The son of a Congregationalist minister, Watts was born in 1674 in Southampton, England. He followed his father into the ministry, accepting appointment to Mark Lane Chapel in London in 1702. His health broke soon after, forcing Watts to retire from public life. Until his death in 1748, he fulfilled ministerial duties as possible and devoted much time to study and writing. His books gained him wide repute, but Watts regarded his hymns as his most enduring contribution to the church. "When I Survey" is generally cited as the best these, though others remain in use as well.
In its first publication in 1707, "When I Survey" had five stanzas. Its second line originally read "Where the young Prince of Glory died." In an enlarged edition of the hymnal in 1709, Watts changed the second line to the familiar "On which the Prince of Glory died" and bracketed the fourth stanza for optional use:
His dying Crimson, like a Robe,
Spreads o'er his Body on the Tree;
Then am I dead to all the Globe
And all the Globe is dead to me.
In 1757, George Whitefield included "When I Survey" in the Supplement to his popular Collection of Hymns. The next year, "When I Survey" first appeared in a hymnal published in the United States--The Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs of the Old and New Testament (1758). Since then, it has been found in the hymnals of American denominations as varied as traditional Protestants, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Unitarians and the Assemblies of God. Widely acclaimed by hymnologists, "When I Survey" is seldom altered beyond omitting Watts' fourth stanza (considered too gory) or making a few minor changes such as stanza 2, line 2 "Save in the Cross"; stanza 3, line 2 "Love flow mingled"; stanza 4, line 2 "That were a tribute" or "That were an offering." [source: YouTube program notes]