John Bunyan

Bunyan, John (bŭnˈyən) [key], 1628–88, English author, b. Elstow, Bedfordshire. After a brief period at the village free school, Bunyan learned the tinker's trade, which he followed intermittently throughout his life. Joining the parliamentary army in 1644, he served until 1647. The reading of several pious books and a constant study of the Bible intensified Bunyan's religious beliefs, and in 1653 he began acting as lay preacher for a congregation of Baptists in Bedford. In this capacity he came into conflict with the Quakers led by George Fox and turned to writing in defense of his beliefs. In 1660 agents of the restored monarchy arrested him for unlicensed preaching, and he remained in prison for the next 12 years. During this period Bunyan wrote nine books, the most famous of which is Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), a fervent spiritual autobiography. Soon after his release in 1672 he was reimprisoned briefly and wrote the first part of his masterpiece The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come, published in 1678. A second part appeared in 1684. By the time Bunyan was released from his second imprisonment, he had become a hero to the members of his sect, and he continued preaching and writing until his death. The principal works of these later years are The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680) and The Holy War (1682). Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory recounting Christian's journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City; the second part describes the manner in which Christian's wife, Christiana, makes the same pilgrimage. Remarkable for its simple, biblical style and its vivid presentation of character and incident, Pilgrim's Progress is considered one of the world's great works of literature. Bunyan's continued popularity rests on the spiritual fervor that permeates his works and on the compelling style in which they are written. His prose unites the eloquence of the Bible with the vigorous realism of common speech.

See biography by O. E. Winslow (1961); studies by H. A. Talon (1951), W. Y. Tindall (1934, repr. 1964), D. E. Smith (1966), R. Sharrock (rev. ed. 1968), V. Newey, ed. (1980), and E. B. Batson (1984); A. Duncan-Page, ed, The Cambridge Companion to Bunyan (2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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