During the seven years comprised in this chapter, the materials which exist for delineating John and Martha Yeardley's history are meagre. Of the numerous journeys which they made in the course of this period, the record kept by the former frequently consists of a mere itinerary.
After attending the Leeds Quarterly Meeting in the Third Month, they returned to their home at Scarborough, but soon left it again to be present at the Yearly Meeting in London. The Society of Friends began about this time to be agitated by differences of opinion, chiefly on points of doctrine. John Yeardley not only kept himself sedulously free from the spirit of party, but, whether from a natural aversion to public life, or from the fear of exceeding the limit of his own calling and abilities, he abstained from taking a prominent position, and left it very much to others to sway the affairs of the Church. But he was not unmindful of the dangers by which the Society was assailed, and he bent the force of his mental vigor and Christian experience towards the promotion of individual growth in grace and faithfulness to the divine call, and the diffusion of clear and comprehensive views of Scriptural truth; and when the hour came for sympathising with those who were harassed by doubts, or such as were subjected to trial by the effect of religious dissension, he was ready, with his beloved partner, to share the burden of the afflicted, to probe the wounds of those who had been bruised, and to pour in the oil of heavenly consolation.
His note regarding the Yearly Meeting is short: --
The business was of a most important nature, and sometimes very trying. We had strong proof that many spirits professing to have made long progress in the Christian life were not enough subdued by the humbling power of divine grace; but through all, I trust, our heavenly Father dealt with us in mercy, and sent help and wisdom to direct and strengthen his poor tribulated children.
On returning to Scarborough, he writes: --
I humbly trust our hearts are truly grateful to the Author of all our mercies, who has granted us once more a little rest of body and sweet peace of mind; but, as it regards myself, I must say that inward poverty has prevailed more since my return home than it has done for the last two years of absence. It is well to know how to suffer want, as well as to abound.
Want of occupation was not one of John Yeardley's trials, even when |standing,| as he expressed it, |free from any prospect of immediate service, and feeling much as a vessel not likely to be brought into use again.| Scriptural inquiry, the study of languages, and of the history of the Church, watching the progress of religious light and liberty on the Continent of Europe, his garden, the binding of his books -- these were the employments of his industrious leisure. To these must be added the time bestowed on several small publications from his own and his wife's pen (the latter chiefly poetical), of which the |Eastern Customs,| a volume which was the product of their united labor, and the materials for which were supplied by their journey to Greece, is the best known.
But there was another object which drew largely on John Yeardley's time during his residence at Scarborough. This was the unsectarian schools established in the town for the education of the industrial classes. Of these the Lancasterian School for girls was his favorite, and the deep and steady interest which he manifested for the improvement of the children, as well as the peculiar talent which he evinced for attracting and developing the youthful mind, are shown in an affectionate tribute to his memory by the late mistress of the school: --
For many years he was a visitor at our Lancasterian School, where it was his delight to impart knowledge to a numerous class of girls. He had a happy method of communicating information. The children used to listen with the greatest attention and delight; they never wearied of his lessons. Scriptural instruction was his first object; the children were questioned on what they had read, and it was delightful to watch their countenances whilst he explained portions of Scripture, which he frequently illustrated by the manners and customs of Eastern nations; and this he did in a way that rendered his teaching valuable, as he did not fail to make an impression and gain the affections of his hearers.
One little girl we had whom he used to call the oracle; and indeed she was not inappropriately so-called; for whenever any of the girls were at a loss for an answer, they invariably turned to her, and seldom failed to receive a response to their silent appeal. This gifted child died between the ages of sixteen and eighteen; he was a frequent visitor at her bedside during a lingering illness, and it was his privilege to see that his labors had not been in vain.
I shall never forget him, not only for the important instruction I derived from him, but also for his valuable assistance. During my labors of more than twenty-five years, I had none to help me as he did. When at home he never failed to visit as every afternoon: no matter what the state of the weather was -- snow, wind or rain -- he was to be seen at half-past two, with his large cape folded round him, bending before the blast, toiling up the hill near the school. So accustomed were we to him that his coming was deemed a matter of course.
After our Scripture lesson a portion of time was devoted to geography, particularly Bible geography; then he would talk to them of places where he had travelled: his descriptions of the Ionian Islands, the people and the schools he had visited there, used to be a favorite theme, and very interesting. In this way our afternoons were passed, and truly they were times of profitable instruction.
He seemed to care less for the boys' school; he did occasionally visit them, but the girls were his pets. I have sometimes thought his knowledge of the ignorant and degraded state of the females in Greece was the cause of his taking so much interest in the education of the females in his own land.
In addition to J. Yeardley's labors at the Lancasterian School, some of the older girls and a few others who belonged to the school assembled at his house one evening in the week, whom he instructed in reading and Scriptural knowledge. Some of these still speak with gratitude of the benefit they then received.
