Sunday, July 17, 2005

Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

"Joy to the World" is one of those songs that are so ingrained in most of us, that we never really think about the fact that someone actually sat down and wrote the lyrics, once upon a time.

The words were adapted from the Bible and penned by Issac Watts, the famed hymn-writer and Puritan pastor and thinker.


Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

Watts was born this date in 1674, in Southampton, England. His Hymns and Spiritual Songs, published in the first decade of the eighteenth century, were written when Watts was in his early twenties. He wrote about 600 hymns in his lifetime, but most of these were written when he was a young man.

Watts showed a penchant for versifying from a very young age. Here's a fun little anecdote from an Anglican website I found:


Even as a small boy, Watts had a great interest in versifying. Once, during family prayers, he began to laugh. His father asked him why. He replied that he had heard a sound and opened his eyes to see a mouse climbing a rope in a corner, and had immediately thought,

A little mouse for want of stairs

Ran up a rope to say its prayers.

His father thought this irreverent, and proceeded to administer corporal punishment, in the midst of which Isaac called out,

Father, father, mercy take,

And I will no more verses make.
The Anglican site from which I lifted that anectode includes a few paragraphs describing the church history and culture--including controversies regarding the types of hymns to be used--into which Watts was born.

Oh, about "Joy to the World": The lyrics to this popular Christmas carol were taken from Psalm 98 by Watts in 1719. The music was added in 1822 by Lowell Mason, an American choir director, composer, and publisher. To write the tune, he started with a melody line in Handel's Messiah.

Incidentally, Handel knew and respected Watts, but his music wouldn't be joined to Watts's lyrics until many years later.

This page has a list of the hymns Watts wrote. If you can get my comments feature to work, I'd love to know if you have a favorite--and what it is. I'm partial to "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross"--have always loved that one.

Of course, "Joy to the World" is right up there, too. It's one of the few Christmas carols I don't get sick of each year.

I love this stuff. It'll be fun to cover Watts in English lit in the fall. If I remember right, he'll fit in right after Milton.

P.S. Sherry at Semicolon also wrote about Watts today, plus she includes actual links to some of the hymns.

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