Preface (by Isaac Watts)

The admirable Author of these Devotional Papers has been in high Esteem among the Ingenious and the Polite, since so many excellent Fruits of her Pen, both in Verse and Prose have appear’d in Publick. She was early honoured under the feigned Name of Philomela before the World was allow’d to know Mrs. Elizabeth Singer by the Name drawn from her Family, or that of Mrs. Rowe which she acquired by Marriage.

Tho’ many of her Writings that were publish’d in her Life-time discover a pious and heavenly Temper, and a warm Zeal for Religion and Virtue; yet she chose to conceal the Devotions of her Heart till she was got beyond the Censure and the Applause [x] of Mortals. ’Twas enough that God whom she loved with ardent and supreme Affection was Witness to all her secret and intense Breathings after him.

In February last he was pleased to call her out of our World, and take her to himself. Some time after her Decease these Manuscripts were transmitted to me, all inclosed in one sheet of Paper, and directed to me at Newington by her own Hand. In the midst of them I found her Letter, which intreated me to review them, and commit them to the Press. This Letter I have thought necessary to shew the World not so much to discover my Right to publish these Papers, as to let the Reader see something more of that holy and heavenly Character which she maintain’d in an uniform Manner both in Life and Death.

’Tis now almost thirty Years ago since I was honour’d with her Acquaintance, nor could her great Modesty [xi]conceal all her shining Graces and accomplishments; but it is not my Province to give a particular Account of this excellent Woman who has bless’d and adorn’d our Nation and our Age. I expect, her Temper, her conduct and her Virtues will be set in a just and pleasing Light among the Memoirs of her Life, by some near Relations to whom the Care of her poetical Pieces, and her familiar Letters is committed.

These Devout Exercises are animated with such Fire as seems to speak the Language of holy Passion, and discovers them to be the Dictates of her Heart; and those who were favour’d with her chief Intimacy will most readily believe it. The Style, I confess, is raised above that of common Meditation or Soliloquy; but let it be remember’d she was no common Christian. As her Virtues were sublime, so her Genius was bright and sparkling, and the Vivacity of her Imagination [xii] had a Tincture of the Muse almost from her Childhood. This made it natural to her to express the inward Sentiments of her Soul in more exalted Language, and to paint her own Ideas in Metaphor and Rapture near a-kin to the Diction of Poesy.

The Reader will here find a Spirit dwelling in Flesh, elevated into divine Transports, congenial to those of. Angels and unbodied Minds. Her intense Love to her God kindles at every Hint, and transcends the Limits of Mortality. I scarce ever met with any devotional Writings which give us an Example of a Soul, at special Seasons, so far raised above every thing that is not immortal and divine.

Yet she is conscious of her Frailties too: She sometimes confesses her Folly and her Guilt in the Sight of God, in the most affecting Language of a deep Humiliation. ’Tis with a pathetick Sensibility of her Weakness, [xiii] and in the strongest Language of Self-displicency, she bewails her Offences against her Creator and Redeemer; and in her Intervals of Darkness, she vents her painful Complaints and Mournings for the Absence of her highest and best beloved.

Let it be observed, that is was much the Fashion, even among some Divines of Eminence in former Years, to express the Fervours of devout Love to our Saviour in the Style of the Song of Solomon: And I must confess that several of my Composures in Verse written in younger Life were led by those Examples unwarily into this Track. But if I may be permitted to speak the Sense of mature Age, I can hardly think this the happiest Language in which Christians should generally discover their warm Sentiments of Religion, since the clearer and more spiritual Revelations of the New Testament. Yet still it must be own’d, there are some Souls favour’d [vi] [pagination is altered at this point in the original text; should be xiv] with such beatifying Visits from Heaven, and raptur’d with such a Flame of divine Affection, as more powerfully engages all animal Nature in their Devotions, and constrains them to speak their purest and most spiritual Exercises in such pathetick and tender Expressions as may be perversely profaned by an unholy construction. And the Byass and Propensity toward this Style is yet stronger, where early Impressions of Piety have been made on the Heart by devout Writings of this Kind.