In the Ninth Month of 1835, John and Martha Yeardley visited Settle Monthly Meeting, and Knaresborough, under appointment of the Quarterly Meeting. On their way thither they took up at York their aged and valued friend Elizabeth Rowntree of Scarborough, who was on the appointment.
Her company, says J.Y., was a strength and comfort to us; she exercised her gift as an elder in a very acceptable manner, in many of the families we visited, as well as in the meetings for discipline.
This notice is succeeded almost immediately by the record of Elizabeth Rowntree's sudden decease: --
On the 25th of the Eleventh Month, we were introduced into deep affliction by the sudden removal of our precious elder, E. Rowntree. Her dependence for salvation was fixed on her Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, through the help of whose Spirit she had been enabled to lead a life of godliness and of usefulness to her fellow-mortals, and was always concerned to give the praise to Him to whom it was due, -- the Lord of Lords.
This event, with the removal of another pilgrim to become an inhabitant of the world of beatified spirits, and the pressing subject of the divisions in the Society, form the topics of the following letter from Martha Yeardley to Elizabeth Dudley: --
Scarborough, 12 mo.5, 1835.
During our long sojourn last spring, in and about my native city, my spirit was deeply oppressed, nor did the conflicts endured appear to produce much benefit either to myself or others. Here the way is more open, and, although we also deeply feel the effects of the storm which has been permitted to assail our little Society, we are more able to endure it; and desire to abide in our tents, except when called upon to defend that immediate teaching of the blessed Saviour, upon which we depend for our little portion of daily bread. I can truly sympathise with thee, my beloved Betsy, an having to bear more of the burden and heat of the day, and I do fervently believe with thee, that the more, as individuals, we commit and confide the cause to the Great Master, in humble prayer, the sooner it will be extricated from the perplexities which now harass and distress those who are truly devoted to it.
We have deeply to mourn for our endeared and highly valued E. Rowntree, suddenly taken from us about ten days since. She and her sister R.S., from Whitby, had spent the preceding evening with us; she was in usual health, and sweetly cheerful, rejoicing that she had been enabled to assist dear Sarah Squire in a family visit to Friends of this meeting, though she did not sit with her in the families. I heard of her illness and hastened to her; she appeared sensible but for a very few moments after having been got to bed; yet was heard begging for patience under extreme agony; then added, We had need live the life of the righteous, for it is an awful thing to die. Then she suddenly sank into a slumber, and lay till a little after nine at night, when her purified spirit was peacefully liberated.
We have got through Pontefract and some meetings in the neighborhood to our comfort, and on the journey had an opportunity of sitting beside the dying bed of dear Sarah Dent, which was indeed a peaceful scene. She was perfectly sensible, and so animated that I could hardly give up hope of her restoration. But she had not herself the least prospect of life, and said that, although she had found it a hard struggle to give up her husband and children, she had, through the mercy of her gracious Redeemer, attained to perfect resignation. This was about a week before her death, and we have heard since, that a little before the close, she said, The Lord Jesus is near, I want you all to know that He is near indeed!
Dear Ann Priestman has united with us in visiting this Monthly Meeting: it seems now best for us to remain at home for a short time, under the bereavement which our own meeting has suffered.
In 1836 they again attended the Yearly Meeting; of which John Yeardley thus speaks: --
The Yearly Meeting was, I think, on the whole, satisfactory, much more so than many Friends could look for, considering the discouraging circumstances under which we came together. The main bent in all the important deliberations on subjects of great moment to the well-being of our small section of the universal church, was to adhere to the long-known principles of the Society, and to turn aside the sentiments of opposing individuals in the spirit of gentleness, forbearance and love.
They visited many meetings in going from and returning to Scarborough. The most interesting of these visits was at Thame, in Oxfordshire, which John Yeardley thus describes: --
6 mo. 14. -- Went in the evening to Thame, and had a meeting with a few who have met in the way of Friends for about five years at Grove End. There are only seven or eight who meet regularly, but they are often joined by a few others. No notice had been given to their neighbors of our coming, but on seeing us go to the meeting many followed; the room was quite filled, and a precious meeting it was. Their hearts are like ground prepared for the good seed of the kingdom. The nature of spiritual worship was pointed out, and testimony borne to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
This little company reminded us of many such which we met with in foreign countries, particularly in Switzerland and Germany. We had a good deal of conversation with William Wheeler, who was one of the first to meet in silence. He was a leader in the Wesleyan congregation, and became uneasy with giving out hymns to be sung with those whose states he knew did not correspond with the words. He would then sometimes select a hymn most suited by its general character to the company; at other times he would leave out a few verses, and select others which he thought might be sung with truth by the whole congregation; but the thing became so burdensome that he was obliged, for conscience' sake, to leave it altogether, and sit down with a few others in silence. At first they met with opposition, and even persecution, from persons who came to their meeting to disperse them. On one of these occasions a few rude young men had banded together to beset them the next meeting-day, and disperse them. W.W. was strongly impressed that it was right for him to proclaim an awful warning to some -- that the judgments of the Almighty awaited them, that eternity was nearer than they were aware and he wished them to consider and prepare for it. One of the disturbers was taken suddenly ill, and died before the next meeting-day; which produced such an effect on the others that they never more molested the little company in their worship.
