John Bunyan – “The Pilgrim’s Progress” – “Vanity Fair”

Probably the most famous episode of The Pilgrim’s Progress, if only because it gave the name to a certain magazine. The pilgrims on their way to the Celestial City have to go through a town called Vanity, where an all-year-round fair is held (as opposed to the usual fairs, which were an annual occasion). At this point obviously Bunyan has to quote Ecclesiasticus (sorry, the authors of the New International Version, but “meaningless, meaningless, all is meaningless” just does not sound as well). At the fair you can buy everything people care about in their lives: riches, job promotions, mistresses, spouses, children etc. Just like in regular fairs (and you can sometimes see the traces of it in the names of the streets in some historical towns) each nation has its own street, so there is the German Row, the French Row, but the most popular is the one dealing with the ware of Rome (meaning the Roman Catholic Church). The fair was established by devils when they realized all pilgrims had to pass through the town, all the better to tempt them. Also Jesus went through this town during his temptation in the desert. When the pilgrims come to town, they make a sensation because they dress and speak differently, so a lot of people mock them (just like Puritans were often mocked for their dress and what others perceived as affectation in speech). They also refuse to buy any of the goods on display. They are led to the governor of the town and although they tell him they mean no offense to the town, they just don’t want to buy anything, they are put in a cage where they can be taunted publicly.

John Bunyan – “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (fragments – “The Slough of Despond”)

As Christian is running away, many of his neighbours come out to see what is going on or cry after him to return. The biblical reference to Jeremiah sends us to a dark passage in which the prophet complains about how his friends conspire against him. Two of his neighbours, Obstinate and Pliable follow him and when they catch up with him, they try to make him come back. He tells them that his town is bound to be destroyed and he is in search for eternal life and reward. Obstinate makes fun of it, but Pliable is convinced and decides to follow him. But on their way they reach a big marsh called the Slough of Despond. Pliable becomes quickly discouraged, because that’s not how he imagined the promised reward. He says to Christian “You can keep all the promised happiness to yourself”, manages to make his way to the bank closest to his house and goes home. Christian manages to reach the opposite bank, but the burden on his back is too big and he can’t get out. Fortunately he meets a man named Help who asks him what he is doing in there. Christian says he went in search of the wicker gate and fell into the bog. Help asks him why he didn’t look for the steps and Christian answers that he was running so fast because of his fear he didn’t look the out. Help then, true to his name, helps him to get out from the bog on the solid ground. The narrator (the man who has the dream, not Christian) asks Help why the road is not repaired if that’s the only way from the City of Destruction to the gate. Help explains that “it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run”; in other words the experience of conversion is inextricably connected with the realization of the grossness of one’s sins and the resulting depression.

John Bunyan – “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (fragments)

After Samuel Pepys comes a man who in many respects is Pepys’s polar opposite: working-class, spent a big part of the Restoration years in jail, with apparently no time for theatres, chasing women or caring about his home decorations. But as we could see in the previous post, Pepys was in his own way a sincerely religious man, even though his flesh was notoriously weak. And only because Buyan did not describe his every hook-up in as much detail as Pepys did, can we assume he led a spotless life? Although taking into account how much time he spent in prison, he simply may not have had as much opportunity for sin. And Bunyan called himself “the chief of sinners” in the title of his autobiography, although that’s what every Puritan would have done, so we can’t really rely on that.

One characteristic feature of Bunyan’s writing is that he gives you book, chapter, verse for almost everything he writes. I don’t see that kind of intimacy with the Bible often nowadays outside of The Watchtower. Bunyan’s use of biblical allusions is also quite interesting: sometimes he just indicates where he lifted whole expressions from the Bible and put it in a different contexts, sometimes his text is like an illustration of the biblical passage, like when Christian is fleeing his sinful family and the biblical siglum sends us to the line in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples you have to hate your father and your mother to be his disciple.

