Elizabeth Coltman, "Memoir of Mrs. John Coltman" (1802)

For biographical information on Elizabeth Coltman, click here; for a selection of her letters, click here; for a selection of her poetry, click here; for her published travel narrative, click here; for her published prose tracts, click here. See also Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 4, pp. 255-57.

Mrs. John Coltman

Whilst public characters descend to the tomb amidst the tumult of public applause, and even notorious profligacy, if associated with rank and talent, steals a sort of illustrious infamy, it is much to be lamented that private worth – that excellent conduct in obscure life, sinks to the grave, unnoticed and unrecorded. The hero, or the orator, few can imitate; but the exemplary pattern

“In the small circle, the domestic sphere,”

all may contemplate with advantage. In this view, a few particulars relative to Mrs. Coltman, wife of Mr. Coltman, late of the New-works, Leicester, who departed this life on the 9th instant, may not be altogether useless; for, though she possessed none of those dazzling qualities which command public admiration, she was rich in the excellencies which secure private esteem. The early morning of her life was passed amidst the tranquil scenes, the beneficial and cheerful occupations, of the country, under the eye of a judicious father, and an exemplary mother. – Here were nurtured a sweetness of disposition, and an activity of mind, which secured enjoyment to youth, and irradiated the latest limit of extreme old age. She had early to contend with trials of a very painful nature; – these called forth an uncommon fortitude, which was ever after the ornament of her character; yet she possessed all that genuine feeling which prompts to exertion and aid, and mingled the most sincere tenderness with the most unshaken firmness. Her mind had never been weakened by romantic reading, or scenic representations of fictitious woe. – The real sufferer was the object of her pity, and the wretched family, in undecorated distress, engaged her sympathy, and exercised her benevolence. She was accustomed to early rising from her youth, and was a pattern of activity, economy, and order. She inspired her children with the tenderest regard, and was not more the mother than the friend of her daughters. In the most important and nearest relation, the wise man hath sweetly characterized her; – “If there be kindness, meekness, and comfort, in her tongue, then is not her husband like other men; he getteth a help unto himself, and a pillar of rest.” Her’s was that happy good sense, which enables its possessor to make the best of every event. She had a benignity of mind seldom equalled, and the celebrated maxim of Epictetus, “Bear, and forbear,” seemed the dictating spirit of her conduct. She encountered difficulties with firmness, and rose superior to them by persevering patience. The observation of a friend, who well knew her, is appropriate and just – “She had no ostentatious display of greatness, but it resided triumphant in her soul, and marked almost every action of her life.” Excruciating pain had frequently shaken a delicate fabric, but she bore all with unshrinking resignation: and her wants, even in the most trying illness, never made her forget those of others. It was the opinion of different physicians, that the uncommon equanimity and patience of her spirit, tended to preserve the vital principle, even when they had not the most distant hope of recovery. – She was a kind neighbour – a steady and judicious friend. Entirely free from the common petulance and misanthropy of old age, she took pleasure in promoting the happiness of youth, and preserved a lively good humour to the last. At eighty, she was frequently the first person risen in the house. The New Testament, or some practical treatise, first engaged her attention, and, in a round of little beneficial occupations, of which working for the poor was one, she was an example of cheerfulness, activity, and enjoyment, through the day. If ever she expressed an anxious wish, it was, that she might not outlive her usefulness: this request was granted. As she was sitting with her family at tea on the Thursday, she was seized with a slight paralytic affection. Eager to dissipate the fears of those about her, she assured them, with the most perfect cheerfulness, that she did not feel ill. Finding that she could not walk with her usual agility, she was assisted in getting up stairs, and then said, without the least tremor, “I think I have had a paralytic stroke.” On being asked by a near relative shortly after, how she did, she replied, in a lively and triumphant manner, “My dear, I am not in heaven, but I hope I soon shall be.” Friday morning a second violent stroke produced the most alarming symptoms. Though still able to speak, not a complaint escaped her; for her lips seemed not formed to murmur. She said she was in good hands, and calmly entered on the everlasting rest as the Saturday closed. A life, protracted to eighty six years, proves the advantage of temperance, regularity, and activity; but the uncommon vigour she enjoyed, and the constant happiness she communicated, disposed those who knew and loved her, to forget that she was old; and that it was meet the shock of corn should be gathered in its season. Distrusting herself, she fled for refuge to Him who is “mighty to save:” her’s were the hopes of the Gospel, and she died the death of the Christian. – Till the Infidel has something to offer the dying, and the bereaved, more glorious than a hope full of immortality, let him hide his gloomy surmises in his own dark bosom. The sufferer stands in need of a God – a Heaven.

Text: "Mrs. John Coltman." Monthly Magazine 14 (November 1802), pp. 363-64.