AN ILLUSTRATED WATTS FOR CHILDREN.* THERE can be no reasonable
doubt but that Dr. Watts was once a child ; —indeed there was something childlike in the pious and worthy little soul to the last. Perhaps even in the very didactic and flat composure with which he launches his spiritual thunder- bolts at naughty children in these "divine and moral songs" we can see some reflection of the habitually unreal conception attached by children to very alarming threats. But if Isaac Watts was a child once, as we suppose, he must certainly have been one of the children who wore knee breeches and silver shoe-buckles, both moral and physical,—one of the children who in their little tubs in a morning thought it their duty, as the Doctor expresses it, to stand "in pleasing wonder," and "all their frame survey," moralizing meanwhile on its wonderful physi-
ology—one of that race of small children who used to appeal to each other's experience "of the happiness of being a friend, of having a divine and spiritual relation of minds, and a harmony of designs and affections which, being founded on a known agree- ableness, grows into the most enduring love,"—in a word, one of the children who were prim by constitution, stiff by habit, and pedantic by force of individual virtue. Such little old men there were in plenty among the good children of the eighteenth cen- tury, and probably Isaac Watts was born one of that clam, and remained so, with some real increase in the depth of his piety— which was sincere enough—to his last days. But as for writing songs divine and moral' which it would be in any way natural for true children of our own day to repeat, it was not in his worthy little soul, and we:regret that Messrs. Low and Son should have lavished such very pretty illustrations on such strait- laced and pedantic works of moral art. They should have got designs after the fashion of the last century, if they wished to illustrate them at all. The sluggard should have been what we remember him in the funny little books of our childhood, not a slovenly boy in knickerbockers sitting on the edge of a small French bedstead, but a profligate-looking man in a huge nightcap and a four-poster, turning irritably from the creaking door under a mountain of bedclothes, and flanked by a view of a smug and didactic moralist enclosed in small clothes and despondency of the best pulpit kind, visible through the opening door, and bewailing with uplifted hands the wasted opportunities of the gentleman in the nightcap. The illustrators of this little work have quite missed the didactic vein which is its very essence. For example,— " Why should I deprive my neighbour
Of his goods against his will ?"
is clearly a "calm inquiry" addressed by a young philosopher of seven or eight—in an attitude such as the pious /Eneas loved, " tendens ad sidera palmo-s"—to the naughty boy of the same age recklessly stealing and enjoining to steal apples or marbles. But the whole force of that memorable and unanswerable inter- rogatory is lost when the illustration to that poem presents us with a telling picture of a burglarious entry by an artful dodger of cultivated exterior through a butler's pantry into a respect- able house, without exhibiting any trace of an expostulating spectator deprecating burglary on moral grounds. In illustrat- ing Dr. Watts's children's songs, a professional (though infant) admirer of moral acts, and upbraider of immoral acts, should be always allotted an important function in the picture. Even the delights of church-going are spoken of by a self-conscious infant
• Divine and Moral Songs for Children. By haze Watts, D.D. Illustrated. London: Sampson Low.
applauding the act of social worship from his own separate moral platform :—
Lord how delightful 'tis to see A whole assembly worship Thee !
At once they sing, at once they pray,
They hoar of Heaven, and learn the way!"
Again, the little spiritual prig who reflects,
Wheno'er I take my walks abroad How many poor I see!
What shall I render to my God For all His gifts to me?"
should be depicted not as he here is, as a child holding his mamma's hand,—but alone in the streets, contemplating poverty with a certain eloquent and elate air of premature optimism. The poor, said some cynic, are one of the strongest examples of the argument from design. At the first glance they seem made to be wretched ; but look into the matter more closely, and you discover their true function of adding distinct consciousness and grateful piquancy to the enjoyments of the rich. Dr. Watts was much too pious a creature to have endured such a thought in its bare form, but the consolatory strain of feeling resulting from the vision of wretchedness in the divine song' to which we have referred, is not widely separated in spirit from this sarcasm. Indeed there is just the same tone of consolatory self-congratulation in- " Lord I ascribe it to Thy grace, And not to chance, as others do, That I was born of Christian race, And not a heathen or a Jew."
—and the true illustration would have been a picture of an infant Pharisee stealing a glance out of the corner of his eyes at a small heathen on one side and a small Jew on another, and thanking God that he is not as other infants, nor even as this little heathen or Jew ; instead of which we have a picture of a group of girls, neither pert nor dogmatic-looking engaged in "family reading,"—whether reading about the heathen and the Jew we cannot say,—but not apparently congratulating them- selves on the grace that had been granted to them to be born members of the spiritual caste of Christians. The modern illustra- tors have perhaps wisely forborne to illustrate the good little Doctor's frequent glib and unreal references in the "divine and moral songs" to the highly probable hell at the end of the infant's path, though the illustrators of the last century felt no scruple at all on this head. But the terrible earthly judgments denounced, are, in one case at least, illustrated with a graphic pen almost in the spirit of the original. Namely, to the hymn on disobedience to parents,—
" What heavy guilt upon him lies,
How cursed is his name,—
The ravens shall pick out his eyes, And eagles eat the same,
there is an illustration representing an unfortunate youth lying dead on his back on bare rocks, eagles in the foreground, and ravens in the distance ;—the latter, we suppose, are retiring after
picking out the eyes, and the former are even now engaged in eating "the same," though of coarse the engraver is unable satis- factorily to identify the eyes excoriated by the ravens with the eyes consumed by the eagles. This is the only case, we think, in which the illustrations have caught the true Wattsian ethics in all their naked but ill-realized severity, and whether it is an edifying picture for infantine faith we doubt. Dr. Watts's ethics were one quarter ethical and three-quarters moral starch. This generation insists on washing out the starch while keeping the ethics ; and consequently it would have been kinder, we think, to let these stiff little rhymed attitudes of a good but stiff little soul pass into oblivion without attempting to revive them.