But from the start: the text is a throwback to the classical medieval dream vision, which begins with the narrator falling asleep and relating to the readers the contents of his dream. He sees a man reading a book, with a burden on his back and a book in his hand. What he reads in the book apparently disconcerts him, because he sarts to cry and ask “What shall I do?” He goes home and tries to hide his sorrow from his family, but finally he can’t contain it any longer and he tells them he has it on good authority that their town is going to be destroyed and they together with it. They first think he is just “tired and emotional” and tell him to go to bed, but when the next day he doesn’t change his views, they start to make fun of him or ignore him. During one of his solitary walks in the fields he meets “a man named Evangelist” who asks his about the reasons of his distress. He tells him that he has learnt from the book that he is doomed to die and then come to judgment, and he is neither willing to do the former or able to do the latter. Evangelist asks him why he is not willing to die, and the yet nameless man (later identified as Christian) tells him that he is afraid that the burden upon his back is going to drag him to hell. Evangelist asks him whether he sees a wicket gate but he can’t. Evangelist then asks him whether he can see a shining light, and when answered in the affirmative, he tells him to follow the light which should lead him to the wicker gate, and there he will be told what to do next. So the man runs toward it, putting his fingers in his ears so that he can’t hear the cries of his wife and children.

Samuel Pepys – “The Diary” (fragments)

After yesterday’s post I checked the birth dates of Samuel Pepys and his wife, and I learnt that they were much younger than I thought. Somehow the portrait conventions, all these elaborate dresses and hairstyles, make people of the former eras always look “old”, while in fact Pepys wrote his diary between the ages of 27 and 37. His wife was seven years younger than him (she died, poor soul, of typhoid fever, when she was 29, just a few months after he ended writing his diary. The events described in this post took place when he was 35 and she was 28, so they were not a middle-aged bickering  couple, but quite young people. Heck, today they would just start considering “becoming exclusive”. (I just checked, and if Wikipedia is to be believed, Deb Willet at the time of these events was just 18.)

But in Pepys’s world, they “became exclusive” thirteen years ago, with of course the cultural assumption that faithfulness for a wife was obligatory, while for a husband it was just a nice ideal to aspire to. In fact, the cultural assumption was enshrined in English law, which stated that a husband could divorce his wife for adultery, while a wife could not. So the marital spats between Mr and Mrs Pepys, which AFAIR were a regular feature of their domestic life, make me rather sad. She could throw tantrums and make various threats and he could be all remorseful and swear never to cheat on her again (and perhaps even really mean it), but the truth of the matter is that at the back of their heads they both knew he had the upper hand in the conflict.

So the story is: Mrs Pepys does not want her husband to go out, because she is afraid he is going to search for Deb Willet, which he swears he won’t do, and of course as soon as he is out of door he heads to the place where he heard she might be staying. After a whole day spent in search of her (he sends somebody who thought knew somebody who worked as a porter for her landlord etc.), interspersed with popping in at his workplace now and then, he finally learns about her whereabouts and hires a coach to go to her, because by that time it got dark. She comes in the coach and he persuades her to give him a hand job (as usual, Pepys resorts to a mixture of Spanish and French words to describe the act), after which he gives her a sermon about how she needs to guard her honour. In Pepys’s curious definition, it means not doing it wtih any other man but him. It’s funny, but also I think what a great deal of men define as “a decent woman” nowadays, even if they don’t admit it. He gives her some money and the directions how to contact him secretly. He goes home, tells his wife some nice story about what kept him so late and goes to bed.

The next day Pepys works from home and he is in very good mood all morning, thinking he managed his affair with Deb just fine. When before the lunch he goes to see how the redecoration of one of their rooms goes on, he notices his wife’s sour face. She starts to accuse him of going to see Deb Willet yesterday, he first denies it, knowing that she can have no proof, but finally admits to ease her and his mind and also to relieve his conscience. (I think the cheaters who go all “see, I told you everything, I am so honest and have such a sensitive conscience” are not worse than plain cheaters.) Elizabeth makes various threats to slit Deb’s nose, and to leave her husband, and demands money of him to make her leave quietly instead of publicizing his affair. So she yells, he apologizes, and finally he decides to call in his clerk William Hewer, who by this time was pretty much his friend, and poor Hewer is forced to play the role of the child who cries and says “Mommy, don’t leave Daddy!” (The Pepyses didn’t have children; Pepys did live the last years of his life in Hewer’s house and made him the executor of his will, so I think the comparison is quite apt.) Finally Elizabeth makes Pepys swear he will never see or speak with Deb again. After that they have supper and pretty good make-up sex. In the middle of the night Pepys goes to his room to pray on his knees to God to give him strength to stop cheating on his wife, because he really hates when they quarrel, although he notices mournfully that “God knows I cannot yet [pray] heartily”, which sounds awfully like St Augustine’s prayer “Lord, make me pure, but not yet”. He is so depressed by the whole business that he cannot even enjoy the new upholstery in his room. As the Helpful Footnote points out, God didn’t send Pepys his grace and he did continue to pursue Deb, but apparently they never consummated their affair.

