Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/282

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Bunyan
Bunyan
276

doubtless travelled the country round in search ofjohs. Contemporary literature depicts the tinker’s craft as disreputable; but we must distinguish between the vagrant and the stead handicraftsmen, dwelling in their own freehold tenements, such as the Bunyans evidently were. Bunyan, in his intense selfdepreciation, writes: ‘My descent was of a low and inconsiderable generation, my father’s house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families of the land.' This is certainly not language that we should be disposed to apply to a family which had from time immemoriul occupied the same freehold, and made testamentary dispositions of their small belongings. The antiquity of the family in Bunyan's native county effectually disposes of the strange hallucination which even Sir Walter Scott was disposed to favour, that the Bunyans, ‘though reclaimed and settled,’ may have sprung from the gipsytribe. Bunyan‘s parents sent their son to school, either to the recently founded Bedford grammar school, or, which is more probable, to some humbler school at Elstow. He learned reading and writing ‘according to the rate of other poor men’s children,' ‘I never went to school,’ he writes, ‘to Aristotle or Plato, but was brought up at my father's house in a very moan condition, among a company of poor eountrymen.' And what little he learned, he confesses with shame, when he was called from his primer and copy~book to help his father at his trade, was soon lost, ‘even almost utterly.’ In his sixteenth year (June 1644) Bunyan suffered the irreparable misfortune of the loss of his mother, which was ag avated by his father marrying a second wife; within two months of her decease. The arrival of a stepmother seems to have estranged Bunyan from his home, and to have led to his enlisting as a soldier. The civil war was then drawing near the end of its first stage. Bedfordshire was distinctly parlinmentarian in its sympathies. In the west it was cut off from any communication with the royalists by a strong line of parliamentary posts. These circumstances lead to the conclusion that a Bedfordshire lad was more likely to be found in the parliamentarian than in the royalist forces. This is Lord Macaulay’s conclusion, and is supported by Bunyan’s latest and most painstaking biographer, the Rev. J. Brown. Mr. Froude, on the other hand, together with Mr. Odor and Mr. Copner, holds that 'probability ia on the side of his having been with the royalists.’ As there is not a tittle of evidence either way, the question can never be absolutely settled. But we hold, against Mr. Froude, that all probability points to the parliamentary force as that in which Bunyan served. In all likelihood, on his attaining the regulation age of sixteen, which he did in November 1644, he was one of the ‘able and armed men’ whom the parliament commanded his native county to send ‘for soldiers’ to the central garrison of Newport Pagnel, and included in one of the levies. The army was disbanded in 1646. Before this occurred Bunyan’s providential preservation from death, which, according to his anonymous biogragher, ‘was a frequent subject of thankful reference by him in later years.' ‘When I was a soldier,’ he says, ‘I, with others, was drawn out to go to such a place to hesiege it. But when I was just ready to go, one of the company desired to go in my room; to which when I consented, he took my place, and coming to thc siege, as he stood sentinel he was shot in the head with a musket bullet and died.’ Bunyan gives no hint as to the locality of the siege; but, on the faith of a manifestly incorrect account of the circumstance in an anonymous life, published after his death, it has been currently identified with Leicester, which we know to have been taken by the royalist forces in 1645; and in direct contradiction to Bunyan’s own words, for he says plainly that he stayed behind, and a comrade went in his room—he is described, and that even by Macaulay, as having taken part in the siege, either as a royalist assailant or as a parliamentary defender. Wherever the siege may have been, it is certain that Bunyan was not there. When the forces were disbanded, Bunyan must have returned to his native village and resumed his paternal trade. He ‘presently afterwards changed his condition into a married state,' With haracteristic retioence Bunyan gives neither the name of his wife nor the date of his marriage; but it seems to have occurred at the end of 1648 or the beginning of 1649, when he was not much more than twenty. He and his wife were ‘as poor as poor might be,' without ‘so much household stuff as a dish or spoon between them.’ But his wife came of godly parents, and brought two pious books of her father’s to her new home, the reading of which awakened the slumbering sense of religion in Bunyan's heart, and produced an external change of habits. Up to this time, though by no means what would be called ‘a bad character’—for he was no drunkard, nor licentious—Bunyan was a gay, daring young fellow, whose chief delight was in dancing, bell-ringing, and in all kinds of rural sports and pastimes, the ring-leader of the villagée youth at wake or merrymaking, or in the Sunday sports after service time on the green. As a boy he had acquired the habit of profane swearing, in which he be-