« PreviousContinue »
THE BIRTH-PLACE OF JOHN BUNYAN.
HE pilgrim who approaches a Shrine without devotional reverence-reverence which stimulates the pulsations of his heart, and suffuses his eyes with unbidden tears-can have no “calling,' so to say, to his pilgrimage. Instead of bearing the worldlyó fardel' of doubts and unbelief he must go forth with genuine faith and cordial enthusiasmfaith in the virtues of him before whose Shrine he seeks to offer the homage of mind and heart. Without this he can neither comprehend the actions nor appreciate the motives
of the mighty dead; he becomes entangled in a net of so-called “reasons' leading to unworthy and treacherous
doubts.' One, who is still with us—a great mystic yet a mighty teacher -asks—* Does not every true man feel that he is himself made higher by doing reverence to what is really above him?' That steady and sturdy faith in all high and glorious things, is one of the first great steps towards the Heaven which shall be revealed hereafter.
We do not expect those who are born of the flesh to be without those weaknesses and failings which are the lot of humanity, but where there is a strong and lofty spirit, doing battle honestly and openly with what is wrong, and above all, warring against himself and lashing his own frailties
with a rigorous and unsparing hand—we tender the homage of FAITH to his good intent and unflinching purpose, and ask for him to be judged, not by the burs that cling to his garment, but by his high attributes and the holy PURPOSE of his mission.
The worthiest thinkers and writers of modern times have offered tributes to the genius which breathes throughout the Pilgrim's Progress.' New editions,' illustrated editions,' 'lectures on,' lives,' and even 'records,' of the author, have issued from the press, each aiding another; and few would make pilgrimage to the drowsy city of Bedford, but for the interest created for it by the once despised and persecuted, but now universally appreciated, advocate of Puritanism, whom the poet Cowper, with all his admiration for his genius, even in his day feared to name.
It had long-indeed, ever since our childhood-been with us an earnest desire to visit the place of John Bunyan's birth. It has been said, that when God's will crosses man's will, man calls it disappointment. We had often been disappointed' of our projected journey to Bedford. At last, however, it was accomplished, and we felt how much better it was that we had not visited it previously. The railroad offers facilities to those who have little time to spend in travel, which atones for its impairing much of the picturesque beauty of our country, and leaving but slight trace of the primitive habits and manners of our ancestors.
No one, we have said, would visit this midland town for its own sake. The locality calls to mind that of one of those heavy Flemish towns where there is literally no landscape ; but where all is dark and flat, and rich with solid vegetation, not even a mound of earth higher than a churchyardgrave to animate the torpid scene. The Ouse creeps lazily here through fertile meadows, sunning its lake-like waters without the relief of a single shadow from mountain or small hill. Cultivation does its utmost to atone by abundance for lack of beauty ; and the sleepy locality is not devoid of historical interest. *
* As far back as the reign of our Sixth Edward, a grammar-school was here founded; but it was endowed in 1566 by Sir William Harpur (a native of Bedford and Lord Mayor of London), and by ‘Dame Alice, his wife,' with a house and premises in Bedford, and land situate in Middlesex. This land, in the heart of London, has so increased in value, and the trustees have made such use of their funds, that all Bedford seems one huge charity, and every householder in the city has a free education for his son. The increase of the value of
But that which renders Bedford a shrine, and elevates the whole neighbourhood into a place of intense interest, is the memory of a persecuted and imprisoned man, John Bunyan, the author of some sixty volumes of the outpourings of his own heart under various forms ; many of these, however, evincing the strong hardy spirit of the fearless man, are only regarded as curiosities ; for the oppressions and other circumstances that called them forth, have long since passed away, and are now matters of history ; but the Pilgrim's Progress' is sacred in every Christian home, and will exist as long as the spires of our holy temples point to the skies, or a knee remains to bend in prayer at any house of Christian worship.
