John Bunnion (November 1628 – 31 August 1688)
We used to think peccadillo was an armour-plated anteater until we discovered John Bunyan …
Whilst he was out and about at his tinkering, somewhere around 1653 time, Bunyan chanced to hear some women (founding members of the Bedford Free Meeting, as it goes) talking about spiritual matters and was so impressed he immediately thought, “That’ll do me,” and joined up. It seems that, when it came to preaching, our man was something of a natural so he was strongly encouraged to give it full welly, which he did, speaking extemporaneously and with so much passion and fervour that within two years he had been chosen to be deacon. Which is when he began to let the tinkering side of things slide rather, in order to give the sermonising his best attention. Not long later, in 1656, he published his first book, Gospel Truths Opened, which was basically Bunyan having a pop at the Quakers, who naturally enough hit right back, causing our man to come out with his follow-up, A Vindication of Some Gospel Truths Opened, his way of saying Actually, I Was Right All Along, though it did display something of a shortcoming of his when it came to the matter of thinking up snappy titles, especially seeing his next effort (following in hot pursuit in 1658) would be called A Few Sighs from Hell, or the Groans of a Damned Soul; by that poor and contemptible servant of Jesus Christ, John Bunyan.
Whilst he was getting his eyelids nicely mossy, a second daughter, Sarah, was born, which is a tad unusual, to say the least. How did he manage that, then? After all, it was him that was the one that was supposed to be banged up, wasn’t it? It turns out that, even though Bedford Gaol was every bit as bad a stinkhole as any other prison of that time, and despite the fact that on the outside you could get locked up for preaching, inside it was a different matter altogether and the jailers simply let him get on with what he was best at: rattling out rollicking good off-the-cuff sermons to audiences of forty and more (most of whom were also doing time for that very offence). Not only that, but they sometimes let him out to do more of the same and there was even a period of a few weeks’ freedom in 1666 (A-ha!). Having come up with some real beauts sermonwise, he would then write them down and work them up into tracts and even books, which brought in a little cash, though the main source of income was still the “many hundred gross of long tagg'd [shoe] laces” he turned out during his confinement. It was here that he penned Abounding Grace (published 1666) and he may even have started to conceive his most famous work around this time.
“As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back.”
Thus begins The Pilgrim’s Progress – well, Bunyan’s title was actually The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream – which stars a tinker, of course, and it was an instant smash hit when it was published in February 1678, one that has never been out of print since, has been translated into over two hundred languages and is the best-selling book (bar the Bible) in publishing history. The book also contains a line spoken by Mr Cruelty:
“Hanging is too good for him.”
So now you know where that phrase came from.
In 1688, heading for London, Bunyan was called out on detour to resolve a quarrel between father and son, just the kind of caper he loved to sort out, only he was caught in a storm and fell ill with a fever and, on the morning of 31 August, he died. A great loss to the world of literature. And a crying shame for the man himself – it was always a good lunch on a Tuesday …
Bunyan Portrait: [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Bunyan’s Cottage: By ReeseM at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Sir Bevis of Southampton: By F. Tayler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tip Cat: By Isaiah Thomas (A Little Pretty Pocket-book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bell Ringing: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/654/654-h/images/p31s.jpg
Naseby: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Merry Monarch: By John Michael Wright or studio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons In Bedford Gaol: By Brian0324 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Nell Gwynn: Simon Pietersz. Verelst (1644–1710/1717) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons