Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent

By Spurr, John | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2004 | Go to article overview
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Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent


Spurr, John, The Catholic Historical Review


Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent. By Richard L. Greaves. (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2002. Pp. xxi, 693. $75.00.)

Richard Greaves is a redoubtable historian of seventeenth-century English Protestantism. Since the 1960's he has published a stream of weighty books, including three volumes on radicals and Nonconformists in the Restoration, a dictionary of seventeenth-century British radicals, and several books on Irish Dissenters. In the meantime he has been an eminent Bunyan scholar as editor of four volumes in the Oxford edition of Bunyan's works, president of the International John Bunyan Society, and author of two previous studies of Bunyan. He has now poured this lifetime of scholarship into an immense biography of Bunyan. In the absence of any substantial personal records, Bunyan's published writings become his biographer's raw material. Greaves gives every publication scrupulous attention. He suggests a provisional date of composition for each and every work, which he then summarizes, quotes, and discusses at length, and it is always the historical resonances and circumstances which determine his dating and analysis rather than the more literary qualities of the text. It is striking that while Greaves is so clearly at home with, and, one may surmise, sympathetic toward English Dissent, there is no hint of hagiography in this book. This account is deeply rooted in historical particularities and decidedly wary of value judgments. The author has rolled up his sleeves and tracked down individuals, editions, and manuscripts. His book offers surprising nuggets of information, such as the pages devoted to the suicide of John Child or the passing account of Bunyan's attitude toward black people, and many more substantial discussions of Bunyan's religion and theology in all its complexity, including his debt to Luther, a millenarian strain, and a pastoral preoccupation which leads Greaves to name it "evangelical Calvinism." "Magisterial" is an overworked adjective among reviewers, but in this case it seems justified. Greaves happily revises his own earlier suggestions, just as he firmly but politely corrects fanciful interpretations or errors by others; he always explains how he has arrived at a dating or why he has had second thoughts; the historical scene is set from a conventional, whiggish, perspective and in plain prose.

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