Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/283

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came such an adept as to shock those who were far from scrupulous in their language as ‘the ungodliest fellow for swearing they ever heard.’ All this the influence of his young wife and her good books gradually changed. One by one he felt himself compelled to give up all his favourite pursuits and pastimes. He left off his habit of swearing at once and entirely. He was diligent in his attendance at services and sermons, and in reading the Bible, at least the narrative portions. The doctrinal and practical part, ‘Paul's epistles and such like scriptures,’ he ‘could not away with.’ The reformation was real, though as yet superficial, and called forth the wonder of his neighbours. ‘In outward things,’ writes Lord Macaulay, ‘he soon became a strict Pharisee;’ ‘a poor painted hypocrite,’ he calls himself. For a time he was well content with himself. ‘I thought no man in England could please God better than I.’ But his self-satisfaction did not last long. The insufficiency of such a merely outward change was borne in upon him by the spiritual conversation of a few poor women whom he overheard one day when pursuing his tinker's craft at Bedford, ‘sitting at a door in the sun and talking about the things of God.’ Though by this time somewhat of ‘a brisk talker on religion,’ he found himself a complete stranger to their inner experience. This conversation was the beginning of the tremendous spiritual conflict described by him with such graphic power in his ‘Grace abounding.’ It lasted some three or four years, at the end of which, in 1653, he joined the nonconformist body, to which these poor godly women belonged. This body met for worship in St. John's Church, Bedford, of which the ‘holy Mr. Gifford,’ once a loose young officer in the royal army, had been appointed rector in the same year. His temptations ceased, his spiritual conflict was over, and he entered on a peace which was rendered all the more precious by the previous mental agony. The sudden alternations of hope and fear, the fierce temptations, the torturing illusions, the strange perversions of isolated texts, the harassing doubts of the truth of christianity, the depths of despair and the elevations of joy through which he passed are fully described ‘as with a pen of fire’ in that marvellous piece of religious autobiography, unrivalled save by the ‘Confessions’ of St. Augustine, his ‘Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners.’ Bunyan was at this time still resident at Elstow, where his blind child Mary and his second daughter Elizabeth were born. It was probably in 1655 that Bunyan removed to Bedford. Here he soon lost the wife to whose piety he had owed so much, and about the same time his pastor and friend, the ‘holy Mr. Gifford.’ His own health also suffered; he was threatened with consumption, but his naturally robust constitution carried him safely through what at one time he expected would have been a fatal illness. In 1655 Bunyan, who had been chosen one of the deacons, began to exercise his gift of exhortation, at first privately, and as he gained courage and his ministry proved acceptable ‘in a more publick way.’ In 1657 his calling as a preacher was formally recognised, and he was set apart to that office, ‘after solemn prayer and fasting,’ another member being appointed deacon in his room, ‘brother Bunyan being taken off by preaching the gospel.’ His fame as a preacher soon spread. When it was known that the once blaspheming tinker had turned preacher, they flocked ‘by hundreds, and that from all parts,’ to hear him, though, as he says, ‘upon sundry and divers accounts’—some to marvel, some to mock, but some with an earnest desire to profit by his words. After his ordination Bunyan continued to pursue his trade as a brasier, combining with it the exercise of his preaching gifts as occasion served in the various villages visited by him, ‘in woods, in barns, on village greens, or in town chapels.’ Opposition was naturally aroused among the settled ministry by such remarkable popularity. ‘All the midland counties,’ writes Mr. Froude, ‘heard of his fame and demanded to hear him.’ In some places, as at Meldreth and Yelden, at the latter of which he had preached on Christmas day by the permission of the rector, Dr. William Dell, master of Gonville and Caius, the pulpits of the churches were opened to him; in other places the incumbents of the parishes were his bitterest enemies. They, in the words of Mr. Henry Deane when defending Bunyan against the attacks of Dr. T. Smith, keeper of the university library at Cambridge, were ‘angry with the tinker because he strove to mend souls as well as kettles and pans.’ ‘When I went first to preach the word abroad,’ he writes, ‘the doctors and priests of the country did open wide against me.’

In 1658 he was indicted at the assizes for preaching at Eaton Socon, but with what result is unrecorded. He was called ‘a witch, a jesuit, a highwayman;’ he was charged with keeping ‘his misses,’ with ‘having two wives at once,’ and other equally absurd and groundless accusations. His career as an author now began. His earliest work, ‘Some Gospel Truths opened,’ published at Newport Pagnel in 1656, with a commendatory letter by his pastor, John Burton, was a protest against the mysticism of the teaching