We shall here present an instance to illustrate the painful operation of the laws against Nonconformists in the cases of some respectable laymen, who were engaged in the education of the young. In the town of Southampton there were two ministers ejected by the Act of Uniformity. One of them, Mr. Giles Say, became the pastor of a congregation of Nonconformists there. Under the Indulgence given by Charles II. his house was licensed for preaching; but after that Indulgence was withdrawn he was thrown, for exercising his ministry, into the common jail of the town. There was cast into the same prison with him, Mr. Isaac Watts, father of the celebrated Dr. Watts, the sweet singer of our Israel. He had become a deacon of the church that had been formed by Mr. Say, was evidently a man of vigorous intellect, considerable information, exalted piety, inflexible principle, every way worthy to be the parent and the father of the distinguished individual who inherited his name and perpetuated his virtues. He was master of a boarding-school in his native town, the repute of which was so well established and widely diffused, that pupils from America and the West Indies were committed to his care. The uncompromising integrity of his religious principles exposed him to much persecution, and he was compelled to occupy a cell in the common prison for the cause of Christ.
The first imprisonment took place during the infancy of his son Isaac, before he had begun to lisp in numbers; and tradition relates that the devoted wife and mother would visit the prison with her babe in her arms, and has sometimes placed herself on a stone in front of the cell in which her husband was confined to suckle her child, her beloved Isaac. When this son was about nine years of age, in the year 1683, Mr. Watts was again imprisoned, and driven afterwards into exile from his family. His son, in his memoranda:-
"My father persecuted, and imprisoned for Nonconformity six months, after that forced to leave his family, and live privately in London for two years." The trials of the parents made, as may be conceived, a deep impression upon the mind of the son; the adversities of his early years were remembered by him in after life, and doubtless here originated that ardent attachment to civil and religious liberty which marked his character, and "which led his .muse to hail its establishment with exultation when the dynasty of the tyrannical Stuarts was driven from the throne.
During the time that Mr. Watts was exiled from his family he wrote a long and most valuable letter of pious counsels to his children, which appears to have been done at the special request of his son Isaac. An extract or two shall be presented to the reader, to show the spirit of this devoted Nonconformist confessor :—
"My dear Children,—Though it hath pleased the only wise God to suffer the malice of ungodly men, the enemies of Jesus Christ, and my enemies for his sake, to break out so far against me as to remove me from you in my personal habitation, thereby at once bereaving me of that comfort which I might have hoped for in the enjoyment of my family in peace, and you of that education which my love as a father, and duty as a parent, required me to give; yet such are the longings of my soul for your good and prosperity, especially in spiritual concernments, that I remember you always with myself in my daily addresses to the throne of grace. ... I charge you frequently to read the Holy Scriptures, and that not as a task or burden laid on you, but get your hearts to delight in them. There are the only pleasant histories, which are certainly true and greatly profitable; there are abundance of precious promises made to sinners such as you are by nature; there are sweet invitations and counsels of God and Christ to come in and lay hold of them; there are the choice heavenly sayings and sermons of the Son of God, the blessed prophets and apostles." He directs them to consider their sinful and miserable state—to learn to know God according to the discoveries he hath made of himself—to remember him as their Creator and Benefactor—to know that, as they must worship God, so it must be in his own ways, according to the rules of his gospel. "Entertain not in your hearts any of the Popish doctrines of having more Mediators than one, viz., the Lord Jesus." "Do not entertain any hard thoughts of God and his ways, because his people are persecuted for them." "Lastly, I charge you to be dutiful and obedient to all your superiors, to your grandfather and both grandmothers, and all other relations and friends that are over you, but in an especial manner to your mother, to whose care and government God hath wholly committed you in my absence, who, as I am sure, dearly loves you, so she will command and direct you to her utmost ability, in all ways for. your good of soul and body." On these points he enlarges with some fullness and much affection.