The Scarlet Letter eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 247 pages of information about The Scarlet Letter.
practices of war.  The high estimation then placed upon the military character might be seen in the lofty port of each individual member of the company.  Some of them, indeed, by their services in the Low Countries and on other fields of European warfare, had fairly won their title to assume the name and pomp of soldiership.  The entire array, moreover, clad in burnished steel, and with plumage nodding over their bright morions, had a brilliancy of effect which no modern display can aspire to equal.

And yet the men of civil eminence, who came immediately behind the military escort, were better worth a thoughtful observer’s eye.  Even in outward demeanour they showed a stamp of majesty that made the warrior’s haughty stride look vulgar, if not absurd.  It was an age when what we call talent had far less consideration than now, but the massive materials which produce stability and dignity of character a great deal more.  The people possessed by hereditary right the quality of reverence, which, in their descendants, if it survive at all, exists in smaller proportion, and with a vastly diminished force in the selection and estimate of public men.  The change may be for good or ill, and is partly, perhaps, for both.  In that old day the English settler on these rude shores—­having left king, nobles, and all degrees of awful rank behind, while still the faculty and necessity of reverence was strong in him—­bestowed it on the white hair and venerable brow of age—­on long-tried integrity—­on solid wisdom and sad-coloured experience—­on endowments of that grave and weighty order which gave the idea of permanence, and comes under the general definition of respectability.  These primitive statesmen, therefore—­Bradstreet, Endicott, Dudley, Bellingham, and their compeers—­who were elevated to power by the early choice of the people, seem to have been not often brilliant, but distinguished by a ponderous sobriety, rather than activity of intellect.  They had fortitude and self-reliance, and in time of difficulty or peril stood up for the welfare of the state like a line of cliffs against a tempestuous tide.  The traits of character here indicated were well represented in the square cast of countenance and large physical development of the new colonial magistrates.  So far as a demeanour of natural authority was concerned, the mother country need not have been ashamed to see these foremost men of an actual democracy adopted into the House of Peers, or make the Privy Council of the Sovereign.

Next in order to the magistrates came the young and eminently distinguished divine, from whose lips the religious discourse of the anniversary was expected.  His was the profession at that era in which intellectual ability displayed itself far more than in political life; for—­leaving a higher motive out of the question it offered inducements powerful enough in the almost worshipping respect of the community, to win the most aspiring ambition into its service.  Even political power—­as in the case of Increase Mather—­was within the grasp of a successful priest.

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The Scarlet Letter from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.