Bunyan, John

, author of the justly-admired allegory of the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” was born at Elstow, near Bedford, 1628. His parents, though very mean, took care to give him that learning which was suitable to their condition, bringing him up to read and write, both which he quickly forgot, abandoning himself to all manner of wickedness, but not without frequent checks of conscience. One day being at play with his companions (the writer of his life tells us), a voice suddenly darted from heaven into his soul, saying, “Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell!” This put him into such a consternation, that he immediately left his sport; and looking up to heaven, thought he saw the Lord Jesus looking down upon him, as one highly displeased with him, and threatening him with some grievous punishment for his ungodly practices. At another time, whilst he was uttering many oaths, he was severely reproved by a woman, who was herself a notorious sinner: she told him he was the ugliest fellow for swearing that ever she heard in all her life, and that he was able to spoil all the youth of the town, if they came but into his company. This reproof coming from a woman, whom he knew to be very wicked, filled him with secret shame; and made him, from that time, very much refrain from it. His father brought him up to his own business, which was that of a tinker. Being a soldier in the parliament army, at the siege of Leicester, in 1645, he was drawn out to stand sentinel; but another soldier of his company desired to take his place, to which he agreed, and thus escaped being shot by a musket-ball, which took off his comrade. About 1655 he was admitted a member of a baptist congregation at Bedford, and soon after was chosen their preacher. In 1660, being convicted at the sessions of holding unlawful assemblies and conventicles, he was sentenced to perpetual banishment, and in the mean time committed to gaol, from which he was discharged, after a confinement of twelve years and an half, by the compassionate interposition of Dr. Barlow, bishop of Lincoln. During his imprisonment, his own hand ministered to his necessities, making many an hundred gross of long-tagged thread laces, a trade which he had learned since his confinement. At this time he also wrote many of his tracts, particularly the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Afterwards, being at liberty, he travelled into several parts of England, to visit and confirm the brethren, | which procured him the epithet of Bishop Bunyan. When the declaration of James II. for liberty of conscience was published, he, by the contributions of his followers, built a meeting-house in Bedford, and preached constantly to a numerous audience. He died in London of a fever, 1688, aged sixty. He had by his wife four children, one of whom, named Mary, was blind. This daughter, he said, lay nearer his heart whilst he was in prison, than all the rest; and that the thought of her enduring hardship would be sometimes almost ready to break his heart, but that God greatly supported him by these two texts of scripture, “Leave the fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let the widows trust in. me. The Lord said, Verily it shall be well with thy remnant; verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil.” Jer. xlix. 11. and chap. xv. 11. His works are collected in two volumes in folio, printed at London in 1736-7, and reprinted in 1760, and often since in various forms. The continuator of his life, in the second of those volumes, tells us, that “he appeared in countenance to be of a stern and rough temper, but in his conversation mild and affable; not given to loquacity, or much discourse in company, unless some urgent occasion required it; observing never to boast of himself or his parts, but rather seem low in his own eyes, and submit himself to the judgment o others; abhorring lying and swearing; being just in all that lay in his power to his word; not seeking to revenge injuries, loving to reconcile differences, and making friendship with all. He had a sharp quick eye; accompanied with an excellent discerning of persons, being of good judgment and quick wit. As for his person, he was tall of stature, strong boned, though not corpulent: somewhat of a ruddy face, with sparkling eyes, wearing, his hair oil his upper lip, after the old British fashion; his hair reddish, but in his latter days time had sprinkled it with gray; his nose well-set, but not declining or bending, and his mouth moderately large; his forehead something high, and his habit always plain and modest.

