The Pilgrim's Progress By John Bunyan Summary and Analysis Part 2: Section 2 - Palace Beautiful

Summary

Having led Christiana and her party up the lane to Palace Beautiful over the dead body of Grim and in despite of the lions, Great-heart departs to return to Interpreter's House, his assignment fulfilled. Explaining who she is to a virgin of the Palace, a damsel named Humble-mind, Christiana and her party are invited in and led to a very large room where they are greeted, each with a kiss, by the members of the family, who join in saying: "Welcome, ye vessels of the Grace of God welcome to us, your friends."

Though the Pilgrims are very tired and anxious for rest and sleep, they are persuaded to refresh themselves "with a morsel of meat [Exod. 12: 3, 8] for they had prepared for them a lamb [John 1:29], with the accustomed sauce belonging thereto." When Christiana asks if they may sleep in the room where her husband slept, her request is granted. As they are falling asleep, they hear "a noise of music," and Mercy exclaims: "Wonderful! Music in the house, music in the heart, and music also in Heaven, for joy that we are here."

In the morning, the Pilgrims are invited to stay at the palace as long as they like, and they accept, staying a month or more, which gives the maidens many opportunities to catechize the children on their knowledge of things divine and give them some needed lessons.

While at the palace, Mercy has something of a romance. Being "of fair countenance, and therefore the more alluring she catches the eye of a Mr. Brisk, a man of some breeding and one that pretended to religion." When he comes to call he finds Mercy always busy making garments, hose, and other things Her industry impresses Mr. Brisk who decides that Mercy, in addition to her charms would make him a good and useful wife. After several visits Mr. Brisk asks how much she earns a day from her work. "I do these things," Mercy explains, "that I may be rich in good works, laying up in store a good foundation against the time to come, that I may lay hold on Eternal Life." Yes, says Mr. Brisk, but just exactly what does she do with the things she makes?

Shocked when told that she gives them away to clothe the naked, he comes no more a-courting, explaining that Mercy is "a pretty lass, but troubled with ill conditions" (i.e., characteristics, habits of mind). Hearing of this, Mercy remarks that she might have had husbands before, but they were such as Mr. Brisk who "did not like my conditions, though never did any of them find fault with my person . . . Well, if nobody will have me, I will die a maid, or my conditions shall be to me as a husband, for I cannot change my nature." Prudence, one of the palace virgins, observes that Mercy has become little more than a name, and that practice of it is anathema to all but a few.

One of Christiana's boys becomes very sick-the oldest son, Matthew (for the first time, the boys are given names). The virgins summon "one Mr. Skill, an ancient and well-approved physician," who diagnoses the complaint as "the gripes" and asks Christiana what the boy has been eating of late. Nothing but the most wholesome food, Christiana replies. But Mr. Skill is skeptical, saying: "This boy has been tampering with something that lies in his maw undigested . . . he must be purged, or else he will die."

One of the younger sons, Samuel, speaks up: "Mother, what was that which my brother did gather up and eat so soon as we were come from the [Wicket] gate? . . . You know there was an orchard on the left hand, on the other side of the wall, and some of the trees hung over the wall, and my brother did plash [knock down the fruit] and did eat."

It was as he thought, Mr. Skill observes, and the fruit eaten by Matthew was the worst of all: "It is the fruit of Beelzebub's orchard. I do marvel that none did warn you of it; many have died thereof." Christiana begins to weep and cries out: "O naughty boy, and O careless mother." The doctor comforts her by telling her to be not too much dejected, for he would mix a concoction to make the boy "purge and vomit."

His first concoction is "made of the blood of a goat, the ashes of a heifer, and with some of the juice of hyssop, etc" [Heb. 10:1-4]. When this concoction proves to be too weak, Mr. Skill mixes another, "Ex carne et sanguine Christi" [John 6:53-58]. Here Bunyan adds, "(You know physicians give strange medicines to their patients.)" The second stronger concoction is made up into pills, "with a promise or two, and a proportionate quantity of salt" [Mark 9:49]. Three of these pills are to be taken "at a time, fasting, and half a quarter of a pint of the tears of repentance" [Heb. 9:14; Zach. 12:10]. Though he resists at first, Matthew finally swallows this medicine, which "wrought kindly with him. It caused him to purge, it caused him to sleep and rest quietly, it put him into a fine heat and breathing sweat, and did quite rid him of his gripes."

Quite impressed, Christiana asks Mr. Skill what else his pill is good for. "It is a universal pill," the doctor replies, a sure cure for everything, and if properly prepared, remains effective forever. Christiana asks the doctor to make up for her twelve boxes of the stuff, swearing that she and her family will never use any other physic.

