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Print Version Main Index : Biographies : Life of John Bunyan Index : Page 40
Page 39 | Page 40 | Page 41

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

CHAPTER IX. - continued

All who have undertaken to take an estimate of Bunyan's literary genius call special attention to the richness of his imaginative power. Few writers indeed have possessed this power in so high a degree. In nothing, perhaps, is its vividness more displayed than in the reality of its impersonations. The DRAMATIS PERSONS are not shadowy abstractions, moving far above us in a mystical world, or lay figures ticketed with certain names, but solid men and women of our own flesh and blood, living in our own everyday world, and of like passions with ourselves. Many of them we know familiarly; there is hardly one we should be surprised to meet any day. This life-like power of characterization belongs in the highest degree to "The Pilgrim's Progress." It is hardly inferior in "The Holy War," though with some exceptions the people of "Mansoul" have failed to engrave themselves on the popular memory as the characters of the earlier allegory have done. The secret of this graphic power, which gives "The Pilgrim's Progress" its universal popularity, is that Bunyan describes men and women of his own day, such as he had known and seen them. They are not fancy pictures, but literal portraits. Though the features may be exaggerated, and the colours laid on with an unsparing brush, the outlines of his bold personifications are truthfully drawn from his own experience. He had had to do with every one of them. He could have given a personal name to most of them, and we could do the same to many. We are not unacquainted with Mr Byends of the town of Fair Speech, who "always has the luck to jump in his judgment with the way of the times, and to get thereby," who is zealous for Religion "when he goes in his silver slippers," and "loves to walk with him in the streets when the sun shines and the people applaud him." All his kindred and surroundings are only too familiar to us - his wife, that very virtuous woman my Lady Feigning's daughter, my Lord Fair- speech, my Lord Time-server, Mr. Facingbothways, Mr. Anything, and the Parson of the Parish, his mother's own brother by the father's side, Mr. Twotongues. Nor is his schoolmaster, one Mr. Gripeman, of the market town of Lovegain, in the county of Coveting, a stranger to us. Obstinate, with his dogged determination and stubborn common-sense, and Pliable with his shallow impressionableness, are among our acquaintances. We have, before now, come across "the brisk lad Ignorance from the town of Conceit," and have made acquaintance with Mercy's would-be suitor, Mr. Brisk, "a man of some breeding and that pretended to religion, but who stuck very close to the world." The man Temporary who lived in a town two miles off from Honesty, and next door to Mr. Turnback; Formalist and Hypocrisy, who were "from the land of Vainglory, and were going for praise to Mount Sion"; Simple, Sloth, and Presumption, "fast asleep by the roadside with fetters on their heels," and their companions, Shortwind, Noheart, Lingerafterlust, and Sleepyhead, we know them all. "The young woman whose name was Dull" taxes our patience every day. Where is the town which does not contain Mrs. Timorous and her coterie of gossips, Mrs. Bats- eyes, Mrs. Inconsiderate, Mrs. Lightmind, and Mrs. Knownothing, "all as merry as the maids," with that pretty fellow Mr. Lechery at the house of Madam Wanton, that "admirably well-bred gentlewoman"? Where shall we find more lifelike portraits than those of Madam Bubble, a "tall, comely dame, somewhat of a swarthy complexion, speaking very smoothly with a smile at the end of each sentence, wearing a great purse by her side, with her hand often in it, fingering her money as if that was her chief delight;" of poor Feeblemind of the town of Uncertain, with his "whitely look, the cast in his eye, and his trembling speech;" of Littlefaith, as "white as a clout," neither able to fight nor fly when the thieves from Dead Man's Lane were on him; of Ready-to-halt, at first coming along on his crutches, and then when Giant Despair had been slain and Doubting Castle demolished, taking Despondency's daughter Muchafraid by the hand and dancing with her in the road? "True, he could not dance without one crutch in his hand, but I promise you he footed it well. Also the girl was to be commanded, for she answered the musick handsomely." In Bunyan's pictures there is never a superfluous detail. Every stroke tells, and helps to the completeness of the portraiture.

The same reality characterizes the descriptive part of "The Pilgrim's Progress." As his characters are such as he must meet with every day in his native town, so also the scenery and surroundings of his allegory are part of his own every-day life, and reproduce what he had been brought up amidst in his native county, or had noticed in his tinker's wanderings. "Born and bred," writes Kingsley, "in the monotonous Midland, he had no natural images beyond the pastures and brooks, the town and country houses, he saw about him." The Slough of Despond, with its treacherous quagmire in the midst of the plain, into which a wayfarer might heedlessly fall, with its stepping-stones half drowned in mire; Byepathmeadow, promising so fair, with its stile and footpath on the other side of the fence; the pleasant river fringed with meadows, green all the year long and overshadowed with trees; the thicket all overgrown with briars and thorns, where one tumbled over a bush, another stuck fast in the dirt, some lost their shoes in the mire, and others were fastened from behind with the brambles; the high wall by the roadside over which the fruit trees shot their boughs and tempted the boys with their unripe plums; the arbour with its settle tempting the footsore traveller to drowsiness; the refreshing spring at the bottom of Hill Difficulty; all are evidently drawn from his own experience. Bunyan, in his long tramps, had seen them all. He had known what it was to be in danger of falling into a pit and being dashed to pieces with Vain Confidence, of being drowned in the flooded meadows with Christian and Hopeful; of sinking in deep water when swimming over a river, going down and rising up half dead, and needing all his companion's strength and skill to keep his head above the stream. Vanity Fair is evidently drawn from the life. The great yearly fair of Stourbridge, close to Cambridge, which Bunyan had probably often visited in his tinker days, with its streets of booths filled with "wares of all kinds from all countries," its "shows, jugglings, cheats games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind," its "great one of the fair," its court of justice and power of judgment, furnished him with the materials for his picture. Scenes like these he draws with sharp defined outlines. When he had to describe what he only knew by hearsay, his pictures are shadowy and cold. Never having been very far from home, he had had no experience of the higher types of beauty and grandeur in nature, and his pen moves in fetters when he attempts to describe them. When his pilgrims come to the Hill Difficulty and the Delectable Mountains, the difference is at once seen. All his nobler imagery is drawn from Scripture. As Hallam has remarked, "There is scarcely a circumstance or metaphor in the Old Testament which does not find a place bodily and literally in 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' and this has made his imagination appear more creative than it really is."

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