Of all his works, the “Pilgrim’s Progress” has attained the greatest popularity, and greater than any other human composition. It w.as remarked by the learned Dr. Samuel Johnson, that the Pilgrim’s Progress has had the best evidence of its merit, namely, the general and continued Approbation of mankind. No work of human composition | can certainly be compared with it in universality and extent of popularity. Besides having been translated into several European languages, scarce a year has passed, since its first appearance, in which the public has not called for a new edition. For many years, however, this work was confined to the serious part of the world for whom it was intended, and was seldom noticed by others but as the production of an illiterate man, calculated only to please illiterate people: an objection which, if it had been just, could not be said to militate very strongly against its merit. However necessary learning may be to guard the outworks of Christianity against the attacks of infidels, pure and undefiled religion requires so little literature to inculcate it in the case of others, or to receive it ourselves, that we find it had no hand in the first promulgation of the gospel, nor much in the various means that have been taken to perpetuate it. But Banyan’s want of education is the highest praise that can be given. Such a defect exhibits the originality of his genius in the strongest light: and since more attention has been paid by men of critical taste to his “Pilgrim’s Progress,” he has been admitted into a higher rank among English writers, and it seems universally acknowledged that nothing was wanting to advance him yet higher but the advantages of education, or of an intimacy with the best writers in his own language.

Dr. Johnson, whose opinion has been already quoted in part, conceived so high an opinion of the allegorical structure of the Pilgrim, that he thought Bunyan must have read Spenser, and observes, as a remarkable circumstance, that the Pilgrim’s Progress begins very much like the poem of Dante, although there was no translation of Dante when Bunyan wrote. Dr. Beattie says that some of the allegories in the Pilgrim are well conceived, and prove the author to have possessed powers of invention, which, if they had been refined by learning, might have produced something very noble. What learning might have done to Bunyan we no more can tell than we can tell what it might have done to Shakspteare; but, in our opinion, Bunyan, without its aid, has produced “something very noble,” because he has produced a work the most perfect in its kind, and which has baffled, and continues to baffle all attempts at imitation. The elegant author, whom we have just quoted, goes on to say “that the work has been imitated, but with little success. The learned bishop Patrick | wrote the ‘ Parable of the Pilgrim,’ but I am not satis* fied that he borrowed the hint, as it is generally thought he did, from John Bunyan. There is no resemblance in the plan, nor does the bishop speak a word of the Pilgrim’s Progress, which I think he would have done, if he had seen it. Besides, Bunyan’s fable is full of incident; Patrick’s is dry, didactic, verbose, and exceedingly barren in the invention.

The rev. Mr. Granger, in his Biographical History of England, is yet more decided in his admiration of* Bunyan’s talents. “Bunyan, who has been mentioned among the least and lowest of our writers, and even ridiculed as a driveller by those who have never read him, deserves a much higher rank than is commonly imagined. His ' Pilgrim’s Progress’ gives us a clear and distinct idea of Calvinisftcal divinity. The allegory is admirably carried on, and the characters justly drawn and uniformly supported. The author’s original and poetic genius shines through the coarseness and vulgarity of his language, and intimates that if he had been a master of numbers, he might have composed a poem worthy of Spenser himself. As this opinion may be deemed paradoxical, I shall venture to name two persons of eminence of the same sentiments; one, the late Mr. Merrick of Reading (who has been heard to say in conversation, that Bunyan’s invention was like that of Homer); the other, Dr. Roberts, now (late) fellow of Eton college.

These opinions of Bunyan will be found amply justified by an impartial perusal of the work in question, except with regard to what is said of “the coarseness and vulgarity” of Bunyan’s style, which is certainly very unjust His style, if compared with the writers of his age on subjects of religion, and particularly, if his want of education be taken into consideration, will suffer very little. On the other hand, there is reason to suspect that, by some of these critics, simplicity has been mistaken for vulgarity, although we are willing to allow that a few phrases might be elevated in expression without injury to the sentiment. But of what author in the seventeenth century may not this be said? It ought also to be remembered that the “Pilgrim’s Progress” was written while the author was suffering a long imprisonment, during which the only books to which he had access were the Bible and Fox’s Martyroiogy; and it is evident that the whole work is sprinkled over with | the phraseology of scripture, not only because it was that in which he was most conversant, but that which was the best adapted to his subject.

