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


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

VII. John Bunyan. Andrew Marvell.

§ 5. The Pilgrim’s Progress.

It was during this second and shorter imprisonment that he wrote the first part of The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to that which is to come.   13
  This allegory appeared in the early part of 1678, but received characteristic additions in a later edition of the same year, and, again, in the third edition, which appeared in 1679. In the first edition, there was no account of Christian breaking his mind to his wife and children, no Worldly Wiseman, no confession by Christian to Goodwill at the Wicket-gate, of his own turning aside. Christian’s discourse at the palace, the name of which was Beautiful, was added afterwards, as were the accounts of Mr. By-Ends, his conversation and his rich relations, of Lot’s wife as a pillar of salt and of Diffidence the wife of giant Despair. The description of the reception of the pilgrims on the further shore of the river was heightened, also, by the coming of the King’s trumpeters to salute them with ten thousand welcomes, with shouting and sound of trumpet. On the other hand, some characteristic marginalia, such as “O brave Talkative!” “Christian snibbeth his fellow,” “Hopeful swaggers,” disappeared after the first edition.   14
  The question of the originality of The Pilgrim’s Progress, as to how far its author was indebted to previous allegorists, has been raised again and again. Comparisons have been instituted between this book and de Guileville’s Pilgrimage of the Sowle, in which we have the vision of a city in the heavens acting as an incentive to a pilgrimage on earth, and in the course of which we come upon a wicket-gate and a reception in the house of Grâce Dieu, recalling that of Christian in the house called Beautiful. That there are ideas in common is obvious enough; but the probable explanation is that they had one common source. The looking for a city with eternal foundations was a New Testament idea as accessible to Bunyan as to the monk of Chaliz; while the house of Grâce Dieu and the Palace Beautiful, like the house of Mercy in The Faerie Queene, may well have been suggested by the old houses of entertainment prepared for pilgrims or travellers on their way. Spenser sets forth in allegory the dangers, the conflicts and the final victory of the Red Cross knight of holiness; but, apart from the question of the probability or otherwise of Bunyan’s having access to The Faerie Queene, it may be noted that there is one important contrast between this allegory and his own. Spenser dealt mainly with abstract virtues and qualities, his book is an epic of the struggles and triumph of truth; whereas Bunyan, like Chaucer, drew personal portraits and gave concrete presentations of vices and virtues. It would not be difficult to show that Spenser was weakest precisely where Bunyan was strongest.   15
  Besides the two books referred to, others have been mentioned in which we have the regular introduction of the dream and the allegory, such as The Palice of Honour by Gawin Douglas, The Goldyn Targe by William Dunbar, The Bowge of Courte by John Skelton and The Passetyme of Pleasure by Stephen Hawes. But, before asking whether Bunyan could have been influenced by these or similar works, we must remember that he was in prison when the idea of the pilgrim journey first laid hold of him and would not let him go. And, even if he had thought of it beforehand, the literature of the subject which he might have studied by way of preparation for his theme was not easily accessible in those days to peasants and working artisans. But, apart from these considerations, we have Bunyan’s own express declarations on the subject. The originality of the work was questioned in his own day: “Some say The Pilgrim’s Progress is not mine;” but he will have none of this: “Manner and matter, too, was all mine own nor was it unto any mortal known till I had done it. The whole and every whit is mine.” When the vision descended on him it surprised no one more than himself. He tells us that he was writing another book about the way and race of saints in his own day, when he
Fell suddenly into an Allegory
About their Journey, and the way to Glory.
Vivid fancies came so thick and fast upon him, that he resolved to put them down;
This done, I twenty more had in my Crown,
And they again began to multiply,
Like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly.
It has been said that The Pilgrim’s Progress was the last English book written without thought of the reviewer; its author goes further, and tells us it was written without thought even of a possible reader:
I did not think
To shew to all the World my Pen and Ink
… nor did I undertake
Thereby to please my Neighbour; no not I;
I did it mine own self to gratifie.
This is the author’s own account of the growth of his great masterpiece, and it goes far to account for its possession of that charm which lays hold of the hearts of men, they know not how.
  But, while the book thus sprang into being, effortless and fair like a flower, it is not wanting in proportion or dramatic unity. The opening sentence lays hold of the reader, and, thenceforward, there is no unmown grass of weariness to wade through, no wilderness of tedium in which to wander. There are episodes by the way, but they never draw us so far aside that we forget the main story—on the contrary, they contribute to its effect. The book is remarkable, too, for the reality of its impersonations, for the rapidity and power with which its characters are drawn. They are no mere shadowy abstractions moving about in a mystical region far away from us, but real men and women living in our own every-day world. By a few strokes only, sometimes by the mere giving of a name, an abstraction rises up before us, clothed in flesh and blood. A contemporary tells us that Bunyan was “accomplished with an excellent discerning of persons,” and it is this keen power of insight that gives permanent value to his work. He had the discriminating eye and, also, the broad sympathy and keen sense of humour which accompany that gift. Further, while he gives us quaint turns of thought, pithy expressions such as still linger on many a countryside, and revelations of character, which we recognise at once, the world of outside nature, with its manifold phases, comes in to complete the whole. We have the hill with its toilsome ascent, the mountain with its far-off vision of the city, the fearsome glen with its shadowy shapes. Then, at other times, we walk in “the King’s gardens, into which the children of the land of Beulah go to gather nosegays for the pilgrims, bringing them with much affection.” Our senses, too, are regaled with the fragrance of spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with trees of “frankincense, myrrh, together with aloes with all chief spices.” And, through the interlacings of green leaves, we hear, besides, the melodious notes of the country birds and the sweet sound of distant bells.   17

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