| English Literature for Boys and Girls|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Delightful introduction to the writers of English literature whose works hold the greatest appeal for the youthful reader. The life and personality of each author is given in outline, with enough material quoted from his works to give an idea of what he wrote. For most authors suggestions for further reading are included. The outline of historical background enables the young reader to grasp the connection between the literature and the life of the time. Excellent as a companion to a chronological study of English literature. Ages 12-15 |
BUNYAN—"THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS"
 THE second great Puritan writer of England was John Bunyan. He
was born in 1628, more than twenty years after Milton. His
father was a tinker. A tinker! The word makes us think of
ragged, weather-worn men and women who wander about the
countryside. They carry bundles of old umbrellas, and sometimes
a battered kettle or two. They live, who knows how? they sleep,
who knows where? Sometimes in our walks we come across a charred
round patch upon the grass in some quiet nook by the roadside,
and we know the tinkers have been there, and can imagine all
sorts of stories about them. Or sometimes, better still, we find
them really there by the roadside boiling a mysterious three-
legged black kettle over a fire of sticks.
But John Bunyan's father was not this kind of tinker. He did not
wander about the countryside, but lived at the little village of
Elstow, about a mile from the town of Bedford, as his father had
before him. He was a poor and honest workman who mended his
neighbors' kettles and pans, and did his best to keep his family
in decent comfort.
One thing which shows this is that little John was sent to
school. In those days learning, even learning to read and write,
was not the just due of every one. It was only for the well-to-
do. "But yet," says Bunyan himself, "notwithstanding the
meanness and inconsiderableness of my parents, it pleased God to
put it into their hearts to put me to school, to learn me both to
read and write."
 Bunyan was born when the struggle between King and people was
beginning to be felt, and was a great boy of fourteen when at
last the armies of King and Parliament met on the battlefield of
Edgehill. To many this struggle was a struggle for freedom in
religion. From end to end of our island the question of religion
was the burning question of the day. Religion had wrought itself
into the lives of people. In those days of few books the Bible
was the one book which might be found in almost every house. The
people carried it in their hands, and its words were ever on
their lips. But the religion which came to be the religion of
more than half the people of England was a stern one. They
forgot the Testament of Love, they remembered only the Testament
of Wrath. They made the narrow way narrower, and they believed
that any who strayed from it would be punished terribly and
eternally. It was into this stern world that little John Bunyan
was born, and just as a stern religious struggle was going on in
England so a stern religious struggle went on within his little
heart. He heard people round him talk of sins and death, of a
dreadful day of judgment, of wrath to come. These things laid
hold of his childish mind and he began to believe that in the
sight of God he must be a desperate sinner. Dreadful dreams came
to him at night. He dreamed that the Evil One was trying to
carry him off to a darksome place there to be "bound down with
the chains and bonds of darkness, unto the judgment of the great
day." Such dreams made night terrible to him.
Bunyan tells us that he swore and told lies and that he was the
ringleader in all the wickedness of the village. But perhaps he
was not so bad as he would have us believe, for he was always
very severe in his judgments of himself. Perhaps he was not
worse than many other boys who did not feel that they had sinned
beyond all forgiveness. And in spite of his awful thoughts and
 Bunyan still went on being a naughty boy; he
still told lies and swore.
At length he left school and became a tinker like his father.
But all England was being drawn into war, and so Bunyan, when
about seventeen, became a soldier.
Strange to say we do not know upon which side he fought. Some
people think that because his father belonged to the Church of
England that he must have fought on the King's side. But that is
nothing to go by, for many people belonged to that Church for old
custom's sake who had no opinions one way or another, and who
took no side until forced by the war to do so. It seems much
more likely that Bunyan, so Puritan in all his ways of thought,
should fight for the Puritan side. But we do not know. He was
not long a soldier, we do not know quite how long, it was perhaps
only a few months. But during these few months his life was
saved by, what seemed to him afterwards to have been a miracle.
"When I was a soldier," he says, "I, with others, were drawn out
to go to such a place to besiege it. But when I was just ready
to go one of the company desired to go in my room. To which,
when I had consented, he took my place. And coming to the siege,
as he stood sentinel, he was shot in the head with a musket
bullet, and died.
"Here, as I said, were judgments and mercy, but neither of them
did awaken my soul to righteousness. Wherefore I sinned still,
and grew more and more rebellious against God."
So whether Bunyan served in the Royal army, where he might have
heard oaths, or in the Parliamentarian, where he might have heard
godly songs and prayers, he still went on his way as before.
