Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/285

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Bunyan
Bunyan
279

husband's release. She travelled to London with a petition to the House of Peers, from some of whom she met with kindly sympathy but little encouragement. 'The matter was one for the judges, not for them.' At the next midsummer assize, therefore, the poor woman on three several occasions presented her husband's formal request that he might be legally put on his trial and his case fully heard. Sir Matthew Hale, who was one of the judges of that assize, listened to her pitiful tale, and manifested much kind feeling. But he was powerless. 'Her husband had been duly convicted. She must either sue out his pardon, or obtain a writ of error.' Neither of these courses was adopted; and wisely so, for, as Mr. Froude remarks, 'a pardon wo)fld have been of no use to Bunyan because he was determined to persevere in disobeying a law which he considered to be imjust. The most real kindness which could be shown him was to leave him where he was.' At the next spring assizes, in 1662, a strenuous effort was again made to get his case brought into court. This again failed. After this he seems to have desisted from any further attempt, and, with a slight interval in 1666, he remained in prison, not altogether unhappily, till 1672, twelve years from his first committal. The character of his imprisonment varied with the disposition of his gaolers. During the earlier part of the time he was allowed to follow his wonted course of preaching, 'taking all occasions to visit the people of God,' and even going to 'see christians in London.' The Bedford church books show that he was frequently present at church meetings during some periods of his imprisonment. Such indulgence, however, was plainly irregular. Its discovery nearly cost the gaoler his place, and brought on Bunvan a much more rigorous confinement, he was forbidden 'even to look out at the door.' For seven years out of the twelve, 1661-8, his name never occurs in the records of the church. In 1666, after six years of prison life, 'by the intercession of some in trust and power that took pity upon his suffering,' Bunyan was released. But in a few weeks he was arrested once more for his former offence, at a meeting, and returned to his former quarters for another six years. Being precluded bv his imprisonment from carrying on his trade, he betook himself, for the support of his family, to making long tagged laces, many hundred gross of which he sold tathe hawkers. Nor was 'the word of God bound.' The gaol afforded him the opportunity of exercising his ministerial gifts forbidden outside its walls. Many of his co-religionists from time to time were his fellow-prisoners, at one time as many as sixty, he gave religious instruction and preached to his fellow-prisoners, and furnished spiritual counsel to persons who were allowed to visit him. Some of his prison sermons were the rough drafts of subsequent more elaborate publications. His two chief companions were the Bible and Foxe s 'Book of Martyrs,' Bunyan, as we have seen, had ventured on authorship before his imprisonment. The enforced leisure of a gaol gave him abundant opportunity for its pursuit. Books and tracts, si)me in prose, some in verse, were produced by his fertile pen with great rapidity. His first prison book was in metre — we can hardly call it poetry — entitled 'Profitable Meditations,' in the form of dialogue, and has 'small literary merit of any sort' (Brown, p. 172). This was followed by *Praying in the Spirit,' written in 1662 an^ published in 1663; 'Christian Behaviour,' written and published in the same year ; the 'Four Last Things' and 'Ebal and Gerizim,' both in verse, the 'Holy City,' the 'Resurrection of the Dead,' and 'Prison Meditations,' reply in verse to a friend who had written to him in j)risou, which all appeared between 1663 and 1665. These minor productions were succeeded by his 'Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners,' one of the three books by which Bunyun's name is chiely known, which will ever hold a high place among records of spiritual experience. This appeared in 1666. About this time took place the few months' release from prison previously alluded to. Our knowledge of this second six years* incarceration is almost a blank. Even his literary activity appears to have suffered a temporary paralysis. It was not till 1672 that his 'Defence of Justification by Faith' appeared. This was a vehement attack on the 'brutish and beastly latitudinarianism' of the 'Design of Christianity,' a book written bv the Rev. Edward Fowler [q. v.], rector of Northill, which had recently attained great popularity, and which Richard Baxter also deemed worthy of a reply. Fowler's book seemed to Bunyan to aim a deadly blow at the very foundations of the gospel, and he took no pains to conceal his abhorrence of the attempt. With 'a ferocity' that, as Lord Macaulay has said, 'nothing can justify,' he assails the book and its author with a shower of vituperative epithets savouring of the earlier stage in his career when he was notorious for the bold license of his talk. He describes Fowler as 'rotten at heart,' 'heathenishly dark,' 'a prodigious blasphemer ' 'dropping venom from his pen,' 'an ignorant Sir John,' one of 'a gang of rabbling, counterfeit cleergy,' 'like apes covering their shame with their tail.'