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The high estimation in which · The Pilgrim's Progress' has been held for above a century, sufficiently evinces its intrinsic value: and there is every reason to suppose, that it will be read with admiration and advantage for ages to come; probably till the consummation of all things.
The pious christian, in proportion to “his growth in grace, " and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus,” derives more and more instruction from repeated perusals of this remarkable book; while his enlarged experience and extended observation enable him to unfold, with progressive evidence, the meaning of the agreeable similitudes employed by its ingenious author. And even the careless or uninstructed reader is fascinated to attention, by the simple and artless manner in which the interesting narrative is arranged. Nor should this be represented as a mere amusement, which answers no further purpose: for it has been observed by men of great discernment, and acquaintance with the human mind, that young persons, having perused the Pilgrim as a pleasing tale, have often retained a remembrance of its leading incidents, which, after continuing perhaps in a dormant state for several years, has at length germinated, as it were, into the most important and seasonable instruction; while the events of their own lives placed it before their minds in a new and affecting point of view. It may, therefore, be questioned, whether modern ages have produced any work which has more promoted the best interests of mankind.
These observations indeed more especially apply to the first part of the Pilgrim's Progress; that being complete in itself, and in all respects superior to the second. Yet this, also, contains many edifying and interesting passages: though in unity of design, in arrangement of incident, and in simplicity of allegory, it is not comparable to the other. Indeed, the author, in his first effort, had nearly exhausted his subject; and nothing remained, for his second attempt, but a few detached episodes (so to speak) to his original plan: nor could any vigour of genius have wrought them up to an equal degree of excellence. It must, however, be allowed, that Mr. Bunyan here frequently sinks below. himself, both in fertility of invention, force of imagination, and aptness of illustration : nay, he sometimes even stoops to a puerile play of fancy, and a refined nicety in explaining doctrines, which do not at all accord with the rest of the work. But the same grand principles of evangelical and practical religion, which stamp an inestimable value on the first part, are in the second also exhibited with equal purity, though not with equal simplicity: and, on many occasions, the author rises superior to his disadvantages; and introduces characters, or incidents, which arrest the attention, and interest the heart of every pious and intelligent reader.
It would not perhaps be difficult to show, that the Pilgrim's Progress, as first published, is as really an original production of vigorous native genius, as any of those works, in prose or verse, which have excited the admiration of mankind, through successive ages, and in different nations. It does not indeed possess
those ornaments which are often mistaken for intrinsic excellence : but the rudeness of its style (which at the same time is characteristic of the subject) concurs to prove it a most extraordinary book: for, had it not been written with very great ingenuity, a religious treatise, evidently inculcating doctrines, always offensive, but now more unfashionable than formerly, would not, in so homely a garb,
have so durably attracted the attention of a polished age and nation. Yet it is undeniable, that Bunyan’s Pilgrim continues to be read and admired by vast multitudes; while publications on a similar plan, by persons of respectable learning and talents, are consigned to almost total neglect and oblivion!
This is not, however, that view of the work, which entitles it to its highest honour, or most endears it to the pious mind: for, comparing it with the other productions of the same author, (which are indeed edifying to the humble believer, but not much suited to the taste of the ingenious) we shall be led to conclude, that in penning this he was favoured with a peculiar measure of the divine assistance: especially when we recollect, that, within the confines of a jail, he was able so to delineate the christian's course, with its various difficulties, perils, conflicts, &c, that scarcely any thing seems to have escaped his notice. Indeed, the accurate observer of the church in his own days, and the learned student of ecclesiastical history, must be equally surprised to find, that hardly one remarkable character, good or bad, or mixed in any manner or proportion imaginable; or that one fatal delusion, by-path, or injurious mistake, can be singled out, which may not be paralleled in the Pilgrim's Progress: that is, as to the grand outlines; for the minutiæ, about which bigotted and frivolous minds waste their zeal and force, are with very few exceptions wisely passed over. This circumstance is not only surprising, but it suggests an argument, not easily answered, in support of the truth of those religious sentiments, which are now often derided under the title of orthodoxy; for every part of this singular book exclusively suits the different descriptions of such as profess those doctrines; and relates the experiences, mistakes, falls, recoveries, distresses, temptations, conflicts, supports, and consolations of serious persons of this class in our own times, as exactly as if it had been penned from the observation of them, and for their immediate benefit: while, like the sacred Scriptures,
it remains a sealed book to all who are strangers to evangelical religion.
These remarks may very properly be concluded with the words of a justly admired poet of the present day, who in the following lines has fully sanctioned all that has been here advanced
Oh thou, whom, borne on fancy's eager wing
COWPER, TIROCINIUM, V. 129.
In respect of the present edition of the Pilgrim's Progress, it may be proper to observe, that it having become general to publish every approved work, in such a style of elegance, and with such decorations, as may recommend it to a place in the collections of the curious and affluent; and thus attract the notice of those who would perhaps otherwise have overlooked it: Something of this nature was proposed by the proprietors of this edition, who deemed it requisite that it should be accompanied with original explanatory notes,