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A BOOK which little children love to read, may safely be pronounced a good book. In our English literature there are two works that have been tried for many score of years by this unfailing test, and have never been found wanting. These are the Pilgrim's Progress of Bunyan and the Robinson Crusoe of Defoe. For many generations golden heads and rosy cheeks have been bent over the never-tiring pages; nor can we imagine a time when children shall cease to care about the perilous travels of Christian, or shall not grow half-afraid, yet filled with a strange delight, when they read of Friday's footstep in the sand.
That famous Puritan tinker, who wrote the “ Pilgrim's Progress," was born in the village of Elstow, a mile from Bedford, in the year 1628. He was emphatically a man of the people. Few have passed through so fierce an ordeal of mental struggle and religious horror. He tells us in his Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, a sort of religious autobiography, that even at the age of nine or ten, fearful dreams, and thoughts of the burning lake and the devils chained down to wait for the great Judgment, haunted him at intervals. Then, when the pain lulled, he plunged into sin, running riot in many vices at an early age.
While yet a boy, he enlisted in the army of the Parliament, and saw some service in the war. He tells us of a narrow escape he had. At a certain siege—the siege of Leicester, it is said —he was selected as sentinel for a certain post, and was on the point of going out to mount guard, when another soldier asked leave to go instead of him,
A WICKED MAN IMPRESSED.
Bunyan agreed; and the poor fellow, who took his place, was shot dead with a bullet through the brain. Yet in spite of this, and two escapes from drowning, he grew more careless still.
At the age of nineteen he married a young woman of his own rank in life. They had, he tells us, neither dish nor spoon betwixt them;" but she brought to his humble home two religious books, and she herself had found the Pearl of great price. Faithfully and lovingly this tender wife dealt with the wayward boy, until she led him to read these good books, the legacy of her dying father, and brought him with her to church. There one Sunday he heard a sermon on the duties of that day, and the sin of breaking in on its holy calm, which flashed a new light into his soul. With a heavy heart he went home; and when, as usual, he went out in the afternoon on the village green to play cat with his roistering associates, and in the full flush of the game had struck the piece of wood one blow away from the hole-suddenly as in old times a hand wrote on the wall of the Chaldean palace
- these words darted into his mind, “ Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell ?" Although he got a momentary shock, yet Bunyan still remained uninpressed, until, about a month later, he was cursing at the shop window of a neighbour so horribly as to draw a severe rebuke from the woman of the use, who was herself of the worst character. Such a check from such lips silenced the blasphemer, who, standing with down-hung head, wished, as he touchingly says, “that he was a little child again, that his father might learn him to speak without this wicked way of swearing.” He then began to read the Bible and to amend his life-repenting, among other things, of his dancing, his ale-quaffing, and his bell-ringing. The first two might, certainly, lead to sin, but we cannot class the third among great offences. Yet we must not smile at Bunyan's fears lest the bells might fall and kill him, for earnestness like his is too rare and too sublime for ridicule. However, the incident which made the deepest impression on Bunyan's soul, and which must certainly be looked on as the turning-point in his life, was his happening to overhear a conversation about the new birth
BUNYAN IN BEDFORD JAIL.
among three or four poor women sitting at a door in Bedford. So thankfully did they speak of what God, through Jesus Christ, had done for their souls, and so lovingly did they quote the Bible words, that Bunyan went away feeling as he had never felt before, and unable to think of anything but the conversation he had heard.
Thus, knot after knot, the bonds of sin were cut from his soul, and John Bunyan became a new man. About the year 1656 he commenced to preach in the villages of Bedfordshire, having already been for three years a member of a Baptist congregation.
