Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 17101775
Benjamin Colman and the Turells
[From “A Poem on Elijah’s Translation,” 1707. Occasioned by the Death of the Reverend and Learned Mr. Samuel Willard.]
[From “The Life and Character of the Reverend Benjamin Colman, D.D.” By E. Turell. 1749. Chap. IV.]
[From the Same, Chap. IV.]
Mr. Singer led them out to see his daughter’s walk or lodge near his house, where she used to meditate and compose. It was a retired and shady path, a rivulet on one side, and tall spreading trees on the other. Mr. Rogers required Mr. Colman to make a compliment on the place: Her father joined his request; when they returned he sent her a poem which began thus,
Mr. Singer called himself Argos, having an hundred eyes upon his daughter, but he seemed to shut them all in Mr. Colman’s favor. Both father and daughter treated him with utmost freedom and affection. Before company especially Mrs. Singer behaved as though he had been her brother. Mr. Colman loved her without the least intention of ever saying so to her. She saw it, and it pleased her greatly. They wrote to one another often: Mr. Colman made long visits, sometimes for days together, and they were always unwilling to part.
Once he visited her at my Lady Weymouth’s, who much esteemed and honored her. So did Bishop Ken, who then resided at that noble house. Mr. Roberts of London was then with Mr. Colman. They carried a note from her father without which they could not have seen her. She let the family see how much she regarded him. The Bishop gave him his blessing. And at a mile from the Seat they met Mr. Phillips of Frome, a very aged gracious minister, and he blest Mr. Roberts. Upon which he turned and said to Mr. Colman, “Now, Sir, I am even with you.”
Mr. Singer told Mr. Colman that Philomela’s mother was every way her superior, in knowledge, wisdom, and grace. And that he had buried a younger daughter, her equal in knowledge, and superior in grace. Philomela herself told him it was very true. The discourse of that afternoon was upon this dead, charming sister, the father being gone out to his work. She told him the following most entertaining story.
“My sister,” said she, “was a year or two younger than I, and her affection as well as wit was quicker. I seemed, however, to myself to think more thoroughly. She desired ever to be with me, and I wanted to be more by myself. We often retired by consent, each to her chamber, to compose and then to compare what we wrote. She always exceeded me in the number of lines, but mine I think were more correct. She exceeded me much in the fondness of love, but never in the truth and strength of it. She was jealous of me that my love was not equal to hers, and invented an hundred ways to try me; many of which I thought childish and weak, and therefore sometimes rather reproved than complied with. This gave her grief, and I should find her in tears, which I could not put a stop to but by the tenderest words and embraces.
“We lived years together as happy as children could be in one another; we lived religiously together; took care of one another’s souls, and had our constant hours for retirement and devotion. We were daily speaking to one another of the things of God, his being, perfections, works; the wonders of creation and providence, the mysteries of redemption and grace.—My father in his widowhood took great delight in us, cherished our love to God and one another, but like good Jacob, was fondest of the youngest, admiring all that she said or did. And in her death he was to be tried.—
“But it was I that was taken sick, to a very dangerous degree. And when the physicians were giving me over, my dear sister came to me drowned in tears; and earnestly kissing me, besought me to tell her whether I was (through grace) prepared to die? Whether my interest in Christ and title to heaven were comfortable and clear to me? For she was afraid I would die; and she could not part with me only to go to Christ, which was far the better.
“I looked earnestly upon her and said, ‘Why, sister, do you think me dangerous? I must confess to you my distress would be great on account of my soul, if I thought my dying hour were now coming on: for I have not that full assurance of my interest in Christ, which I have always begged of God I might have, before he would call me hence.’
“No sooner had she heard me say this, but she fell as in an agony on her knees by my bed, and in a manner inexpressible for fervor and humility, she begged of God, ‘That if her father must have the grief of burying one of his children, it might be her; for through his free grace, and to the glory of it, she could humbly profess before him her assured hope of her interest in his everlasting mercy through Jesus Christ. Wherefore she could gladly and joyfully surrender herself to die, if it might please God to grant her sister a further space wherein to make her calling and election sure.’
“Having prayed thus in a transport which was surprising and astonishing to me, she kissed me and left the room, without giving me time or power to answer her a word. And, what is almost incredible to relate, from that minute I grew better and recovered, but she took her bed, and died within a few days.
“Conceive, if you can, Mr. Colman, how I was astonished at this event of Providence, and overwhelmed with sorrow; and my father with me. Yet I recovered health: but the load of grief upon me confined me to my chamber for more than six weeks. My chief work was to consider the mind of God, in this his mercy to me, that I might make it evident to myself, that indeed in love to my soul he delivered me from the pit of corruption. I set myself to comfort my father, what I could, and that was his care for me. We durst not be inconsolable under a bereavement so circumstanced. Yet my mourning is always returning with a remembrance of a love stronger than death, and bright like the Seraphims, those flames of love and devotion.”
How exalted a conversation was this which Mr. Colman had with Mrs. Singer. He told her upon it that he was more in love with the dead than the living: and that she must yield her sister the victory; and confess her love to excell in strength as well as fervor.
