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Print Version Main Index : Biographies : Life of John Bunyan Index : Page 34
Page 33 | Page 34 | Page 35

The Life of John Bunyan
by Edmund Venables, M.A.

CHAPTER VIII. - continued

Bunyan's peace was not, however, altogether undisturbed. Once it received a shock in a renewal of his imprisonment, though only for a brief period, in 1675, to which we owe the world-famous "Pilgrim's Progress"; and it was again threatened, though not actually disturbed ten years later, when the renewal of the persecution of the Nonconformists induced him to make over all his property - little enough in good sooth - to his wife by deed of gift.

The former of these events demands our attention, not so much for itself as for its connection with Bishop Barlow's interference in Bunyan's behalf, and, still more, for its results in the production of "The Pilgrim's Progress." Until very recently the bare fact of this later imprisonment, briefly mentioned by Charles Doe and another of his early biographers, was all that was known to us. They even leave the date to be gathered, though both agree in limiting its duration to six months or thereabouts. The recent discovery, among the Chauncey papers, by Mr. W. G. Thorpe, of the original warrant under which Bunyan was at this time sent to gaol, supplies the missing information. It has been already noticed that the Declaration of Indulgence, under which Bunyan was liberated in 1672, was very short-lived. Indeed it barely lasted in force a twelvemonth. Granted on the 15th of March of that year, it was withdrawn on the 9th of March of the following year, at the instance of the House of Commons, who had taken alarm at a suspension of the laws of the realm by the "inherent power" of the sovereign, without the advice or sanction of Parliament. The Declaration was cancelled by Charles II., the monarch, it is said, tearing off the Great Seal with his own hands, a subsidy being promised to the royal spendthrift as a reward for his complaisance. The same year the Test Act became law. Bunyan therefore and his fellow Nonconformists were in a position of greater peril, as far as the letter of the law was concerned, than they had ever been. But, as Dr. Stoughton has remarked, "the letter of the law is not to be taken as an accurate index of the Nonconformists' condition. The pressure of a bad law depends very much upon the hands employed in its administration." Unhappily for Bunyan, the parties in whose hands the execution of the penal statutes against Nonconformists rested in Bedfordshire were his bitter personal enemies, who were not likely to let them lie inactive. The prime mover in the matter was doubtless Dr. William Foster, that "right Judas" whom we shall remember holding the candle in Bunyan's face in the hall of Harlington House at his first apprehension, and showing such feigned affection "as if he would have leaped on his neck and kissed him." He had some time before this become Chancellor of the Bishop of Lincoln, and Commissary of the Court of the Archdeacon of Bedford, offices which put in his hands extensive powers which he had used with the most relentless severity. He has damned himself to eternal infamy by the bitter zeal he showed in hunting down Dissenters, inflicting exorbitant fines, and breaking into their houses and distraining their goods for a full discharge, maltreating their wives and daughters, and haling the offenders to prison. Having been chiefly instrumental in Bunyan's first committal to gaol, he doubtless viewed his release with indignation as the leader of the Bedfordshire sectaries who was doing more mischief to the cause of conformity, which it was his province at all hazards to maintain, than any other twenty men. The church would never be safe till he was clapped in prison again. The power to do this was given by the new proclamation. By this act the licenses to preach previously granted to Nonconformists were recalled. Henceforward no conventicle had "any authority, allowance, or encouragement from his Majesty." We can easily imagine the delight with which Foster would hail the issue of this proclamation. How he would read and read again with ever fresh satisfaction its stringent clauses. That pestilent fellow, Bunyan, was now once more in his clutches. This time there was no chance of his escape. All licences were recalled, and he was absolutely defenceless. It should not be Foster's fault if he failed to end his days in the prison from which he ought never to have been released. The proclamation is dated the 4th of March, 1674-5, and was published in the GAZETTE on the 9th. It would reach Bedford on the 11th. It placed Bunyan at the mercy of "his enemies, who struck at him forthwith." A warrant was issued for his apprehension, undoubtedly written by our old friend, Paul Cobb, the clerk of the peace, who, it will be remembered, had acted in the same capacity on Bunyan's first committal. It is dated the 4th of March, and bears the signature of no fewer than thirteen magistrates, ten of them affixing their seals.

That so unusually large a number took part in the execution of this warrant, is sufficient indication of the importance attached to Bunyan's imprisonment by the gentry of the county. The following is the document:-

"To the Constables of Bedford and to every of them

Whereas information and complaint is made unto us that (notwithstanding the Kings Majties late Act of most gracious generall and free pardon to all his subjects for past misdemeanours that by his said clemencie and indulgent grace and favor they might bee mooved and induced for the time to come more carefully to observe his Highenes lawes and Statutes and to continue in theire loyall and due obedience to his Majtie) Yett one John Bunnyon of youre said Towne Tynker hath divers times within one month last past in contempt of his Majtie's good Lawes preached or teached at a Conventicle Meeting or Assembly under color or ptence of exercise of Religion in other manner than according to the Liturgie or practiss of the Church of England These are therefore in his Majties name to comand you forthwith to apprehend and bring the Body of the said John Bunnion before us or any of us or other his Majties Justice of Peace within the said County to answer the premisses and further to doo and receave as to Lawe and Justice shall appertaine and hereof you are not to faile. Given under our handes and seales this ffourth day of March in the seven and twentieth yeare of the Raigne of our most gracious Soveraigne Lord King Charles the Second A que Dni., juxta &c 1674

J Napier W Beecher G Blundell Hum: Monoux Will ffranklin John Ventris Will Spencer Will Gery St Jo Chernocke Wm Daniels T Browne W ffoster Gaius Squire"

There would be little delay in the execution of the warrant.

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