Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.
Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 17101775
Benjamin Colman and the Turells
BENJAMIN COLMAN, one of the most cultured of the New England clergy, and head of the first organized revolt against the Puritan Hierarchy, was born in Boston, October 19, 1673, and educated wholly in the colony. He was graduated at Harvard in 1692, studied for the ministry, and, after preaching for three years, set sail for England, which he reached after capture by a French privateer and brief imprisonment. During these trying experiences he behaved with distinguished courage. In England he associated with prominent Nonconformists, and formed an attachmentprobably more Platonic than seriousfor the celebrated Miss Elizabeth Singer, Philomela, whose poetry is no better known to-day than that of her American admirer. After having taken the precaution to procure ordination in England, he returned to Boston in 1699 and became pastor of the Brattle Street Society organized in opposition to the Brahminical Cambridge Platform. The reforms at which he and his Church aimed were chiefly in the form of service; they wished to abolish the public relation of experiences, to read the Bible and recite the Lords prayer. This was thought to justify ecclesiastical ostracism, and other Boston churches long refused to hold communion with Brattle Street; but Colman ranked till his death, August 29, 1747, among the first of the New England clergy, and he was active in civil affairs, in education, and in mission work among the Indians. It was a grievous blow to the Mathers when in 1724 he was offered the Presidency of Harvard College, which eminent position he however declined. He published many sermons, some poems, and a tract in favor of inoculation for small-pox. Two years after his death a biography by his son-in-law, Rev. Ebenezer Turell, was published at Boston. Most of our selections to represent Colmans own writings are taken from this book, and we have also added a section describing the young clergymans acquaintance with the fair Philomela. Mr. Turell (17021778), who was long minister at Medford, is also important to us as the editor of the poetical remains of his wife Jane (17081735), Dr. Colmans precocious daughter, whose imitative verses are as pathetically impossible as those of Mrs. Bradstreet herself. As our selections from her husbands loyal memorial are quite extensive, there is no need to dwell here upon her life and character.
A Quarrel with Fortune. [From The Life and Character of the Reverend Benjamin Colman, D.D. By E. Turell. 1749. Chap. IV.]
[The Daughter with Mr. Colman used to range over the Manor in the Afternoons. She asked a poem from him: He told her it would lead into a Quarrel. She promised it should not on her Part. So the next Day he wrote one with this Title, A Quarrel with Fortune: Because (forsooth) he was not equal to her in Rank and RichesIn it was the following Simile.]
The Incomparable Philomela. [From the Same, Chap. IV.]
ONE of the first pleasures Mr. Colman had at Bath was his coming into an acquaintance with the lovely Philomela, Mrs. Elizabeth Singer of Agford near Frome. She had a volume of poems then in print, being about her twenty-fourth year. Mr. Rogers had made her an high compliment, in a book he dedicated to the virtuous and good-humored ladies. Mr. Singer invited him to come and see his daughter, that she might thank him. Mr. Colman invited himself to go with him, having read her poems. They found her comely in body, lowly in dress, with a soul fair and bright as an angel.
Mr. Singer led them out to see his daughters 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,
So Paradise was brightened, so twas blest,
When innocence and beauty it possest.
Such was its more retired path and seat,
For Eve and musing angels a retreat.
Such Edens streams, and banks, and towring groves;
Such Eve herself, and such her muse and loves.
Only there wants an Adam on the green,
Or else all Paradise might here be seen.
Mr. Singer was highly pleased with Mr. Colman, and prayed him to enter into a friendship and correspondence with his daughter, and that he would often come and see them.
Mr. Singer called himself Argos, having an hundred eyes upon his daughter, but he seemed to shut them all in Mr. Colmans 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 Weymouths, 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 Philomelas 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 anothers 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 ofwhen 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.
[Upon his removal from his house in King-Street to his new-built house in Brattle-Street, May, 1715, he wrote this meditation.]
