Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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a most unseasonable addition, the account of the lam-
entable end of Francis Spira. One ancient man of high
repute for piety, whom the sufferer consulted, gave an
opinion which might well have produced fatal conse-
quences. " I am afraid," said Bunyan, " that I have
committed the sin against the Holy Ghost." " Indeed,"
said the old fanatic, ^*I am afraid that you have."

At length the clouds broke ; the light became clearer
and clearer ; and the enthusiast, who had imagined that
he was branded with the mark of the first murderer,
and destined to the end of the arch traitor, enjoyed
peace and a cheerful confidence in the mercy of God.
fears elapsed, however, before his nerves, which had
been oo perilously overtrained, recovered their tone.



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JOHN BUNYAN. 139

When he had joined a Baptist society at Bedford,
and was for the first time admitted to partake of the
Eucharist, it was with difficulty that he could refrain
from imprecating destruction on his brethren while the
cup was passing from hand to hand. After he had
been some time a member of the congregation, he
l>egan to preach ; and his sermons produced a power-
ful effect. He was indeed illiterate ; but he spoke to
illiterate men. The severe training through which he
had passed had given him such an experimental knowl-
edge of all the modes of religious melancholy as he
could never have gathered from books ; and his vigor-
ous genius, animated by a fervent spirit of devotion,
enabled him, not only to exercise a great influence
over the vulgar, but even to extort the half contempt-
uous admiration of scholars. Yet it was long before
he ceased to be tormented by an impulse which urged
him to utter words of horrible impiety in the pulpit.

Counter-iiritants are of as great use in moral as in
physical diseases. It should seem that Bunyan was
finally relieved from the internal sufferings which had
embittered his life by sharp persecution from without.
He had been five years a preacher, when the Resto-
ration put it in the power of the Cavalier gentlemen
and clergymen all over the country to oppress the
Dissenters ; and, of all the Dissenters whose history
is known to us, he was perhaps the most hardly
treated. In November 1660, he was flung into Bed-
ford gaol ; and there he remained, with some intervals
of partial and precarious liberty, during twelve years.
His persecutors tried to extort fi'om him a promise that
he would abstain from preaching ; but he was con-
vinced that he was divinely set apart and commis-
sioned to be a teacher of righteousness ; and he was



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140 JOHN BUNYAN.

fiilly determined to obey God rather than man. Ho
was brought before several tribunals, laufjhed at, ca-
ressed, reviled, menaced, but in vain. He was face-
tiously told that he was quite riglit in thinking that
be ought not to hide his gift ; but that his real gift
nvas skill in repairing old kettles. He was compai'ed
to Alexander the coppersmith. He was told tliat, if
ho would give up preaching, he should be instantly
liberated. He was warned that, if he persisted in dis-
obeying the law, he would be liable to banishment^
and that, if he were found in England after a certain
time, his neck would be stretched. His answer was,
" If you let me out to-day, I will preach again to-
morrow." Year after year he lay patiently in a dun-
geon, compared ¥rith which the worst prison now to be
found in the island is a palace. His fortitude is the
more extraordinary, because his domestic feelings were
unusually strong. Indeed, he was ccHisidered by his
stem brethren as somewhat too fond and indulgent a
parent. He had several small children, and among
them a daughter who was blind, and whom he loved
with peculiar tenderness. He could not, he said, bear
even to let the wind blow on her ; and now she must
sniler cold and hunger; she must beg; she must be
beaten ; " yet," he added, " I must, I must do it."
While he lay in prison he could do nothing in the
way of his old trade for the support of his family.
He determined, therefore, to take up a new trade. He
learned tc make long tagged thread laces ; and many
thousands of these articles were furnished by him to
the hawkers. While his hands were thus busied, he
had other employment for his mind and his lips.
Ho gave religious instruction to his fellow-captives,
and formed from among them a little flock, d* which



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JOHN BUNYAN. 141

lie was himself the pastor. He studied indeiatigably
the few books which he possessed. His two chief
companions were the Bible and Fox's Book of Mar-
tyrs. His knowledge of the Bible was such that he
might have been called a living con<cordance ; and on
the margin of his copy of the Book of Martyrs are
Btill legible tlie ill spelt lines of doggrel in which he
expressed his reverence for the brave sufferers, and his
implacable enmity to the mystical Babylon.

