The life, but mostly the times, of the writer whom Bernard Shaw called the greatest prose master in English: ""[His]...

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A TINKER AND A POOR MAN: John Bunyan and His Church, 1628-1688

The life, but mostly the times, of the writer whom Bernard Shaw called the greatest prose master in English: ""[His] sentences go straight to their mark; and their concluding phrases soar like the sunrise or swing and drop like a hammer."" With translation into over 200 languages, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progess is second only to the Bible as the most widely published book in the world. Its story of a damned man racing after eternal life appeals boundlessly. In many ways its allegory is also Bunyan's spiritual life-story--it begins when Christian abandons his wife and children to seek the Celestial City, just as Bunyan left his family to go to prison for 12 years for preaching his nonconformist message. He would have been freed if he had promised to shut up on certain prickly subjects, but he chose to stay in prison and write his tracts--a heavy weight on his wife and children. His words--in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners--on leaving his blind daughter (""Thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow upon thee"") become unbearably moving. Hill, perhaps the outstanding scholar of the English Revolution (Milton and the English Revolution; The Experience of Defeat; etc.), focuses half his words on the political and religious turmoil surrounding Bunyan. These make for stiff reading beside the vivid voice of Bunyan, who pops with muscular life whenever the textual straw is cleared away. But Hill's liveliest chapters are those devoted to Bunyan's larger works--he has a keen way with Bunyan's occasional overwriting, and in showing how Bunyan's energy is rooted in rebellious ideas as much as in mastery of a poor tinker's artisan prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988