Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. III: Colonial Literature, 16071764
A Fair Puritan and Her Poetry
By Ebenezer (17021778) and Jane (17081735) 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 Assemblys 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 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 .
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 .
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:
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 .
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 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.
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:
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 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.
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.