Isaac Watts, born in 1674 in England,
was a Non-conformist minister and a hymn writer. In his lifetime he wrote over
600 hymns. Some of them, such as O God, Our Help in Ages Past, When I Survey the
Wondrous Cross and Joy to the World, are some of the best known English hymns.
In the Preface to the book, Watts defends the use of verse against Puritan charges of frivolity with the arguments that (quote) "verse was at first designed for the service of God, tho' it hath been wretchedly abused since," (unquote) and suggests that rhyme and metre would make the duty of learning truth easier and more delightful.
The Puritan stress on the innate wickedness of children lies behind the creation of Divine Songs for the Use of Children, and the fear of early death and of hell were still prime tools of education, but Watts also gave some emphasis to praise and thankfulness as suitable religious emotions for a child and even displayed a gentleness and humor that were quite new for his time.1
In the century following its publication, millions of copies of Divine Songs
for the Use of Children were put into circulation. One of the most popular poems
was entitled Against Idleness and Mischief:
How skillfully she builds her cell!
In works of labour or of skill,
In 1865, Lewis Carroll parodied this and one other poem from Divine Songs in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, parodies which depended on the originals still being widely known in the nursery, as they were, 150 years after the original publication.
1 Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, p. 536. Source:
Copyright © 2002, Rita Smith
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