John Bunyan and His Wife

by Lord Campbell's, Lives of the Judges

Letter E.

Elizabeth his wife, actuated by his undaunted spirit, applied to the House of Lords for his release; and, according to her relation, she was told, "they could do nothing; but that his releasement was committed to the Judges at the next assizes." The Judges were Sir Matthew Hale and Mr. Justice Twisden; and a remarkable contrast appeared between the well-known meekness of the one, and fury of the other. Elizabeth came before them, and, stating her husband's case, prayed for justice: "Judge Twisden," says John Bunyan, "snapt her up, and angrily told her that I was a convicted person, and could not be released unless I would promise to preach no more. Elizabeth: 'The Lords told me that releasement was committed to you, and you give me neither releasement nor relief. My husband is unlawfully in prison, and you are bound to discharge him.' Twisden: 'He has been lawfully convicted.' Elizabeth: 'It is false, for when they said "Do you confess the indictment?" he answered, "At the meetings where he preached, they had God's presence among them."' Twisden: 'Will your husband leave preaching? if he will do so, then send for him.' Elizabeth: 'My Lord, he dares not leave off preaching as long as he can speak. But, good my Lords, consider that we have four small children, one of them blind, and that they have nothing to live upon while their father is in prison, but the charity of Christian people.' Sir Matthew Hale: 'Alas! poor woman.' Twisden: 'Poverty is your cloak, for I hear your husband is better maintained by running up and down a-preaching than by following his calling?' Sir Matthew Hale: 'What is his calling?' Elizabeth: 'A tinker, please you my Lord; and because he is a tinker, and a poor man, therefore he is despised and cannot have justice.' Sir Matthew Hale: 'I am truly sorry we can do you no good. Sitting here we can only act as the law gives us warrant; and we have no power to reverse the sentence, although it may be erroneous. What your husband said was taken for a confession, and he stands convicted. There is, therefore, no course for you but to apply to the King for a pardon, or to sue out a writ of error; and, the indictment, or subsequent proceedings, being shown to be contrary to law, the sentence shall be reversed, and your husband shall be set at liberty. I am truly sorry for your pitiable case. I wish I could serve you, but I fear I can do you no good.'"

Little do we know what is for our permanent good. Had Bunyan then been discharged and allowed to enjoy liberty, he no doubt would have returned to his trade, filling up his intervals of leisure with field-preaching; his name would not have survived his own generation, and he could have done little for the religious improvement of mankind. The prison doors were shut upon him for twelve years. Being cut off from the external world, he communed with his own soul; and, inspired by Him who touched Isaiah's hallowed lips with fire, he composed the noblest of allegories, the merit of which was first discovered by the lowly, but which is now lauded by the most refined critics, and which has done more to awaken piety, and to enforce the precepts of Christian morality, than all the sermons that have been published by all the prelates of the Anglican Church.

Lord Campbell's Lives of the Judges.