Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > John Bunyan. Andrew Marvell > Bunyan’s language
  Grace Abounding The Pilgrim’s Progress  


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

VII. John Bunyan. Andrew Marvell.

§ 4. Bunyan’s language.

It has been truly said that, while Bunyan possessed in a remarkable degree the gift of expressing himself in written words, he had no appreciation of literature as such. In the preface of the book before us, he explains his mental attitude. He thinks his learned reader may blame him because he has “not beautified his matter with acuteness of language,” and has not, “either in the line or in the margent, given a cloud of sentences from the learned fathers.” As for the language of the learned, the sentences and words which others use, he does not give them because he has them not, nor has he read them: “had it not been for the Bible, I had not only not thus done it, but not at all.” That is reason enough, but there is another behind it. Even if he had had the learning of the learned Fathers,
“I durst not make use of ought thereof,” he says, “and that for fear lest that grace and these gifts that the Lord hath given me, should be attributed to their wits rather than the light of the Word and Spirit of God.”
  This way of regarding the literary gift as heaven-descended, therefore to be reverently used and not perverted to unworthy ends, was Milton’s as well as Bunyan’s. When he put in print a public pledge to execute his design of a great poem, Milton, at the same time, said that he conceived of it
as being a work not to be raised from the heat of youth or the vapours of wine, nor to be obtained by the invocation of Dame Memory and her Siren daughters, but by devout prayer to the Eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and Knowledge, and sends out his Seraphim with all the hallowed fire of his altar to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases.
This may not be the common way, but it was the puritan way of regarding the endowments of man’s richer nature as gifts of the Spirit of God, as signs of his wider operation on the imagination and heart of the world. In the preface to his Grace Abounding, a book which, in some passages, seems as if it had been written with a pen of fire, Bunyan touches again upon the question of the relation of conscience to literature:
“I could,” he says, “have stepped into a style much higher than this in which I have here discoursed, and could have adorned all things more than here I have seemed to do; but I dare not. God did not play in convincing of me … wherefore I may not play in my relating of these experiences, but be plain and simple, and lay down the thing as it was. He that liketh it let him receive it; and he that does not, let him produce a better.”
  While during the first six years of his prison life, as we have said, no fewer than nine books came from Bunyan’s pen, for the next five years, so far as we know, that pen was laid aside. It was not till 1671 that he broke this long silence and published a book which he entitled A Confession of my Faith, and a Reason of my Practice. This work, while giving a reasoned statement of his religious opinions, was, at the same time, a kind of apologia pro vita sua, a vindication of his conduct in resolutely standing by his convictions for a long time, while so weighty an argument as over eleven years’ imprisonment was continually urging him to pause and consider again and again the grounds and foundation of those principles for which he thus had suffered. He maintains that he is a peaceable and obedient subject, and he appeals to his enemies themselves to judge whether there is anything in the opinions set forth savouring either of heresy or of rebellion rendering him deserving of almost twelve years’ imprisonment. Still, he will suffer rather than yield. He goes on to say:
If nothing will do, unless I make of my conscience a continual butchery and slaughter-shop, unless putting out my own eyes I commit me to the blind to lead me, I have determined, the Almighty God being my help and shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow on mine eye-brows rather than thus to violate my faith and principles.
  Deliverance came at length. Seeing that “no fruit came of these forceful courses,” in 1672 the king, apart from parliament, issued a declaration of indulgence, under power of which licences to preach were granted to nonconformist ministers, and to Bunyan among the rest. He was at once elected pastor of the church in Bedford of which, since 1653, he had been a private member; and he held that position, with freedom from state interference, for the next three years. At the end of that time, trouble broke forth again. The declaration of indulgence, being an unusual, and, to many in the nation, an unwelcome exercise of the royal prerogative, was withdrawn, and, as a consequence, nonconformists’ licences were recalled. Bunyan, therefore, being once more exposed to all the penalties of the Conventicle act, was arrested and sent to prison for six months, this time to the small town gaol on Bedford bridge.   12

  Grace Abounding The Pilgrim’s Progress  

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