WATTS, Dr. Isaac

CHAPTER II – SOUTHAMPTON THE BIRTHPLACE OF DR. ISAAC WATTS

Dr. Watts loved Southampton, the town of his birth ; he enjoyed its historical associations and its charming scenery of the surrounding country for which the town is noted. Hence, “Ye Ancient Humtum” and beauty where synonymous to the “Quality” in Iceland”s day. Possibly it falls to the lot of few towns in the British Isles or even on the continent or elsewhere to enjoy such variety and beautiful scenery “both ashore and afloat.” The avenue to the North stretching out toward Winchester with its stately rows of elms, the “Common” with its broad green stretches reaching out in all directions, and the Itchen Val ley to the East. The rising ground of Bittern until the eye rests on the far-famed ruins of the once great ecclesiastical institution, ” Netley Abbey,” among the finest in England for charm and graceful situation, with its ivy clad walls, the joy of the tourist, and Southampton water, the So lent, the beautiful stretch of old Xeptune inland, the pride of the yachtsman the world over ; unsurpassed and unrivaled for a protected sailing course, flanked on either side by wood and dale.

The Clausuntum, one of the relics of the Roman era, and its Saxon successor, make the history of “Ye old town of Humtum,” or Southampton, one of the most remarkable in England. Because of its being interwoven with the history of the formative period, to read the history of Humtum is to read English history from the time of remote antiquity. There were gathered in this old town the all but metropolitan social life at a very early date. Because of its excellent water ways and its conveniences to the continent, especially the French coast, and further because of the visits of Royalty to either welcome home or bid God speed to some of its own household. Southampton was the Brighton of the South Coast, at a very early day, and High Street from the water front was the fashionable promenade. There the “quality” and the social life of the times congregated. This thoroughfare, High Street, was described by Leland in 1536 to his Royal Master as “one of the fairest streets that is in any town in England.” This great public highway where the warrior bold and my-lady fair exchanged cute glances a thousand years ago.

It was little wonder such a promenade lent a charm to a mind so susceptible as Dr. Watts”, whose name is so interwoven with the history of the town, the poet and his poetry are inseparably associated with Southampton. A visitor to the town invariably recognizes this fact at his first impression that there is a mutual recognition be tween the name Watts and Southampton, that the poet, and what he was and what he did was for the “common weal.” And the name of Watts is distinctly associated with this section of England.

On the High Street, just North of the Bar Gate, setting back a few yards from the curb line, the church known as the Above Bar Congregational Church is situated, and in the rear of the auditorium there has been recently erected to the memory of Dr. Watts a building known as “Watts Memorial Hall.” It was in the Above Bar Church that Dr. Watts” beloved and honored father served in the Diaconate for over 40 years. It may be worthy of note to say, that the beloved ejected minister, Rev. Nathanial Robinson of the nearby parish national church of All Saints gathered together his followers and organized the Above Bar Church where his congregation who were in loving sympathy with their beloved pas tor, in his stand for those great fundamental gospel principles, that ever distinguished the free and independent churches from the State aided and subsided control of the ecclesiastical institution, known as the “Establishment.” Here they gathered in the newly erected building to worship God according to the dictates of their con science, and this very Above Bar Congregational Church has a record second to none in the affectionate esteem of the “Independents” the world over. Indeed, few, if any, among the free churches of Great Britain or elsewhere, enjoy a more favorable reputation for its historic defense against oppression, be it civil or religious. Its name is proverbial for its stand for soul liberty. Hence, it is a matter of much joy to the many friends of the church to hail the day set apart for the celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary, for which arrangements are being perfected and appropriate services will be held in recognition of its unique and remark able history lived under the trying and unchristian attitude of the “Establishment” toward this heroic company of non-conformists who gathered to worship the Lord Jesus beneath its sheltering roof. The iniquitous Parliamentary Act engen dered by the Bishops of the “Establishment,” known to the religious world as the act of Uni formity came into force in 1662, and it unques tionably was the most intolerable act of the reign of Charles II, the climax of the moral blots work. It drove over 2,000 of the most godly ministers from the national churches, the men whose piety and worth, have never been equalled in the sub sequent history of the Church of England. It was of this liberty, loving company came the sainted leader, Rev. Nathanial Robinson, he was a marked man in a remarkable period of English religious history. He of all the non conformists stood out upon the quarter deck, and scanned the religious horizon of the time, from stem to stern, directing and leading his company through one of the crucial periods of soul eman cipation. His devotion was as heroic as it was Christian and as noble to the praise of God as it was honoring to the cause he so much loved. It is to this type of man that not only is England indebted, but all lovers of soul liberty join in pay ing their tribute of respect to his name and mem ory. It was in this church Isaac Watts received his early Christian training, such a church with such a founder might well challenge all that is noble in one, and stimulate him to greater en deavor. Doubtless, the young poet often let his mind”s eye depict the early scenes of the ministry of the sainted pastor Robinson, while preaching to his hearers of “those things that are most surely believed among us;” dearer than life itself. Again and again he must have seen his beloved father while engaged in the onorous duties of the d”aconete and felt that it was a hallowed place, while his poetical soul gave expression to devo tional thoughts that were later put in metrical form. On leaving the church and walking a few minutes Northward the East Park is reached; here Southampton has “done herself proud.” The lovely flower Park on the east side of the High Street with the splendid statue of another noted townsman is seen. That of the energetic Bur gess and Mayor, Richard Andrews, Esq., and directly opposite that in West Park or what is known as “Watts Park” is a statue of the poet by the celebrated artist, Lucas, who seems to have caught the sweet spirit of his subject and has given a very lifelike reproduction of the winsome, gentle poet, Dr. Isaac Watts, with outstretched hand as though he again were giving benedictions of helpful comfort to the weary, troubled soul. On the base line of the monument there are suitable inscriptions, and little children who repeat in childlike innocent simplicity the verses :

