Bunyan, John

Bunyan, John "the immortal tinker," was born in 1628, at Elstow, near Bedford. His early education was neglected. In his youth he was dissolute and profligate, and he joined the Parliamentary army. He was converted from his evil ways in 1653, and in 1655 became a Baptist, For preaching to the Baptist congregation at Bedford he was thrown into prison, where he "tagged laces" twelve years and a half (1660-1672), and composed the Pilgrim's Progress, a work which has already gone through more than fifty editions, and has been translated into many foreign languages. Before he was taken to jail he had begun to use his pen, chiefly in controversy with the Quakers; and writing proved an ample solace to him in his cell. Several works, including his Grace Abounding, and what is, next to the "Pilgrim," his best-known work, The Holy War, which were eagerly read then and long afterward, were the fruit of his imprisonment. During the later years of his confinement he was allowed much freedom: could .go into town at pleasure, and once was permitted to visit London, though for permitting that the jailer received a severe censure. During these years Bunyan appears to have preached and exhorted pretty nearly as freely as though he had not been a prisoner. In the last year of his imprisonment he was elected pastor of the Baptist church in Bedford (Mr. Gifford's), and he was able to attend regularly to his ministerial duties. At length, on the 13th of September, 1672, he was set at liberty. After his release Bunyan set about putting his private affairs and those of his church in order. The chapel in which he preached was greatly enlarged in order to accommodate the increasing congregation. He commenced the organization of branch meetings and what might be called preaching circuits, and soon acquired such extended authority and influence that he came to be commonly known as Bishop Bunyan. He used to make frequent visits to London, where the announcement of a sermon by him was certain to collect an immense congregation. The close of his life is thus related by Southey: "Reading was a place where he was well known . . . . In a visit to that place he contracted the disease which brought him to the grave. A friend of his who resided there had resolved to disinherit his son; the young man requested Bunyan to interfere in his behalf; he did so with good success, and it was his last labor of love; for, returning to London on horseback through heavy rain, a fever ensued; which after ten days proved fatal. He died at the house of his friend Mr. Stradwick, a grocer, at the sign of the Star on Snow Hill, and was buried in that friend's vault in Bunhill Fields' burial ground." His tomb-stone states his death to have occurred on the 12th of August, 1688, but the correct date appears to be August the 31st. The first collected edition of Bunyan's Works was published in 1692 (Bedford, 1 vol. fol.); the last and most carefully collated edition of The Works of John Bunyan, with an Introduction, Notes, and Sketch of his Life and Contemporaries, by George Offor, appeared in London in 1853 (3 vols. imp. 8vo). The "Pilgrim's Progress" attained quick popularity. "The first edition was 'printed for Nath. Ponder, at the Peacock in the Poultry, 1678,' and before the year closed a second edition was called for. In the four following years it was reprinted six times. The eighth edition, which contains the last improvements made by the author, was published in 1682, the ninth in 1684, and the tenth in 1685. In Scotland and the colonies it was even more popular than in England. Bunyan tells that in New England his dream was the daily subject of conversation of thousands, and was thought worthy to appear in the most superb binding. It had numerous admirers, too, in Holland, and among the Huguenots in France. Yet the favor and the enormous circulation of the 'Pilgrim's Progress' were limited to those who read for religious edification and made no pretense to critical taste. When the literati spoke of the book, it was usually with contempt. Swift observes in his 'Letter to a young Divine,' 'I have been entertained and more informed by a few pages in the "Pilgrim's Progress" than by a long discourse upon the will and intellect, and simple and complex ideas;' but we apprehend the remark was designed rather to depreciate metaphysics than to exalt Bunyan. Young, of the 'Night Thoughts,' coupled Bunyan's prose with D'Urfe's doggerel, and in the 'Spiritual Quixote' the adventures of Christian are classed with those of Jack the Giant-killer and John Hickathrift. But the most curious evidence of the rank assigned to Bunyan in the eighteenth century appears in Cowper's couplet, written so late as 1782:

"I name thee not, lest so despised a name Should move a sneer at thy deserved fame.'

It was only with the growth of purer and more catholic principles of criticism toward the close of the last century and the beginning of the present that the popular verdict was affirmed, and the 'Pilgrim's Progress' registered among the choicest of English classics. With almost every Christmas there now appears one or more editions of the Pilgrim, sumptuous in typography, paper, and binding, and illustrated by favorite artists. Ancient editions are sought for by collectors; but, strange to say, only one perfect copy of 1678 is known to be extant. Originally published for one shilling, it was bought a few years ago, in its old sheepskin cover, for twenty guineas. It is probable that, if offered again for sale, it would fetch twice or thrice that sum." — Book of Days. Of recent editions, perhaps that by Southey, with his gracefully written Life of Bunyan prefixed, is one of the best. The "Pilgrim's Progress" has been translated into every language and almost every dialect of civilized Europe, and it has been a favorite exercise of missionaries to translate it into the languages of the people to whom they have been sent; hence the "Pilgrim" of the Elstow tinker has been rendered into more languages than any other uninspired writer. And it deserves all the labor that has been expended upon it. Beyond dispute it is the first in rank of its class. Written by a plain, uneducated man for plain, uneducated people, it has ever found its way straight home to their hearts and imaginations. But it has not less delighted and instructed the most highly educated and intellectual. Macaulay, in his "Essay on Southey's Bunyan" (written in 1831, Edinb. Rev. 54, 450), affirmed that he "was not afraid to say that, though there were many clever men in England during the latter half of the 17th century, there were only two great creative minds: one of these minds produced the 'Paradise Lost,' the other the 'Pilgrim's Progress.'" This is high, it might almost seem extravagant praise; yet twenty years later the same great authority reiterates in his "History" (ch. 7) the eulogy which he might be thought to have carelessly thrown out in the pages of a review: "Bunyan is as decidedly the first of allegorists as Demosthenes is the first of orators, or Shakspeare the first of dramatists. Other allegorists have shown great ingenuity, but no other allegorist has ever been able so to touch the heart, and to make abstractions objects of terror, of pity, and of love." There are many lives of Bunyan. Besides Southey's, see Philip's Life and Times of Bunyan (Lond. 1839, 8vo); Eng. Cyclopcedia; Cheever, Lectures on Pilgrim's Progress; North Amer. Rev. 36, 449; Christian Review, 4, 394; Meth. Qu. Review, 9, 466; Lond. Quart. Review, 43, 469; Presbyterian Quarterly, Jan. 1862, art. 4.

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