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Friday, 24 February 2017

The Pilgrim's Progress

John Bunyan was a Reformed Baptist, who had been committed to Bedford county gaol for preaching without a licence. This was the post Cromwell era when dissenters were clamped down and only ministers of the Church of England were allowed to preach.

Bunyan was freed in 1672 after spending 12 years in prison, only to be jailed again for six months in 1675. It was during his second spell in jail that Bunyan started writing The Pilgrim's Progress. An allegory based on the author's own spiritual life, his many years in Bedford jail had given him time to read and reread the Bible and formulate this spiritual classic.

Title page of Pilgrim's Progress Date: 1678 

The Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory about a man called Christian, who goes on a journey, through the English county of Bedfordshire, to London. Christian is an 'everyman' character: he represents the reader or any ordinary person. Eventually he gets to the Celestial City.

The book was loosely based on Bunyan's own journey between Bedford and Luton. The Barton Hills near Streatley, Bedfordshire was the inspiration for the "Delectable Mountains," Houghton Abbey" (now in ruins). in Amptill was the inspiration for "House Beautiful."  The steep slope leading into Ampthill was the model for the 'Hill of Difficulty'.

Later, the "Land of Beulah" is Middlesex County, the "Very Deep River" is the Thames, and the "Celestial City" is London.

A Plan of the Road From the City of Destruction to the Celestial City,( 1821)

The narrative itself is larded with biblical quotations. In the margins John Bunyan cited his scripture references.

Pilgrim's Progress is divided into two parts, and is 108,260 words long. Each part is a continuous narrative, with no chapter divisions.

When the first part was published on February 18, 1678, it immediately became extremely popular and made Bunyan famous.

Its full title was The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come; Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream.

Part Two was published in 1684. There were 11 editions of the first part during John Bunyan’s lifetime, and two editions of the second part.

Rich in allegory, many phrases from the book have come into common use. We often talk of a 'Slough of Despond' ("One has one's own Slough of Despond to trudge through.). The expressions 'Vanity Fair' and 'House Beautiful' are also quite familiar.

The book includes a poem which became the popular hymn "He Who Would Valiant Be."

For the next 150 years after its publication The Pilgrim's Progress, like the Bible, were found in every English home. It has since been published in over 200 languages.

African version of Pilgrim's Progress from 1902

Even, the Chinese Communist government printed The Pilgrim's Progress and the 200,000 copies sold out in China within three days.

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