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Cavalier and Puritan
John Bunyan. Andrew Marvell
> The influence which moulded him
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.
John Bunyan. Andrew Marvell
§ 2. The influence which moulded him.
On his release from military service in 1647, Bunyan returned to his native village, and married a year or two later. It is in connection with this event in his life that he first refers to any influence which books may have had over him. His wife, he tells us,
had for her part
The Plain Mans Pathway to Heaven
The Practice of Piety
which her father had left her when he died. In these two books I should sometimes read with her, wherein I also found some things that were somewhat pleasing to me.
A year or two later, he came under a more potent influence. One day he happened to fall into the company of a poor man who
did talk pleasantly of the Scriptures. Wherefore, falling into some love and liking to what he said, I betook me to my Bible and began to take great pleasure in reading; but especially with the historical part thereof. For as for Pauls Epistles, and such like Scriptures, I could not away with them.
As yet, he had not entered upon that deep religious experience, those intense struggles of soul, which he has vividly depicted in his
but, when that time came to him, he turned again to his Bible with more living purposethe book to which, more than any other, his literary style was indebted for its English clearness and force. I began, he says, to look into it with new eyes and read as I never did before. I was never out of the Bible either by reading or meditation. So far as his native genius was shaped and directed by external influence, it is here we come upon that influence.
Bunyans English, writes J. R. Green, is the simplest and homeliest English that has ever been used by any great English writer, but it is the English of the Bible. He had lived in the Bible till its words became his own.
Such was the main, and, so far as we know, the only influence of a literary sort under which Bunyan ever came, until he appeared before the world as an author. This was in 1656, when he was twenty-eight years of age, and then only in response to what he felt to be the call of duty. This first venture was brought about in a somewhat unexpected way. When his intense and memorable conflict of soul had passed into a more peaceful phase, he joined, in 1653, the fellowship of a Christian church recently formed in Bedford outside the national system. A year or two later, these people prevailed upon him to exercise his gifts among them, and, in this way, he came gradually into active service as a preacher in Bedford and the villages round. This brought him into collision with some of the followers of George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, then a very aggressive body. Like Fox himself, his followers went into places of worship and, in the presence of the congregation, assailed the preacher. This they did with Bunyan, at one of his services. He was not sufficiently mystical in his teaching for them. They laid more stress upon the inward light and less upon historic fact and external revelation. They would have a Christ within, a resurrection within, a light within. He, also, was desirous of these, but he would not let go the historic Christ, the historic facts of the Christian faith, or the Scriptures of revelation by which to guide and test the inward light. A Quaker sister, he says, did bid me in the audience of many to throw away the Scriptures. To which I answered, No, for then the devil would be too hard for me.
We are not here concerned with this controversy except in so far as to note the fact that, as its immediate result, it was responsible for the launching of Bunyan upon a career of authorship. For the purpose of advancing what he held to be more scriptural teaching on the subject in dispute, he published, in 1656, a duodecimo volume of 270 pages, entitled
Some Gospel Truths Opened.
This book, written rapidly and in a heat, was published at Newport Pagnell, and was immediately replied to by Edward Burrough, an eminent Quaker. To this reply, Bunyan gave instant rejoinder in a further volume of 280 pages, his second book following his first, as he tells us, at only a few weeks interval. These first literary ventures are not specially characteristic of Bunyans genius; but they display the same ease of style, the same directness and naturalness of speech, which he maintained to the end, and are certainly remarkable as the productions of a working artisan of scantiest education, who had not long left the distractions of a soldiers life behind him.
Having thus ventured forth upon authorship in the interests of theological controversy, in 1658 Bunyan appeared again with a published treatise on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in which we have foretokens of his matured style in such characteristic touches as this: The careless man lies like the smiths dog at the foot of the anvil though the fire-sparks fly in his face; and this, Some men despise the Lazaruses of our Lord Jesus Christ because they are not gentlemen, because they cannot with Pontius Pilate speak Hebrew, Greek and Latin. A further work of no special note, issued by him in 1659, brings us to 1660, when he entered upon the second and most important part of his life and literary history.
The restoration of monarchy to the state and of episcopacy to the church vitally affected the social and religious condition of nonconformists, and Bunyan was almost the first man among them to feel the change. In the November following the kings return in May, he was committed to Bedford goal for preaching at a farmhouse in the south of the county, and, as he was convicted under the unrepealed Conventicle act of 1593, which required public confession and promise of submission before release could follow the term of imprisonment, he remained a prisoner for twelve years, that is, till the kings declaration of indulgence in 1672. So far as his literary history is concerned, these twelve years fall into two equal parts of six years each, during the first of which he published no fewer than nine of his books.
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