Literary daybook, March 4

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published March 4, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction
On March 4, a dead man is found on the night train from London.
-- "The Singing Sands" (1952)
By Josephine Tey

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in literary history
On this day in 1675 John Bunyan went to prison for the third time, convicted of preaching his Baptist faith without a license. In more than 12 years of confinement Bunyan wrote numerous books and pamphlets, including Part 1 of "A Pilgrim's Progress." It sold 100,000 copies in his lifetime, and it is still reported to be the most sold book in the world next to the Bible. Christian's allegorical journey from "this World to that which is to come" requires him to triumph over Obstinate, Pliable, Worldly-Wise, Ready-to-Halt and Madame Bubble; to negotiate the Slough of Despond and the town of Carnal Policy; to cross the Valley of Humiliation and the Plain of Ease; to rise above Lucre-Hill and the Delectable Mountain; and, like all others who would arrive at the Celestial City, to make no purchase at Vanity Fair:

"Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold: as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms; lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts -- as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.

"And moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be deceivers, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues and that of every kind.

"Here are to be seen, too -- and that for nothing -- thefts, murders, adulteries, false -- swearers, and that of a blood red colour..."

Just as Bunyan and the Baptists were ridiculed and persecuted for their dress, habits and beliefs, so were the pilgrims at Vanity:

"Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt; and then put them into the cage, that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair."

Bunyan half-expected such treatment from his own followers for having written the book, the Puritan eye viewing stories as idleness and indulgence, at best. In "The Author's Apology for His Book," we are told how the allegory came to Bunyan unbidden and how once begun it took on a life of its own:

"For, having now my method by the end,
Still as I pulled, it came; and so I penned
It down: until it came at last to be,
For length and breadth, the bigness which you see."

Bunyan consulted his followers about publishing: "Some said, JOHN, print it; others said, Not so;/ Some said, It might do good; others said, No." In the end -- the Apology goes on for a long, long time -- the hope of edification by example won out over the fear of corruption by metaphor. These are the closing lines of Bunyan's argument for his book, if not all books:

"Art thou for something rare and profitable?
Wouldest thou see a truth within a fable?
Art thou forgetful? Wouldest thou remember
From New-Year's day to the last of December?
Then read my fancies; they will stick like burs,
And may be, to the helpless, comforters...

Wouldst thou be in a dream, and yet not sleep?
Or wouldst thou in a moment laugh and weep?
Wouldst thou lose thyself and catch no harm,
And find thyself again without a charm?
Wouldst read thyself, and read thou knowest not what,
And yet know whether thou art blest or not,
By reading the same lines? Oh, then come hither,
And lay my book, thy head, and heart together."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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