June 26. Pilgrim’s Progress has featured in the recent entries on Beveridge and the Welfare State. For those who do not keep the text by their bed, here is a taste of John Bunyan’s writing. The first part of the book was published in 1678, following twelve years in Bedford prison for refusing to cease unlicensed preaching.
Christian abandons his family and the City of Destruction and sets off, carrying his burden, to find salvation. Along the way he encounters a series of temptations and dangers:
“Now, as Christian was walking solitarily by himself, he espied one afar off come crossing over the field to meet him, and their hap was to meet just as they were crossing the way of each other. The gentleman’s name that met him was Mr. Worldly Wiseman, he dwelt in the town of Carnal Policy, a very great town, and also hard by from whence Christian came….
Worl. … I see the dirt of the slough of Despond is upon thee, but that slough is but the beginning of the sorrows that do attend those that go on in that way: hear me, I am older than thou, though art like to meet with in the way which thou goest, wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and in a word death, and what not? These things are certainly true, having been confirmed by many testimonies.
Worl. Why in yonder village (the village is named Morality) there dwells a gentleman, whose name is Legality, a very judicious man, (and a man of a very good name) that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine are, from their shoulders, yea, to my knowledge, he had done a great deal of good in this way: Ay, and besides, he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens. To him, as I said, thou mayest go, and be helped presently. His house is not quite a mile from this place; and if he should not be at home himself, he hath a pretty young man to his son, whose name is Civility that can do it (to speak on) as well as the old gentleman himself…
So Christian tuned out of his way to go to Mr. Legality’s house for help: but behold, when he was got now hard by the hill, it seemed so high, and also that side of it was the next way side, did hang so much over, that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the hill should fall on his head; wherefore there he stood still; and wotted not what to do. Also his burden now seemed heavier to him than when he was in his way. There came also flashes of fire out of the hill that made Christian afraid that he should be burned: here therefore he sweat, and did quake for fear. And now he began to be sorry that he had taken Mr. Worldly Wiseman’s counsel; and with that he saw Evangelist coming to meet him; at the sight also of whom he began to blush for shame. So Evangelist drew nearer and nearer, and coming up to him, he looked at him with a severe and dreadful countenance…” (Penguin 2008 edn, pp. 20-23).
As the pandemic visits our lives, we are all us faced with ‘wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils,’ to say nothing of ‘nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and in a word death, and what not.’ The characters, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Mr. Legality, Civility, and the places, Carnal Policy and Morality, may find their counterpart in people and locations you know yourself.