Mr. Granger’s opinion of the probable advancement he might have made in poetry, has been opposed by the late Dr. Kippis in the Biographia Britaunica. but in a manner which evinces that the learned doctor was a very incompetent judge. He says Bunyan “had the invention, but not the other natural qualifications which are necessary to constitute a great poet.” Now, we believe it is the universal opinion of all critics, since criticism was known, that invention is the first qualification of a poet, and the only one which can be called natural, all others depending upon the state of refinement and education in the age the poet happens to live. Hence it is that our early poets are in general so exceedingly deficient in the graces of harmony, and that many of our modern poets have little else. With respect to Patrick’s Pilgrim, mentioned above, it is necessary to observe that (besides its being doubtful which was first published, Bunyan’s or Patrick’s) the question is not, whether Bunyan might not have been preceded by authors who have attempted something like the Pilgrim’s Progress: far less is it necessary to inquire, whether he be entitled to the merit of being the first who endeavoured to convey religious instruction in allegory. It is sufficient praise that when his work appeared, all others which resembled it, or seemed to resemble it, became forgotten; and the palm of the highest merit was assigned to him by universal consent. It was, therefore, to little purpose that a small volume was lately published, entitled “The Isle of Man, or the legal proceedings in Man-shire against Sin,” by the rev. R. Bernard, from which Bunyan was “supposed” to have taken the idea of his Pilgrim. Bunyan’s work so far transcends that and every similar attempt, that he would have been very much to blame (allowing, what cannot be proved, that he took the idea from Bernard) had he not adopted a plan which he was qualified to execute with such superior ability.

Of late years many imitations have been attempted, and many rivals have appeared to Bunyan, but while candour obliges us to allow, in some instances, the goodness of the intention, and that they are written in a style which promises to be useful, it is at the same time justice to our author to say, that they fall very short of his performance | in almost every requisite: in simplicity, in the preservation of the allegorical characters, and in that regular and uniform progress which conducts the hero through every scene, and renders every scene and every episode subservient to the main purpose. How well this has been executed, the constant and increasing popularity of the “Pilgrim’s Progress” is sufficient to demonstrate. What pleases all, and pleases long, must have extraordinary merit: and that there is a peculiar fascination about the Pilgrim has never been denied either by those who do not read to be instructed, or “who are averse to the author’s religious opinions. Of this latter, we have a striking instance in dean Swift. In his celebrated Letter to a yeung Clergyman he says,” I have been better entertained, and more informed, by a few pages in the Pilgrim’s Progress, than by a long discourse upon the will, and the intellect, and simple and complex ideas." It must be allowed to be no small merit to have fixed the attention of such a man as Swift, and to have conciliated the esteem of men of critical taste, on account of the powers of invention, and the exercise of a rich and fertile imagination.

It may be proper here to remark, that there is a small book, which has been often printed with it under the title of a Third Part of the Pilgrim’s Progress; but the purpose of our making the remark is to guard our readers against it as a very gross imposition. The late rev. John Newton, by a very happy figure, asserts that “a common hedgestake deserves as much to be compared with Aaron’s rod, which yielded blossoms and almonds, as this poor performance to be obtruded upon the world under the title of the” Third Part of the Pilgrim’s Progress." Besides that this forgery contradicts Bunyan’s doctrines, it is evident that his plan was completed in his Second Part, and that no addition could have been made even by his own ingenious pen, that would not have partaken of the nature of a repetition. It remains to be noticed, that they who have read no other production of Bunyan, have yet to learn the extent of the wonderful powers displayed in his various works. Considering his narrow and confined education, we have been almost equally struck with the perspicuous an^ clear views of his various theological and practical treatises, as the works of a man gifted in a most uncommon degree. 1


Biog. Brit.—Life by himself.—Ath. Ox. vol. II.—&c.