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Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Isaac Watts was born in Southampton, the son of a clothier and was educated at Stoke Newington Academy for dissenters, which school was also attended by Samuel Wesley senior. After working as a private tutor for several years, he was appointed pastor of the Mark Lane Chapel in London in 1702.

Watts was one of the most popular writers of his generation, producing a number of influential works on education, philosophy and religion. His fame rests however chiefly on his hymns that had a major impact on the dissenting churches. The Wesleys were great admirers of Watts since at least their Oxford days and over half of the hymns contained in John Wesley's pioneering Charleston collection of 1737, were written by Watts. Despite theological differences the respect and admiration was mutual and shortly before his death, the older poet paid tribute to Charles Wesley, testifying that Wesley's poem 'Wrestling Jacob' was worth all the verse that he himself had written.

Several of the hymns written by Isaac Watts are still sung today, including 'O God, our help in ages past' and 'When I survey the wondrous cross'.

Source: Dictionary of National Biography and Encyclopedia of World Methodism (1974)

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