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SECULARISM ON BUNYAN.
IT is very marvellous to observe the number of strange and unexpected
combinations that are continually occurring in that moral kaleidoscope we
call society. I do not suppose that I am exceptional in coming
across these ; nor do I use any particular industry in seeking them out.
They come to me; all I do is to keep my eyes open, and note the
impressions they make on me. I was humbly pursuing my way one
Tuesday evening towards the abode of a phrenologist with the honest
intention of discovering my craniological condition, when, in passing down
Castle Street, Oxford Market, I was made aware that Mr. G. J.
Holyoake was there and then to deliver himself on the " Literary
Genius of Bunyan." This was one of the incongruous combinations I
spoke of; and forthwith I passed into the Co-operative Hall, resolving
to defer my visit to the phrenologist. There are some facts of which
it is better to remain contentedly ignorant ; and I have no doubt my own
mental condition belongs to that category.
I found the Co-operative Hall a handsome and commodious building ; and a very fair audience had [-234-] gathered to listen to Mr. Holyoake, who is an elderly thin-voiced man, and his delivery was much impeded on the occasion in question by the circumstance of his having a bad cold and cough. After a brief extempore allusion to the fact of the Duke of Bedford having erected a statue to Bunyan, which he regarded as a sort of compensation for his Grace ceasing to subscribe to the races, Mr. Holyoake proceeded to read his treatise, which he had written on several slips of paper-apparently backs of circulars-and laid one by one on a chair as he finished them. The world, he said, is a big place ; but people are always forgetting what a variety of humanity it contains. Two hundred years ago, the authorities of Bedford made it very unpleasant for one John Bunyan, because they thought they knew everything, and could not imagine that a common street workman might know more. The trade of a tinker seems an unpromising preparation for a literary career. A tinker in Bedford to-day would not find himself much flattered by the attentions paid him, especially if he happened to be an old gaol-bird as well. So much the more creditable to Bunyan the ascendancy he gained. If he mended pots as well as he made sentences he was the best tinker that ever travelled.
Bunyan had no worldly notions. His doctrine was that men were not saved by any good they might do - a doctrine that would ruin the morals of any commercial establishment in a month ! He declared him-[-235-]self the " chief of sinners :" but judged by his townsmen he was a stout-hearted, stout-minded, scrupulous man.
He was not a pleasant man to know. He had an unrelenting sincerity which often turned into severity. Yet he had much tenderness. He had a soul like a Red Indian's - all tomahawk and truth, until the literary passion came and added humour to it. He demands in his vigorous doggerel:-
May I not write in such a style as this,
In such a method, too, and yet not miss
My end, thy good? Why may it not be done?
Dark clouds bring waters, when the bright bring none.
Like all men of original genius, this stout-minded pot-mender had
unbounded confidence in himself. He was under no delusion as to his own
powers. No man knew better what he was about. He could take the
measure of all the justices about him, and he knew it. Every
shallow-headed gentleman in Bedfordshire towns and villages was made to
wince under his picturesque and satiric tongue. To clergymen,
bishops, lawyers, and judges he gave names which all his neighbours
knew. Mr. Pitiless, Mr. Hardheart, Mr. Forget-good, Mr. No-truth, Mr.
Haughty - thus he named the disagreeable dignitaries of the town of
At first he was regarded by his "pastors and masters" as a mere wilful, noisy, praying sectary. Very soon they discovered that he was a fighting [-236-] preacher. As tinker or Christian he always had his sleeves turned up. When he had to try his own cause he put in the jury-box Mr. True-Heart, Mr. Upright, Mr. Hate-Bad, Mr. See-Truth, and other amiable persons. His witnesses were Mr. Know-All, Mr. Tell-True, Mr. Hate-Lies, Mr. Vouch-Truth, Mr. Did-See. His Town Clerk was Mr. Do-Right, the Recorder was Mr. Conscience, the gaoler was Mr. True-Man, Lord Understanding was on the bench, and the Judge hears the dainty name of the " Golden-headed Prince."
Bunyan's adversaries are always a bad set. They live in Villain's Lane, in Blackmouth Street, or Blasphemer's Row, or Drunkard's Alley, or Rascal's Corner. They are the sons of one Beastly, whose mother bore them in Flesh Square : they live at the house of one Shameless, at the sign of the Reprobate, next door to the Descent into the Pit, whose retainers are Mr. Flatter, Mr. Impiety, Mr. False-Peace, Mr. Covetousness, who are housed by one Mr. Simple, in Folly's Yard.
Bunyan had a perfect wealth of sectarian scurrility at his command. His epithets are at times unquotable and ferocious. When, however, his friends are at the bar, the witnesses against them comprise the choicest scoundrels of all time - Mr. Envy, Mr. Pickthank, and others, whose friends are Lord Carnal-Delight, Lord Luxurious, Lord Lechery, Sir Having Greedy, and similar villanous people of quality. The [-237-] Judge's name is now Lord Hate-Good. The Jury consist of Mr. No-Good, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-Lust, Mr. Live-Loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. Hate-Light, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, and Mr. Implacable, with Mr. Blindman for Foreman.
