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little Pearl's, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale turned to the dignified and venerable rulers; to the holy ministers, who were his brethren; to the people, whose great heart was thoroughly appalled, yet overflowing with tearful sympathy, as knowing that some deep life-matter which, if full of sin, was full of anguish and repentance likewise — was now to be laid open to them. The sun, but little past its meridian, shone down upon the clergyman, and gave a distinctness to his figure, as he stood out from all the earth, to put in his plea of guilty at the bar of Eternal Justice.
“ People of New England ! ” cried he, with a voice that rose over them, high, solemn, and majestic, - yet had always a tremor through it, and sometimes a shriek, struggling up out of a fathomless depth of remorse and woe, “ye, that have loved me !-ye, that have deemed me holy ! — behold me here, the one sinner of the world! At last ! at last!—I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood; here, with this woman, whose arm, more than the little strength wherewith I have crept hitherward, sustains me, at this dreadful moment, from grovelling down upon my face! Lo, the scarlet letter which Hester wears ! Ye have all shuddered at it! Wherever her walk hath been,wherever, so miserably burdened, she may have hoped to find repose,
it hath cast a lurid gleam of awe and horrible repugnance round about her. But there stood one in the midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered !”
It seemed, at this point, as if the minister must leave the remainder of his story undisclosed. But he fought back the bodily weakness, and, still more, the faintness of heart, that was striving for the mastery with him. He threw off all assistance, and stepped passionately forward a pace before the woman and the child.
“ It was on him!” he continued, with a kind of fierceness; so determined was he to speak out the whole. “God's eye beheld it! The angels were forever pointing at it! The Devil knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger! But he hid it cunningly from men, and walked among you with the mien of a spirit, mournful, because so pure in a sinful world ! — and sad, because he missed his heavenly kindred ! Now, at the death-hour, he stands up before you! He bids you
look again at Hester's scarlet letter! He tells you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart! Stand any here that question God's judgment on a sinner? Behold! Behold a dreadful witness of it!"
With a convulsive motion, he tore away the ministerial band from before his breast. It was revealed! But it were irreverent to describe that revelation. For an instant, the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude was concentred on the ghastly miracle ; while the minister stood, with a flush of triumph in his face, as one who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory. Then, down he sank upon the scaffold ! Hester partly raised him, and supported his head against her bosom. Old Roger Chillingworth knelt down beside him, with a blank, dull countenance, out of which the life seemed to have departed.
“Thou hast escaped me!” he repeated more than once. “ Thou hast escaped me !”
“May God forgive thee !” said the minister. “Thou, too, hast deeply sinned !”
He withdrew his dying eyes from the old man, and fixed them on the woman and the child.
“My little Pearl,” said he, feebly, — and there was a sweet and gentle smile over his face, as of a spirit sinking into deep repose ; nay, now that the burden was removed, it seemed almost as if he would be sportive with the child, — “dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss me now? Thou wouldst not, yonder, in the forest ! But now thou wilt ?"
Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.
Hester," said the clergyman, “ farewell !” “Shall we not meet again?” whispered she, bending her face down close to his. “Shall we not spend our immortal life
together? Surely, surely, we have ransomed one another, with all this woe! Thou lookest far into eternity, with those bright dying eyes! Then tell me what thou seest ? "
“Hush, Hester, hush !” said he, with tremulous solemnity. “ The law we broke ! — the sin here so awfully revealed ! — let these alone be in thy thoughts ! I fear! I fear! It may be that, when we forgot our God, — when we violated our reverence each for the other's soul, it was thenceforth vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion. God knows; and he is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red-heat! By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people! Had either of these agonies been wanting, I had been lost forever! Praised be his name! His will be done! Farewell !”
That final word came forth with the minister's expiring breath. The multitude, silent till then, broke out in a strange, deep voice of awe and wonder, which could not as yet find utterance, save in this murmur that rolled so heavily after the departed spirit.
