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Wa tt s ’ Li f e a n d L egac y


an d



Lon d on

When Watts arrived in London, Sir Isaac Newton was fortyeight years old and a celebrated man of science, and John Locke, the venerated empirical philosopher, was in his sixtyeighth year. London was the intellectual capital of the realm, if not of all Europe, and it was the Age of Reason.35 Hence, young Watts’ faith would have faced considerable philosophical challenges. He approached learning with zeal, but also with modesty and humility. Yet he was frustrated with the new customs of education, the laws of learning that encouraged students to “rove without confinement,” which he believed actually enchained students. Perhaps it was Watts’ contemporary, Alexander Pope, who best laid out the educational theory Watts so disliked: Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man.36 Not so for Watts, or for his correspondent, the countess of Hertford, who wished that “a muse like Mr. Pope’s were more inclined to exert itself on Divine subjects.”37 Ever the poet, Watts embodied his frustration with the tyranny of Enlightenment educational theory in lines of verse: Custom, that tyranness of fools, That leads the learned round the schools, 19

The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts  

Read a sample chapter of Douglas Bond's The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts.