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The Pilgrim's Progress
From this World to that which is to Come.
WRITTEN IN THE SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM.1
THE ALLEGORY AND ITS AUTHOR.
BY H. A. TAINE.
AFTER the Bible, the book most widely read in England is the "Pilgrim's Progress," by John Bunyan. The reason is that the basis of Protestantism is the doctrine of salvation by grace, and that no writer has equalled Bunyan in making this doctrine understood.
To treat well of supernatural impressions, one must have been subject to them. Bunyan had that kind of imagination which produces them. Powerful as that of an artist, but more vehement, this imagination worked in the man without his co-operation, and besieged him with visions which he had neither willed nor foreseen. From that moment there was in him, as it were, a second self, dominating the first, grand and terrible, whose apparitions were sudden; its motions unknown; which redoubled or crushed his faculties, prostrated or transported him, bathed him in the sweat of anguish, ravished him with trances of joy; and which by its force,
1 The first part of this allegory was published in 1678, having been written by Bunyan while in Bedford gaol. The second part was published in 1684. For Biographical Note, see page 215.
strangeness, independence, impressed upon him the presence and the action of a foreign and superior master. . . . He was born in the lowest and most despised rank, a tinker's son, himself a wandering tinker, with a wife as poor as himself, so that they had not a spoon or a dish between them. He had been taught in childhood to read and write, but he had since "almost wholly lost what he had learned." Education diverts and disciplines a man; fills him with varied and rational ideas; prevents him from sinking into monomania or being excited by transport; gives him determinate thoughts instead of eccentric fancies, pliable opinions for fixed convictions; replaces impetuous images by calm reasonings, sudden resolves by results of reflection; furnishes us with the wisdom and ideas of others; gives us conscience and self-command. Suppress this reason and this discipline, and consider the poor workingman at his work; his head works while his hands work-not ably, with methods acquired from any logic he might have mustered, but with dark emotions, beneath a disorderly flow of confused images. Morning and evening, the hammer which he uses in his trade drives in with its deafening sounds the same thought, perpetually returning and self-communing. A troubled, obstinate vision floats before him in the brightness of the hammered and quivering metal. In the red furnace where the iron is bubbling, in the clang of the hammered brass, in the black corners where the damp shadow creeps, he sees the flame and darkness of hell, and hears the rattling of eternal chains. Next day he sees the same image; the day after, the whole week, month, year. His brow wrinkles, his eyes grow sad, and his wife hears him groan in the night-time. She remembers that she has
two volumes in an old bag, "The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven" and "The Practice of Piety"; he spells them out to console himself; and the printed thoughts, already sublime in themselves, made more so by the slowness with which they are read, sink like an oracle into his subdued faith. During his long solitary wanderings over wild heaths, in cursed and haunted bogs, always abandoned to his own thoughts, the inevitable idea pursues him. These neglected roads where he sticks in the mud, these sluggish rivers which he crosses on the cranky ferryboat, these threatening whispers of the woods at night, when in perilous places the livid moon shadows out ambushed forms-all that he sees and hears falls into an involuntary poem around the one absorbing idea; thus it changes into a vast body of visible legends, and multiplies its power as it multiplies its details. Having become a dissenter, Bunyan is shut up for twelve years, having no other amusement but the "Book of Martyrs" and the Bible, in one of those infectious prisons where the Puritans rotted under the Restoration. There he is, still alone, thrown back upon himself by the monotony of his dungeon, besieged by the terrors of the Old Testament, by the vengeful outpourings of the prophets, by the thunder-striking words of Paul, by the spectacle of trances and of martyrs, face to face with God, now in despair, now consoled, troubled with involuntary images and unlooked-for emotions, seeing alternately devil and angels, the actor and the witness of an internal drama, whose vicissitudes he is able to relate. He writes them - it is his book. You see now the condition of this inflamed brain. Poor in ideas, full of images, given up to a fixed and single thought, plunged into this thought by his mechanical pursuit, by
his prison and his readings, by his knowledge and his ignorance, circumstances, like nature, make him a visionary and an artist, furnish him with supernatural impressions and sensible images, teaching him the history of grace and the means of expressing it.
"The Pilgrim's Progress" is a manual of devotion for the use of simple folk, while it is an allegorical poem full of grace. In it we hear a man of the people speaking to the people, who would render intelligible to all the terrible doctrine of damnation and salvation. . . . Allegory, the most artificial kind, is natural to Bunyan. If he employs it throughout, it is from necessity, not choice. As children, countrymen, and all uncultivated minds, he transforms arguments into parables; he only grasps truth when it is made simple by images; abstract terms elude him; he must touch forms, and contemplate colors. His repetitions, embarrassed phrases, familiar comparisons, his frank style, whose awkwardness recalls the childish periods of Herodotus, and whose lightheartedness recalls tales for children, prove that if his work is allegorical, it is so in order that it may be intelligible, and that Bunyan is a poet because he is a child.
Bunyan has the freedom, the tone, the ease, and the clearness of Homer. He is as close to Homer as an Anabaptist tinker could be to an heroic singer, a creator of gods. I err; he is nearer: before the sentiment of the sublime, inequalities are levelled. The depth of emotion raises peasant and poet to the same eminence; and here, also, allegory stands the peasant instead. It alone, in the absence of ecstasy, can paint heaven; for it does not pretend to paint it. Expressing it by a figure, it declares it invisible as a glowing sun at which we can
not look full, and whose image we observe in a mirror or a stream. The ineffable world thus retains all its mystery. Warned by the allegory, we imagine splendors beyond all which it presents to us.
He was imprisoned for twelve years and a half; in his dungeon he made wire-snares to support himself and his family. He died at the age of sixty in 1688.
THE STORY OF "THE PILGRIM'S
BY JAMES ANTHONY FROUDE.
"The Pilgrim's Progress' was written before the "Holy War," while Bunyan was still in prison at Bedford, and was but half conscious of the gifts which he possessed. It was written for his own entertainment, and therefore without the thought-so fatal in its effects and so hard to be resisted of what the world would say about it. It was written in compulsory quiet, when he was comparatively unexcited by the effort of perpetual preaching, and the shapes of things could present themselves to him as they really were, undistorted by theological narrowness. It is the same story which he has told of himself in "Grace Abounding," thrown out into an objective form.
He tells us himself, in a metrical introduction, the circumstances under which it was composed:
When at the first I took my pen in hand,