Sounding Childhood

Whene'er I take my walks abroad

Isaac Watts essentially inaugurated the hymn-tradition for children, with his 1715 Divine and Moral Songs for Children.  This is one of his divine songs, which continued to be re-printed together or anthologized apart, as here.  This, Song IV, titled “Praise for for Mercies Spiritual and Temporal" in his original, was re-labelled “Gratitude" and beautifully illustrated for this collection, The Illustrated Book of Songs for Children (London, 1863; edited by H.L.L; illustrator unnamed). It tackles real issues of poverty, inequality of wealth, spiritual gratitude, and predestination, beginning “Whene’er I take my walks abroad,/ How many poor I see!/ What shall I render to my God/ For all his gifts to me?”  The line takes on greater significance for the middle-class reader/singers as they are confronted with social disparity: “Not more than others I deserve,/ Yet God  hath given me more” (v. 2) and continuing: “I have food while others starve” (v. 2), “How many children in the street/Half naked I behold!/While I am clothed from head to feet/And covered from the cold” (v. 3); “While some poor creatures scarce can tell/ Where they may lay their head/I have a home…” (v. 4) and “let me love Thee more than they” (v. 6). Its concluding point is put in the form of a question—“Are these Thy favours day by day,/ To me above the rest?”—as the child questions the undeserved, predestined fortune given to some over others. 

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