John Bunyan: Emblematic Writer -- By: E. Beatrice Batson

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 39:2 (Spring 1977)
Article: John Bunyan: Emblematic Writer
Author: E. Beatrice Batson

John Bunyan: Emblematic Writer

E. Beatrice Batson

The imaginative power of John Bunyan as a writer of allegories has long been recognized, but that same visual imagination which is strongly evident in his emblematic works has received less attention. Although I shall focus in this study on his Dizine Emblems, I shall also show his emblematic “method” in other selected writings.

Because the history of the emblem has already been carefully studied,1 I wish only to recall that the first published and circulated emblem book was Andrea Alciati’s Emblematum Liber, printed by Henry Steyner at Augsburg in 1530. Influential on the form the emblem took, the Emblematum Liber was also an exceedingly popular book, which according to Henry Green, went through one hundred and seventy-five editions throughout Europe and in England by 1750.2 The first English collection of emblems3 was Geoffrey Whitney’s, A Choice of Emblems, published in 1586. Other writers associated with emblems were Henry Peacham, George Wither, Christopher Harvey, John

Hall, John Barber, Francis Quarles, and others; the significance of the emblematic habit of mind was also notable in the poetry of Spenser, Herbert, and Crashaw.

In its strictest sense, the emblem consists of a picture illustrating some moral truth followed by a scriptural citation, a poem commenting on the significance of the picture, a quotation, or quotations, from the church Fathers or other authorities, and frequently a concluding epigram. Bargali, an Italian exponent of the science of emblem writing, declared that the words and the pictures were to be “so strictly united together, that being considered apart, they cannot explicate themselves distinctly the one without the other.”4 No doubt Bargali was primarily interested in guaranteeing that readers not overlook the ,’meaning” of the visual, but his precautions suggest the picture as an essential component of emblem writing. The emblematic habit of mind, however, has pervaded the writings of various English writers5 as well as writings of John Bunyan which are not specifically categorized as emblems, and his Divine Emblems, formerly titled Country Rhymes for Boys and Girls, appeared in the original without pictures, plates, or woodcuts.6 Roger Sharrock states that there is abundant evidence in Bunyan’s minor works which demonstrate an embl...

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