John Bunyan, an English preacher, born at Elstow, near Bedford, in 1628, died in London, Aug. 81, 1688. His father was a tinker, and brought up his son to the same trade, giving him a very imperfect education. The early biographers of Bunyan attribute to him an idle, vagrant, and dissolute youth; but, although later writers have gone to the other extreme in exaggerating his virtues, the adverse comments on his early life were due in a great degree to Bunyan's own strain of self-condemnation. In after years, when he was made the subject of obloquy and accused of the very vices which he had laid to his own charge, he indignantly defended himself. There is no good reason to believe that his early manhood was stained with gross immorality, and his autobiography, " Grace abounding to the Chief of Sinners," shows that he only adopts the extravagant style of the Puritans. He acknowledges a habit of profane swearing, but says that he was cured of this by a single well-timed rebuke. He appears to have been very fond of playing at tip-cat and dancing on the village green, as well as ringing the church bells. All these amusements he in time came to look upon as sinful, and bemoaned as if he had committed irreparable evil.
At the age of 17 he enlisted in the parliamentary army, but all that is known of this part of his career is, that he was present at the siege of Leicester, and escaped death by permitting a fellow soldier to taks his place as a sentinel. Bunyan always regarded this as a direct interposition of Providence. His military experience was reflected in his writings, especially in his " Holy War," written after the completion of the " Pilgrim's Progress." Soon after the campaign of 1645 he returned home, and in 1647 married the daughter of poor but honorable parents, after which his modes of life were much improved, and he became deeply interested in religion. Distressed by doubts regarding the safety of his soul, he suffered all the horrors experienced by those who imagine themselves for ever shut out from heaven. During the year which he assigns as the period of his greatest terrors, his sufferings were extreme. Now he would imagine that only the Jews could be saved, and again that the Turks and not the Christians were true believers.
At last his soul was gradually comforted, and he began to preach to the poor people of Bedford. He had been five years engaged in this occupation when the restoration placed power in the hands of the cavaliers, and he was imprisoned in Bedford jail over twelve years. He was constantly told that if he would give up preaching he should at once be set at liberty, yet he always answered: "If you let me go to-day, I will preach again to-morrow." Not being able to work at his old trade of a tinker, he made tagged laces to support himself, wife, and children, one of whom had been blind from her birth. While thus employed he neglected no opportunity of preaching to the prisoners. He had a most intimate knowledge of the Bible, which, with Fox's "Book of Martyrs," was a constant companion; and such hours as he could devote to composition were now spent in religious writing, many of his papers being against the Quakers, whom he cordially disliked. The misery of his family and his own courage at last prevailed with those in power; the rigor of his confinement was relaxed; he was allowed to preach regularly to a Baptist congregation of which he had been elected pastor; and in 1672 he was freed altogether, through the influence of the bishop of Lincoln. In 1678 he published the first part of his " Pilgrim's Progress from this World to that which is to Come," which had been written in jail.
To the corrector of the press he is indebted for some improvement in the syntax and spelling, but not a single scene or line was suggested to him by others. When he had entirely completed the first part, he showed it to some of his friends, and was generally annoyed by their criticisms, they being divided in sentiment whether it should appear or not; but he finally decided to publish it. At first it reached but a small class of the community, although hailed by them with delight; but in the same year a second edition was published with great success. From 10 to 15 editions were issued during the author's life, and he had the satisfaction of knowing that his work was read by hundreds of thousands in England and Scotland, among the Protestants of Holland, the Huguenots of France, and the settlers of New England. In 1682 he published his "Holy War," now little read, and in 1684 the second part of the "Pilgrim's Progress." He continued to preach without further molestation, and every year made a journey to London, where he drew together at all times vast audiences.
He resided in the latter part of his life in Snow Hill (at present Skinner street), near Holborn. His death was hastened by the effects of exposure to the rain in returning from one of his many benevolent errands, and he was buried in Bunhill Fields. The editions of the "Pilgrim's Progress" have been innumerable, and it is said to have been translated into more languages than any other book except the Bible. A collection of Bunyan's writings, with a preface by George Whitefield, was published in 1767, in 2 vols. fol. The most complete edition is that by G. Offor, with a life (3 vols, royal 8vo, 1853). The "Pilgrim's Progress " was edited by Southey, who prefixed to it a life of Bunyan.