At length he began to write ; and, though it wa»
some time before he discovered ^here his strength lay,
his writings were not unsuccessful. They were coarse,
indeed ; but they showed a keen mother wit, a great
command of the homely mother tongue, an intimate
knowled^ of the English Bible, and a vast and dearly
bought spiritual exj>erience. They therefore, when the
corrector of the press had improved the syntax and the
spelling, were well received by the humbler class of
Dissenters.

,Much of Bunyan's time was spent in controversy.
He wrote sharply against the Quakers, whom he seems
always to have held in utter abhorrence. It is, how-
ever, a remarkable fact that he adopted one of their
peculiar fiishions: his practice was to write, not No-
vember or December, but eleventh month and twelfth
month.

He wrote against the liturgy of the Church of Eng*
land. No two things, according to him, had less affin-
ity than the form of prayer and the spirit of prayer.
Those, he said with much point, who have most of the
spirit of prayer are all to be found in gaol ; and those
who I ave most zeal for the form of prayer are all to be
tbund at the alehouse. The doctrinal articles, on the
other hand, he warmly praised, and defended against



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142 JOHN BUNYAN.

some Arminian clergymen who had signed them. The
most acrimonious of all his works is his answer to
Edward Fowler, afterwards Bishop of Gloucester, an
excellent man, but not fi'ee from the taint of Pelagian-
ism.

Bunyan had also a dispute with some of the chiefs
of the sect to which he belonged. He doubtless held
with perfect sincerity the distinguishing tenet of that
sect ; but he did not consider that tenet as one of high
importance, and willingly joined in communion with
quiet Presbyterians and Independents. The sterner
Baptists, therefore, loudly pix>nounced him a false
brother. A controversy arose which long survived the
original combatants. In our own time the cause which
Bunyan had defended with rude logic and rhetoric
against Kiffin and Danvers was pleaded by Robert Hall
with an ingenuity and eloquence such as no polemical
Writer has ever surpassed.

During the years which immediately followed the
Restoration, Bunyan's confinement seems to have been
strict. But, as the passions of 1660 cooled, as the
hatred with which the Puritans had been regarded
while their reign was recent gave place to pity, he was
less and less harshly treated. The distress of his fam-
ily, and his own patience, courage, and piety softened
the hearts of his persecutors. Like his own Christian
in the cage, he found protectors even among the crowd
of Vanity Fair. The bishop of the diocese. Dr. Bar-
low, is said to have interceded for him. At length the
prisoner was suffered to pass most of his time beyond
the walls of the gaol, on condition, as it should seem,
that he remained within the town of Bedford.

He owed his complete liberation to one of the worst
acta of one of tlie worst governments that England has



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JOHN BUNYAN. 143

ever seen. In 1671 the Cabal was in power. Charles
II. had concluded the treaty by which he bound him-
self to set up the Roman Catholic religion in England.
Tlie first step whicli he took towards that end was to
annul, by an unconstitutional exercise of his prerog-
ative, all the penal statutes against the Roman Cath-
olics ; and, in order to disguise his real design, he
annulled at the same time the penal statutes against
Protestant nonconformists. Bunyan was consequently
set at large. In the first warmth of his gratitude he
published a tract in which he compared Charles to that
humane and generous Persian king who, though not
himself blessed with the light of the true religion,
favoured the chosen people, and permitted them, after
years of captivity, to rebuild their beloved temple. To
candid men, who consider how much Bunyan had suf-
fered, and how little he could guess the secret designs
of the court, the unsuspicious thankfulness with which
he accepted the precious boon of freedom will not ap-
pear to require any apology.

Before he left his prison he had begun the book
which has made his nan i* vmmortal. The history of
that book is remarkable. The author was, as he tells
us, writing a treatise, in which he had occasion to speak
of the stages of the Christian progress. He compared
that progress, as many others had compared it, to a
pilgrimage. Soon his quick wit discovered innumer-
able points of similarity which had escaped his pred-
ecessors. Images came crowding on his mind faster
than he could put them into words, quagmii^'es and pits,
steep hills, dark and horrible glens, soft vales, sunny
pastures, a gloomy castle of which the courtyard was
strewn with the skulls and bones of murdered prisoners,
a town all bustle and splendour, like London on the



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144 JOHN BUNYAN.

