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sand. It is an honourable distinction, that the most popular books in the English, and probably in any other language, have proceeded from the pens of nonconformists. In proof of the accuracy of this statement, there need only be instanced the “Pilgrim's Progress” of Bunyan; the "Saint's Rest” of Baxter; the “Rise and Progress of Religion" of Doddridge; thel“ Divine Songs" of Watts; and the “Robinson Crusoe" of De Foe. Wherever the English name is known, and its language has penetrated, these productions have travelled, the heralds of the literature and religion of the country of their birth.
Of the merit of the Divine Songs a very high opinion has been entertained, of which their extensive dispersion affords evident proof. The writer, with singular felicity, adapts himself to the feeble capacity of childhood; his rhymes present a rare combination of the simple, the useful, and the attractive; and, perhaps, no equal instance can be found in our literature, of the truths of religion, the duties of morality, and the spirit of poetry, being so admirably accomodated to an infantine comprehension. It is no slight praise to have expounded the sublimest lessons of philosophy to the educated, and, at the same time, to have put into “the mouths of babes and sucklings,” such plain and beautiful effusions. Dr. Johnson's striking eulogy should not be withheld: “For children,” he remarks, “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.” In such compositions as the following, “Whene'er I take my
* Johnson's Life of Watts.
walks abroad;" “My God, who makes the sun to know;" “Lord, how delightful 'tis to see;" “And now another day is gone;” “'Tis the voice of the sluggard;” “How fair is the rose," &c., we see genius and devotion coming down to the level of the most juvenile understanding. Had Watts written nothing beside, his name would have lived for ever; they form one of the most precious boons which the church of Christ has ever received from the hands of uninspired man; and they will be repeated by the seed of the righteous on earth, until they hear and learn the songs of the blessed in heaven.
Many of the correspondents of Watts refer to the happy influence of his Songs upon the minds of children; and several striking testimonies to this effect are upon record. A Welch divine observes, “I have seen the sweet delight and joy with which they have been read by many of the young. On the hearts of five children in my own connexions, they have, by the blessing of God, made deep impressions; and one of these the other day died comfortably, repeating them a few minutes before his departure.” A religious periodical relates the following affecting instance of the conversion of a mother: “A poor wretched girl, religiously educated, but now abandoned to misery and want, with an illegitimate child, was struck with horror at hearing this infant daughter repeat, as soon as she could well speak, some of the profane language she had taught her by example.
She trembled at the thought, that she was not only going to hell herself, but leading her child thither. She instantly resolved the first sixpence she could procure, should purchase Watts's Divine Songs, of which she had some recollection, to teach her infant daughter. She did so; and, on opening the book, her eye caught the following striking stanza:
She read on; the event ended in her conversion, and she lived and died an honourable professor of religion.”* Thousands and tens of thousands of others, have recurred in after years to these lessons of their childhood; and not a few have traced to the impressions made by their means their direction to the paths of virtue and religion.
An edition of the Songs for Children, revised and altered, was published anonymously in the year 1785, and generally attributed to the celebrated Mrs. Barbauld. The design of the accomplished editor was, to accommodate Watts's little work to the principles of Unitarianism, in order to prepare it for circulation among the juvenile members of that body. After a compliment to the author for his pleasing versification, she remarks in the preface,t that “Doctor Watts's little book has been considered as very defective, or rather erroneous, by great numbers of serious Christians; for though it has been very credibly reported, and generally believed, that he changed many of his religious principles before his death; nevertheless there are retained in his book some particular doctrines and phrases, which his better judgment would probably have corrected or expunged. But, be this as it may, the present editor has judged it expedient to make many alterations in both these respects. It has been,” she further remarks,“ her principal design to confine all the ascriptions of praise and thanksgiving to the one only living and true God, to whom alone all praise and thanksgiving are most justly due.” It will only be necessary to observe here, that, whatever change Watts's religious opinions underwent, it was not such as to interfere with the sentiments expressed in his Songs, much less to sanction, in the slightest degree, the alterations and omissions of the arian editor. The hymns entitled, “Praise to God for Redemption,” and, “The Hosanna, or Salvation ascribed to Christ,” are omitted in the spurious edition; and
* Evang. Mag. vol. xii. p. 288.
+ Pref. dated Nov. 17, 1785.
e observes, “to think how poor, feeble, and short, t labours among you; and yet what days of faintlly feel after every such attempt, so that I am revented in my design of successive visits to you, of active spirits, while I tarry in the city; and pt to stay a week or ten days there, I find a senf weakness, so that I am constrained to retire to
To be hindered from meeting his people ary was a painful deprivation; but he had a place s, and experienced their kindest attentions.—“I he, “I can pronounce it with great sincerity, that lace, nor company, nor employment, on this side can give me such a relish of delight, as when I tering holy things in the midst of you. It is in of your souls, that I have spent the best period of ristering the gospel among you. Two-and-twenty ow expired since you first called me to this dek; and from that time my care and labours, my prayers, have been employed in your behalf. I have been accepted with God, and through his essing have obtained some success. As to their with
you, I have too many and plain evidences to ibt of it; which I have often thankfully acknowod and you. Your forward kindness hath always equests; nor do I remember that you ever gave me any thing for myself at your hands, by your conation of all that I could reasonably desire.” The vhich he presented to his people, are fourteen in iefly remarkable for a rich display of evangelical Christian experience. They contain many happy , and pointed appeals to the conscience, and are ex
plain and perspicuous style. He seems ever to d the maxim,
l. i. of “Sermons on Various Subjects," 12mo, first edit. 1721.