We have a clue to the extent of the persecution from what we know to have been its effect on a single sect. The Quakers had excited alarm by their extravagances of manner, their refusal to bear arms or to take oaths; and a special Act was passed for their repression. They were one of the smallest of the Nonconformist bodies, but more than four thousand were soon in prison, and of these five hundred were imprisoned in London alone. The King's Declaration of Indulgence, twelve years later, set free twelve hundred Quakers who had found their way to the gaols. Of the sufferings of the expelled clergy one of their own number, Richard Baxter, has given us an account. "Many hundreds of them, with their wives and children, had neither house nor bread.... Their congregations had enough to do, besides a small maintenance, to help them out of prisons, or to maintain them there. Though they were as frugal as possible they could hardly live; some lived on little more than brown bread and water, many had but eight or ten pounds a year to maintain a family, so that a piece of flesh has not come to one of their tables in six weeks' time; their allowance could scarce afford them bread and cheese.
One went to plow six days and preached on the Lord's Day. Another was forced to cut tobacco for a livelihood." But poverty was the least of their sufferings. They were jeered at by the players. They were hooted through the streets by the mob. " Many of the ministers, being afraid to lay down their ministry after they had been ordained to it, preached to such as would hear them in fields and private houses, till they were apprehended and cast into gaols, where many of them perished." They were excommunicated in the Bishops' Court, or fined for non-attendance at church; and a crowd of informers grew up who made a trade of detecting the meetings they held at midnight. Alleyn, the author of the well-known "Alarm to the Unconverted," died at thirty-six from the sufferings he endured in Taunton Gaol. Vavasour Powell, the apostle of Wales, spent the eleven years which followed the Restoration in prisons at Shrewsbury, Southsea, and Cardiff, till he perished in the Fleet. John Bunyan was for twelve years a prisoner at Bedford.
We have already seen the atmosphere of excited feeling in which the youth of Bunyan had been spent. From his childhood he heard heavenly voices, and saw visions of heaven; from his childhood, too, he had been wrestling with an overpowering sense of sin, which sickness and repeated escapes from death did much as he grew up to deepen. But in spite of his self-reproaches his life was a religious one; and the purity and sobriety of his youth was shown by his admission at seventeen into the ranks of the "New Model." Two years later the war was over, and Bunyan though hardly twenty found himself married to a "godly" wife, as young and penniless as himself. So poor were the young couple that they could scarce muster a spoon and a plate between them; and the poverty of their home deepened, perhaps, the gloom of the young tinker's restlessness and religious depression. His wife did what she could to comfort him, teaching him again to read and write, for he had forgotten his school-learning, and reading with him in two little "godly" books which formed his library.
But the darkness only gathered the thicker round his imaginative soul. "I walked," he tells us of this time, "to a neighbouring town; and sate down upon a settle in the street, and fell into a very deep pause about the most fearful state my sin had brought me to; and after long musing I lifted up my head; but methought I saw as if the sun that shineth in the heavens did grudge to give me light; and as if the very stones in the street and tiles upon the houses did band themselves against me. Methought that they all combined together to banish me out of the world. I was abhorred of them, and wept to dwell among them, because I had sinned against the Saviour. Oh, how happy now was every creature over I! for they stood fast and kept their station. But I was gone and lost." At last, after more than two years of this struggle, the darkness broke. Bunyan felt himself "converted," and freed from the burthen of his sin. He joined a Baptist church at Bedford, and a few years later he became famous as a preacher.
As he held no formal post of minister in the congregation, his preaching even under the Protectorate was illegal and "gave great offence," he tells us, " to the doctors and priests of that county," but he persisted with little real molestation until the Restoration. Six months however after the King's return he was committed to Bedford Gaol on a charge of preaching in unlicensed conventicles; and his refusal to promise to abstain from preaching kept him there twelve years. The gaol was crowded with prisoners like himself, and amongst them he continued his ministry, supporting himself by making tagged thread laces, and finding some comfort in the Bible, the "Book of Martyrs," and the writing materials which he was suffered to have with him in his prison. But he was in the prime of life, his age was thirty-two when he was imprisoned; and the inactivity and severance from his wife and little children was hard to bear. "The parting with my wife and poor children," he says in words of simple pathos, " hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the flesh from the bones, and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of those great mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was like to meet with should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer to my heart than all besides.
Oh, the thoughts of the hardships I thought my poor blind one might go under would break my heart to pieces. 'Poor child,' thought I, ' what sorrow art thou like to have for thy portion in this world! Thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow upon thee.'" But suffering could not break his purpose, and Bunyan found compensation for the narrow bounds of his prison in the wonderful activity of his pen. Tracts, controversial treatises, poems, meditations, his " Grace Abounding," and his "Holy City," followed each other in quick succession. It was in his gaol that he wrote the first and greatest part of his " Pilgrim's Progress." Its publication was the earliest result of his deliverance at the Declaration of Indulgence, and the popularity which it enjoyed from the first proves that the religious sympathies of the English people were still mainly Puritan. Before Bunyan's death in 1688 ten editions of the "Pilgrim's Progress" had already been sold; and though even Cowper hardly dared to quote it a century later for fear of moving a smile in the polite world about him its favour among the middle classes and the poor has grown steadily from its author's day to our own.