After many such happy conversations the day arrived when he was obliged to pay a parting visit, being earnestly invited to New-England and to a settlement in Boston, which he informed the family of—when Mrs. Singer poured out a thousand wishes for his prosperity; his serviceableness in the church of Christ on earth, and his happiness with her in that above for ever. Her father added a thousand prayers and blessings to hers, with tears and the most tender embraces. Mr. Colman believed God called him to return home to his dear relations and loved country.—
His character of Mrs. Singer in his manuscripts follows,—“She was an heavenly maid of sublime devotion and piety, as well as ingenuity and wit. How she had collected such a stock of knowledge and literature, by reading and conversation, without a learned tutor was wonderful. But her wisdom and discretion outshone her knowledge. She had only her mother tongue, but had made all the improvement of an academical education. She was a poet, a philosopher and a divine. And above all, a most devout worshipper of God in secret and in public. She hid herself in the public worship in an obscure place, where she could neither see others nor be seen by them.
“Music, poetry and painting were her three beauties and delights. She used her pencil almost as well as her pen. She never was idle, but either her needle or her pencil was going in all conversations. And what she drew she gave to the company.—She used to declare the great assistance she had sometimes found in her devotions by the organs, and anthems well sung to them.”
[From the Same, Chap. IX.]
[Upon his removal from his house in King-Street to his new-built house in Brattle-Street, May, 1715, he wrote this meditation.]
Life and Death
Of the Pious and Ingenious
MRS. JANE TURELL
Collected chiefly from her own Manuscripts
By her Consort
Pastor of the Church in Medford.
Her Husband also and He praiseth her. Prov. xxxi, 28.
To which is added,
Two SERMONS preached at Medford, the Lord’s Day after her Funeral, by her Father Benjamin Colman, D.D.
Printed for John Oswald, at the Rose and Crown, near the Mansion-House, 1741.
That my readers may be charmed into a love and admiration of virtue and holiness, I now place before their eyes the picture of my dear deceased; the lines and lineaments, colors and shades laid and drawn by her own lovely hand, guided by the spirit of grace and truth.
And I present it particularly and in the first place to her dear and only surviving sister; and then to her nearest relatives and acquaintance, and to all the rising daughters of New-England, that they may understand what true beauty is, and what the brightest ornaments of their sex are, and seek them with their whole desire; Even the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.—And such an one (with some additional excellencies and accomplishments) was Mrs. Jane Turell, born in Boston, New-England, Feb. 25.
Her father the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Colman (thro’ the gracious favor of God) is still living among us, one universally acknowledged to be even from his younger times (at home and abroad) a bright ornament and honor to his country, and an instrument in God’s hand of bringing much good to it.
Her mother Mrs. Jane Colman was a truly gracious woman, daughter of Mr. Thomas Clark, Gentleman.
Mrs. Turell was their third child, graciously given them after they had mourned the loss of the two former; and for seven years their only one. Her constitution from her early infancy was wonderful weak and tender, yet the organs of her body so formed as not to obstruct the free operation of the active and capacious spirit within.
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.
She grew in knowledge (the most useful) day by day, and had the fear of God before her eyes.
She prayed to God sometimes by excellent forms (recommended to her by her father and suited to her age and circumstances) and at other times ex corde, the spirit of God helping her infirmities. When her father, upon a time enquired of her what words she used in prayer to God, she answered him, that when she was upon her knees God gave her expressions.
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:
“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.
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. [A poem addressed to her by her father is here inserted.]
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:
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:
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 which she specifies and enumerates in the following manner:
(2) For my birth in a Christian country, in a land of light, where the true God and Jesus Christ are known.
(3) For pious and honorable parents, whereby I am favored beyond many others.
(4) For faithful and godly ministers, who are from time to time shewing me the way of salvation.
(5) For a polite as well as Christian education.
(6) For restraining grace, that I have been withheld from more open and gross violations of God’s holy law.
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:
(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.”
I shall only present you with one dated June 11th, 1725.
“I return you many thanks for your kind letters to me, which I read with vast delight and reverence, as who would not such good and tender lines from the best of fathers, who has spared no cost nor pains in my education. It is no small grief to me that I answer them no better, that I have so little of his soul in me, from whom I descend. I heartily embrace the offer you condescend to make of conversing by letter, by which I shall not only learn to write good sense, but also be instructed how to behave myself in all the changes and conditions of life, as becomes a Christian; not to be too elated in prosperity, nor sunk under adversity, but ever resigned to the will of God in all things. I beg your prayers for me that, as I grow in years, I may grow in grace, and persevere therein. I pray you to forgive the many faults in my present writing, and subscribe myself with all humility,
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.
Some of the many remarkable things she wrote in her marriage state are the following; some in verse, and more in prose.
November 1st, 1731.She sent her father the following letter, with an encomium on Sir Richard Blackmore’s Poetical Works. She knew it would be pleasing enough to her father, to hear her sing in praise of Sir Richard, of whom she always heard him speak with great esteem; not as the first of poets, but as one of the best; consecrating his muse to the cause of virtue and religion, with a most noble aim to inspire the princes and nobles of the nation, with the true sentiments of glory and usefulness; than which nothing could be more worthy of a Christian poet and an English patriot. And as such he is celebrated in the following poem:
On the Poems of Sir Richard Blackmore.
Some unhappy affairs at 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:
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 on 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.
To her servants she was good and kind, and took care of them, especially of the soul of a slave who died (in the house) about a month before her.
She respected all her friends and relatives, and spake of them with honor, and never forgot either their counsels or their kindnesses.
She often spake of her obligations to her Aunt Staniford, which were great living and dying.
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.
Her relations and acquaintance ever manifested the highest value for her.
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.
The death of every such praying Saint is a frown upon the whole land, and calls upon us to make that prayer, Psal. XII. 1. Help, Lord, for the godly cease and the faithful fail from among the children of men.