Friday, July 8, 2011

Pilgrim's Progress

                    The Pilgrim's Progress,
From this World to that which is to Come,
            by John Bunyan.
This classic in Christian and English literature is familiar to you, I'm sure.  It became a standard reference for students, and many of the English classics, like Little Women, refer to it. For now, I am re-reading some of the old devotional classics, favorites I read years ago. This copy, retrieved from someone's discard pile on its way to the thrift store, is missing its publication date, but the inscription in the front is dated June 1st, 1909.

In the beautiful handwriting of their day:
"Presented to
Miss Ida
As First Prize
in Spelling Class 'A'
By [her teacher]
Chickasaw, O
June 1st, 1909"

Somewhere in Oklahoma, in 1909, a young woman studied hard at her spelling and won this book, which I now hold in my hands, as her reward. There is no town of Chickasaw listed for Oklahoma.  The Chickasaw Tribe was one of the five Indian nations given territory in what is now Oklahoma, which became a state in 1907. Perhaps Miss Ida was from one of the families who settled in the Oklahoma Territory in the late 1800's. Or, was she a young Indian, learning English in a tiny prairie schoolhouse?

I love the evidence that she read and turned each page, marking favorite lines as she progressed through the book.
The illustrations by J.D. Watson, engraved by The Brothers Dalziel, are dark and sometimes frightening, typical of art from that era. The drawings support the message that Pilgrim's journey was fraught [a good Old English word] with danger and adversaries, yet also with those ready to help him along his way.
This book has to be handled carefully.  The binding is loose, the spine is falling off, the pages are yellowed and brittle. Each morning, I balance it carefully on my lap, one edge supported on the desk so as not to put extra weight on the weak binding.  The pages must be turned slowly, gently - a reminder to enjoy and appreciate and savor the precious [more Old English] words inscribed by John Bunyan from his prison cell.

This paragraph is from the Memoir of John Bunyan, by George Offor, in the front of my book.

"In The Pilgrim's Progress, the world has acknowledged one train of beauties; picture after picture, most beautifully finished, exhibiting the road from destruction to the celestial city; our only difficulty in such a display being to decide as to which is the most interesting and striking piece of scenery. The learned have ransacked the literature of all ages and countries to find the storehouses from whence these ideas were drawn. But vain have been their researches. Human wisdom is humbled before an unlettered artizan who never felt his own brilliant allegorical powers. His soul had been baptized into Scriptural truths conceived in the imagery of the Bible. His whole mind was deeply tinted with the sublime scenery of Job, of Isaiah, of our Lord, and of all the inspired penmen. This alone was his ample storehouse. The researches of nearly two centuries have proved the truth of his perfect claim to originality."

As I slowly read through the book, a few pages each morning, I think of Ida and hope she found her way to the celestial city as she traveled through life, ending her journey in this world with the assurance of knowing the world which is to come.


  1. Oh, Maureen! You've stuck a sentimental chord with me in your post today! I love LOVE old books and to read and consider the hands and eyes that once touched and consumed the words between the fragile pages is a fascinating journey I never tire of. It would appear that you have quite a little piece of history in your hands with the Chickasaw reference and date and known history of the region. Also - what a testimony to the Christian worldview prevalent in our schools at the time! To win such a prize for a spelling contest! My heart thrills and is sick at once as I consider how far we've slipped from such a place. I suppose that two world wars can do that to a society. But, end times must happen. Bearing with it - but loving to tell His Story - especially through old books!
    Miss Kathy

  2. What a treasure that you acquired that book! I have a copy my grandmother gave me when I was a teen. I read it only once at that time. You've inspired me to give it another go.

  3. So far the most encouraging analogy is when Christian is talking with Interpreter, and he tells of a fire burning against a wall, with a man throwing water on it to extinguish it, but the fire burns higher and brighter. Interpreter shows him a man on the backside of the wall pouring a vessel of oil into the fire. "That is Christ,who continually, with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart..." No matter how many buckets of cold water others may throw on us, the Lord's grace keeps pouring into our hearts. Love this!