Vanity Fair

O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah. ~ Psalm 4:2

Vanity Fair. An excerpt from the book, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), by John Bunyan.

Then I saw in my dream, that when Christian and Faithful had left the wilderness, they soon saw a town ahead of them named Vanity. At that town there is a fair called Vanity Fair, and it is kept open all the year long. It bears the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where it is held is lighter than vanity—and also because all that is sold there is vanity. As is the saying of the wise, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”

This fair is no newly-erected business—but a thing of ancient standing. I will show you its origin: Almost five thousand years ago, there were Pilgrims journeying to the Celestial City such as these two honest people. Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, along with their companions, perceived by the path which the Pilgrims made, that their way to the City lay through this town of Vanity. They therefore contrived to set up a fair here in which all sorts of vanity should be sold, and that it should last all the year long.

Therefore all kinds of merchandise are sold at this fair—such as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts—such as harlots, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not. Moreover, at this fair are always to be seen juggling, cheats, games, plays, fools, fakes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind. Here are to be seen also, and without cost—thefts, murders, adulteries and liars!

As in other fairs of less significance, there are several rows and streets, under their proper names, where such and such wares are vended. So here likewise you have the proper places—namely, countries and kingdoms, where the wares of this fair are soonest to be found. Here is the Britain Row, the French Row, the Italian Row, the Spanish Row, the German Row—where several sorts of vanities are sold. But, as in other fairs, some particular commodity is the chief of all the fair. So the wares of Rome and her merchandise are greatly promoted in this fair—only our English nation, with some others, have taken a dislike thereat.

Now, as I said, the way to the Celestial City lies directly through this town where this lusty fair is kept. He who will go to the Celestial City—and yet not go through this town, must need to go out of the world. The King of kings Himself, when here, went through this town to His own country—and that upon a fair day as well! Yes, and it was Beelzebub, the chief lord of this fair, who invited Him to buy of his vanities. Yes, he would have made Him lord of the fair—would He have but bowed down to Beelzebub.

Yes, because He was such a person of honor, Beelzebub took Him from street to street, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a short time—that he might, if possible, allure the Blessed One to yield and buy some of his vanities. But He had no desire for this merchandise, and therefore left the town without spending so much as one penny upon these vanities. This fair, therefore, is of ancient standing, and very renowned.

Now these Pilgrims, as I said, had to go through this fair—and so they did. And behold, as they entered the fair—all the people in the fair were perplexed, and the town itself was in a hubbub—and that for several reasons:

First, The Pilgrims were clothed differently from any who traded in that fair. The people of the fair, therefore, stared at them. Some said they were fools—some said that they were deranged—and some said that they were eccentric men.

Secondly, just as they wondered at their apparel—so they likewise were bewildered at their speech—for few could understand what they said. The Pilgrims naturally spoke the language of Canaan—but those who kept the fair were men of this world; so that, from one end of the fair to the other, they seemed to be barbarians to each other.

Thirdly, that which greatly disturbed the peddlers, was that these Pilgrims did not value their wares. They did not desire so much as to look upon them. If the Pilgrims were called upon to buy their merchandise—they would put their fingers in their ears, and cry, “Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity!” and look upwards—signifying that their desires and concerns were in Heaven.

Beholding the behavior of the two men—one mockingly asked them, “What, then, will you buy?”

But they, looking solemnly upon him, answered, “We buy the truth!”

At that, the men of the fair took occasion to despise the Pilgrims all the more—some mocking, some taunting, some speaking reproachfully, and some calling upon others to smite them. At last things came to a hubbub and a great stir in the fair, insomuch that everything was in disorder. So word was soon brought to the lord of the fair, who quickly came down, and delegated some of his most trusty friends to take these Pilgrims, who had so disturbed the fair, into custody.

So the Pilgrims were brought to examination—and those who interrogated them asked them from whence they came, and where they were going, and why they were dressed in such an unusual garb?

The two men explained that they were Pilgrims and strangers in the world, and that they were going to their own country, which was the heavenly Jerusalem. They stated that they had given no reason to the men of the town, nor to the peddlers, thus to abuse them, or hinder them in their journey—unless it was, when one asked them what they would buy—and they said that they would buy the truth.

But those who were appointed to examine the Pilgrims did not believe them to be anything other than deranged and mad—or else that they had only come to cause trouble at the fair.

Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt, and then put them into a cage—that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair. Therefore, the Pilgrims lay in the cage for some time, and were made the objects of every man’s ridicule or malice—the lord of the fair laughing at all that befell them.

But the Pilgrims, being patient, and not answering insult for insult—but rather a blessing; and returning good words for reproaches, and kindness for injuries done—some men in the fair who were more discerning, and less prejudiced than the rest—began to restrain and blame the examiners for their continual abuses to the Pilgrims.

They, therefore, in angry manner, railed at those who defended the Pilgrims, counting them as bad as the men in the cage. They accused them of being traitors, and said that they should be made partakers of the Pilgrim’s punishments.

Those who defended the Pilgrims, replied that for anything they could see—the Pilgrims were quiet and sober-minded, and intended nobody any harm. They also said that there were many who traded in their fair, who were more suitable to be put into the cage—yes, and the stocks also—than were the men that they had abused. Thus, after various arguments had passed on both sides—the Pilgrims all the while behaving themselves very wisely and soberly before them—the men fell to fighting among themselves, and harming one another.

Then these two poor Pilgrims were brought before their examiners again, and charged with being guilty of the hubbub that had been in the fair. So they beat them mercilessly, put them in chains, and led them up and down the fair, for an example and a terror to others, lest any should speak on their behalf, or join themselves unto them.

But Christian and Faithful behaved still more wisely. They received the disgrace and shame which was cast upon them, with so much meekness and patience—that it won several of the men of the fair to their side.

This put the persecuting party into yet a greater rage—insomuch that they sought the death of the two Pilgrims. Therefore they threatened that neither the cage nor the chains were sufficient punishment—but that they should die for the harm they had done, and for deluding the men of the fair.

Then the Pilgrims were thrown into their cage again, until further action would be taken with them. So they put them in, and fastened their feet in the stocks.


And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.
~ 2 Kings 17:15