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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Fair Puritan and Her Poetry

By Ebenezer (1702–1778) and Jane (1708–1735) Turell

[E. T. Born in Boston, Mass., 1702. Died at Medford, Mass., 1778.—J. T. Born in Boston, Mass., 1708. Died at Medford, Mass., 1735. Memoirs of the Life and Death of the Pious and Ingenious Mrs. Jane Turell. By E. Turell. 1735.]

THE BUDDINGS of reason and religion appeared on her sooner than usual. Before her second year was completed she could speak distinctly, knew her letters, and could relate many stories out of the Scriptures to the satisfaction and pleasure of the most judicious. I have heard that Governor Dudley, with other wise and polite gentlemen, have placed her on a table, and sitting round it, owned themselves diverted with her stories. Before she was four years old (so strong and tenacious was her memory), she could say the greater part of the Assembly’s Catechism, many of the Psalms, some hundred lines of the best poetry, read distinctly, and make pertinent remarks on many things she read….

Even at the age of four, five, and six she asked many astonishing questions about divine mysteries, and carefully laid up and hid the answers she received to them in her heart. Throughout her childhood she discovered a very serious spirit. Her heart was tender, and her conscience a well-informed faithful guide and monitor.

The most that I am able to collect of her life from six to ten is general (and from her), viz., that her father daily instructed her, and enriched her mind with the best knowledge; and excited her to the due performance of all duty. And that her tender, gracious mother (who died about four years before her) often prayed for, and over her, and gave her the wisest counsels, and most faithful warnings; and that she was thankful and grew in knowledge and (she hoped) in grace under them. That she loved the school and the exercises of it, and made a laudable progress in the various kinds of learning proper to her age and sex.

At nine or ten (if not before) she was able to write; for in the year 1718, I find a letter of her honored father’s to her, wrote in answer to one of hers, dated Brookline——which he expresses himself well pleased with. A copy of it follows:

“MY DEAR CHILD: I have this morning your letter, which pleases me very well, and gives me hopes of many a pleasant line from you in time to come; if God spare you to me, and me to you.

“I very much long to see your mother, but doubt whether the weather will permit me to-day. I pray God to bless you and make you one of his children. I charge you to pray daily, and read your Bible, and fear to sin. Be very dutiful to your mother, and respectful to everybody. Be very humble and modest, womanly and discreet. Take care of your health, and as you love me do not eat green apples. Drink sparingly of the waters, except the day be warm. When I last saw you, you were too shame-faced; look people in the face, speak freely and behave decently. I hope to bring Nabby in her grandfather’s chariot to see you. The meanwhile I kiss your dear mother, and commend her health to the gracious care of God, and you with her to his grace. Give my service to Mr. A—— and family: also to Mr. S—— and madame; and be sure you never forget the respect they have honored you with.

“Your loving father.
“BOSTON, Aug. 4th, 1718.”

In this her eleventh year I find an hymn fairly written by her, dated January 4, 1718, which I give you verbatim:

  • I fear the great Eternal One above,
  • The God of Grace, the God of Love:
  • He to whom seraphims hallelujahs sing,
  • And angels do their songs and praises bring.
  • Happy the soul that does in heaven rest,
  • Where with his Saviour he is ever blest;
  • With heavenly joys and rapture is possest,
  • No thoughts but of his God inspire his breast.
  • Happy are they that walk in wisdom’s ways,
  • That tread her paths, and shine in all her rays.
  • Her father was pleased to encourage her in this feeble essay she made at verse: he condescended to return her rhymes like her own, level to her present capacity, with a special aim to keep and fix her mind on God and heavenly things, with which she had begun….

    These condescensions of her father were no doubt of great use to her, and had in some measure the effect proposed, to put her on thinking and writing more and better, and to gain more of his esteem for ingenuity and piety, which she was wisely ambitious of; but above all to approve her heart before God, her heavenly Father who sees in secret….