It seems strange to us that Southey, whose memoir is full of feeling for his subject, never visited Bunyan's birth-place, and Mr. Philip must have Jooked upon what is still called the Pilgrim's Cottage with a poet's eye, when he suffered the vignette décorée, which certainly adds to the pictorial
London land is curiously exemplified in Harpur's gift. He purchased 13 acres and a rood of meadow land in Holborn, which he obtained for 1801. This had produced, in 1668, the yearly rent of 991. to the funds of his charity; but the progress of building rapidly augmented it, and it is now of the annual value of 12,0001.
Howard, the philanthropist, in later times, was stimulated by the bad state of his county
beauty of his book, to be considered as a faithful representation of the
cottage at Elstow.
We give it as it really is from the pencil of Mr. Fairholt.
It was a day of mingled sunshine and showers when we arrived at Bedford, and after crossing the new bridge, which has been erected on the site of the old one, where Bunyan passed a portion of his captivity, we drove to the village rendered celebrated as his birthplace. We first paused at the green,' still the “play-stow' or play-place of the village children ; when we pushed back the gate and entered, we stood on the selfsame 'green' where Bunyan stood more than two centuries ago, when
he sought to disperse, by the wildness of a game at 'cat,'t the conviction of the evil of sabbath-breaking, which had struck upon his heart from a sermon, preached within the church, looking so gray and weather-worn amid those venerable trees ; here he was
The Belfry Icrch.
(Bedford) jail, to investigate and model the prisons of Europe, and was most liberally supported in carrying out his glorious projects by Mr. Whitbread, whose descendants possess considerable property in the neighbourhood.
* The old edition of his works, as first published by Charles Doe, thus quaintly narrates his early history :-Our Excellent Author, by the Abundant grace of God, Mr. John Bunyan, was born at Elsto, a mile side of Bedford, about the year 1628, (his father was
and by trade a mender of pots and ketiles, vulgarly called a Tinker, and of the national religion, as commonly men of that trade are) and was brought up to the Tinkering trade, as also were several of his brothers, whereat he worked about that country, being also very profane and poor, even when married,' &c.
+ Cat, or tip-cat, is a game still played by children. The cat being a piece of wood tapering from the centre like a double cone ; so that the blow struck at either end occasions the cat' to fly upwards with considerable force; the impetus given to which denotes the ability of the player, as well as his dexterity in hitting it again in its ascent.
arrested in the midst of that game, under the peculiar circumstances which he describes in his “Grace Abounding ;' from this well-worn and time beaten sward, which joins the church-yard, is the best view of the steeple-house,' or church tower, which is detached from the church, and in which Bunyan, even after his marriage, assisted the ringers, until his conscience beginning to get " tender," he thought such a practice was but vain, and therefore forced himself to leave it.' We wandered into the church avenue, and leaning against the worn buttresses of the tower, looked upwards to where hung the identical bells, which Bunyan feared might fall upon him in judgment for his sins; the church must at one time have been of monastic extent, and two hundred years ago exhibited more of the remains of catholicity than appear at present.
We thought of the time when Bunyan first began to worship earnestly within those walls, before the commencement of his hatred of prelacy, and when his great heart expanded even towards every particle of the dress worn by the officiating clergyman ; in this church beginning his devotional existence, where, after his marriage with a woman whose only portion was two books—of which we shall speak hereafter-his earnest enthusiasm * adored,' to use his own language, all things, in the high place, priest, clerk, vestments, service, and what else belonged to the church, counting all things holy that were therein contained, and especially the priest and clerk, most happy, and therein greatly blessed.' • And, certainly,' says an un-named writer, who honours the locality where Bunyan transferred his overwhelming energy and burly activity into his master's vineyard, certainly the spirit of the place might well work on a mind unenlightened and imaginative as was that of the glorious dreamer of Elstow. The building is large and lofty, hallowed by antiquity, and well calculated to interest and impress the romantic spirit of a young rustic. The door-way is a fine specimen of the round Norman arch, and above it is a rude representation of our Saviour's charge to St. Peter ; and the body of the church contains two large brasses, commemorating a former Abbess of Elstow,* and another female, who probably filled the same office.' When we came out of the
* Here, in the old time, was an Abbey of Benedictine Nuns, founded by Judith, niece William the Conqueror, and wife to Waltheof, Earl of Huntingdon. It was dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Mary, and Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. At the