Lord Mayor's Day, and the naiTOw path, straiglit as
a rule could make it, running on up hill and down hill,
through city and through wilderness, to the Black River
and the Shining Gate. He had found out, as most
people would have said, by accident, as he would
doubtless have said, by the guidance of Providence,
where his powers lay. He liad no suspicion, indeed,
that he was producing a masterpiece. He could not
guess what place his allegory would occupy in English
literature ; for of English literature he knew nothing.
Those who suppose him to liave studied the Fairy
Queen might easily be confuted, if tliis were the proper
place for a detailed examination of the passages ia
which the two allegories have been thought to resemble
each other. The only work of fiction, in all probabilr
ity, with which he could ocnnpare his pilgrim, was his
old favourite, the legend of Sir Bevis of Soutliampton.
He would have thought it a sin to borrow any time
from the serious business of his life, from his exposi-
^ tions, his controversies, and his lace tags, for the purpose
of amusing himself with what he considered merely as
a trifle. It was only, he ».^ures us, at spare moments
that he returned to the House Beautiful, the Delectable
Mountains, and the Enchanted Ground* He had no
assistance. Nobody but himself saw a line till the
whole was complete. He then consulted his pioas
friends. Some were pleased. Others were much scan-
dalised. It was a vain story, a more romtmce, about
giants, and lions, and goblins, and warriors, sometimes
fighting with monsters and sometimes regaled by fair
ladies in stately palaces. The loose atheistical wits at
Will's might write such stuff to divert the painted Jez-
ebels of the court : but did it become a minister of the
gosj^el to copy the evil fashions of the world ? There



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JOHN BUNYAN. 146

had been a time when the cant of such fools would
have made Bunyan miserable. But that time was
passed ; and his mind was now in a firm and healthy
state. He saw that, in emplojnng fiction to make truth
clear and goodness attractive, he was only following
the example which every Christian ought to propose to
himself; and he determined to print.

The PilgriTrCs ProgreB9 stole silently into the world.
Not a single copy of the first edition is known to be in
existence. The year of publication has not been ascer-
tained. It is probable that, during some months, the
little volume circulated only among poor and obscure
sectaries. But soon the irresistible charm of a book
which gratified the imagination of the reader with all
the action and scenery of a fairy tale, which exercised
his ingenuity by setting him to discover a multitude of
curious analogies, which interested his feelings for
human beings, frail like himself, and struggling with
temptations from within and from without, which every
moment drew a smile from him by some stroke of,
quaint yet simple pleasantry, and nevertheless left on
his mind a sentiment of reverence for God and of sym-
pathy for man, began to produce its effect. In puritan-
ical circles, from which plays and novels were strictly
excluded, that effect was such as no work of genius,
though it were superior to the Iliad, to Don Quixote,
or to Othello, can ever produce on a mind accustomed
to indulge in literary luxury. In 1678 came forth a
second edition with additions ; and then the demand
became immense. In the four following years the
book was reprinted six times. The eighth edition,
which contains the last improvements made by the
author, was published in 1682, the ninth in 1684, the
tenth in 1685. The help of the engraver had eai'ly



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146 JOHN BUNYAN.

be^:i called in ; and tens of thousands of children
looked with teiTor and delight on execrable copper-
plates, which represented Christian thrusting his sword
into Apollyon, or writhing in the grasp of Giant De-
Bfrnir. In Scotland, and in some of the colonies, the
Pilgrim was even more popular than in his native coun-
try'. Bunyan has told us, with very pardonaUe van-
ity, that in New England his dream was the daily sub-
ject of the conversation of thousands, and was thought
worthy to appear in the most superb binding. He had
numerous admirers in Holland, and among the Hugue-
nots of France. With the pleasures, however, he ex-
perienced some of the pains of eminence. Knavish
booksellers put forth volumes of trash under his name ;
and envious scribblers maintained it to be impossible
that the ])oor ignorant tinker should really be the author
of the book wliicli was called his.

He took the best way to confound both those who
counterfeited him and those who slandered him. He
continued to work the gold-field which he had discov-
ered, and to draw from it new treasures, not indeed
with quite such ease and in quite such abundance as
when the precious soil was still virgin, but yet with
success which left all competition far behind. In 1684
appeared the second part of the " Pilgrim's Progress."
It was soon followed by the '* Holy War," which, if
the " Pilgrim's Progress " did not exist, would be the
best allegory that ever was written.

