The Life of John Bunyan HTML version

Chapter 5
A long-standing tradition has identified Bunyan's place of imprisonment with a
little corporation lock-up-house, some fourteen feet square, picturesquely
perched on one of the mid-piers of the many-arched mediaeval bridge which,
previously to 1765, spanned the Ouse at Bedford, and as Mr. Froude has said,
has "furnished a subject for pictures," both of pen and pencil, "which if correct
would be extremely affecting." Unfortunately, however, for the lovers of the
sensational, these pictures are not "correct," but are based on a false assumption
which grew up out of a desire to heap contumely on Bunyan's enemies by
exaggerating the severity of his protracted, but by no means harsh imprisonment.
Being arrested by the warrant of a county magistrate for a county offence,
Bunyan's place of incarceration was naturally the county gaol. There he
undoubtedly passed the twelve years of his captivity, and there the royal warrant
for his release found him "a prisoner in the common gaol for our county of
Bedford." But though far different from the pictures which writers, desirous of
exhibiting the sufferings of the Puritan confessor in the most telling form, have
drawn - if not "a damp and dreary cell" into which "a narrow chink admits a few
scanty rays of light to render visible the prisoner, pale and emaciated, seated on
the humid earth, pursuing his daily task to earn the morsel which prolongs his
existence and his confinement together," - "the common gaol" of Bedford must
have been a sufficiently strait and unwholesome abode, especially for one, like
the travelling tinker, accustomed to spend the greater part of his days in the
open-air in unrestricted freedom. Prisons in those days, and indeed long
afterwards, were, at their best, foul, dark, miserable places. A century later
Howard found Bedford gaol, though better than some, in what would now be
justly deemed a disgraceful condition. One who visited Bunyan during his
confinement speaks of it as "an uncomfortable and close prison." Bunyan
however himself, in the narrative of his imprisonment, makes no complaint of it,
nor do we hear of his health having in any way suffered from the conditions of his
confinement, as was the case with not a few of his fellow-sufferers for the sake of
religion in other English gaols, some of them even unto death. Bad as it must
have been to be a prisoner, as far as his own testimony goes, there is no
evidence that his imprisonment, though varying in its strictness with his various
gaolers, was aggravated by any special severity; and, as Mr. Froude has said, "it
is unlikely that at any time he was made to suffer any greater hardships than
were absolutely inevitable."
The arrest of one whose work as a preacher had been a blessing to so many,
was not at once tamely acquiesced in by the religious body to which he
belonged. A few days after Bunyan's committal to gaol, some of "the brethren"
applied to Mr. Crompton, a young magistrate at Elstow, to bail him out, offering
the required security for his appearance at the Quarter Sessions. The magistrate
was at first disposed to accept the bail; but being a young man, new in his office,