It should be remember’d also, there is nothing to be found here which rises above our Ideas; here are none of those absurd and incomprehensible Phrases which amuse the Ear with sounding Vanity, and hold Reason in sovereign Contempt: Here are no visionary Scenes of wild Extravagance, not Affectations of the tumid and unmeaning Style, which spreads a glaring Confusion over the Understanding; [vii; should be xv] nothing that leads the Reader into the Region of those mystical Shadows and Darkness which abound in the Romish Writers, under the Pretence of refined Light and sublime Ecstasy. Nor is the Character of this ingenious Author to be blemished with any other Reproaches which have been sometimes cast on such sort of Meditations.

I know it hath been said, that this Language of Rapture address’d to the Deity, is but a new Track given to the Flow of the softer Power, after the Disappointment of some meaner Love; or at least ’tis owing to the Want of a proper Object and Opportunity to fix those tender Passions: But this cannot be allowed to be the Case here; for as Mrs. Rowe had been sought early by several Lovers, so she spent several Years of younger Life in the connubial State with a Gentleman of such Accomplishments and such Circumstances, [xvi] that he was well fitted to be a Partner of her Joys and Cares.

I know also that this soft and passionate Turn of religious Meditation has sometimes been imputed to Injuries and Ill Treatment in the Marriage State, whereby the same Affections are wean’d from an undeserving Object and pour’d out in amorous Language upon an Object supremely worthy and divine. But neither has this Reproach any Pretence in the present Case: That happy Pair had Souls so near a-kin to each other, that they persever’d in uncommon Amity, and mutual Satisfaction, so long as Providence favour’d him with Life. ’Tis sufficiently evident then, that in these Meditations there is no secret panting after a mortal Love in the Language of Devotion and Piety.

Nor yet can it be objected, that it was any Displicence and Peevishness toward other things round about her, that taught her to express herself with [xvii] such Contempt of the things of Mortality, and all the gay and tempting Scenes of the present State: She was by no means sour and morose, and out of Humour with the World, nor with her Acquaintance that dwelt in it: She often conversed freely with the Gay and the Great, and was in high Esteem among persons of rank and Honour. But Honour and Rank among Mortals, with all the Scenes of Gaiety and Greatness, were little, despicable, and forgotten Things, while in her devout Moments, her Eye and her Heart were fixed on God, the supreme Original of all Excellence and all Honour.

In common Life she was affable and friendly with Persons of every Rank and Degree; and in her latter Years, as she drew nearer to Heaven, if she avoided any thing, it was Grandeur and publick Appearances on Earth. But she never so conceal’d [xviii] and abstracted herself from the Society of any of her Fellow-creatures, as to despise the meanest of her Species. She was ever kind and compassionate to the Distressed, and largely liberal to the Indigent. Nor did she neglect the daily Duties of human Life, under a vain Imagination that she moved in a higher Sphere, and was seraphically exalted above them.

In short, there is nothing in these Papers that can justly support any such sort of Censures, tho’ Men of corrupt Minds may cover the Bible itself with Slander abd Ridicule. Let all such readers stand aloof, nor touch these sacred Leaves, lest they pollute them.

Tho’ there is not one complete Copy of Verses amongst all these Transports of her soul, yet she ever carry’d with her a Relish of Poesy even into her sacred Retirements. Sometimes she springs her Flight from a [xix] Line or two of Verse, which her Memory had impress’d upon her Heart: Sometimes from the Midst of her religious Elevations she lights down upon a few Lines of some modern Poet, even Herbert as well as Milton, &c. though ’tis but seldom she cites their Names. At other times the Verses seem to be the Effusion of her own rapturous Thoughts in sudden Melody and Metre; or at least I know not whence the Lines are copy’d: But she most frequently does me the Honour to make use of some of my Writings in Verse in the holy Meditations of her Heart. Blessed be that God, who has so far favour’d any thing my Pen could produce, as to assist to sublime a Devotion.

From the different Appearance of the Paper and Ink in some of these Pieces, as well as from the early Transcripts of several of them among her Friends, ’tis evident they were written [xx] in her younger Days; others are of a much later Original, tho’ there is but one that bears a Date, and that is April 30. 1735. They seem to have been pen’d at special Seasons and Occasions throughout the course of her Life. A few of them bear the Corrections or Additions of her own Pen, which discovers itself by a little difference of thee Hand-writing.

