Isaac Watts was the son of a schoolmaster, and was born in Southampton, July 17, 1674. He is said to have shown remarkable precocity in childhood, beginning the study of Latin, in his fourth year, and writing respectable verses at the age of seven. At the age of sixteen, he went to London to study in the Academy of the Rev. Thomas Rowe, an Independent minister. In 1698, he became assistant minister of the Independent Church, Berry St., London. In 1702, he became pastor. In 1712, he accepted an invitation to visit Sir Thomas Abney, at his residence of Abney Park, and at Sir Thomas' pressing request, made it his home for the remainder of his life. It was a residence most favourable for his health, and for the prosecution of his literary… Go to person page >
When Israel freed from Pharaoh's hand. J. Watts. [Psalms cxiv.] Written in 1712, and sent by Watts, with a letter, to the Spectator, in which it appeared on "Tuesday, August 19, 1712," No. 461, in 6 stanzas of 4 lines as a rendering of Psalms cxiv. In the letter Watts explained the origin of his rendering, it being to show the force and wisdom of retaining the Name of God to the end of the paraphrase as in the Psalm, and not to introduce it at the beginning as had been previously done by others. The paraphrase was given in Watts's Psalms of David, 1719, with the alteration of stanza ii. 1 l. 3, 4 from—
"The streams of Jordan saw, and fled
With backward current to their head," to—
"Jordan beheld their march, and fled
With backward current to his head."
The New Congregational Hymn Book, 1859, and others give the text of 1719.
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)