Some time after Bunyan left the army, and while he was still very
young, he married. Both he and his wife were, he says, "as poor
as poor might be, not having so
 much household stuff as a dish or
a spoon betwixt us both. Yet this she had for her part, The
Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven and The Practice of Piety, which
her father had left her when he died."
These two books Bunyan read with his wife, picking up again the
art of reading, which he had been taught at school, and which he
had since almost forgotten. He began now to go a great deal to
church, and one of his chief pleasures was helping to ring the
bells. To him the services were a joy. He loved the singing,
the altar with its candles, the rich robes, the white surplices,
and everything that made the service beautiful. Yet the terrible
struggle between good and evil in his soul went on. He seemed to
hear voices in the air, good voices and bad voices, voices that
accused him, voices that tempted. He was a most miserable man,
and seemed to himself to be one of the most wicked, and yet
perhaps the worst thing he could accuse himself of doing was
playing games on Sunday, and pleasing himself by bell-ringing.
He gave up his bell-ringing because it was a temptation to
vanity. "Yet my mind hankered, therefore I would go to the
steeple house and look on, though I durst not ring." One by one
he gave up all the things he loved, things that even if we think
them wrong do not seem to us to merit everlasting punishment.
But at last the long struggle ended and his tortured mind found
rest in the love of Christ.
Bunyan himself tells us the story of this long fight in a book
called Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. As we read we
cannot help but see that Bunyan was never a very wicked man, but
merely a man with a very tender conscience. Things which seemed
to other men trifles were to him deadly sins; and although he was
so stern to himself, to others he shows a fatherly tenderness
which makes us feel that this rough tinker was no narrow Puritan,
but a broad-minded, large-hearted Christian. And now that
 Bunyan had found peace he became a Baptist, and joined the church of a
man whom he calls "the holy Mr. Gifford." Gifford had been an
officer in the Royal army. He had been wild and drunken, but
repenting of his evil ways had become a preacher. Now, until he
died some years later, he was Bunyan's fast friend.
In the same year as Bunyan lost his friend his wife too died, and
he was left alone with four children, two of them little girls,
one of whom was blind. She was, because of that, all the more
dear to him. "She lay nearer to my heart than all beside," he
And now Bunyan's friends found out his great gift of speech.
They begged him to preach, but he was so humble and modest that
at first he refused. At length, however, he was over-persuaded.
He began his career as a minister and soon became famous. People
came from long distances to hear him, and he preached not only in
Elstow and Bedford but in all the country round. He preached,
not only in churches, but in barns and in fields, by the roadside
or in the market-place, anywhere, in fact, where he could gather
It was while Cromwell ruled that Bunyan began this ministry. But
in spite of all the battles that had been fought for religious
freedom, there was as yet no real religious freedom in England.
Each part, as it became powerful, tried to tyrannize over every
other party, and no one was allowed to preach without a license.
The Presbyterians were now in power; Bunyan was a Baptist, and
some of the Presbyterians would gladly have silenced him. Yet
during Cromwell's lifetime he went his way in peace. Then the
Restoration came. A few months later Bunyan was arrested for
preaching without a license. Those who now ruled "were angry
with the tinker because he strove to mend souls as well as
kettles and pans."
Before he was
 taken prisoner Bunyan was
warned of his danger, and if he had "been minded to have played
the coward" he might have escaped. But he would not try to save
himself. "If I should now run to make an escape," he said, "it
will be a very ill savour in the country. For what will my weak
and newly-converted brethren think of it but that I was not so
strong in deed as I was in word."
So Bunyan was taken prisoner. Even then he might have been at
once set free would he have promised not to preach. But to all
persuasions he replied, "I durst not leave off that work which
God has called me to."
Thus Bunyan's long imprisonment of twelve years began. He had
married again by this time, and the parting with his wife and
children was hard for him, and harder still for the young wife
left behind "all smayed at the news." But although she was
dismayed she was brave of heart, and she at once set about
eagerly doing all she could to free her husband. She went to
London, she ventured into the House of Lords, and there pleaded
for him. Touched by her earnestness and her helplessness the
Lords treated her kindly. But they told her they could do
nothing for her and that she must plead her case before the
So back to Bedford she went, and with beating heart and trembling
limbs sought out the judges. Again she was kindly received, but
again her petition was of no avail. The law was the law. Bunyan
had broken the law and must suffer. He would not promise to
cease from preaching, she would as little promise for him. "My
lord," she said, "he dares not leave off preaching as long as he
So it was all useless labor, neither side could or would give way
one inch. Bursting into tears the poor young wife turned away.
