John Bunyan (16281688). The Pilgrims Progress. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
JOHN BUNYAN was born at Elstow, Bedfordshire, England, in November, 1628. His father was a maker and mender of pots and kettles, and the son followed the same trade. Though he is usually called a tinker, Bunyan had a settled home and place of business. He had little schooling, and he describes his early surroundings as poor and mean. When he was not yet sixteen his mother died; in two months his father married again; and the son enlisted as a soldier in the Civil War in November, 1644, though whether on the Parliamentary or Royalist side is not certain. The armies were disbanded in 1646, and about two years later Bunyan married a wife whose piety redeemed him from his delight in rural sport and the habit of profane swearing. He became much interested in religions, but it was only after a tremendous spiritual conflict, lasting three or four years, that he found peace. His struggles are related with extraordinary vividness and intensity in his Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. In 1655, the year in which he lost his wife, he began to exhort, and two years later he became a regular Non-conformist preacher, continuing, however, to practise his trade. His success as a preacher roused opposition among the regular clergy, and in 1658 he was indicted at the assizes. His writing began with a controversy against the Quakers, and shows from the first the command of a homely but vigorous style.
With the reenactment of the laws against non-conformity at the Restoration, Bunyan became subject to more severe persecution, and with a short intermission he was confined to prison from 1660 till 1672. Again and again he might have been released, but he refused to promise to desist from preaching, and there was no alternative for the justices but to keep him in confinement. Sometimes lax jailers permitted him to preach at church meetings; he frequently ministered to his fellow-prisoners; and he supported his family, now looked after by a second wife, by making laces. He had apparently abundant leisure, for he wrote in prison a large number of books, the first one of importance being that already mentioned, Grace Abounding (1666). The Pilgrims Progress was also written in jail, but probably during a later confinement of six months in 1675.
In 1672 Charles II suspended the laws against Non-conformists and Roman Catholics, and Bunyan was released. He was called to be minister to a Non-conformist congregation in Bedford, and preached in the barn which served them as a church. But his ministrations were not confined to Bedford. He made preaching tours over a wide district, and even to London, and attracted great crowds of listeners. Meanwhile he continued to write. The first edition of The Pilgrims Progress in 1678 was followed by others with additions, and in 1684 by the second part. The Life and Death of Mr. Badman appeared in 1680; The Holy War made by Shaddai upon Diabolus in 1682. If the works left in manuscript at his death be included, the total of his books amounts to nearly sixty. He died in 1688, leaving a widow and six children, and a personal estate of less than £100. The Pilgrims Progress became at once popular, and has continued to be by far the most widely read of all his works, and one of the most universally known of English books. Though in the form of an allegory, the narrative interest is so powerful, the drawing of permanent types of human character is so vigorous, and the style is so simple and direct that it takes rank as a great work of fiction. The best sides of English Puritanism have here their most adequate and characteristic expression, while the intensity of Bunyans religious fervor and the universality of the spiritual problems with which he deals, raise the work to a place among the great religious classics of the world.