    Between these and her eighteenth year there are to be seen among her composures many things considerable both in verse and prose.

    In poetry (among others), there are the following:

    “To her honored father, on his being chosen President of Harvard College,” a poem of thirty lines, dated December 27, 1724, which begins thus:

  • SIR,
  • An infant muse begs leave beneath your feet,
  • To lay the first essays of her poetic wit;
  • That under your protection she may raise
  • Her song to some exalted pitch of praise.
  • You who among the bards are found the chief, etc.
  • But I am not allowed to insert the other lines, and but a small part of the next poem to her friend, on her return to Boston, which begins after this manner:

  • Thrice welcome home, thou glory of our isle,
  • On whom indulgent heaven delights to smile;
  • Whose face the graces make their chosen seat,
  • In whom the charms of wit and beauty meet.
  • O, with what wond’ring eyes I on you gaze,
  • And can’t recover from the sweet amaze!
  • This lovely form, those sweet but sparkling eyes
  • Have made the noble Polydore their prize, etc.
  • Surprised I view, wrote by a female pen,
  • Such a grave warning to the sons of men.
  • Bold was the attempt and worthy of your lays,
  • To strike at vice, and sinking virtue raise.
  • Each noble line a pleasing terror gives,
  • A secret force in every sentence lives.
  • Inspired by virtue you could safely stand
  • The fair reprover of a guilty land.
  • You vie with the famed prophetess of old,
  • Burn with her fire, in the same cause grow bold.
  • Dauntless you undertake th’ unequal strife,
  • And raise dead virtue by your verse to life.
  • A woman’s pen strikes the cursed serpent’s head,
  • And lays the monster gasping, if not dead.
  • TO MY MUSE, DECEMBER 29, 1752.
  • Come, gentle muse, and once more lend thine aid,
  • O bring thy succor to a humble maid!
  • How often dost thou liberally dispense
  • To our dull breast thy quick’ning influence!
  • By thee inspired, I’ll cheerful tune my voice,
  • And love and sacred friendship make my choice.
  • In my pleased bosom you can freely pour
  • A greater treasure than Jove’s golden shower.
  • Come now, fair muse, and fill my empty mind,
  • With rich ideas, great and unconfined.
  • Instruct me in those secret arts that lie
  • Unseen to all but to a poet’s eye.
  • O let me burn with Sappho’s noble fire,
  • But not like her for faithless man expire.
  • And let me rival great Orinda’s fame,
  • Or like sweet Philomela’s be my name.
  • Go lead the way, my muse, nor must you stop,
  • ’Till we have gained Parnassus’ shady top:
  • ’Till I have viewed those fragrant soft retreats,
  • Those fields of bliss, the muses’ sacred seats.
  • I’ll then devote thee to fair virtue’s fame,
  • And so be worthy of a poet’s name.
  • In prose there are also many things:

    Some essay to write her own life, which begins with thanksgivings to God for distinguishing her from most in the world by the blessings of nature, Providence, and grace….

    Her thoughts on matrimony, with the rules whereby she resolved to guide herself in that important affair of life.

    She writes of the wisdom and goodness of God in making man a sociable creature; of the institution of marriage in paradisaical state, and the happiness of the first couple; and what alone will render persons happy in our fallen state; namely, a faithful discharge of all the duties of that relation; and then particularizes the duties, and treats of the mischiefs that follow upon the neglect of them; shows at large what their duty is who are about to enter into that state, namely, to seek to God by humble prayer for his direction and conduct, and that he would overrule all the circumstances of that momentous affair in mercy, on which so much of the comfort and pleasure of life depends.—She carries her thoughts to the afflictions and temptations of that condition, and prays for sufficient grace to carry aright under all. And for her assistance in making a right choice she laid down a number of rules, from which she resolves never to start. Some of them are the following:

    (1) “I would admit the addresses of no person who is not descended of pious and credible parents.

    (2) “Who has not the character of a strict moralist, sober, temperate, just and honest.

