His Work.—Bunyan achieved the distinction of writing the greatest of all allegories, the Pilgrim’s Progress. This is the story of Christian’s journey through this life, the story of meeting Mr. Worldly Wiseman, of the straight gate and the narrow path, of the Delectable Mountains of Youth, of the valley of Humiliation, of the encounter with Apollyon, of the wares of Vanity Fair, “kept all the year long,” of my lord Time-server, of Mr. Anything, of imprisonment in Doubting Castle by Giant Despair, of the flowery land of Beulah, lying beyond the valley of the Shadow of Death, through which a deep, cold river runs, and of the city of All Delight on the other side. This story still has absorbing interest for human beings, for the child and the old man, the learned and the ignorant.
Bunyan wrote many other works, but none of them equals the Pilgrim’s Progress. His Holy War is a powerful allegory, which has been called a prose Paradise Lost. Bunyan also produced a strong piece of realistic fiction, the Life and Death of Mr. Badman. This shows the descent of a soul along the broad road. The story is the counterpart of his great masterpiece, and ranks second to it in point of merit.
[Illustration: BUNYAN’S DREAM. From Fourth Edition Pilgrim’s Progress, 1680.]
General Characteristics.—Since the Pilgrim’s Progress has been more widely read in England than any other book except the Bible, it is well to investigate the secret of Bunyan’s power.
In the first place, his style is simple. In the second place, rare earnestness is coupled with this simplicity. He had something to say, which in his inmost soul he felt to be of supreme importance for all time. Only a great man can tell such truths without a flourish of language, or without straining after effect. At the most critical part of the journey of the Pilgrims, when they approach the river of death, note that Bunyan avoids the tendency to indulge in fine writing, that he is content to rely on the power of the subject matter, simply presented, to make us feel the terrible ordeal:—
“Now I further saw that betwixt them and the gate was a river; but there was no bridge to go over, and the river was very deep... The Pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in their minds, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the river... They then addressed themselves to the water, and entering, Christian began to sink... And with that, a great darkness and horror fell upon Christian, so that he could not see before him...”
“Now, upon the bank of the river, on the other side, they saw the two shining men again, who there waited for them... Now you must note that the city stood upon a mighty hill; but the Pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms; they had likewise left their mortal garments behind them in the river; for though they went in with them, they came out without them.”