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His moral reformation, such as it was at first, began with his marriage. This interesting fact has been too baldly told hitherto. There was more information to be obtained than the bare fact, that his “ career of vice received a considerable check, in consequence of his marriage."-Scott's Life.
Bad as Bunyan was, he had still some friends at Elstow, or in Bedford. This appears from the sketch of his Life in the British Museum. “The few friends he had, thought that changing his condition to the married state might reform him, and therefore urged him to it as a seasonable and comfortable advantage. But the difficult thing was, that his poverty, and irregular course of life, made it very difficult for him to get a wife suitable to his inclination : and because none of the rich would yield to his solicitations, he found himself constrained to marry one without any fortune.
“ She was very virtuous, loving, and conformably obedient and obliging ; having been born of good, honest, and godly parents, who had instructed her, as well as they were able, in the ways of truth and saving knowledge. Her husband going on at the old rate, she endeavoured to make him see his wicked ways, and laid before his eyes the vanity of sin, and the danger that attended its wages-being no less than death, and that not temporal, but eternal death : and having two or three books left her, which, it seems, was all, or the greatest part of her dowry, she frequently enticed him to read in them, and apply the use of them to the reforming his manners and saving his soul.”—P. 15.
This, as we shall see, may be safely taken for fact, although the author, in the next page, mis-states the time of Bunyan's enlistment, which he places after the marriage. He mistakes, however, more than dates. He assigns, as Bunyan's reason for enlisting, the want of work to “ support himself
and his small family” during “ the unnatural civil wars.” He adds, however, his own refutation, although unawares; for he places
him at the siege of Leicester in 1645; and then, we know, he was only seventeen years of age. Besides, he himself says expressly, “ Presently after this, I changed my condition into a married state.” He does not mean, however, presently after the siege; but after quitting the army, which he seems to have done soon.
Dr. Southey says, that Bunyan was probably not nineteen when he married. This conclusion is just, al. though not warranted by the premises it is drawn from.
66 He married presently after his substitute had been killed at the siege of Leicester,” the Doctor says. The conclusion from this would be, “probably, therefore, when he was only seventeen;" for he was born in 1628, and the siege occurred June 17th, 1645.
But, whatever the interval was, between his discharge and his marriage, it was during that interval he made the friends who planned and urged his marriage. And on his return from the army, Bunyan was likely to gain friends, although he re. turned home unimproved in character. He had seen the won. ders of Naseby, and the recapture of Leicester; and, if he followed Fairfax to Taunton, he had encamped at STONEHENGE by the way, and thus seen the mysterious temple of Druidism, (Rushworth) -scenes which would not be lost upon him. His bold and vivid imagination was sure to be fired by them, and his fluency enabled him to depict them. We have seen that he both observed well when in the army, and remembered well afterwards. It is, therefore, no conjecture, that the soldier of even this single campaign would be welcome at Bedford. The royal cause had few friends there the parliamentary had many. Thus Bunyan would soon be in request, even amongst men who had formerly shunned his company. Curiosity, at a time of high excitement, can easily invent for conscience an excuse for getting information from any quarter, on a favourite subject.
Besides, Bunyan's signal escape at the siege would draw upon him the special notice of godly men then. They were close students of Providence, and firm believers in that sovereignty of grace which occasionally arrests some of the most reckless. It is, therefore, highly probable, that when the young Blasphemer returned unhurt, some of the aged Believe ers in Bedford would feel deeply interested in him, under the hope that God had some wise and gracious end in view, for thus wonderfully sparing such a rebel. And thus, between what God had done for him, and what Bunyan had seen and
could say of the campaign, a new class of men were very likely to seek his company, when he resumed his craft.
It is on these grounds, I feel warranted to adopt the oldest version of the origin of Bunyan's marriage : “ the few friends he had, thought that changing to the married state might reform him ; and therefore urged him to it as a seasonable advantage.” If this reasoning be valid, he was not, even in his worst state, a cruel or unamiable man. He was boisterous, and perhaps turbulent; but not harsh, nor vindictive. Had he been so, no decent woman could have been tempted to marry him ; for he had literally nothing in the world but the tools of his craft. In like manner, had he been a sensualist, his friends could not have induced “a very virtuous woman, born of good, honest, godly parents,” to have him. There must, therefore, notwithstanding all his faults, have been some. thing loveable about him. The very fact, that they had not so much between them “as a dish or a spoon,” proves that he must have had some endearing quality. It proves, too, I readily grant, that she had but little prudence, even if she married him for the express purpose of mending him.