“So let our lives express,
Thy holy gospel we profess.”

While playing around on the grassy swath and older travelers going toward the city of God, admire him whose statue they behold repeat afresh and again the lines:

“Where all the realms of nature mine,
They were a present far too small,
Love, so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

 

Something over one hundred years ago a very enthusiastic visitor wrote a book about the “elegance of ye High St., the fashionable promenade, ye gay company of ye quality where seen, and the stately sedan chair with my fair lady going to the springs, and ye gentlemen of fine parts, who meet at ye water front.”

Southampton is unusually rich, even for “Merry Old England” in historic places of interest, with its noted and far-famed Roman Clausentunn occupying a strategic position at the time of the Roman occupation with its great Roman High way to “Venta Belgarum” Winchester, and its old burial ground of Humtum in St. Mary”s parish in which ye ancient cemetery where Saxon and Roman warriors have laid to rest for centuries and where Saxon relics of the long ago are found in many of its ancient foundations and human re mains are frequently uncovered. They have been among the unnumbered and forgotten for ages. But all are witness to the antiquity of the town.

This ancient Humtum was the place of the men of even a prior antiquity to the Roman invader. The men of prehistoric time lived here and were given to the chase; whose stone spear heads and axes have been picked up on the Common, and after the flint age came those of the metallic era, the men that used weapons and implements of bronze, which implements and weapons were fashioned by a people trained in the great school of necessity. Then, as in our day, necessity has ever been the Mother of Invention. Those primitive fashioned implements and utensils are the evidence, however, of a knowledge of the metal lurgy of copper that speak to us in no uncertain tones of the advanced civilization those primitive workers in bronze attained, and have left for later generations a problem that taxes the best thought and effort we can produce to solve their source of knowledge. These specimens found in Southampton and on exhibition in the local museum of the Hartley University College are worthy of consideration, and the attention of the antiquarian. The old bronze rings which doubtless were used as the medium of its exchange for their then crude commercial affairs are especially interesting to the numismatologist. Here the student of the new numismatics can learn much in the study of those bronze rings of the bronze era, bearing the impress of rare antiquities. Again the exhibit here shows with marked significance the fact, that of the 35 metals known today, of these, only seven, viz : Gold, silver, copper, tin, iron, lead and mercury have been known from all antiquity ; of the others, 14 have been discovered since the fifteenth century; the remaining 14 have come in to notice since the year 1802. The three metals, those everywhere selected by the commercial nations are gold, silver and copper. These are believed to have been the earliest metals discovered and of these bronze copper is the best suited for general circulation. It would appear that those primitive men of the bronze age understood some thing of the purpose of a kind and Beneficient Providence that gave to them a metal endowed with properties peculiarly fitted for their needs and they have left their stamp and impress upon the age in which they lived. After the bronze age came those races who advanced in the art of metal working and were able to produce implements of war and of agriculture, many of which have been found in Southampton, affording to the museum of the town a unique place to the man of research and especially to the antiquarian. To the historian Southampton is peculiarly rich in historic data; here history is inter woven with the earliest English. Humtum was indeed the cradle of much of the formative historic productions and events of ancient Britain. Bevious Valley and the Itchen are of great interest to the student of history; leading characters figure in their annals of war and song; here the warrior bold of subsequent years have wrought mightily, leaving an impress on the thought and life of the succeeding ages.

