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O thou, whom, borne on fancy's eager wing
JOHN CHILDS AND SON, EUNGAY.
WHEN Cowper composed his Satires, he hid the name of Whitefield "beneath well-sounding Greek;" and abstained from mentioning Bunyan while he panegyrized him, "lest so despised a name should move a sneer." In Bunyan's case this could hardly have been needful forty years ago; for though a just appreciation of our elder and better writers was at that time far less general than it appears to be at present, the author of the Pilgrim's Progress was even then in high repute. His fame may literally be said to have risen; beginning among the people, it had made its way up to those who are called the public. In most instances, the many receive gradually and slowly the opinions of the few, respecting literary merit; and sometimes in assentation to such authority, profess with their lips an admiration of they
know not what, they know not why. But here the opinion of the multitude had been ratified by the judicious. The people knew what they admired. It is a book which makes its way through the fancy to the understanding and the heart: the child peruses it with wonder and delight; in youth we discover the genius which it displays; its worth is apprehended as we advance in years; and we perceive its merits feelingly in declining age.
John Bunyan has faithfully recorded his own spiritual history. Had he dreamed of being "for ever known," and taking his place among those who may be called the immortals of the earth, he would probably have introduced more details of his temporal circumstances and the events of his life. But glorious dreamer as he was, this never entered into his imaginations: less concerning him than might have been expected has been preserved by those of his own sect, and it is now not likely that any thing more should be recovered from oblivion. The village of Elstow, which is within a mile of Bedford, was his birth-place, 1628 the year of his birth; and his descent, to use his own words, "of a low, inconsiderable generation; my father's house," he says, "being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land." It is stated in a history of Bedfordshire, that he was bred to the business of a brazier, and worked as a journeyman in Bedford: but the Braziers' company would not deem itself more honoured now if it could shew the name of John Bunyan upon its rolls, than it would have felt disparaged then by any such fellowship; for he was, as his own statement implies, of a generation of Tinkers, born and bred to that calling as his father had been before him. Wherefore this should have been so mean and despised a calling is not however apparent, when it was not followed as a vagabond employment; but, as in this case, exercised by one who had a settled habitation, and who, mean as his condition was, was nevertheless able to put his son to school in an age when very few of the poor were taught to read and write. The boy learnt both, "according to the rate of other poor men's children," but soon lost what little he had been taught, "even," he says, "almost utterly."
Some pains also, it may be presumed, his parents took in im
pressing him with a sense of his religious duties; otherwise, when in his boyhood he became a proficient in cursing and swearing above his fellows, he would not have been visited by such dreams and such compunctious feelings as he has described. "Often," he says, "after I had spent this and the other day in sin, I have in my bed been greatly afflicted, while asleep, with the apprehensions of Devils and wicked Spirits, who still, as I then thought, laboured to draw me away with them." His waking reflections were not less terrible than these fearful visions of the night; and these, he says, "when I was but a child, but nine or ten years old, did so distress my soul, that then in the midst of my many sports and childish vanities, amidst my vain companions, I was often much cast down, and afflicted in my mind therewith: yet could I not let go my sins. Yea, I was also then so overcome with despair of life and Heaven, that I should often wish, either that there had been no Hell, or that I had been a Devil, supposing they were only tormentors; that if it must needs be that I went thither, I might be rather a tormentor, than be tormented myself."
These feelings, when he approached towards manhood, recurred, as might be expected, less frequently and with less force; but though he represents himself as having been what he calls a town-sinner, he was never so given over to a reprobate mind, as to be wholly free from them. For though he became so far hardened in profligacy, that he could " take pleasure in the vileness of his companions," yet the sense of right and wrong was not extinguished in him, and it shocked him if at any time he saw those who pretended to be religious act in a manner unworthy of their profession. Some providential escapes during this part of his life, he looked back upon afterwards as so many judgments mixed with mercy. Once he fell into a creek of the sea, once out of a boat into the river Ouse near Bedford, and each time was narrowly saved from drowning. One day an adder crossed his path; he stunned it with a stick, then forced open its mouth with the stick, and plucked out the tongue, which he supposed to be the sting, with his fingers; "by which act," he says, " had not God been merciful unto me, I might by my desperateness have brought myself to my end." If this indeed were an adder, and not a
harmless snake, his escape from the fangs was more remarkable than he was himself aware of. A circumstance which was likely to impress him more deeply occurred in the eighteenth year of his age, when being a soldier in the Parliament's army, he was drawn out to go to the siege of Leicester: one of the same company wished to go in his stead; Bunyan consented to exchange with him; and this volunteer substitute standing centinel one day at the siege, was shot through the head with a musket ball.
Some serious thoughts this would have awakened in a harder heart than Bunyan's; but his heart never was hardened. The self-accusations of such a man are to be received with some distrust, not of his sincerity, but of his sober judgment. It should seem, that he ran headlong into the boisterous vices which prove fatal to so many of the ignorant and the brutal, for want of that necessary and wholesome restrictive discipline which it is the duty of a government to provide; but he was not led into those habitual sins which infix a deeper stain. "Had not a miracle of precious grace prevented, I had laid myself open," he says, 66 even to the stroke of those laws which bring some to disgrace and open shame before the face of the world." That grace he had;—he was no drunkard, for if he had been, he would loudly have proclaimed it: and on another point we have his own solemn declaration, in one of the most characteristic passages in his whole works, where he replies to those who slandered him as leading a licentious life with women. "I call on them," he says, "when they have used to the utmost of their endeavours, and made the fullest inquiry that they can, to prove against me truly, that there is any woman in Heaven or Earth or Hell, that can say I have at any time, in any place, by day or night, so much as attempted to be naught with them. And speak I thus to beg mine enemies into a good esteem of me? No, not I! I will in this beg belief of no man. Believe or disbelieve me in this, 'tis all a-case to me. My foes have missed their mark in this their shooting at me. I am not the man. I wish that they themselves be guiltless. If all the fornicators and adulterers in England were hanged up by the neck till they be dead, Jolin Bunyan, the object of their envy, would be still alive and well. I know not whether there be such a thing as a woman breathing