In The what-d'ye-call-it: a tragi-comi-pastoral farce (1715), English poet and dramatist John Gay satirised the popularity of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (Part 1, 1678; Part 2, 1684) in a scene where a condemned sinner is offered a prayer book and urged to make use of it:
COUNTRYMAN:———Repent thine ill,
And Pray in this good Book.—— [Gives him a Book.
PEASCOD:———I will! I will!
Lend me thy Handkercher—The Pilgrim's Pro—[Reads and weeps.
(I cannot see for Tears) Pro—Progress—Oh!
—The Pilgrim's Progress—Eighth- - -Edi—ti—on,
With new Ad--di--tions never made be-fore,
–Oh! ‘tis so moving, I can read no more.[Drops the Book.
While Bunyan's allegory of the Christian life on earth was immediately successful, his reputation as a Nonconformist writer of lowly origin held him in disrepute among the literati of his time. Besides Bunyan's varied reception, Gay's humorous, if not inaccurate, account reflects many facets of the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century book trade on the whole, and some of the factors by which a work then became and remained a best-seller. Published in the material form of a book, having gone through several editions, printed for a publisher who was also its editor, and advertised as having been newly expanded, The Pilgrim's Progress had, by the early eighteenth century already, passed through the hands of a number of publishers, printers and readers. It had already lived an eventful life on the London book market and in the homes of many.