It was in Humtum in 626 that Eadwin, King of Northumbria, conquered the Saxon King Cynegils and compelled him to submit to his supremacy. Here in 635 the people of Humtum entered into solemn agreement to embrace the Christian religion by publicly acknowledging “The Lord to be God Almighty.” It was in Humtum, King Cynegils was immersed upon the profession of his faith in his Saviour, and please note it is worthy to relate and very significant that the spot where King Cynegils was baptized that the new parish church of St. Marys was erected there by the rector, the esteemed Canon Basil Wilberforce, himself an immersionist, who caused to be erected a baptistry where the ordinance of baptism is observed agreeable to the primitive custom and in obedience to the New Testament commands, and in conformity and accord with the Apostolic Church. Here in St. Mary”s Church is a baptistry that would do credit to any Baptist church in England or elsewhere. Humtum was a chief port in the Dominion of Beorhtric King of Wessex. In 787 this sturdy soldier formed an alliance with Olaf, the powerful King of Mercia, and drove Eghert from his throne. It was in this historic Humtum that the Danes landed in 860 and wrought such awful destruction. It was here that Olaf of Normandee and Swegn of Denmark landed in 994 and pillaged and tore down their castleated citadels. It was here the English Etchbred fled from his Kingdom ; it was here the great Dane Canute lived and reprimanded his courtiers for their false conception of his power; claiming for him super-national gifts when they asked him to forbid the incoming tides from advancing further and higher, the identical spot is not positively known where this occurred. But tradition is fixed in this locality the geological forces that have been at work, during the past centuries, will not permit of presenting the exact location of Canute”s chair at the water front. But this legend is associated with the town. It may be, and possibly is only legendary. but the fact remains that the town associates Canute”s name with its history, and there is a dwelling house named Canute House, which couples in an indisputable way this historic association. There were many noted Abbeys and Priories connected by an ecclesiastical tithe to Southampton, the great Abbot of Cormeillies and Lyre collected customs and other rental tithes from the town from its earliest history. In 1086, the date of the Doomsday book, the town was held by the King in Dememe. Southampton en joyed many privileges as well as serious hard ships, its history is largely the history of martial England; from her water front vessels of war and commerce have been plying between the ports of the globe from the “early day,” the fisherman”s trolly and the merchant”s ship came and went. But especially interesting to the lover of religious and civil liberty, is the fact that no vessel ever sailed down the Solent with such possibilities as the “Mayflower,” when on August 15th, 1620, she bore the little heroic company of choice spirits, that gave to later days the brain and brawn of the American nation. It was here John Robinson gathered his little band after returning from their trying experience in Holland among the Dutch. And with many sore and perplexing difficulties calculated to discourage any man but the brave hearted John Robinson, who set sail on the ever-to-be-remembered memorable day, to seek a home and found a country free from the accumulated accretions of the centuries. They were a brave company, and, not withstanding the failure of Francis Bakewell, which sad story was only too well known to them, of how he attempted in 1618 to take his little company from Amsterdam of 180 persons who joined the enterprise to “seek a home beyond the sea” ; only a few ever lived to tell the story of their experience. Even poor Francis Bakewell lost his life with his comrades. Possibly in all the annals of human history, none is more pathetic than the story of Bakewell”s at tempt to cross the storm-tossed Atlantic with his comrades to settle in America.

Our little heroic band of Pilgrims knew only too well the results of Bakewell”s attempt and failure. It was only two years previous that Bakewell had failed, when they, the Pilgrims, responded to the spirit of the occasion and boarded the Mayflower to cross the trackless, pathless ocean. The old West Gate was the last place they met in Southampton while they wended their way, carrying in their hearts the spirit and nucleus of what later became “the land of the free.” The learned Dr. Mandell Craghton, Bishop of London, well and truly said : “Few promptings of heroism rank higher in human annals than the courageous resolve which led the little band to seek in the unknown western land, a new home where they might worship God ac cording to the dictates of their conscience, and found a purer and regenerated society, unfettered by the surroundings of a “degenerated past.” John Robinson and his fellow travelers boarded the Mayflower August 15th, 1620, as she lay at anchor off the Quay of the west gate, and that little band of brave men and women unquestionably became the pioneers and founders of our American liberty. It was from this stock and de scent that Isaac Watts sprang. He became the worthy descendent of the English “Independents” whose spirit, like their American cousins, have permeated the world, and have wrought so splendid a service to the cause of religious and civil liberty. The very name is synonymous with personal rights of the individual and freedom of personal conviction in the discharge of their conscientious duties toward their fellow men. Well did Dr. Isaac Watts develop this distinctive characteristic, the family heirloom of liberty.