Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > John Bunyan. Andrew Marvell > John Bunyan
   The influence which moulded him  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

VII. John Bunyan. Andrew Marvell.

§ 1. John Bunyan.


THE great civil war of the seventeenth century, while revolutionising English constitutional government, effected, also, an important break in the historical continuity of English literature. The years between 1640 and 1660, being years of prolonged and intense conflict, constitute, in the main, a distinct and well defined interval between the writers of the days of Elizabeth and James and those of the restoration. Above all other periods in our history, it was the age of the pamphleteer, of the writer who is concerned rather with the urgent needs of the hour than with the purpose of creating or developing the higher forms of literature. His aim was to reach the public mind directly and at once, and so shape the national policy at critical moments in the nation’s life. What literature there might be of more permanent sort was the intellectual product of a generation which had either disappeared or was fast disappearing. Even Milton, recognised, as he is, as the great poet of the restoration, may, more properly, be said to belong to an earlier time. For the educative forces which shaped him, and the creative impulse which finally determined his path to fame, had exercised their influence upon him before ever the war began. All that is most characteristic of his genius belongs to the time when books were written to be read by scholars, and when classical learning gave form and pressure to English style. Very much the same thing may be said of Andrew Marvell. For, while his literary reputation rests mainly, if not exclusively, on poems not published till 1681, or three years after his death, they were actually composed, with few exceptions, during the early years of his manhood. They were the product of a time when Donne’s poetry, with its elaborate conceits and recondite analogies, was the fashion of the hour, and Donne himself the accepted poet of the younger men of the time, the leader by whose style and manner they were consciously, or unconsciously, influenced.   1
  Taking into account, then, the effect of this hiatus in the literary continuity of the seventeenth century, it is not surprising that, in the succeeding period, we come upon writers who belong to no special class or school, and whose literary genealogy cannot be traced. Three names suggest themselves as furnishing illustrations of the kind: John Bunyan, who, with his vivid descriptions of character, his quaint turns of thought and his racy English style, stands alone; Daniel Defoe, with his unrivalled power of clothing with an air of reality the creations of his imagination; and Jonathan Swift, whose style defies description or classification, and, as he puts the case himself, “whose English was his own.” John Bunyan, in creative genius the most gifted of the three, was, in educational advantages, the least favoured. Born in 1628, in the Bedfordshire village of Elstow, the son of an artisan, a brasier by trade, he was put to school, he tell us, to learn both to read and write “according to the rate of other poor men’s children”; but, to his shame, he says, he has “to confess he soon lost that little he learnt, even almost utterly.” Probably, if he had been bent on continuing the modest acquirements of the village school, he would have had small opportunity, for work at his father’s forge began early, and literature was as scanty as leisure. Most likely, he was describing the kind of book within his own reach in those days when, in after years, he represents one of his characters as saying, “Give me a ballad, a newsbook, George on horseback, or Bevis of Southampton; give me some book that teaches curious arts, that tells old fables.” And, even if books of a higher class of literature had been within his reach, opportunity for study scarcely could have been; for, during the civil war, the army regulation age was from sixteen to sixty, and in the very month in which Bunyan completed his sixteenth year he was drafted into service as a soldier in the parliamentary army. As we now know from the recently discovered muster-rolls of the garrison, he was on military duty at Newport Pagnell from November, 1644, to June, 1647. He was here under the command of Sir Samuel Luke, parliamentary scout master general, the puritan knight whom Butler, in his well known satire, lampooned as Sir Hudibras. And it is curious to notice, by the way, that Bunyan, the writer of puritan books, and Butler, the merciless satirist of puritan types, were both of them, at one and the same time, in the service of the same worthy of Cople Woodend—the one as a soldier in the garrison and the other as tutor or secretary in his household.   2

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   The influence which moulded him  
 
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