The Life of John Bunyan HTML version

Chapter 6
The exaggeration of the severity of Bunyan's imprisonment long current, now that
the facts are better known, has led, by a very intelligible reaction, to an undue
depreciation of it. Mr. Froude thinks that his incarceration was "intended to be
little more than nominal," and was really meant in kindness by the authorities who
"respected his character," as the best means of preventing him from getting
himself into greater trouble by "repeating an offence that would compel them to
adopt harsh measures which they were earnestly trying to avoid." If convicted
again he must be transported, and "they were unwilling to drive him out of the
country." It is, however, to be feared that it was no such kind consideration for the
tinker-preacher which kept the prison doors closed on Bunyan. To the justices he
was simply an obstinate law-breaker, who must be kept in prison as long as he
refused compliance with the Act. If he rotted in gaol, as so many of his fellow
sufferers for conscience' sake did in those unhappy times, it was no concern of
theirs. He and his stubbornness would be alone to blame.
It is certainly true that during a portion of his captivity, Bunyan, in Dr. Brown's
words, "had an amount of liberty which in the case of a prisoner nowadays would
be simply impossible." But the mistake has been made of extending to the whole
period an indulgence which belonged only to a part, and that a very limited part
of it. When we are told that Bunyan was treated as a prisoner at large, and like
one "on parole," free to come and go as he pleased, even as far as London, we
must remember that Bunyan's own words expressly restrict this indulgence to the
six months between the Autumn Assizes of 1661 and the Spring Assizes of 1662.
"Between these two assizes," he says, "I had by my jailer some liberty granted
me more than at the first." This liberty was certainly of the largest kind consistent
with his character of a prisoner. The church books show that he was occasionally
present at their meetings, and was employed on the business of the
congregation. Nay, even his preaching, which was the cause of his
imprisonment, was not forbidden. "I followed," he says, writing of this period, "my
wonted course of preaching, taking all occasions that were put into my hand to
visit the people of God." But this indulgence was very brief and was brought
sharply to an end. It was plainly irregular, and depended on the connivance of his
jailer. We cannot be surprised that when it came to the magistrates' ears - "my
enemies," Bunyan rather unworthily calls them - they were seriously displeased.
Confounding Bunyan with the Fifth Monarchy men and other turbulent sectaries,
they imagined that his visits to London had a political object, "to plot, and raise
division, and make insurrections," which, he honestly adds, "God knows was a
slander." The jailer was all but "cast out of his place," and threatened with an
indictment for breach of trust, while his own liberty was so seriously "straitened"
that he was prohibited even "to look out at the door." The last time Bunyan's
name appears as present at a church meeting is October 28, 1661, nor do we