In reviewing this journey, J.Y. says, under date of the 25th of the Sixth Month: --
I trust my faith is afresh confirmed in the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead in the way of religious duty, and to give strength to do His will. Lord, grant that the remainder of my days, whether few or many, be entirely devoted to the holy cause of endeavoring to promote the Saviour's kingdom on earth.
In 1837, John and Martha Yeardley were occupied with making circuits in the service of the gospel through several counties of England. They were attracted to Lancashire, which they visited in the autumn, by the peculiar state of some meetings in that county, an extensive secession having taken place not long before. The difficulties which they had to encounter on this journey are represented in a letter from Martha Yeardley to her sisters, written at Manchester the 4th of the Ninth Month, 1837.
I do not recollect that, in my little experience, I ever had more preparatory exercise of mind to pass through; and I believe it has been the same with my dear J.Y. We have, however, in many of our visits, been much comforted under the belief that those who remain firm in the testimonies given us to bear are in a more lively state, and more banded together, than has been the case heretofore, and that, through the mercy of our holy Head and High Priest, there is a renewed visitation to many. In the public meetings, of which we have had many, there has been a rather remarkable openness to receive the truths of the gospel, united with our view of the spirituality of this blessed dispensation.
We approached this place in deep prostration of spirit; and truly we feel that all the previous baptism has been needful, in order to enable us in any degree to perform our duty here. There has been a sore rending of the tenderest ties, and the wounds are not yet healed. There are a few who entertain ultra views, and their over-activity tends to keep up excitement in those who are wavering and have not yet left the Society: this makes it very difficult for moderate people to stand between them, and calls for very deep indwelling with the blessed source of love. On the other hand there are, I fear, very many who rejoice in the delusive suggestions of our unwearied enemy -- that the cross of Christ is not necessary -- that they may speak their own words and wear their own apparel, and still be called by the name of Him who died for them. I think we never have had more to suffer than in some of the meetings we have attended, from a disposition, perhaps in some degree on both sides, to criticise ministry: still there are, I believe, many precious individuals among the young and middle-aged who are under the forming hand for usefulness. There is indeed a loud call for laborers in this large and mixed meeting; and we are ready to weep over the vacant seats of those who have deserted their post, and, I greatly fear, are seeking to warm themselves and others with sparks of their own kindling.
Another letter from M.Y., written at the conclusion of this journey, supplies a few more traits of the Christian service into which they were led in the course of it.
Scarborough, 10 mo.7.
We remained nearly a month in our lodgings at Manchester, receiving and paying visits, some of which were very interesting. Dear H. Stephenson and family were extremely attentive, and her daughter Hannah was our constant guide in that large place. We spent First-day at Rochdale, and in the evening a large number of young Friends took tea with us, between thirty and forty. This has mostly been the case on First-days, both at Manchester and elsewhere, and these opportunities have tended to our relief.
After this we bade farewell to Lancashire, under feelings of thankfulness which I cannot describe, for having been mercifully helped and preserved through such a warfare.
In the autumn of 1839 they again travelled southwards, directing their steps through the eastern counties of England, and London, Surrey, and Hampshire, to the Isle of Wight, where they spent five weeks exploring its coasts and corners, in search, not of the naturally picturesque, but of the beautiful and hopeful in the moral and religious world. They returned home by Bristol and Birmingham.
So attractive to their spirits was the Isle of Wight, that the next year they repeated the visit, going thither after the Yearly Meeting. In the Seventh Month they attended the Quarterly Meeting at Alton, and on their return to Newport were accompanied by Elizabeth and Mary Dudley and Margaret Pope. They remained in Newport and the vicinity several weeks, during which time, amongst other engagements, they conducted a Scripture class with some young persons three evenings a week. In a letter dated the 27th of the Sixth Month, J.Y. says: --
My dear Martha feels deeply for the Unitarians in this place; we sometimes think the way may open for us to help them a little. Their great stumbling-stones are, the want of clearness in the mystery of the oneness in the Godhead, and of faith in the practical influences of the Holy Spirit, as operating on the heart of man. Our morning reading opens a suitable door of communication for those whose curiosity prompts them to seek our company.
In company with Elizabeth Dudley they hold several public meetings at various places on the island. They have left no record of this service, but we have a notice of the meeting at Porchfield, in a letter from E.D.