That this was her purpose, is evident. Bunyan himself says, “ My mercy was, to light upon a wife whose father was counted godly. She would be often telling of me what a godly man her father was, and how he would correct and reprove vice, both in his house and among his neighbours; and what a strict and holy life he lived in his days, both in words and deeds.”
Bunyan's second wife was certainly a heroine, well deserving, as we shall see, a comparison with Lady Russel, or with the wife of Grotius : but it required as much, if not more he. roism, although of another kind, to attempt the conversion of the Tinker, as to plead the cause of the Prisoner. And this was done so wisely, by showing him what he should be, in vivid pictures of what her father had been, that I must, in spite of the lack of both “dish and spoon” betwixt them, withdraw my charge of imprudence from her memory. Dr. Southey says, “ There was no imprudence in this early marriage:” and I will believe him, although not for the first reason he assigns, that “Bunyan had a trade that he could trust ;" but for the second (putting my own sense upon the words), that she had been trained up in the way she should go." She went the right way to work, in trying to reform her husband. An im. prudent woman would have reproved him ; but Mrs. Bunyan
led him to realize how her father would have called him over the coals, had he been alive. Bunyan was just the man to realize this; and it was only what he would have expected from a Puritan. It was not, however, what he would have brooked at that time from his wife. She had both the good sense, and the good taste, to perceive this; and, therefore, instead of upbraiding her husband, praised her father, until Bunyan saw, as in a glass, the contrast between them. I will not say, that she was a believing wife” at this time ; but she certainly pursued a wiser plan of reclaiming an ungodly husband, than some believing wives do. Accordingly, her " chaste conversation, coupled with fear," had a winning influence upon him. His oldest Biographer says, "She frequently enticed and persuaded him to read” the books left her by her father, and “ to apply them to himself.”
These books were only two, “The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven,” and “The Practice of Piety.” It was, however, to “ the relation” (and Bunyan evidently meant by that, what his wife related concerning her father's “ holy life')) as much as to the books, that he ascribed his first desires to amend at all. His own account of the matter is, “ In these two books, I would sometimes read with her ; wherein I also found some things that were somewhat pleasing to me; but all this while I met with no conviction.” He then states what she often told him about her father, and adds, “Wherefore these books, with the relation, though they did not reach my heart, to awaken it about my
sad and sinful state, yet they did beget within me some desires to reform my vicious life, and to fall in very eagerly with the religion of the times."
What these desires led to will be seen in the next chapter. In the meantime, it is evident, that to Mrs. Bunyan must be traced, under God, Bunyan's first steps in the path of duty. She, not the books, won him to reflection. Indeed, but for her, he would not have read the books ; yea, could not have read them. Hence, his oldest biographer says, “ To the voice of his wife he hearkened, and by that means recovered his read. ing, which, not minding before, he had almost lost.” This is no exaggeration : he himself says, “ To my shame, I confess, I did soon lose that little I learnt,
,-even almost utterly,-ạnd that long before the Lord did work his gracious work of conversion upon my soul.”
Thus his wife had to make him her pupil, as if he had been a child :
: a triumph which none but a wife, and that a wife
combining prudence with sweetness, could have achieved over a ringleader of sports and impiety. True, Bunyan would be an apt scholar, and soon recover his lost learning ; but she also must have been “apt to teach.” The difficulty was to keep him within doors after his work was done, and to draw him to her side with a book in his hand, whilst the roisterers on the village green were playing at trap, and his own bat and ball lying dry in the chimney-corner. All this was 6 tempting fruit” to him. Her voice must, therefore, have sounded sweeter than even the bells of Elstow, and her smile been brighter than the laugh of the merry-makers, whenever she kept him at home to read.
I dwell, I confess, upon her influence, with a fondness bor. dering on extravagance. I do not feel, however, that I am exaggerating, in ascribing so much to its instrumentality. He himself calls it a
6 Until I came into the marriage state, I was the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness." Her character, however, will come out more fully, as we trace the progress of the reformation of his character, in the next two chapters. And it is worth bringing out ; for although "she was incapable of directing his inquiries, or solving his difficulties, when he entangled himself amongst the thorns and briars of unanswerable questions, she bore with silent meekness all the wayward moods of his wounded spirit, and kept his home a sanctuary, where he could weep unseen.