Bunyan's place in society was now very difierent
from what it had been. There had been a time when
many Dissenting ministers, who could talk Latin and
read Greek, had affected to treat him with scorn. But
his fame and influence now far exceeded theirs. He had
so great an authority among the Baptists that he was



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JOHN BUNYAN. 147

popularly called Bishop Bunjan. His episcopal visi-
tations were annual. From Bedford he rode every
year to London, and preached there to large and at-
tentive congregations. From London he went his cir-
cuit through tlie country, animating the zeal of his
brethren, collecting and distributing alms, and making
up quarrels. The magistrates seem in general to have
given him little trouble. But there is reason to beUcve
that, in the year 1685, he was in some danger of again
occupying his old quarters in Bedford gaol. In that
year the rash and wicked enterprise of Monmouth
gave the Government a pretext for prosecuting the
Nonconformists ; and scarcely one eminent divine of
the Presbyterian, Independent, or Baptist persuasion
remained unmolested. Baxter was in prison : Howo
was driven into exile : Henry was arrested. Two em-
inent Baptists, with whom Bunyan had been engaged
in controversy, were in great peril and distress. Dan-
vers was in danger of being hanged ; and Eiffin's
grandsons were actually hanged. The tradition is
that, during those evil days, Bunyan was forced to dis-
guise himself as a waggoner, and that he preached to
his congregation at Bedford in a smock-frock, with a
cart-whip in his hand. But soon a great change took
place. James the Second was at open war with the
church, and found it necessary to court the Dissenters.
Some of the creatures of the government tried to se-
cure the aid of Bunyan. They probably knew that
he had written in praise of the indulgence of 1672,
and therefore hoped that he might be equally pleased
with the indulgence of 1687. But fifteen years of
thought, observation, and commerce with the world
had made him wiser. Nor were the cases exactly ]>ar-
allel. Charles was a professed Protestant : James was



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118 JOHN BUNYAN.

a professed Papist. The object of Charles's indulgence
was disguised : the object of James's indulgence was
patent. Bunyan was not deceived. He exhorted his
hearers* to prepare themselves by fasting and prayer
for the danger which menaced their civil and religious
liberties, and refiised even to speak to the courtier who
came down to remodel the corporation of Bedford, and
who, as was supposed, had it in charge to offer some
municipal dignity to the Bishop of the Baptists.

Bunyan did not live to see the Revolution. In the
summer of 1688 he undertook to plead the cause of a
son with an angry father, and at length prevailed on
the old man not to disinherit the young one. This
good wDrk cost the benevolent intercessor his life. He
had to ride through heavy rain. He came drenched
to his lodgings on Snow Hill, was seized with a violent
fever, and died in a few days. He was buried in Bun-
hill Fields ; and the spot where he lies is still regarded
by the Nonconformists with a feeling which seems
scarcely in harmony with the stern spirit of their the-
ology. Many puritans, to whom the respect paid by
Roman Catholics to the reliques and tombs of saints
seemed childish or sinful, are said to have begged with
their dying breath that their coffins might be placed
as near as possible to the coffin of the author of the
" Pilgrim's Progress."

The fame of Bunyan during his life, and during the
century which followed his death, was indeed great,
but was almost entirely confined to religious fiimilics of
the middle and lower classes. Very seldom was he
during tliat time mentioned with respect by any writer
of great literary eminence. Young coupled his prose
with the poetry of the wretched D'Urfey. In the
Spiritual Quixote, the adventures of Christian are



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JOHN BUNYAN. 119

ranked with those of Jack the Giant-Killer and John
Hickathrift. ('owper ventured to praise the great al-
legorist, but did not venture to name him. It is a sig-
nificant circumstance that, till a recent period, all the
numerous editions of the "Pilgrim's Progress" were
evidently meant for the cottage and the servants' hall.
The paper, the printing, the plates, were all of the
meanest description. In general, when the educated
minority and the common people differ about the merit
of a book, the opinion of the educated minority finally
prevails. The " Pilgrim's Progress " is perhaps the
only book about which, after the lapse of a hundre*!
years, the educated minority has come over to the opin
ion of the common people.

