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His Life. John Bunyan was born on the outskirts of Elstow, a village about a mile from Bedford, in 1628. His father was a brazier, or tinker, a patcher of old cans or kettles, — and Bunyan was bred to the same humble calling. He was given some elementary instruction, but he afterwards forgot most of the little he had ever learned. · When he was in his seventeenth year he
served for a short time in the Parliamentary army (1644-1647). But at the close of the Civil War, after this experience of the world outside his village, he returned to Elstow, married a woman as poor as himself, and began a life apparently destined to be undisturbed, monotonous, and respectable.
Bunyan was a sturdy, big-boned, florid-faced, English tinker, every inch a man; yet there was something in him that set him apart from his neighbors. In the midst of those peaceful, commonplace surroundings, he
was tortured by a sense of his own wickedness, by doubts, by temptations to utter terrible blasphemies, by despair. Living, to all outward appearance, the most ordinary of lives, Bunyan's soul became the battle-field of that fierce conflict which he has himself described in Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. To understand Bunyan, or Pilgrim's Progress, his greatest book, we must realize that in those years of inward torment, Bunyanpoor, narrow-minded, perplexed, but magnificently and utterly in earnest — was making his own painful pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to a City of Peace.
At last he found it. In 1653 he joined a little community of dissenters, and after a time began to preach.
. After the Restoration he was arrested for preaching in unlicensed conventicles, or meetings, and was thrown into the Bedford gaol. He refused to make the promise to give up preaching which would have given him liberty. “If you let me out to-day," he said, "I will preach again to-morrow." He remained in the gaol for eleven years, supporting himself by making “long-tagged thread laces," preaching to his fellow-prisoners, and writing Grace Abounding and several other books. In 1672 the Declaration of Indulgence was passed, an act granting religious liberty both to Roman Catholics and Nonconformists, and Bunyan was released. But three years later, on the repeal of this act, Bunyan, who had resumed his preaching, was again imprisoned. It was during this second imprisonment, which lasted three years, that he began to write Pilgrim's Progress. The first part of this marvelous book was published in 1678.
Bunyan wrote many other books after this; the second part of Pilgrim's Progress, The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, and The Holy War, the last of which Macaulay declared to be, Pilgrim's Progress alone excepted, "the
best allegory that ever was written.” In these last years Bunyan rose to great influence among those of his own sect, and was popularly called “Bishop Bunyan.” In 1688 exposure to a rain-storm, while he was engaged in a work of mercy, resulted in a sudden illness, and he died in a few days.
Pilgrim's Progress. — The popularity of Pilgrim's Progress was long confined to readers of the lower and middle classes. It was written for the people by a man of the people. It was written by a dissenter at a time when dissenters were persecuted and despised, and its distinctly religious purpose, as well as the humble station of its author, combined to place it outside the conventional bounds of literature. The polite world disdained it; the critics ignored it, or failed to take it seriously. But in the course of a hundred years the power of the book began to impress the literary and fashionable classes, and to-day the fame of Bunyan's masterpiece is probably greater than it has ever been before. It has been translated into many foreign languages, and it stands with those few supreme books which, like Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Swift's Gulliver's Travels, remain the delight and admiration of the high and the low, the young and the old, the ignorant and the cultured. What is there in the unpretentious work of “the inspired tinker” that has obtained for it the permanence and the universality of the great classics ?
Its Universal Theme. — In the first place, Bunyan, sectarian as he was, chose for his allegory a broad and vital theme. In Paradise Lost, Milton was concerned with some of the deepest mysteries of theology. When we pass beyond all the splendid poetry, we see that Milton's primary object is to reconcile the existence of sin in the world with the wisdom, goodness, and omnipo
tence of God. In Pilgrim's Progress, Bunyan is not occupied with such abstract and philosophical speculations; his purpose is purely practical, and his appeal is not to the head but to the heart. The keynote of Bunyan's book is the cry of the individual conscience; it is heard in the question of Christian at the very beginning of the allegory,“What shall I do to be saved ?" Bunyan's appeal is thus direct and personal, for Christian, the pilgrim, is a representative man, and the general treatment of his theme is so broadly human that Christian's pilgrimage becomes the living and dramatic record of man's spiritual progress.
Its Realism. This theme of almost universal interest is not presented in an abstract, or doctrinal form, it is made real by the intensity of Bunyan's earnestness, and picturesque and dramatic by the vividness of his poetic imagination. Christian's experiences are real to us because they were real to Bunyan; because Bunyan himself had sunk in the Slough of Despond, climbed the Hill of Difficulty, and fought his own fight with Apollyon. He could describe these things from bitter experience; he could describe them poetically because he had that power of imagery which distinguishes the poet. He turns instinctively to imagery when he describes his torments in Grace Abounding. Describing one of his periods of doubt and depression, he wrote:
I found myself in a miry bog, that shook if I did but stir." In another place he speaks of his “tumultuous thoughts, that did use, like masterless hell-hounds, to roar and bellow, and make an hideous noise within me.” It is this inborn power to conceive of the invisible and intangible in objective forms that makes the allegory in Pilgrim's Progress so spontaneous, so free from any suggestion of artifice. Bunyan, moreover, was not a
mere visionary, oblivious of the vulgar realities around him; he was a shrewd observer of human life and character, and his intensely spiritual nature was well ballasted with humor and solid common sense. Although Pilgrim's Progress purports to be a dream, Bunyan does not transport us to cloud-land. Christian travels through our familiar and everyday world, meeting many very substantial human beings in the course of his journey. The very names of Bunyan's characters are often miracles of characterization. Mr. By-Ends alone, whose judgment always happened to coincide with his worldly advantage, shows Bunyan's satiric humor, his insight into human nature, and his power of dramatic portraiture.
Bunyan's Style. — To such enduring qualities in Pilgrim's Progress, we must add the remarkable strength, simplicity, and beauty of its style. Like many another Puritan, Bunyan had read and re-read the Bible, until the strong, vigorous, and musical English of the King James Version had become a part of his mental as well as his spiritual life. His style was formed, his images were often taken from this great model, and his prose has much of the grandeur and restraint of his original.
Such, then, are some of the great qualities which have made a book, written without conscious art and with no thought of literary fame, a great classic. When Bunyan wrote, the fine gentlemen of the Restoration, the professional authors and critics, were bent on reforming the language, and were busy declaring the true principles of literary art. The tinker in Bedford gaol knew nothing of these matters. He had something to say, he was constrained to give his message as best he could, but to him the message was the important matter, not the words in which it was delivered. “I could also,” he