With slight interruption he continued this good work until the Restoration, when he was arrested as a holder of conventicles, which were then declared unlawful. By Justice Win- 1660 gate he was committed to Bedford Jail, where, in spite of a A.D. noble effort made by his second wife to obtain his release, he remained for twelve years. Within a chamber of the old Swan Inn that faithful wife, with blushing face but undaunted heart, pleaded before the judges and the gentlemen of the shire for her prisoned husband. “Will your husband leave preaching ?" said
“ Judge Twisden. “My lord,” said the noble woman,“ he dares not leave preaching so long as he can speak." And so Bunyan lay in jail, his wife and children weaving laces, upon which he fixed tags, to get them daily bread. Happily for us, his jailer was a kindhearted man, disposed to deal as gently as he could with his ward. Bunyan had two books with him—the Bible and “Fox's Book of Martyrs," which he studied constantly and deeply. He had also pen and ink, with liberty to use them; and thus it was that to these years of cell-life we owe our matchless allegory, The Pilgrim's Progress—the joy of childhood and the solace of old age -a book second only to the Bible. Towards the end of the twelve years the rigour of Bunyan's confinement was relaxed; he was allowed to go out into the town; and once he went to London. And through all he preached at every opportunity, often meeting his little flock under the silent stars, where the trees cast dark shadows
1672 upon the sleepy Ouse. His last year in jail is memorable for his ordination in the room of his old minister and friend, Mr. Gifford. Then, released by the aid of Barlow, Bishop of
THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS."
Lincoln, who knew him by his books and his preaching, he held his services in a barn at Bedford, which was purchased for £50, and fitted up as a chapel. There he laboured with voice and pen for sixteen years, often visiting London, where the churches
were always crowded to the doors when he preached. A 1688 journey under heavy rain from Reading to London brought
on a fever, of which he died in his sixty-first year. A
hundred years ago, a green decaying grave-stone, on which was inscribed in faint lettering, “Here lies John Bunyan,” was pointed out in the cemetery at Bunhill Fields.
Macaulay's opinion of Bunyan is worth remembrance. In a fine review of Southey's edition, he says that “Bunyan is as decidedly the first of allegorists, as Demosthenes is the first of orators, or Shakspere the first of dramatists." The adventures of Christian need no description. They are told in plain, unvarnished English, which pretends to no excellence of style, and yet has a power that more polished language often lacks. Bunyan, a common working-man, had no thought of style as he wrote. All he desired was, to place vividly before his readers certain pictures, which he himself saw almost as clearly as if he had been Christian trudging on a real highway, instead of Bunyan writing within dark prison walls. And this he has done with such marvellous skill, that we, too, feel the green grass of the Delectable Mountains beneath our feet, and shudder as the awful darkness of the Valley of the Shadow of Death closes around us. First published in 1678, this wonderful book ran through ten editions in seven years. It has since been printed in countless thousands, and has been translated into all the chief tongues of earth.
The Holy War, which describes the siege and capture of the city of Mansoul by Diabolus, is another allegory from the pen of Bunyan, also written within his cell at Bedford.
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH.
(FROM "THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS.”) I saw then in my dream, so far as this valley reached, there was, on the right hand, a very deep ditch; that ditch it is into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished. Again, behald, on the left SPECIMEN OF BUNYAN'S PROSE.
hand, there was a very dangerous quag, into which even if a good man falls, he finds no bottom for his feet to stand on: into that quag King David once did fall, and had no doubt therein been smothered, had not He that is able plucked him out. The pathway was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore good Christian was the more put to it: for when he sought, in the dark, to shun the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other; also, when he sought to escape the mire, without great carefulness he would be ready to fall into the ditch. Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh bitterly; for besides the danger mentioned above, the pathway here was so dark, that oft-times when he lifted up his foot to set forward, he knew not where, or upon what, he should set it next. About the midst of the valley I perceived the mouth of Hell to be; and it stood also hard by the way-side. And ever and anon the flame and smoke would come out in such abundance, with sparks and hideous noises, that he was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon, called all-prayer. So he cried, in my hearing, () Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Thus he went on a great while, yet still the flames would be reaching towards him. Also he heard doleful voices, and rushings to and fro; so that sometimes he thought he should be torn to pieces or trodden down like mire in the streets.