Gateway to the Classics: John Bunyan's Dream Story by James Baldwin
John Bunyan's Dream Story by  James Baldwin


O F the great books which have been composed or partly written in prison, the Pilgrim's Progress,  by John Bunyan, is the best known and the most remarkable. Its author was a young man of thirty-two when he was thrown into the common jail at Bedford, England; he was past forty-four and middle-aged when he was released. His only offense against the law was preaching that which he believed to be true.

The dungeon in which he was immured was so vile that the worst prisons in our country are delightful places when compared with it. But here John Bunyan had ample time to think and to put his thoughts together. His education was of the poorest sort, and during his imprisonment he had access to but two volumes—the Bible and Fox's "Book of Martyrs." As he thought upon the great problems of existence, the idea of a story came, little by little, into his mind—a story in the form of a dream, a story of man's life regarded as a journey or pilgrimage.

By and by, he began to write such a story. He wrote it in the easy, simple language of the common people, and, without knowing it, produced one of the most beautiful prose poems ever written. After his release from prison his work was submitted to a printer who corrected its bad spelling and most of its faulty grammar, and in 1677 it was published.

The Pilgrim's Progress  came into the world very modestly; but the charm of the story was such that, without advertisement, it soon grew into fame. Edition after edition was called for, and wherever the English language was known it became the subject of daily talk among the common people. For two hundred years or more no other English book was so generally known and read.

No other book of modern times has had a history so remarkable as this simple story "in the similitude of a dream." It has been translated into eighty languages. It has been turned into verse. It has been rewritten in scholarly English. It has been imitated a score of times in short-lived books whose very titles are forgotten. It has been remodeled and adapted to serve the most remarkable and diverse purposes. It has been dramatized and presented upon the stage as a beautiful and most impressive play. Notwithstanding all this, however, the original work, as first written in the dialect of the humble people of Bunyan's own time and station, remains unequaled and unharmed.

With the changed conditions of life in our own times the popularity of the Pilgrim's Progress  has greatly waned. While it was formerly the first and perhaps the only story book read by thousands of children of all ages, it is now known to but few young people except by name. Its distinctively religious character has excluded it from the public schools and caused it to remain a closed book to the majority of twentieth-century readers. Tastes have changed, and long dialogues and disquisitions on faith and justification are no longer interesting or agreeable.

But suppose we divest the story of some of those qualities which may be described as old-fashioned and out of date—suppose that, retaining its essential peculiarities of style and diction, we repeat it without apparent didactic intent, simply as a pleasing narrative—and John Bunyan's dream story becomes a delightful fairy tale, poetic in form and surpassingly interesting.

Such was the intent with which the preparation of the present little book was undertaken. In pursuing this intent, an effort has been made to relate the story in a manner that will appeal to present-day readers simply because of its inherent interest. Wherever it has been possible within the limits of this plan, the words of Bunyan have been retained, and much care has been taken to preserve as far as possible the quaint and beautiful style of the original. Of course much abridgment has been necessary; and, in general, whatever the modern reader would be tempted to skip has been left out or rewritten.

Thus John Bunyan's dream story is presented to the school children of the twentieth century. May it prove to be as acceptable to them as, in its complete form, the Pilgrim's Progress  was pleasing to the simple-hearted but adult readers of Bunyan's own time.

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