Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Radio Interview--Pilgrim Radio with Bill Felton

Tomorrow afternoon I have another radio interview, this one with Bill Felton with Pilgrim Radio ( Bill interviewed me about THE MIGHT WEAKNESS OF JOHN KNOX a while back when that book released, and he wants to chat tomorrow in a pre-recorded session about my latest book with Ligonier's Reformation Trust, THE POETIC WONDER OF ISAAC WATTS. As it is February, the month we celebrate Valentine's Day, I thought I'd include an excerpt from a romantic episode in Watts' life fromhe book:

Smitten with an admirer
As happens with popular authors’ works, Watts’ Horae Lyricae began drawing fan mail. One such letter came from a young woman, Elizabeth Singer, a poetess in her own right. Her father was a friend of Thomas Ken, author of the Morning, Evening, and Midnight hymns, all three ending with the well-known doxology “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Ken had encouraged Elizabeth’s ’poetic interests and had urged her to begin a versification of Job 38.[i]
Elizabeth wrote Watts a versified fan letter in which she, perhaps a bit indiscreetly, said that his poetry on love made her forget all her other suitors and gave her a deep desire to meet him. When they met, Watts, who had thought himself above susceptibility to romantic love, was smitten. Standing before him was a lovely woman with shining auburn hair, sparkling blue eyes, and a fair complexion with, as Watts described her, a “lovely blush” on her cheeks. Her carriage was gracious and her voice was “harmoniously sweet.” She was just Watts’ age and, what is more, she wasn’t too tall. What she saw was another matter: “Before her stood not even a moderately presentable Englishman, but a minute, sallow-faced anatomy with hook nose, prominent cheekbones, heavy countenance, pale complexion, and small gray eyes.”[ii]
Watts, however, was not about to let the opportunity pass him by. This man of eloquence, the celebrated poet of Horae Lyricae, had given hints of his longings “for social bliss,” that is, for marriage:

Give me a blessing fit to match my mind,
A kindred soul to double and to share my joys.[iii] 

He was sure the lovely woman before him must be the fulfillment of those longings. Therefore, he formulated his words and made ready to propose marriage to her. But when he did so, Elizabeth gently but candidly declined. “Mr. Watts,” she said, “I only wish I could say that I admire the casket as much as I admire the jewel.”[iv] She could not see herself married to a man whose jewel, whose inner poetic beauty, was encased in such an unattractive shell.
Watts may have inadvertently expressed some of his forgivable disappointment at being slighted by Miss Singer in a hymn entitled “Love to the Creatures Dangerous,” as seen in these representative stanzas:

How vain are all things here below!
How false, and yet how fair!
Each pleasure hath its poison too,
And every sweet a snare.

The brightest things below the sky
Give but a flattering light;
We should suspect some danger nigh
Where we possess delight.

The fondness of a creature’s love,
How strong it strikes the sense!
Thither the warm affections move,
Nor can we call them thence.

We feel in these lines how deeply Watts’ own senses had been stricken by Elizabeth and how difficult it must have been for him to call his romantic affections away from her beauty. Watts and Miss Singer, however, managed to remain friends from afar and kept up an active correspondence throughout their lives. At thirty-five, she married the nephew (who was twenty-two) of Watts’ instructor Thomas Rowe[vi]; Watts never married. He concluded his jilted love poem in keeping with his Christ-centered outlook on all of his life:

Dear Savior, let thy beauties be
My soul’s eternal food.

His next published collection of poems would even more clearly keep the beauties of his dear Savior before his and his readers’ minds and hearts.

[i] Fountain, Isaac Watts Remembered, 44.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Watts, Horae Lyricae, 466.
[iv] Cited in Fountain, Isaac Watts Remembered, 44.
[v] Watts, Works, 311.
[vi] Jeffery, English Spirituality in the Age of Wesley, 96.
[vii] Watts, Works, 311.

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