Monday, May 20, 2013
One other book disputed the claim of the Bible to people the woods—The Pilgrim's Progress. On Sundays it was a rule that secular books were barred, but we children did not find the embargo much of a penance, for we discovered a fruity line in missionary adventure, we wallowed in martyrologies, we had The Bible in Spain, and above all we had Bunyan. From The Holy War I acquired my first interest in military operations, which cannot have been the intention of the author, while The Pilgrim's Progress became my constant companion. Even to-day I think that, if the text were lost, I could restore most of it from memory. My delight in it came partly from the rhythms of its prose, which, save in King James's Bible, have not been equalled in our literature; there are passages, such as the death of Mr Valiant-for-Truth, which all my life have made music in my ear. But its spell was largely due to its plain narrative, its picture of life as a pilgrimage over hill and dale, where surprising adventures lurked by the wayside, a hard road with now and then long views to cheer the traveller and a great brightness at the end of it. John Bunyan claimed our woods as his own. There was the Wicket-gate at the back of the colliery, where one entered them; the Hill Difficulty—more than one; the Slough of Despond—various specimens; the Plain called Ease; Doubting Castle—a disused gravel-pit; the Enchanted Land—a bog full of orchises; the Land of Beulah—a pleasant grassy place where tinkers made their fires. There was no River at the end, which was fortunate perhaps, for otherwise my brothers and I might have been drowned in trying to ford it.