Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Chris Ervin (Director), David LeNoir, Lloyd Davies

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Although Isaac Watts wrote hymns in the early eighteenth century, some of his hymns, such as “Joy to the World,” “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” survive today as well-known hymns. However, little has been written about the rhetorical effects of his hymns. This thesis demonstrates that, like any other literary work, Watts’ hymns can be analyzed rhetorically. This thesis analyzes Watts’ hymns with the aid of Louis Montrose’s New Historicism, showing how Watts’ hymns were impacted by the English culture in which he lived and how they impacted the religious culture to which he belonged and preached: the Dissenters. Watts’ hymns were not the only texts that had an impact on the Dissenters. The psalters were considered by many (Calvin, in particular) to be the only acceptable songs for use in worship. Watts responded to this belief with his hymns, showing that God could be praised in other reverent ways. Watts hymns were successful for many reasons, including their easy-to-understand language, their vivid images, and their ability to focus on the heart of man. Watts used his hymns to help Dissenters keep away from error, particularly the new religion of Deism and the sin of pride. Looking through the lens of New Historicism, Watts’ hymns are rhetorical texts, impacting the culture of Dissenters and responding to the larger English culture. Watts possessed great skill as a writer, poet, and preacher, and this thesis shows how his hymns had a thorough impact on the Dissenters’ culture.


English Language and Literature | Poetry | Rhetoric | Rhetoric and Composition