Tho’ she was never tempted away from our common Christianity into the fashionable Apostasies of the Age; yet I am well informed from many Hands, that in her later Years she entered with more Zeal and Affection into some of the peculiar Doctrines of the Gospel: And ’tis evident that some of these devotional Pieces have a more evangelick Turn than others, and probably most of those were composed or corrected in the latter Part of Life. The Opposition which has of late been made to some [xxi] of these Truths, gave occasion to her further Search into them, and her Zeal for them. However, I have placed these Papers all as I found them pinned up in a Wrapping-paper, tho’ ’tis evident, from plain Circumstances, this is not the Order in which they were written, nor is that of any great Importance.

Tho’ these Writings give us the Aspirations of a devout Soul in her holy Retirements, when she had no Design to present the Publick with them; yet they did not want a great deal of Adjustment or Correction, in order to see the Light. The Numbers and the Titles are added by the Publisher, as well as the Breaks and Pauses, which give a sort of Rest to the Reader’s Mind, and make the Review more easy. Here and there a too venturous Flight is a little moderated; sometimes a Meditation or a Sentence is completed, which seemed very imperfect [xxii] perfect, or a short Line or two inserted to introduce the Sense where the Language seem’d too abrupt, or the Meaning too obscure. Her Soul had a large Set of Ideas in present View, which made every Expression she used easy and perspicuous to herself when she wrote only for her own Use; tho’ sometimes her entire Sense might not be quite so obvious to every Reader, without a little Introduction into her Track of Sentiments. Upon the whole, I just acknowledge I was very unwilling that this excellent Work should lose any Degrees of Elegance or Brightness by passing thro’ my Hands.

When the Manuscript came first under my Revisal, I read it over with the Eye of a Critick and a Friend, that I might publish it with Honour to the Hand that wrote it, and with religious Entertainment and Advantage to the World: nor was this Employment destitute of its proper Satisfaction. But never did I feel the true Pleasure of these Meditations, till I had finished this Labour of the Head, and began to read them over again as Devout Exercises of the Heart: Then I endeavour’d to enter more entirely into the Spirit of the pious Author, and attempted to assume her Language as my own. But how much Superior was the Satisfaction which I received from this Review, especially wheresoever I had Reason to hope I could pronounce her Words with Sincerity of Soul? How happily did this raise and entertain all my pleasing Passions, and gave me another sort of Delight than the dry critical Perusal of them, in order to judge concerning their Propriety? But I confess also, it was an abasing and mortifying Thought, when I found how often I was constrained to drop the sublime Expression from my Lips, or forbid my Tongue to use it, because my [xxiv] own Attainments sunk so far beneath those sacred Elevations of Spirit, and fell so far short of those transcendent Degrees of Divine Affection and Zeal.

Let me persuade all that peruse this Book, to make the same Experiment that I have done; and when they have shut out the World, and are reading in their Retirements, let them try how far they can speak this Language, and assume these Sentiments as their own: And by aspiring to follow them, may they find the same Satisfaction and Delight, or at least learn the profitable Lessons of Self Abasement and holy Shame: And may a noble and glorious Ambition excite in their Breasts a sacred Zeal to emulate so illustrious an Example. Whatsoever Ardours of divine Love have been kindled in a Soul united to Flesh and Blood, may also be kindled by the same Influences of Grace in [xxv] other Spirits, labouring under the same Clogs and Impediments.

But perhaps, it will be necessary here to give a Caution to some humble Christians, that they would not make these higher Elevations of Piety and holy Joy the Test and Standard by which to judge of the Sincerity of their own Religion. Ten thousand Saints are arriv’d safe at Paradise, who have not been favour’d, like St. Paul, with a Rapture into the third Heaven, nor could ever arise to the affectionate Transports, and devout Joys of Mrs. Rowe: Yet I hope all serious Readers may find something here, which, thro’ the Aids of the Blessed Spirit, may raise them above their usual Pitch, may give a new Spring to their religious Pleasures and their immortal Hopes, and thereby render their Lives more holy and heavenly. [xxvi]

That the Publication of this little Book may be favour’d with the divine Blessing for this happy End, is the sincere Desire and Request of the Publisher, as it was the real Motive of the ingenious and pious Writer, to commit them by my Hand to the publick View. This sufficiently discovers itself in the following Letter.

Text: Elizabeth Singer Rowe, Devout Exercises of the Heart in Meditation and Soliloquy, Prayer and Praise. By the late Pious and Ingenious Mrs. Rowe. Review’d and Published at her Request by I. Watts, D. D. (London: Printed for R. Hett, at the Bible and Crown in the Poultry. M.DCC.XXXVIII [1738]), ix-xxvi.