[The Scarlet Letter, a Romance, 1850, chapter 23, “The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter.” The text is that of the first edition.]
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
[Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was born in Portland, Me., Feb. 27, 1807, and died in Cambridge, Mass., March 24, 1882. He came of good English stock, and could trace his descent on one side from John Alden, whose wooing he celebrated in his Courtship of Miles Standish. He graduated at Bowdoin College, where Hawthorne was his classmate, in 1825, and spent three years in France, Spain, Italy, and Germany, preparing himself for the duties of the professorship of modern languages at Bowdoin. He held this chair six years, relinquishing it when he was appointed to succeed Ticknor as Smith professor of modern languages at Harvard College. In preparation for his new and more distinguished duties he spent another year abroad, enlarging his acquaintance with the Teutonic languages. He occupied the Harvard chair from 1836 until 1854, living in the old and beautiful Craigie House, and breaking the steady round of his academic duties only by a third visit to Europe in 1843. The remainder of his life was spent in Cambridge, with the exception of a final visit, in 1868, to Europe, where he received the degree of D.C.L. from Oxford, and that of LL.D. from Cambridge. His bust has been placed in the Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey. Longfellow's character was remarkably serene, sane, and well balanced. He was an urbane man, who held himself apart from literary jealousies, and devoted himself completely to his studies, his art, and his friends, among whom were many distinguished and noble
His country should be grateful to him not only for his literary productions, but for his long and earnest studies in the European literatures, - studies which, as a teacher, he did much to make congenial and permanent in American universities.
Longfellow's prose works of importance are three in number, Outre-Mer (1833-34), Hyperion (1839), and Kavanagh (1849). The first two are based on his early experiences in foreign travel, and reveal his delight in the study of foreign literatures; but they also reflect the tastes and tendencies of his generation, and express a mood or stage in our national life and literature.]
Prose, at its best, differs from poetry in form rather than in spirit. Verse and prose fiction certainly are closely related divisions of literary art, and it would be no impossible task to transmute the one into the other. If the idea of the correlation and conservation of forces marks the principal advance of science in the nineteenth century, it is of similar importance that literary
criticism has discovered or rediscovered, within the same period, the relativity and transmutability of genius. Ivanhoe might have been written in the four-beat measure of Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake might have been made to take its place beside The Bride of Lammermoor. More obvious examples of the novel in verse are Evangeline, or the rapidly moving Aurora Leigh, and Lucile; while we have but to set side by side the best tales and the most characteristic poems of Poe, or the prose paragraphs and the metrical proverbs of Emerson, to perceive the comparative unimportance of the choice of the vehicle of expression.
It was natural, then, that Longfellow, the Mendelssohn of American literature, should show in his prose-writings the tendencies characterizing his verse, especially as the former appeared in the earlier part of his life and literary career, when his mind and genius were most deeply touched by the time-spirit of sentimental romanticism. The United States, in Longfellow's early manhood, was astir with the enthusiasms of youth, and not unaffected by the irregular passions and imperfect aspirations of juvenility. Studious and even intellectual in a way, it was sadly in need of the benign influences of culture ; and culture was not to be had without some sincere search. Social and literary provinciality were made manifest by undue self-assertion on the one hand, and by humble deference to foreign opinion on the other. But foreign opinion very naturally meant, in New England, English opinion of the conventional or academic order, while outside of New England, in the Jeffersonian portions of the new republic, it was too generally synonymous with the excited and irregular pronouncements of French radicalism or the “Napoleonic idea.”
In these complex circumstances the influence of the gentle calmness of an Irving and the cool austerity of a Bryant were clearly salutary; but neither of these our earliest authors in the true sense was able to do for a large public, in a notable time, exactly what Longfellow accomplished. Longfellow's mind was always peculiarly susceptible to influences from without; the vicious injustice of Poe's title, Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists, contained an element of truth. A plagiarist he certainly was not; an unconscious imitator at times he was ; while more than once he was the disciple in presence of the master. His