Billeder på siden
[ocr errors]

Taylor's Style.

99 Taylor has been called the Shakespeare of English prose ; and although his position as a prose writer is not at all comparable to that occupied by Shakespeare as a poet, there is a good deal of truth in the designation. Like Shakespeare, his superabundant fancy occasionally gets the better of his good taste, and he pours forth the riches of his imagination with a profusion which is more to be wondered at than admired. Like Shakespeare, too, he seems to have "written right on," careless of minute accuracy in the grammatical construction of his sentences. He possessed the typical poetic temperament: tender, full of love for all that is beautiful, impassioned, and impetuous. Another characteristic of Taylor is his width of learning, which is distributed over his works with the same careless abundance as the flowers of his fancy. Thus in writings intended for popular perusal, he speaks of hard students “being as mute as the Seriphian frogs ;" of "garments made of the Calabrian fleece, and stained with the blood of the murex : of "the tender lard of the Apulian swine ;” and so on. This pedantry (for it can be called by no better name) is no doubt to be in part attributed to the fashion of the time; but Taylor carries the practice further than any of his contemporaries. His quotations from classical authors, which are frequent, are, as has been several times shown, often inaccurate to an astonishing degree. He was also a great coiner of new words, using “respersed" for "scattered;" "deordination ” for “confusion;" "clancularly" for "secretly;" "immorigerous" for "disobedient ; " " ferity” for “fierceness ;” “ intenerate" for "render soft,” and many others of the same kind. With all his faults (many of which, after all, are faults that a man of less copious genius could not have committed), Taylor was a writer of astonishing power, who can in no wise be passed over by any one aspiring to even a fair knowledge of English literature. “He was,” said Coleridge, “a man constitutionally overflowing with pleasurable kindliness, who scarcely even in a casual illustration introduces the image of a woman, child, or bird, but he embalms the thought with so rich a tenderness as makes the very words seem beauties and fragments


of poetry from a Euripides or a Simonides." In occasional pas. siges he reaches surpassing heights of eloquence. Take the following description of the “Day of Judgment”:

“Then all the beasts and creeping things, the monsters, and the usual inhabitants of the sea shall be gathered together, and make fearful noises to distract mankind : the birds shall mourn and change their song into threnes and sad accents; rivers of fire shall rise from east to west, and the stars shall be rent into threads of light, and scatter like the beards of comets; then shall be fearful earthquakes, and the rocks shall rend in pieces, the trees shall distil blood, and the mountains and fairest structures shall return into their primitive dust; the wild beasts shall leave their dens, and shall come into the companies of men, so that you shall hardly tell how to call them, herds of men or congregations of beasts; then shall the graves open and give up their dead, and those which are alive in nature and dead in fear shall be forced from the rocks whither they went to hide them, and from the caverns of the earth where they would fain have been concealed; because their retirements are dismantled and their rocks broken into wild ruptures, and admit a strange light into their secret bowels; and the men being forced abroad into the theatre of mighty horrors, shall run up and down distracted and at their wits' end; and then some shall die, and some shall be changed; and by this time the elect shall be gathered together from the four quarters of the world, and Christ shall come along with them to judgment."

But it is not alone in sublime description that Taylor excels. In pathos he has few equals; and had we space, many passages from his writings might be quoted full of the most touching grace and tenderness.

Two other theological writers of the period may be briefly mentioned. One of these was Richard Baxter (1615-91), who, originally ordained in the Church of England, afterwards joined the Parliamentary party. Of his many works—he is said to have written one hundred and sixty-eight in all—two still remain popular, the “Saint's Rest” and the “Call to the

[blocks in formation]

