Barclay of Ury

John Greenleaf Whittier

Among the earliest converts to the doctrines of Friends in Scotland was Barclay of Ury, an old and distinguished soldier, who had fought under Gustavus Adolphus, in Germany. As a Quaker, he became the object of persecution and abuse at the hands of the magistrates and the populace. None bore the indignities of the mob with greater patience and nobleness of soul than this once proud gentleman and soldier. One of his friends, on an occasion of uncommon rudeness, lamented that he should be treated so harshly in his old age who had been so honored before. “I find more satisfaction,” said Barclay, “as well as honor, in being thus insulted for my religious principles, than when, a few years ago, it was usual for the magistrates, as I passed the city of Aberdeen, to meet me on the road and conduct me to public entertainment in their hall, and then escort me out again, to gain my favor.”

UP the streets of Aberdeen,
By the kirk and college green,
    Rode the Laird of Ury;
Close behind him, close beside,
Foul of mouth and evil-eyed,
    Pressed the mob in fury.

Flouted him the drunken churl,
Jeered at him the serving-girl,
    Prompt to please her master;
And the begging carlin, late
Fed and clothed at Ury’s gate,
    Cursed him as he passed her.

Yet, with calm and stately mien,
Up the streets of Aberdeen
    Came he slowly riding;
And, to all he saw and heard,
Answering not with bitter word,
    Turning not for chiding.

Came a troop with broadswords swinging,
Bits and bridles sharply ringing,
    Loose and free and froward;
Quoth the foremost, “Ride him down!
Push him! prick him! through the town
    Drive the Quaker coward!”

But from out the thickening crowd
Cried a sudden voice and loud
    “Barclay! Ho! a Barclay!”
And the old man at his side
Saw a comrade, battle tried,
    Scarred and sunburned darkly;

Who with ready weapon bare,
Fronting to the troopers there,
    Cried aloud: “God save us,
Call ye coward him who stood
Ankle deep in Lutzen’s blood,
    With the brave Gustavus?”

“Nay, I do not need thy sword,
Comrade mine,” said Ury’s lord;
    “Put it up, I pray thee
Passive to His holy will,
Trust I in my Master still,
    Even though He slay me.

“Pledges of thy love and faith,
Proved on many a field of death,
    Not by me are needed.”
Marvelled much that henchman bold,
That his laird, so stout of old,
    Now so meekly pleaded.

“Woe’s the day!” he sadly said,
With a slowly shaking head,
    And a look of pity;
“Ury’s honest lord reviled,
Mock of knave and sport of child,
    In his own good city!

“Speak the word, and, master mine,
As we charged on Tilly’s line,
    And his Walloon lancers,
Smiting through their midst we’ll teach
Civil look and decent speech
    To these boyish prancers!”

“Marvel not, mine ancient friend,
Like beginning, like the end:”
    Quoth the Laird of Ury;
“Is the sinful servant more
Than his gracious Lord who bore
    Bonds and stripes in Jewry?

“Give me joy that in His name
I can bear, with patient frame,
    All these vain ones offer;
While for them He suffereth long,
Shall I answer wrong with wrong,
    Scoffing with the scoffer?

“Happier I, with loss of all,
Hunted, outlawed, held in thrall,
    With few friends to greet me,
Than when reeve and squire were seen,
Riding out from Aberdeen,
    With bared heads to meet me.

“When each goodwife, o’er and o’er,
Blessed me as I passed her door;
    And the snooded daughter,
Through her casement glancing down,
Smiled on him who bore renown
    From red fields of slaughter.

“Hard to feel the stranger’s scoff,
Hard the old friend’s falling off,
    Hard to learn forgiving;
But the Lord His own rewards,
And His love with theirs accords,
    Warm and fresh and living.

“Through this dark and stormy night
Faith beholds a feeble light
    Up the blackness streaking;
Knowing God’s own time is best,
In a patient hope I rest
    For the full day-breaking!”

So the Laird of Ury said,
Turning slow his horse’s head
    Towards the Tolbooth prison,
Where, through iron gates, he heard
Poor disciples of the Word
    Preach of Christ arisen!

Not in vain, Confessor old,
Unto us the tale is told
    Of thy day of trial;
Every age on him who strays
From its broad and beaten ways
    Pours its seven-fold vial.

Happy he whose inward ear
Angel comfortings can hear,
    O’er the rabble’s laughter;
And while Hatred’s fagots burn,
Glimpses through the smoke discern
    Of the good hereafter.

Knowing this, that never yet
Share of Truth was vainly set
    In the world’s wide fallow;
After hands shall sow the seed,
After hands from hill and mead
    Reap the harvests yellow.

Thus, with somewhat of the Seer,
Must the moral pioneer
    From the Future borrow;
Clothe the waste with dreams of grain,
And, on midnight’s sky of rain,
    Paint the golden morrow!

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