Samuel Pepys – “The Diary” (fragments)

Samuel Pepys was an inveterate womanizer and the next selection of fragments refers to his affair with the maid Deb Willet. At the end of what seems like a fairly ordinary Sunday (church, a visit from a friend etc.) he asked Deb to comb his hair and his wife walked on them when he was fingering her, which was the cause “of the greatest sorrow to me that i knew in this world”. It might be a bit of hyperbole, taking into account Pepys survived the Great Fire and also a surgery for kidney stones. Anyway, he can’t be sure how much she really saw because of the voluminous skirts then worn by women, but she definitely saw them being intimate and stood speechless. What follows is several days during which Pepys’s wife keeps on waking him up in the middle of the night, yelling at him, crying and threatening to convert to Roman Catholicism. All that happens during a rather nervous time at Pepys’s work, when Duke of York is accused of mismanaging the Navy and Pepys has to defend him. Still, knowing himself in the wrong, he tries to appease her and swears his love for her. But he is also worried about Deb’s future, because Mrs Pepys is sure to dismiss her. About two weeks later, when Deb is living, Pepys tries to hand her discreetly some money, but his wife keeps an eye on him and he doesn’t have a chance to do so. He goes to work with a heavy heart, not least because he thinks now he won’t be allowed to have sex with anybody else (which turned out not to be true), but on the other hand he also thinks that she will try to please him to keep him from straying, and he really wants to be a faithful husband, because she deserves it, but he also thinks its going to be hard for him to forget Deb. It’s a long sentence, but this is how Pepys’s mind works, and he does his best to note down all these conflicting emotions. At night he has sex with his wife and he observes they had more sex in the period since they quarrelled then in the whole previous year, and it seems like it gave his wife more pleasure than ever before. Was Mrs Pepys putting on a bit of Meg Ryan to keep her wayward husband with her? Or did the quarrel really re-ignite their passion? People. They are complicated.

Samuel Pepys – “The Diary” (fragments)

While at dinner, the Pepyses are briefly visited by a friend worrying about her relatives who live near the fire. After dinner Pepys and his guest walk through the city where they witness people again engaging in the pointless activity of carrying their goods to the houses which seem safer. Then he takes the boat to observe the fire from the water. On the river he meets the King and Duke of York in their barge, follows them to a harbour and brings Sir Richard Browne, a former Mayor, to them. He observes that in the boats carrying the goods from the evacuated houses there is a virginal (a small keyboard instrument) in at least one out of three, which tells us something about the affluence and cultural aspirations of the inhabitants of this district of London. Again, the only way to stop the fire is to pull down the houses which are not burning yet, but the fire is too fast. Pepys goes back to St James’s Park where he meets his wife and some friends. Together they watch the fire first from the boat, then from a small alehouse on the other bank. The ravages make him weep. They return home and they are visited by a friend who wants to store his things in their house. They invite him to spend the night, but it turns out to be of little use, as the fire gets dangerously close and they spend the night packing up their own things.