The attempts which have been made to improve and
to imitate this book are not to be numbered. It has
been done into verse : it has been done into modem
English. " The Pilgrimage of Tender Conscience,"
the *' Pilgrimage of Good Intent," " The Pilgrimage
of Seek Truth," " The Pilgrimage of Theophilus,"
" The Infent Pilgrim," " The Hindoo Pilgrim," are
among the many feeble copies of the great original.
But the peculiar glory of Bunyan is that those who
most hated his doctrines have tried to borrow the help
of his genius. A Catholic version of his parable may
be seen with the head of the Virgin in the title page.
On the other hand, those Antinomians for whom his
Calvinism is not strong enough may study the pil-
grimage of Hephzibah, in which nothing will be found
which can be construed into an admission of free
agency and universal redemption. But the most ex-
traordinary of all the acts of Vandalism by which
a fine work of art was ever defaced was committed
80 late as the year 1853. It was determined to



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ir)0 JOHN BtJNTAN.

transform the " Pilgnm's Progress " into a Tractarian
book. The task was not easy : for it was necessary
to make the two sacraments the most prominent ob-
jects in the allegory ; and of all Christian theologians,
avowed Quakers excepted, Bunyan was the one in
whose system the sacraments held the least prominent
place. However, the Wicket Ghite became a type of
Baptism, and the House Beautiful of the Eucharist.
The effect of this change is such as assuredly the in-
genious person who made it never contemplated. For,
as not a single pilgrim passes through the Wicket Gate
in infancy, and as Faithful hurries past the House
Beautiful without stopping, the lesson, which the fiible
in its altered shape teaches, is that none but adults
ought to be baptized, and that the Eucharist may safely
be neglected. Nobody would have discovered from
the original " Pilgrim's Progress " that the author was
not a Paedobaptist. To turn his book into a book
against Paedobaptism was an achievement reserved for
an Anglo-Catholic divine. Such blunders must neces-
sarily be committed by every man who mutilates parts
of a great work, without taking a comprehensive view
of tlie whole.



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OLIVER GOLDSMITH.

{^mcyclopeedia Briiatmica^ February 1856.)

Oi.ivER Goldsmith, one of the most pleasing Eng-
lish writers of the eighteenth century. He was of a
Protestant and Saxon family which had been long set-
tled in Ireland, and which had, like most other Protes-
tant and Saxon families, been, in troubled times, har-
assed and put in fear by the native population. His
father, Charles Goldsmith, studied in the reign of
Queen Anne at the diocesan school of Elphin, became
attached to the daughter of the schoolmaster, manned
her, took orders, and settled at a place called Pallas in
the county of Longford. There he with difficulty sup-
ported his wife and children on what he could earn,
partly as a curate and partly as a farmer.

At Pallas Oliver Goldsmith was bom in November
1728. The spot was then, for all practical purposes,
almost as remote from the busy and splendid capital in
which his later years were passed, as any clearing
ii. Upper Canada or any sheep-walk in Australasia
njw is. Even at this day those enthusiasts who ven-
ture to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace ol the poet
are forced to perform the latter part of their journey
on foot. The hamlet lies far from any high road,
on a dreary plain which, in wet weather, is ofl^in a



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162 OLIVER GOLDSMITH.

lake. The lanes would break any jaunting car U
pieces ; and there are ruts and sloughs through which
the most strongly built wheels cannot be dragged.

While Oliver was still a child, his father was pre-
sented to a living worth about 200Z. a year, in the
county of Westmeath. The femily accordingly quit-
ted their cottage in the wilderness for a spacious house
on a firequented road, near the village of Lissoy. Heie
the boy was taught his letters by a maid-servant, and
was sent in his seventh year to a village school kept
by an old quartermaster on half-pay, who professed to
teach nothing but reading, writing and arithmetic, but
who had an inexhaustible fond of stories about ghosts,
banshees and fairies, about the great Rapparee chiefs,
Baldearg O'Donnell and galloping Hogan, and about
the exploits of Peterborough and Stanhope, the sur-
prise of Monjuich, and the glorious disaster of Bri-
huega. This man must have been of the Protestant
religion ; but he was of the aboriginal race, and not
only spoke the Irish language, but could pour forth
unpremeditated Irish verses. Oliver early became, and
through life continued to be, a passionate admirer of
the Irish music, and especially of the compositions
of Carolan, some of the last notes of whose harp he



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 51 of 84)