    (3) “Diligent in his business, and prudent in matters.

    (4) “Fixed in his religion, a constant attender on the public worship, and who appears not in God’s house with the gravity becoming a Christian.

    (5) “Of a sweet and agreeable temper; for if he be owner of all the former good qualifications, and fails here, my life will be still uncomfortable.”


    Before she had seen eighteen, she had read, and (in some measure) digested all the English poetry and polite pieces in prose, printed and manuscripts, in her father’s well furnished library, and much she borrowed of her friends and acquaintance. She had indeed such a thirst after knowledge that the leisure of the day did not suffice, but she spent whole nights in reading.

    I find she was sometimes fired with a laudable ambition of raising the honor of her sex, who are therefore under obligations to her; and all will be ready to own she had a fine genius, and is to be placed among those who have excelled.

    When I was first inclined (by the motions of God’s providence and spirit) to seek her acquaintance (which was about the time she entered in her nineteenth year) I was surprised and charmed to find her so accomplished. I found her in a good measure mistress of the politest writers and their works; could point out the beauties in them, and had made many of their best thoughts her own: And as she went into more free conversation, she discoursed how admirably on many subjects!

    I grew by degrees into such an opinion of her good taste, that when she put me upon translating a psalm or two, I was ready to excuse myself, and if I had not feared to displease her should have denied her request.

    After her marriage, which was on August 11th, 1726, her custom was, once in a month or two, to make some new essay in verse or prose, and to read from day to day as much as a faithful discharge of the duties of her new condition gave leisure for: and I think I may with truth say that she made the writing of poetry a recreation and not a business.

    What greatly contributed to increase her knowledge in divinity, history, physic, controversy, as well as poetry, was her attentive hearing most that I read upon those heads through the long evenings of the winters as we sat together….

    When she had read Mr. Waller’s poems, it appears that she was struck with the pleasing admiration of him also; as for the beauty of his thoughts, so more especially for the purity of his style and delicacy of language. It was he that taught us the simplicity and easiness of expression, which has ever since been the character of our best writers.

  • Hail, chaste Urania! thy assistance bring,
  • And fire my breast while I attempt to sing,
  • In artless lays, Waller, the poets’ king.
  • Waller, the tuneful name my soul inspires,
  • And kindles in thy breast poetic fires.
  • Hail, mighty genius! Favorite of the nine!
  • Thy merits in four reigns distinguished shine.
  • Country and court, alternate, you enjoy,
  • One claims thy nobler thoughts, and one thy muse employ.
  • Chaste is thy muse, and lofty is her song,
  • Softer than Ovid and like Virgil strong.
  • Much thee thy county, more its language owe,
  • All that adorns it, it received from you.
  • What sterling lines are in thy poems found!
  • In sweetest numbers you your thoughts express,
  • The justest standard of our English verse.
  • A tender passion every bosom warms,
  • Whene’er you sing of Sacharissa’s charms,
  • O lovely maid! mild as the morning light,
  • When first its beams salute our longing sight.
  • As virgin fountains in their basins roll,
  • So calm, so bright is Sacharissa’s soul.
  • As the fierce sun, by his meridian rays,
  • Exhales the moisture from this lower earth;
  • Again at night by dews the fields repays,
  • That nature labors with a double birth:
  • So you engross in your capacious soul
  • All that the world polite and learned call;
  • But in your works you do repay the whole,
  • With large additions of your own to all.
  • O happy isle that bare a son so bright,
  • Of whom the ages since have learned to write.
  • In her diary she takes notice of God’s judgments and mercies to the land, particularly his visitations by earthquakes, thunders, lightnings, storms, drought, etc….

