Barclay, Robert (1833-1876) (DNB00)

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BARCLAY, ROBERT (1833–1876), ecclesiastical historiographer, was born 4 Aug. 1833 at Croydon. He was the younger son of John Barclay (b. 1797, d. 1838), a lineal descendant of the apologist in a younger branch, the editor of Alexander Jaffray's diary (1833) and other biographical works, of whom his son remarks that ‘perhaps no member of the Society of Friends, excepting Sewell, the historian, ever had a more intimate acquaintance with the literature, both printed and manuscript, of the early Society of Friends’ (On Membership, p. 46). After passing through a preparatory school at Epping, he went to the Friends' school at Hitchin, conducted by Isaac Brown, afterwards head of the Flounders Institute, Ackworth. His education was finished at Bruce Grove House, Tottenham. He attained a good knowledge of botany and chemistry, was fond of electrical experiments, and had skill as a water-colour artist. Trained to business at Bristol, he bought, in 1855, a London manufacturing stationery concern (in Bucklersbury, afterwards in College Street and Maiden Lane), taking into partnership his brother-in-law, J. D. Fry, in 1867. In March 1860 he patented an ‘indelible writing paper’ for the prevention of forgery, the process of manufacturing which he described in a communication to the Society of Arts. Both at home and abroad he was interested in efforts for the evangelisation of the masses; though not ‘recorded’ as a minister of the Society of Friends (to which body he belonged), he preached in their meetings and missions. A posthumous volume gives thirty-six of his sermons, which were usually written, an uncommon thing with Friends. In 1868 he delivered a lecture on the position of the Society of Friends in relation to the spread of the gospel during the last sixty years. He endorsed the view of Herbert Skeats (Hist. of the Free Churches, 1868) that the early Society of Friends was the first home mission association, and was anxious to see the body regaining its position as an aggressive christian church. He was strongly in favour of the public reading of the Bible in Friends' meetings, and thought Richard Claridge's ‘Treatise of the Holy Scriptures,’ 1724, presented a more correct view of the sentiments of the early Friends than their controversial writings. He was as strongly opposed to the practice of birthright membership, introduced among Friends in 1737. His opinions on these points led to his undertaking the important series of investigations which culminated in his work on the inner life (meaning the internal constitution) of the obscurer commonwealth sects, whose origin, ramifications, and practical tendencies, he traced with a tact and labour and a novelty of research which make his book of permanent value, ‘not merely for theologians and students of ecclesiastical history, but for historical inquiry in its wider sense’ (Pauli, in Göttinger Gelehrte-Anzeigen, April 1878). His presentment of the doctrinal aspects of primitive quakerism is ably criticised from the standpoint of an oldfashioned Friend, in an ‘Examen’ (1878), by Charles Evans, M.D., of Philadelphia. Too much application undermined his health, and before the last proof-sheets of his book had been finished, the rupture of a vessel in the brain produced his death on 11 Nov. 1876. He married, 14 July 1857, Sarah Matilda, eldest daughter of Francis Fry, of Bristol, the bibliographer of the English Bible, and had nine children, of whom six survive him.

He published: 1. ‘On the Truth of Christianity, compiled from … works of Archbishop Whately. Edited by Samuel Hinds, D.D., formerly Lord Bishop of Norwich,’ 1865, 18mo (three later editions). 2. ‘On Membership in the Society of Friends,’ 8vo [1872]. 3. ‘The Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth,’ &c., 1876, large 8vo, two plates and chart (actually published 18 Jan. 1877; since twice reissued, 1877, 1878, from the stereotyped plates).

[Smith's Cat. of Friends' Books, 1867; Sermons by Robert Barclay, with a brief memoir, edited by his widow, 1878, 8vo (portrait).]

A. G.