But she wept "not so much because they were so hard-hearted
against me and my husband,
 but to think what a sad account such
poor creatures will have to give at the coming of the Lord, when
they shall then answer for all things whatsoever they have done
in the body, whether it be good, or whether it be bad."
Seeing there was no help for it, Bunyan set himself bravely to
endure his imprisonment. And, in truth, this was not very
severe. Strangely enough he was allowed to preach to his fellow-
prisoners, he was even at one time allowed to go to church. But
the great thing for us is that he wrote books. Already, before
his imprisonment, he had written several books, and now he wrote
that for which he is most famous, the Pilgrim's Progress.
It is a book so well known and so well loved that I think I need
say little about it. In the form of a dream Bunyan tells, as you
know, the story of Christian who set out on his long and
difficult pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the City of
the Blest. He tells of all Christian's trials and adventures on
the way, of how he encounters giants and lion, of how he fights
with a great demon, and of how at length he arrives at his
journey's end in safety. A great writer has said, "There is no
book in our literature on which we would so readily stake the
fame of the old unpolluted English language, no book which shows
so well how rich that language is in its own proper wealth, and
how little it has been improved by all that it has borrowed."
For the power of imagination this writer places Bunyan by the
side of Milton. Although there were many clever men in England
towards the end of the seventeenth century, there were only two
minds which had great powers of imagination. "One of those minds
produced the Paradise Lost, the other the Pilgrim's Progress."
That is very great praise, and yet although Milton and Bunyan are
 thus placed side by side no two writers are more widely apart.
Milton's writing is full of the proofs of his leaning, his
English is fine and stately, but it is full of words made from
Latin words. As an early writer on him said "Milton's language
is English, but it is Milton's English."
On the other hand, Bunyan's writing is most simple. He uses
strong, plain, purely English words. There is hardly one word in
all his writing which a man who knows his Bible cannot easily
understand. And it was from the Bible that Bunyan gathered
nearly all his learning. He knew it from end to end, and the
poetry and grandeur of its language filled his soul. But he read
other books, too, among them, we feel sure, the Faery Queen.
Some day you may like to compare the adventures of the Red Cross
Knight with the adventures of Christian. And perhaps in all the
Faery Queen you will find nothing so real and exciting as
Christian's fight with Apollyon. Apollyon comes from a Greek
word meaning the destroyer. This is how Bunyan tells of the
"But now in this Valley of Humiliation poor Christian was hard
put to it. For he had gone but a little way before he espied a
Foul Fiend coming over the field to meet him. His name is
Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid and to cast in
his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground. But he
considered again, that he had no armour for his back, and
therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him
greater advantage, with ease, to pierce him with his darts.
Therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground. For, he
thought, had I no more in mine eye than the saving of my life,
'twould be the best way to stand.
"So he went on, and Apollyon met him. Now the Monster was
hideous to behold. He was clothed with
 scales like a fish, and
they are his pride. He had wings like a dragon, feet like a
bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke. And his mouth
was as the mouth of a lion. When he came up to Christian he
beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to
||When came you? and whither are you bound?|
||I am come from the City of Destruction, which is the place of all evil, and am going to the City of Zion.|
After this Apollyon argued with Christian, trying to persuade him
to give up his pilgrimage and return to his evil ways. But
Christian would listen to nothing that Apollyon could say.
"Then Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the Way
and said, 'I am void of fear in this matter. Prepare thyself to
die, for I swear by my Infernal Den that thou shalt go no
further. Here will I spill thy soul!'
"And with that he threw a flaming dart at his heart. But
Christian had a shield in his hand, with which he caught it, and
so prevented the danger of that.
"Then did Christian draw, for he saw it was time to bestir him,
and Apollyon as fast made at him, throwing darts as thick as
hail, by the which, notwithstanding all that Christian could do
to avoid it, Apollyon wounded him in his head, his hand, and
foot. This made Christian give a little back. Apollyon
therefore followed his work amain, and Christian again took
courage and resisted as manfully as he could. This sore combat
lasted for above half a day, even till Christian was almost quite
spent. For you must know that Christian, by reason of his
wounds, must needs grow weaker and weaker.
"Then Apollyon espying his opportunity began to gather up close
to Christian, and wrestling with him gave
 him a dreadful fall.
And with that Christian's sword flew out of his hand. Then said
Apollyon, 'I am sure of thee now.' And with that he had almost
pressed him to death so that Christian began to despair of life.