    Some unhappy affairs of Medford in the years 1729 and ’30, produced many prayers and tears from her, with the following poem in imitation of the 133 psalm, which I publish as a monument for and motive to my own people, to continue in love and peace:

  • Behold how good, how sweet, their joy does prove,
  • Where brethren dwell in unity and love!
  • When no contention, strife or fatal jar
  • Disturb the peace and raise the noisy war.
  • ’Tis like the ointment, which of old was poured
  • On Aaron’s head, and down his garments showered;
  • Through all the air perfuming odor spreads,
  • Diffusing sweetness to the neighboring meads.
  • Or like the dew on Hermon’s lofty head
  • Which on the mounts of Zion moisture spread.
  • ’Circled with peace, they shall within the land
  • As shining patterns, and examples stand.
  • If sinners wrangle, let the saints agree;
  • The gospel breathes out naught but unity.
  • To such the blessing from the Lord is given,
  • Even life eternal, in the highest heaven.
  • Having related these things, you will not wonder if I now declare myself a witness of her daily close walk with God during her married state, and of her retirements for reading, self-examination and devotion.

    It was her practice to read the Bible out in course once a year, the book of psalms much oftener, besides many chapters and a multitude of verses which she kept turned down in a Bible, which she had been the owner and reader of more than twenty years. If I should only present my readers with a catalogue of these texts, I doubt not but that they would admire the collection, be gratified with the entertainment; and easily conjecture many of her holy frames and tempers from them. I must own, considering her tender make and often infirmities she exceeded in devotion. And I have thought myself obliged sometimes (in compassion to her) to call her off, and put her in mind of God’s delighting in mercy more than in sacrifice.

    How often has she lain whole nights by me mourning for sin, calling upon God, and praising him, or discoursing of Christ and heaven! And when under doubts entreating me to help her (as far as I could) to a full assurance of God’s love. Sometimes she would say, “Well, I am content if you will show me that I have the truth of grace.” And I often satisfied her with one of Mr. Baxter’s marks of love to Christ, namely, lamenting and panting after him; for this kind of love she was sure she exercised in the most cloudy hours of her life.

    I may not forget to mention the strong and constant guard she placed at the door of her lips. Who ever heard her call an ill name? or detract from anybody? When she apprehended she received injuries, silence and tears were her highest resentments. But I have often heard her reprove others for rash and angry speeches.

    In every relation she sustained, she was truly exemplary, sensible how much of the life and power of religion consists in the conscientious practice and performance of relative duties.

    No child had a greater love to and reverence for her parents; she even exceeded in fear and reverence of her father, notwithstanding all his condescensions to her, and vast freedoms with her.

    As a wife she was dutiful, prudent and diligent, not only content but joyful in her circumstances. She submitted as is fit in the Lord, looked well to the ways of her household, and her own works praise her in the gates.

    Her very apparel discovered modesty and chastity. She loved to appear neat and clean, but never gay and fine….

    She honored all men and loved everybody. “Love and goodness was natural to her,” as her father expresses it in a letter years ago.

    Her tender love to her only sister, has been already seen; and was on all occasions manifested, and grew exceedingly to her death. A few days before it, I heard her speak to her particularly of preparing for another world. “Improve (said she) the time of health, ’tis the only time for doing the great work in.”

    And in return for her love and amiable carriage, she had the love and esteem of all that knew her. Those that knew her best loved her best, and praise her most.

    Her humility was so great, that she could well bear (without being elated) such praises as are often found in her father’s letters to us, viz.:

    “I greatly esteem as well as highly love you. The best of children deserves all that a child can of a father. My soul rejoices in you. My joy, my crown. I give thanks to God for you daily. I am honored in being the father of such a daughter.” Her husband also, and he praiseth her as a meet help both in spirituals and temporals….

    The people, among whom she lived the last eight years of her life, both old and young, had a love and veneration for her, as a person of the strictest virtue and undefiled religion. Her innocence, modesty, ingenuity, and devotion charmed all into an admiration of her. And I question whether there has been more grief and sorrow shown at the death of any private person, by people of all ranks, to whom her virtues were known; mourning, for the loss sustained by ourselves, not for her, nor as others who have no hope. For it is beyond doubt that she died in the Lord, and is blessed.