rowe was the son of the Rev. John Rowe who was ejected from Westminster Abbey due to the Act of Uniformity.) Watts was a diligent and hardworking student whose essays (in both Latin and English) and dissertations written while still a very young man reveal a spiritual and intellectual depth. He enjoyed a deep bond and friendship with Rev. Rowe during his time there. Rowe was particularly impressed with Watts devotion and intellect and quickly came to relate to him as an academic peer.
In his piece “To the Much Honored Mr. Thomas Rowe, the Director of my Youthful Studies,” Watts writes:
“I hate these shackles of the mind
Forg’d by the haughty wise;
Souls were not born to be confin’d,
And led like Samson blind and bound,
But when his native strength he found
He well aveng’d his eyes.”
I love thy gentle influence, Rowe ;
Thy gentle influence, like the sun,
Only dissolves the frozen snow,
Then bids our thoughts like rivers flow,
And chose the channels where they run.”
In 1705, Rev. Rowe passed away. He lived just long enough to see Watts established in his pastoral ministry.
After concluding his studies, Watt’s returned home to Southampton and resumed attending his father’s church. According to his biographer, Thomas Gibbons, he spent the time in reading, “to possess himself of ampler knowledge,” meditation, “to take a full survey of useful and sacred subjects and make what he had acquired by reading his own,” and prayer, “to engage the divine influences to prepare him for that work to which he was determined to devote his life.” (Gibbons pg.92)