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Stumbling Upon The Pilgrim’s Progress

Category Articles
Date March 23, 2006

These are the opening words of the new autobiography of the philosopher, Roger Scruton, Gentle Regrets, (Continuum, 2005, pb., 248 pp).

“Although my father was a teacher, books did not play a large part in our home. Those that could be found in the house were of a useful or improving kind: encyclopaedias, the Bible, Paigrave’s Golden Treasury, some gardening books, the Penguin Odyssey, and memoirs of the Second World War. By way of shielding herself from my father’s gloom, my mother dabbled a little in exotic religions, which meant that pamphlets by Indian gurus would from time to time occupy the front room table. But neither she nor my father had any conception of the book, as a hidden door in the scheme of things that opens into another world.

“My first inkling of this experience came from Bunyan. The year was 1957. I was 13, a day boy at our next-door grammar school, where I learned to distinguish books into two kinds: on the syllabus; and off it. Pilgrim’s Progress must surely have been off the syllabus; nothing else can account for the astonishment with which I turned its pages. I was convalescing from flu, sitting in the garden on a fine spring day. A few yards to my left was our house a plain whitewashed Edwardian box, part of a ribbon development that stretched along the main road from High Wycombe halfway to Amersham. To the right stood the neo-Georgian Grammar School with its frontage of lawn. Opposite was the ugly new housing estate that spoiled our view. I sat in a nondescript corner of post-war England; nothing could conceivably happen in such surroundings, except the things that happen anywhere: a bus passing, a dog barking, football on the wireless, shepherd’s pie for tea.

“And then suddenly I was in a visionary landscape, where even the most ordinary things come dressed in astonishment. In Bunyan’s world words are not barriers or defences, as they are in suburban England, but messages sent to the heart. They jump into you from the page, as though in answer to a summons. This, surely, is the sign of a great writer, that he speaks to you in your voice, by making his voice your own.

“I did not put the book down until I had finished it. And for months afterwards I strode through our suburb side by side with Christian, my inner eye fixed on the Celestial City.”

The Banner of Truth publishes Pilgrim’s Progress

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