During his stay at Palace Beautiful, Christian had been shown many of the "rarities" of the place, including, as will be remembered a birth certificate attesting that the Lord was the son of the Ancient of Days begotten by "eternal generation." Christiana and those with her are shown things even more remarkable: "one of the apples that Eve did eat of as did Adam for which both were turned out of Paradise"; Jacob's Ladder, up which some angels are clambering to Heaven a Golden Anchor, which is presented to Christiana to help her "stand steadfast" in stormy weather, and the "mount upon which Abraham our father offered up Isaac his son," and where there is still to be seen "the altar, the wood, the fire, and the knife" used on that occasion.

"Oh, what a man . . . was Abraham!" they exclaim, and bless themselves. After this, Prudence leads them back to the palace and into the dining room, where she begins to play on a "pair of excellent virginals."

Preparing to end their long stay with the virgins, Christiana sends a note to Interpreter, petitioning him to send back Great-heart to escort her and her weak Pilgrim band on the rest of their journey — a request that is granted. As soon as Great-heart appears, they are on their way again, descending a steep, slippery slope into the Valley of Humiliation.

Analysis

As symbols of the church and church fellowship, Bunyan here expatiates at length, as he did in Part I, on the amenities of Palace Beautiful and the virtues of the maidens there. In this book, as in his other writings, Bunyan stresses time and again the important work and functions performed by women in the church. They represent its gentler side, in contrast to the men who, it is suggested, should all be sword-carrying Christian soldiers, ready to hack down giants, monsters, and all forms of corporeal evil in their way.

The first supper offered to Christiana and her party at Palace Beautiful, where the virgins prepared for them "a lamb [John 1.29], with the accustomed sauce [wine] belonging thereto," symbolizes the admission of new members to the Church and the partaking together of Holy Communion (body of the "lamb"). It should be noted that Bunyan did not regard church membership as indispensable for salvation, but always highly praised it as opening an excellent way to Mount Zion.

In giving Mercy's suitor the name of Mr. Brisk, Bunyan was using the term in an older and now obsolete sense, signifying someone who is pert, objectionably smart, exuding self-confidence, a good entrepreneur. Mr. Brisk loses interest in Mercy when he finds out that she does not sell the clothes she makes for money, but gives them away. What kind of housewife would she make! After Mercy has been jilted by Mr. Brisk, her marriage not long after to Matthew, Christian's oldest son, comes as something of an anticlimax.

In Part I, Bunyan described Ignorance as a "very brisk lad" from the country of Conceit. This was unfair. He was no more preoccupied with his own conceits than Christian was. He was "ignorant" only in that he did not think that Christian (Bunyan's alter ego) knew everything about everything. There were other points of view, and Ignorance stoutly defended his.

While at Palace Beautiful, when Matthew falls sick from eating fruit gathered along the Holy Way and Christiana requests a doctor, Mr. Skill, the latter diagnoses the illness as very serious, one of which many have died. Matthew had eaten forbidden fruit, out of Satan's orchard. The forbidden fruit represents original sin, and Dr. Skill cures it by concocting a "universal pill . . . good against all the diseases that Pilgrims are incident to." It is made Ex carne et sanguine Christi (from the body and blood of Christ). Here, in what he calls his borrowed Latin, Bunyan is imitating the jargon used in medical presciptions of the day, many being much like Mr. Skill's first but too weak concoction made of the blood of a goat, the ashes of a heifer, etc. There is much interesting misinformation in the pharmacopoeias of the day.

After Matthew has been cured of the "gripes" and vows not to eat "any more green plums," he approaches Prudence, one of the virgins, and begins to question her about various things; an interesting colloquy ensues:

Why is physic so bitter to the taste? "To show how unwelcome the Word of God and the effects thereof are to a carnal heart."

But why, in doing good, does physic cause one to purge and vomit? "To show that the Word, when it works effectually, cleanseth the heart and mind."

Why do the flames of a fire go upward, and the beams of the sun downward? "By the going up of the fire we are taught to ascend to Heaven by fervent and hot desires. And by the sun sending his heat, beams . . . downwards, we are taught that the Saviour of the world, though high, reaches down his Grace and love to us below."

Where do clouds get their water? "Out of the sea." And what is the lesson of that? "That ministers should fetch their doctrine from God."

Why is the rainbow caused by the sun? "To show that the covenant of God's Grace is confirmed to us in Christ."

Why do springs from the sea come to us through the earth? "To show that the Grace of God comes to us through the body of Christ" Why are some springs in high places? "To show that the spirit of Grace shall

spring up in some that are great and mighty, as well as in many that are poor and low."Why does fire cling to the candle wick? "To show that unless Grace doth kindle upon the heart, there will be no true light of life in us."

Why does the pelican pierce her breast with her bill? (an old superstition). "To nourish her young ones with her blood, and thereby show that Christ, the blessed, so loveth his young as to save them from death by his Blood."

And what may be learned from hearing a cock crow? "Learn to remember Peter's sin and Peter's repentance. The cock's crowing shows also that day is coming on. Let then the crowing of the cock put thee in mind of that last and terrible Day of Judgment."

This is a wholly mystical explanation of natural phenomena, worlds apart from the disciplines and concepts of science.

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