Unconverted," and merit their popularity not so much because of any great charm of style as because they express in homely language the thoughts of a most sincere, heavenly minded, and excellent man. The other, John Bunyan, is one of our greatest authors, and may be taken as the typical prose writer of Puritanism, as Milton is its typical poet. The story of his early years, as related by himself in his “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners," is a very touching one. The son of a tinker, he was born at Elstow, near Bedford, in 1628. More fortunate than most children born in so low a rank, he was sent to school and taught to read and write. He must have been a thoughtful and imaginative child, for when only about nine years old he began to be tormented with those fearful thoughts which caused him such agony for several years. “I would," he says, “ be greatly troubled with the thoughts of the fearsul torments of heil-fire ; still fearing that it would be my lot to be found at last among those devils and hellish fiends who are there bound down with the chains and bonds of darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” As he grew older these terrible impressions wore nearly off; he became, according to his own account, “a very ringleader in all manner of vice and ungodliness.” A very exaggerated statement, it would seem, for the only sins he specifically mentions are Sabbath-breaking and swearing: there is no reason to believe that his conduct was worse than that of other young men belonging to the same class. When about eighteen he married. His wife's relations were pious, and she brought with her as her only portion some religious books. Influenced by them and by his wife's conversation, Bunyan soon became a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He went to church twice a day, and did “there very devoutly both say and sing as others did,” and regarded all connected with the church with the utmost reverence. But Bunyan was not the sort of man to find peace of mind in the observation of forms and ceremonies. One by one he gave up the sports and sins in which he had indulged, -swearing, Sabbath-breaking, dancing, bell-ringing, and so on. Still, while his neighbours were praising him for his spotless morality, he felt that he was but a whited sepulchre. In vain he tried to obtain inward peace of mind. At one time he was overwhelmed by doubts whether he was one of the elect, at another he suffered unspeakable agonies from the thought that he had committed the unpardonable sin. At length peace dawned upon his troubled soul; but it was several years before his shattered nerves recovered their tone.

Five or six years after his conversion, Bunyan, who had joined a Baptist society at Bedford, “was desired, and that with much earnestness, that he would be willing at some times to take in hand at one of the meetings to speak a word of exhortation unto them." Very reluctantly he assented, and his ministrations soon became so popular that he was more particularly called forth, and appointed to a more ordinary and public preaching of the word.” For five years he continued to preach with increasing popularity, when, in 1660, “ I was,” to use his own words, “indicted for a maintainer of unlawful assemblies and conventicles, and for not conforming to the Church of England; and after some conference there with the justices, they taking my plain dealing with them for a confession, as they termed it, of the indictment, did sentence me to a perpetual banishment because I refused to conform. So, being again delivered up to the gaoler's hands, I was had to prison, and there laid a complete twelve years, waiting to see what God would suffer these men to do with me.” In vain his persecutors told him that if he promised to abstain from preaching he would at once be liberated. “If you let me out to-day," was his reply, “I will preach again to-morrow." His trials and privations sat lightly on him; no agony that man could inflict was equal to the mental tortures he had come through. While in prison he supported himself by making tagged thread laces; he gave religious instructions to his fellowcaptives; he studied over and over again his two favourite books, the Bible and Foxe's “Book of Martyrs ;” and he engaged in religious controversy, writing against the Quakers and the Liturgy of the Church of England. During the last six years of his imprisonment, when he was treated with great The Pilgrim's Progress.” 103 leniency, he hit upon the vein of writing for which his genius was adapted. Before his release he began that allegory to which he owes his fame. “The Pilgrim's Progress,'” writes Macaulay in his admirable “Encyclopædia Britannica" sketch of Bunyan, "stole silently into the world. Not a single copy of the first edition is known to be in existence. The year of publication has not been ascertained. It is probable that during some months the little volume circulated only among poor and obscure sectaries. But soon the irresistible charm of a book which gratified the imagination of the reader with all the action and scenery of a fairy tale, which exercised his ingenuity by setting him to discover a multitude of curious analogies, which interested his feeling for human beings, frail like himself, and struggling with temptations from within and from without, which every moment drew a smile from him by some stroke of quaint yet simple pleasantry, and nevertheless left on his mind a sentiment of reverence for God and of sympathy for man, began to produce its effect. In puritanical circles, from which plays and novels were strictly excluded, that effect was such as no work of genius, though it were superior to the “Iliad,' to · Don Quixote,' or to‘Othello,' can ever produce on a mind accustomed to indulgence in literary luxury. In 1678 came forth a second edition with additions, and then the demand became immense.”

In 1687, when the penal laws against the Dissenters were relaxed, a chapel was built for Bunyan at Bedford, where his powerful though uncultivated eloquence and his wonderful acquaintance with the workings of conscience, won by much hard-bought experience, attracted crowds of hearers from the districts around. In the summer of 1688 he caught cold from exposure incurred during a ride through heavy rain to visit an angry father whom he wished to reconcile to his son. A few days after he died. Bunyan is a man on whose character much might be written. Of a morbidly keen conscience and of strong imagination, bis faults assumed gigantic size in his eyes, and were felt by him with proportionate intensity. Totally free from hypocrisy, he, while in his stormy youth



« ForrigeFortsæt »