The Pilgrims' Progress

Letter From Pennsylvania

If there is one constant at yard sales, estate auctions, and second-hand bookstores in this state, it is the presence of old books, Bibles, classics, and diverse texts that once made splashes before sinking into obscurity. Perhaps the most frequently seen volume, after the Bible, is John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, a book that, again, was second only to the Bible in most American homes up to the end of the 19th century and, in some homes, albeit mostly rural ones, well into the 20th century. Indeed, its ubiquitous presence throughout most of our young nation's history may well account for the stability of American political life. For Pilgrim's Progress is the most un-utopian book imaginable: a testament that, in this world of the City of Destruction and Vanity Fair, there is no hope at all short of the Celestial City. My rekindled interest in Bunyan was stimulated by two recent events that made me contemplate the importance of this 17th-century man. The first was the Grange Fair, the annual county festival in our neck of the woods. It is held in August, usually a dry and golden period of high temperatures and low humidity, just after the summer haying and before the corn harvest. The Centre County Grange Fair, according to its sponsors, is the last of the nation's tenting fairs, where area farmers and their families pitch and live for a week in large tents, today built on concrete slabs at the Grange Fairgrounds...

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