The Scarlet Letter eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 247 pages of information about The Scarlet Letter.
than this?  Would not the people start up in their seats, by a simultaneous impulse, and tear him down out of the pulpit which he defiled?  Not so, indeed!  They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more.  They little guessed what deadly purport lurked in those self-condemning words.  “The godly youth!” said they among themselves.  “The saint on earth!  Alas! if he discern such sinfulness in his own white soul, what horrid spectacle would he behold in thine or mine!” The minister well knew—­subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was!—­the light in which his vague confession would be viewed.  He had striven to put a cheat upon himself by making the avowal of a guilty conscience, but had gained only one other sin, and a self-acknowledged shame, without the momentary relief of being self-deceived.  He had spoken the very truth, and transformed it into the veriest falsehood.  And yet, by the constitution of his nature, he loved the truth, and loathed the lie, as few men ever did.  Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miserable self!

His inward trouble drove him to practices more in accordance with the old, corrupted faith of Rome than with the better light of the church in which he had been born and bred.  In Mr. Dimmesdale’s secret closet, under lock and key, there was a bloody scourge.  Oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied it on his own shoulders, laughing bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly because of that bitter laugh.  It was his custom, too, as it has been that of many other pious Puritans, to fast—­not however, like them, in order to purify the body, and render it the fitter medium of celestial illumination—­but rigorously, and until his knees trembled beneath him, as an act of penance.  He kept vigils, likewise, night after night, sometimes in utter darkness, sometimes with a glimmering lamp, and sometimes, viewing his own face in a looking-glass, by the most powerful light which he could throw upon it.  He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify himself.  In these lengthened vigils, his brain often reeled, and visions seemed to flit before him; perhaps seen doubtfully, and by a faint light of their own, in the remote dimness of the chamber, or more vividly and close beside him, within the looking-glass.  Now it was a herd of diabolic shapes, that grinned and mocked at the pale minister, and beckoned him away with them; now a group of shining angels, who flew upward heavily, as sorrow-laden, but grew more ethereal as they rose.  Now came the dead friends of his youth, and his white-bearded father, with a saint-like frown, and his mother turning her face away as she passed by.  Ghost of a mother—­thinnest fantasy of a mother—­methinks she might yet have thrown a pitying glance towards her son!  And now, through the chamber which these spectral thoughts had made so ghastly, glided Hester Prynne leading along little Pearl, in her scarlet garb, and pointing her forefinger, first at the scarlet letter on her bosom, and then at the clergyman’s own breast.

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The Scarlet Letter from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.