Never was such an infamous gang impanelled. Rancour and rage and vindictiveness, and every passion awakened in the breasts of the strong by local insolence and legal injustice, is supplied by Bunyan with epithets of immense retaliative force. He is the greatest name-maker among authors. He was a spiritual Comanche. He prayed like a savage. He said himself, when describing the art of the religious rhetorician - an art of which he was the greatest master of his time :-
You see the ways the fisherman doth take
To catch the fish; what engines doth he make!
Behold ! how he engageth all his wits,
Also his snares, lines, angles, hooks, and nets;
Yet fish there be that neither hook nor line,
Nor snare, nor net, nor engine can make thine;
They must be grop'd for, and be tickled too,
Or they will not be catch'd, whate'er you do.
Bunyan never tickled the sinner. It was not his way. He carried a prong. He
pricked the erring. He published a pamphlet to suggest what ought to
be done to holy pedestrians, whose difficulties lay rearward. He put
detonating balls under their feet which exploded as they stepped and
alarmed them along. He lined the celestial road with horrors. If they [-238-]
turned their heads they saw a fiend worse than Lot's wife who was
merely changed into a pillar of sweet all-preserving salt. Bunyan's
unfortunate converts who looked back fell into a pit filled with fire,
where they howled and burnt for evermore.
Ah ! with what pleasure must the great Bedfordshire artist have contemplated his masterly pages as day by day he added to them the portrait of some new scoundrel, or painted with dexterous and loving hand the wholesome outlines of some honest man, or devised some new phrase which like a new note or new colour would delight singer or painter for generations yet to come. He must have strode proudly along his cell as he put his praise and his scorn into imperishable similes.
But Bunyan had never been great had he been merely disagreeable. He had infinite wit in him. It was his carnal genius that saved him. He wrote sixty books, and two of them - the "Siege of the Town of Mansoul" and the " Pilgrim's Progress" - exceed all ever written for creative swiftness of imagination, racy English speech, sentences of literary art, cunning. ness in dialogue, satire, ridicule, and surpassing knowledge of the picturesque ways of the obscure minds of common men. In his pages men rise out of the ground - they always come up on an open space so that they can be seen. They talk naturally, so that you know them at once ; and they act without delay, [-239-] so that you never forget them. They surprise you, delight you, they interest you, they instruct you, and disappear. They never linger, they never weary you. Incidents new and strange arise at every step in his story. The scene changes like the men and their adventures. Now it is field or morass, plain or bypath, bog or volcano, castle or cottage, sandy scorching desert or cold river; the smoke of the bottomless pit or bright, verdant, delectable mountains and enchanted lands where there are no bishops, no gaols, and no tinkers ; where aboundeth grapes, calico, brides, eternal conversation, and trumpets. The great magician's genius forsakes him when he comes to the unknown regions, and he knoweth no more than the rest of us. But while his foot is on the earth he steps like a king among writers. His Christian is no fool. He is cunning of fence, suspicious, sagacious, witty, satirical, abounding in invective, and broad, bold, delicious insolence. Bye-Ends is a subtle, evasive knave drawn with infinite skill
Had Bunyan merely preached the Gospel he had no more been remembered than thousands of his day who are gratefully forgotten - had he prayed to this time he had won no statue; but his literary genius lives when the preacher is very dead.
He saw with such vividness that the very passions and wayward moods of men stood apart and distinct in his sight, and he gave names to them and endowed [-240-] them with their natural speech. He created new men out of characteristics of mind, and sent them into the world in shapes so defined and palpable that men know them for evermore. It was the way of his age for writers to give names to their adversaries. Bunyan imitated this in his life of Mr. Badman. Others did this, but Bunyan did it better than any man. His invention was marvellous, and he had besides the faculty of the dramatist.
If any man wrote the adventures of a Co-operator, he would have to tell of his meeting with Mr.Obstinate, who will not listen to him, and wants to pull him back. We all get the company of Mr. Pliable, who is persuaded without being convinced, who at the first splash into difficulty crawls out and turns back with a cowardly adroitness. We have all encountered the stupidity of Mr. Ignorance, which nothing can enlighten. We know Mr. Turnaway, who comes from the town of Apostacy, whose face we cannot perfectly see. Others merely gave names, he drew characters, he made the qualities of his men speak; you knew them by their minds better than by their dress. That is why succeeding ages have read the " Pilgrim's Progress," because the same people who met that extraordinary traveller are always turning up in the way of every man who has a separate and a high purpose, and is bent upon carrying it out. Manners change, but humanity has still its old [-241-] ways. It is because Bunyan painted these that his writing lasts like :a picture by one of the old masters who painted for all time.
Such is an outline of the paper, which was interesting from its associations, and only spoilt by the cough. We had had Bunyan in pretty well every shape possible during the last few weeks. Certainly one of the most original is this which presents the man of unbounded faith in the light of utter scepticism.