IT was a very pleasing and instructive sight once to me in a far distant land, where a person of honor and riches was building a stately house for himself and his family, but at once he took off the work-men to build himself a vault or tomb to be buried in. It becomes us ever to keep in mind, and lay to heart, the remove that we must soon make to our grave.A convenient house, an easy bed, and agreeable relatives, are among the valuable comforts of this life. When we are building to ourselves pleasant houses to live in, we should all the while be thinking of the darksome house or place, where our bodies will shortly be laid: and when we enter into our new habitations, or after we are settled in them, the same thought must still abide with us. We must not entertain a thought of living long; and must be willing and ready to go, and to leave our new-built houses as soon as God calls us away. They are only to be used as accommodations for us in the way unto an everlasting habitation and house eternal.We may not set too much by an house on earth, but ought to raise our affections to things above, &c.We ought to serve God in our houses. This was Joshuas holy resolution. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord! And this was Davids, Psal. 101. I will walk within my house with a perfect heart, etc. Surely we ought, under the outward smiles of Providence upon us, to be renewing the consecration of ourselves and all that we have to the service of God; We ought like Abraham, to charge our households and our children after us to keep the way of the Lord. We ought to worship God in secret, in our closets, and we ought every day to pray to, and praise him in our families; we ought to read his holy word, and meditate on his law, and teach it diligently to our children, and talk of it when we set in our house, when we lay down, &c. Thus we must write as it were upon the posts of our house, and our gates, Deut. 6. 7, 9.Our houses should be Bethels, little churches for the practice of piety, and the exercises of devotion therein, that the Apostles salutation may reach us, Rom. 16, 5. Greet the Church in their House. With these and such like meditations, I can truly say, I have been building, and would now enter into my new and pleasant habitation: may they abide and dwell always in my soul that thus I may there dwell the few remaining days of my frail life.
THERE is a passage in Tully, the Roman orator, to this purpose, That if virtue were incorporate, and to be seen with our bodily eyes in a substantial form, she would carry such charms along with her as to ravish her beholders, and command the love and admiration of all that saw her. Alike beautiful and engaging (and more so) should the holy life and shining example of the Christian be, to all that are blest with the sight and knowledge of it; for herein we not only behold the godlike image of it, but learn the practicableness of the thing, and have our natural ambition and imitation mightily fired and excited.
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. A.D. 1708, of parents honorable and religious.
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 Gods hand of bringing much good to it.
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 Assemblys Catechism, many of the Psalms, some hundred lines of the best poetry, read distinctly, and make pertinent remarks on many things she read.
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.
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 fathers to her, wrote in answer to one of hers, dated Brooklinewhich he expresses himself well pleased with. A copy of it follows:
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 grandfathers 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 .
These were the early essays of her youth at poetry, in which it must be freely owned that as there are many things good and ingenious, so there is a great deal low and juvenile; which the candid understanding reader will be ready to excuse, from that common rule of a childs speaking and writing as a child. At the same time, the turn of the mind here evident to God and religion, is what the pious will esteem and praise, and it is to be wished that children may be taken herewith and drawn to imitate. It is enough (as her honored father elegantly expressed it to me) if they may be accepted as a green offering of first-fruits brought to the door of the Sanctuary, the promising earnest of a future harvest; at least, as the first lisping of the tongue at words is a pleasing music to the ear of the mother, and the first efforts of the mind at reasoning delightful to a father, so are the first risings of a natural genius unto a wise observer.
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:
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:
HONORED SIR, 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,
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 fathers 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 Gods 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.
November 1st, 1731. She sent her father the following letter, with an encomium on Sir Richard Blackmores 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.
Blackmore, thou wondrous Bard! whose name inspires
My glowing breast to imitate thy fires.
O that my muse could give a lasting fame!
Then should my verse immortalize thy name.
Thy matchless lines thy inborn worth displays,
Inspires our souls, and fills our mouths with praise.
Thou for Mankinds preceptor Heaven designd,
To form their manners, and instruct their mind.
In virtues cause undaunted you engage,
To stem the tide of vice, reform the stage,
And place the present with the Golden Age.
* * * * *
O happy land! and of unrivaled fame,
That claims thy birth, and boasts so great a name!
Albion alone is blest with such a son,
A birth to ages past, and thee, O Greece, unknown.
When she had read Mr. Wallers 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.
On the Incomparable Mr. Waller.
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 my 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.
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 Gods 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 Gods 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. Baxters 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.
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 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.
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.
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.