But, as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching his last
blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian
nimbly reached out his hand for his sword and caught it, saying,
'Rejoice not against me, O mine Enemy! when I fall I shall
arise!' and with that gave him a deadly thrust which made him
give back, as one that had received his mortal wound.
"Christian perceiving that made at him again, saying 'Nay in all
these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved
us.' And with that Apollyon spread forth his dragon's wings and
sped him away, and Christian saw him no more."
Bunyan wrote a second part or sequel to the Pilgrim's Progress,
in which he tells of the adventures of Christian's wife and
children on their way to Zion. But the story does not interest
us as the story of Christian does. Because we love Christian we
are glad to know that his wife and children escaped destruction,
but except that they belong to him we do not really care about
Bunyan wrote several other books. The best known are The Holy
War and Grace Abounding. The Holy War might be called a Paradise
Lost and Regained in homely prose. It tells much the same story,
the story of the struggle between Good and Evil for the
possession of man's soul.
In Grace Abounding Bunyan tells of his own struggle with evil,
and it is from that book that we learn much of what we know of
He also wrote the Life and Death of Mr. Badman. Instead of
telling how a good man struggles with evil and at last wins rest,
it tells of how a bad man yields always to
 evil and comes at last
to a sad end. It is not a pretty story, and is one, I think,
which you will not care to read.
Bunyan, too, wrote a good deal of rime, but for the most part it
can hardly be called poetry. It is for his prose that we
remember him. Yet who would willingly part with the song of the
shepherd-boy in the second part of the Pilgrim's Progress:—
"He that is down needs fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride:
He that is humble, ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much:
And, Lord, contentment still I crave,
Because thou savest such.
Fullness to such a burden is
That go on pilgrimage:
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age."
When Bunyan had been in prison for six years he was set free, but
as he at once began to preach he was immediately seized and
reimprisoned. He remained shut up for six years longer. Then
King Charles II passed an Act called the Declaration of
Indulgence. By this Act all the severe laws against those who
did not conform to the Church of England were done away with,
and, in consequence, Bunyan was set free. Charles passed this
Act, not because he was sorry for the Nonconformists—as all who
would not conform to the Church of England were called—but
because he wished to free the Roman Catholics, and he could not
do that without freeing the Nonconformists too. Two years later
Bunyan was again imprisoned because "in contempt of his Majesty's
good laws he preached or teached in other manner than according
to the Liturgy or
 practice of the Church of England." But this
time his imprisonment lasted only six months. And I must tell
you that many people now think that it was during this later
short imprisonment that Bunyan wrote the Pilgrim's Progress, and
not during the earlier and longer.
During his imprisonment Bunyan wrote the "Pilgrim's Progress."
The rest of Bunyan's life passed peacefully and happily. But we
know few details of it, for "he seems to have been too busy to
keep any records of his busy life."
We know at least that it
was busy. He was now a licensed preacher, and if the people had
flocked to hear him before his imprisonment they flocked in far
greater numbers now. Even learned men came to hear him. "I
marvel," said King Charles to one, "that a learned man such as
you can sit and listen to an unlearned tinker."
"May it please your Majesty," replied he, "I would gladly give up
all my learning if I could preach like that tinker."
Bunyan became the head of the Baptist Church. Near and far he
traveled, preaching and teaching, honored and beloved wherever he
went. And his word had such power, his commands had such weight,
that people playfully called him Bishop Bunyan. Yet he was "not
puffed up in prosperity, nor shaken in adversity, always holding
the golden mean."
Death found Bunyan still busy, still kindly. A young man who
lived at Reading had offended his father so greatly that the
father cast him off. In his trouble the young man came to
Bunyan. He at once mounted his horse and rode off to Reading.
There he saw the angry father, and persuaded him to make peace
with his repentant son.
Glad at his success, Bunyan rode on to London, where he meant to
preach. But the weather was bad, the roads were heavy with mud,
he was overtaken by a storm of rain, and ere he could find
shelter he was soaked to the
 skin. He arrived at length at a
friend's house wet and weary and shaking with fever. He went to
bed never to rise again. The time had come when, like Christian,
he must cross the river which all must cross "where there is no
bridge to go over and the river very deep." But Bunyan, like
Christian, was held up by Hope. He well knew the words, "When
thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through
the rivers they shall not overflow thee." And so he crossed
And may we not believe that Bunyan, when he reached the other
side, heard again, as he had once before heard in his immortal
dream, "all the bells in the city ring again with joy," and that
it was said unto him, "Enter ye into the joy of our Lord"?
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