I’m not quite sure about the timeline here, because the next entry is dated September 5, so three days after the previous one. I’m not sure if the entries in the days between were left out by the editors here. Pepys himself notices that when the days are very eventful, they feel like weeks and he himself forgot the day of the week, so maybe he himself was not quite sure what happened on which day and he wrote a kind of condensed entry covering all three days. At 2 am, when the fire is already at the bottom of their lane, Pepys evacuates his wife accompanied by his clerk and their maid to Woolwich, a suburb of London, together with their money. When he goes back home, he fully expects to see it burnt to ashes, but much to his relief the demolition of houses in the path of fire finally gave results and helped to save his house. He goes up the steeple of Barking Church, which is only slightly damaged, with its clock destroyed, and looks with dismay at the desolate landscape around. He has some cold meat at Sir William Penn’s (the father of William Penn of Pennsylvania), the first proper meal he had since Sunday and then goes to the City again to see the destruction. He picks up a piece of molten glass from the windows of Mercer’s Chapel. The Exchange is totally destroyed but for the portrait of its founder Sir Thomas Gresham. A poor cat hiding in a chimney in the Exchange’s wall had all its hair singed off, but it’s still alive. A lot of people sought refuge in Mercerfields with everything they possessed; luckily for them the weather is good (although I guess if it had rained, the fire would have been over sooner), but the price of bread has already gone up. The ashes are still so hot they burn Pepys’s feet. He goes home and spends a restless night there with the workmen at the ready to evacuate his office. But in the end around midnight it seems like it’s safe and he goes to sleep. When he wakes up, he hears again rumours about how the fire is the work of the French or the Dutch or both and how invasion is going to happen any moment now, but of course it doesn’t.

Samuel Pepys – “The Diary” (fragments)

Samuel Pepys wrote his diary for nearly a decade, until he left off because of his concerns with his failing eyesight. Maybe it’s just as well, because the diary as it is us 1.3 million words long and it’s quite daunting to imagine how long it would be had he gone on. He was uniquely positioned to depict the life of London in the Restoration era, since he rose from rather humble lower-middle-class origins to the post of a high-ranking official in the Navy. So while his family and most of his friends are middle-class, he mixes with aristocracy, visits the court and collects stories from all over London. I imagine it’s quite difficult to choose which fragments from this mass of text to choose, so the editors of the NAEL went for what was surely the most dramatic days not only in the period of Pepys’ life covered by the diary, but also the most dramatic days in London of this era – the Great Fire of 1666. As it is often the case with momentous events, it doesn’t begin with a loud bang but kind of sneaks on Pepys, and I’m sure on many of Londoners. Pepys’ maid wakes him up at 3 am to say there’s a fire nearby, but it doesn’t look very dangerous from his window, so he goes back to sleep. When he wakes up again at 7am, it looks even further away, so he goes to his office to put things in order as he planned. But then Jane comes with a report that above 300 houses have been burned and now it’s burning by the London Bridge, so Pepys dresses himself and goes to the top of the Tower. He sees fires on both ends of the Bridge, which concerns him, because some of his friends live there. The Lieutenant of the Tower tells him it started, as it is now generally assumed, in the bakery in Pudding Lane. Pepys goes down, rents a boat and with a random gentleman who joined him goes to the Bridge. His friend’s house is alrealy burned, people fling their goods out of the windows into the water or into the barges waiting nearby and the fire is spreading rapidly. A touching detail is that poor pigeons keep on hovering near their burning houses, so close that some of them have their wings singed and they fall down. After about an hour Pepys goes to the royal palace at Whitehall and there he explains the situation to the King and the Duke of York. They are very concerned and the King orders pulling down of the houses, as Pepys suggested, to stop the fire from spreading. They tell him to go to the Lord Mayor with this command and say they can send more soldiers if he needs them. Pepys goes now in a coach with several officials in search of the Lord Mayor. Everywhere around him is a mess, especially since nobody does anything to stop the fire and people seem to be mostly concerned to transport their goods safely to their friends’ houses or to churches, while they “themselves should have been there quietly at this time”, as Pepys piously observes. Anyway, all this moving of goods is of no use, since the houses previously thought safe in time also become endangered by fire. Finally they come across the Lord Mayor, who is dead tired. He says he’s been pulling houses all night but it’s no use, because the fire is so fast, and now he needs to go and have some rest. Pepys notices the houses are very dry (it’s 2 September, at the end of a hot and dry summer), full of pitch and tar and there are several houses full of oil and brandy tight in the fire’s direction. It’s now noon and so he comes back home, because they have some previously invited guests. He meant to show one of the gemtlemen some things in his office but they are not in the mood. Nevertheless, as a testimony to the resilience of human spirit (or human short-sightedness?) “we had an extraordinary good dinner, and as merry as at this time we could be.”