As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den; and I layed me down in the place to sleep: and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.


This great and simple opening of The Pilgrim’s Progress may remind us that in 1678 Bunyan’s dream was delivered to a reading public ready to receive it. For not only the British but Europeans generally had become all too familiar with the moral complexity of the natural world and the hardness of its going; their every path was a perplexity, their wandering footsteps stumbled in a maze, a labyrinth, a wilderness. Already John Amos Comenius, that great educational reformer of international renown, had published his Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1631), in which he hoped to show “both the vanity of the world and the glory, happiness and pleasure of the chosen hearts that are united with God,” while a host of other hortatory works in English with titles suggestive of Bunyan’s were in widespread circulation during the first half of the seventeenth century.

It is consequently hardly surprising that The Pilgrim’s Progress should have met so early with “good acceptation among the people,” as publisher Nathaniel Ponder happily observed in an appendix to the fourth edition of 1680. Furnishing as it did much counsel, caution and consolation amid the toilsome traffic of daily life, it bore a message that was at once both useful and agreeable. What is more remarkable is the degree of its success as a best-seller. Bunyan’s first editor, Charles Doe, noted in 1692 that about one hundred thousand copies were at that time in print in England alone and that the book had already appeared “in France, Holland, New England and in Welch”, a phenomenon ...

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