The meeting was very satisfactory, sweet and refreshing to our spirits. The road was rough and hilly. We were behind time, and our friends being punctual, the house looked full when we got there, though more followed, until not only within but outside the walls there was a crowd of orderly, attentive people. Many of them were happily acquainted with the power of religion in their hearts, and prepared for spiritual worship. The assembly was composed of various denominations from a straggling village and more remote habitations. The chapel was built many years ago, by a pious man, now above eighty years old, who was with us, and who enjoys to have the place used by any who from love to Christ and the souls of men are attracted to visit them. The simplicity and openness to be observed and felt that evening was a comforting indication of freedom from party spirit, and those vain disputations which in so many instances keep Christians at a distance, and mar their individual peace as well as usefulness.
Before they left Newport, they provided, with the help of several friends, suitable accommodation for the little meeting of Friends in that town. On taking leave of the island, which they did in the Eighth Month, John Yeardley remarks: --
We have had much comfort and satisfaction in our sojourn in this place: a strong evidence is felt in our hearts that it has been ordered by the Lord. We have cause to acknowledge that our labors have been owned by the Divine Presence in our various exercise for the promotion of the Saviour's kingdom.
In the spring of 1841 they repeated their visit to the Isle of Wight, spent great part of the summer in religious service in Essex, and visited afterwards Bristol, Bath, and other parts of Somersetshire.
At Bath they remained for some weeks. Soon after their arrival in the city, they were introduced into sympathetic sorrow on account of the death of John Rutter, whose guests they were, and who was suddenly removed, by an accident, from time to eternity. This event is described in a letter from John Yeardley to his sister R. S.
Bath, 9 mo.24, 1841.
The affectionate family of the Rutters gave us a hearty reception, and we remained under their hospitable roof until Second-day, when they were plunged into deep distress by the awfully sudden removal of their beloved father. He went out before breakfast, and called at his son's wharf. A cart of coals being about to be weighed, he was leading the horse on to the machine; the animal, being a little unruly, suddenly rushed forward and pushed down J. R, and the wheel passed over his body. He was immediately conveyed to his own shop, when the spark of life became extinct, and he ceased to breathe, without apparent pain or emotion. We were nearly ready to leave our room, about half-past 6. o'clock, when one of the sons knocked at our door, and related the awful occurrence. I went down immediately: the scene may be more easily imagined by you than described by me. We endeavored to calm them as much as possible; and, though deeply afflicted, they bear the stroke with sweet resignation. I wrote letters at their request to most of their near relatives; and as we could not think of leaving the sorrowing family to go as proposed to Bristol, we immediately procured a lodging and settled in, in the evening.
On Third-day afternoon we went to the Quarterly Meeting at Bristol, and returned to Bath on Fifth day, not wishing to be long absent from the dear sorrowing ones. We have a pleasant situation on the hill-side, called Sidney Lodge, from which, when the gas is lighted, the city is presented to our view like a beautiful panorama.
Their minds had been for some time in preparation for renewing, on the Continent of Europe, Christian intercourse with some of their old friends, and for exploring new veins of religious life in countries which they had not yet visited. Accordingly, in the Fourth Month of 1842, they acquainted the Friends of their Monthly Meeting with the prospect of missionary service which had opened before them, informing them that from the conclusion of their last European journey they had believed it would one day be required of them to re-enter that field of labor. The Monthly Meeting accorded its full and sympathetic approbation, which was endorsed by the Quarterly Meeting at a conference of men and women Friends, of which John Yeardley says: --
The great solemnity which prevailed was truly refreshing to our spirits, and I believe to the spirits of many others. Our friends gave us their full unity, encouragement, sympathy, and prayers.
Martha Yeardley thus expresses the feelings with which she contemplated this arduous journey, in a letter to Josiah Forster: --
It is indeed an awful engagement, now in the decline of life, and, with respect to myself, under increasing infirmities; but I believe it best for me not to look too far forward, but simply to confide in the mercy and guidance of that blessed Saviour who has been our support and consolation under many deep trials, humblingly believing that whether enabled to accomplish the important prospect or not, it was an offering required at our hands, and that we must leave the event to the Great Disposer of all things.
In the same letter she mentions their having heard of the death of Louis A. Majolier of Congenies, which, she says, although a cause of rejoicing as it regards him, was read by us with mournful feelings, from the recollection of his fatherly kindness in days that are past, and also from renewed solicitude for the little flock in that country.
Before their departure they went once more into the West Riding, to see how their brethren of J.Y.'s earliest acquaintance fared. They were joined by William Dent of Marr, near Doncaster, with whom they were |sweetly united in the fellowship of the gospel;| and they returned to Scarborough with |grateful and peaceful hearts.|