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The Scarlet Letter

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Thus Roger Chillingworth scrutinized his patient carefully, both as he saw him in his ordinary life, keeping an accustomed pathway in the range of thoughts familiar to him, and as he appeared when thrown amidst other moral scenery, the novelty of which might call out something new to the surface of his character. He deemed it essential, it would seem, to know the man, before attempting to do him good. Wherever there is a heart and an intellect, the diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities of these. In Arthur Dimmesdale, thought and imagination were so active, and sensibility so intense, that the bodily infirmity would be likely to have its ground-work there. So Roger Chillingworth—the man of skill, the kind and friendly physician—strove to go deep into his patient’s bosom, delving among his principles, prying into his recollections, and probing every thing with a cautious touch, like a treasure-seeker in a dark cavern. Few secrets can escape an investigator, who has opportunity and license to undertake such a quest, and skill to follow it up. A man burdened with a secret should especially avoid the intimacy of his physician. If the latter possess native sagacity, and a nameless something more,—let us call it intuition; if he show no intrusive egotism, nor disagreeably prominent characteristics of his own; if he have the power, which must be born with him, to bring his mind into such affinity with his patient’s, that this last shall unawares have spoken what he imagines himself only to have thought; if such revelations be received without tumult, and acknowledged not so often by an uttered sympathy, as by silence, an inarticulate breath, and here and there a word, to indicate that all is understood; if, to these qualifications of a confidant be joined the advantages afforded by his recognized character as a physician;—then, at some inevitable moment, will the soul of the sufferer be dissolved, and flow forth in a dark, but transparent stream, bringing all its mysteries into the daylight. Through these methods, Roger Chillingworth examined his patient carefully, both in the familiar musings of his daily life and as he appeared in his moral surroundings, the novelty of which might bring out something new in his character. Chillingsworth seemed to feel it necessary to know the man before attempting to cure him. Bodily diseases are always tainted by the peculiar qualities of the heart and mind. Arthur Dimmesdale’s thoughts and imagination were so active, and his spirit so sensitive, that his illness was likely grounded in these two organs. So Roger Chillingworth, the kindly and skillful doctor, delved deep into his patient’s heart, examining his principles, prying into his memories, and probing everything with a cautious touch, like a treasure hunter in a dark cave. Few secrets can escape an investigator who has the opportunity and skill to pursue them. A man with a secret shouldn’t get too intimate with his doctor. If the doctor has natural wisdom along with intuition; if he doesn’t have too big an ego, or any serious character flaws; if he has the innate power to become so intimate with his patient that the patient speaks what he imagines he has only thought; if the doctor receives these revelations calmly, acknowledging them only by silence, a small breath, and now and then a small word of understanding; if these qualities of a friend are joined with his status as a doctor, then, sure enough, the soul of the sufferer will reveal itself, like a dark, clear stream flowing into the daylight.
Roger Chillingworth possessed all, or most, of the attributes above enumerated. Nevertheless, time went on; a kind of intimacy, as we have said, grew up between these two cultivated minds, which had as wide a field as the whole sphere of human thought and study, to meet upon; they discussed every topic of ethics and religion, of public affairs, and private character; they talked much, on both sides, of matters that seemed personal to themselves; and yet no secret, such as the physician fancied must exist there, ever stole out of the minister’s consciousness into his companion’s ear. The latter had his suspicions, indeed, that even the nature of Mr. Dimmesdale’s bodily disease had never fairly revealed to him. It was a strange reserve! Roger Chillingwoth possessed most, if not all, of these qualities. As I mentioned before, an intimacy developed over time between these two learned men, whose minds could range over the whole of human thought. They discussed every topic of ethics and religion, of public affairs and private character. They both talked about personal matters. Yet the minister revealed no secret, such as the doctor imagined must be there. Indeed, the doctor suspected that he still hadn’t truly discovered the nature of Mr. Dimmesdale’s illness. The minister was so strangely private!
After a time, at a hint from Roger Chillingworth, the friends of Mr. Dimmesdale effected an arrangement by which the two were lodged in the same house; so that every ebb and flow of the minister’s life-tide might pass under the eye of his anxious and attached physician. There was much joy throughout the town, when this greatly desirable object was attained. It was held to be the best possible measure for the young clergy-man’s welfare; unless, indeed, as often urged by such as felt authorized to do so, he had selected some one of the many blooming damsels, spiritually devoted to him, to become his devoted wife. This latter step, however, there was no present prospect that Arthur Dimmesdale would be prevailed upon to take; he rejected all suggestions of the kind, as if priestly celibacy were one of his articles of church-discipline. Doomed by his own choice, therefore, as Mr. Dimmesdale so evidently was, to eat his unsavory morsel always at another’s board, and endure the life-long chill which must be his lot who seeks to warm himself only at another’s fireside, it truly seemed that this sagacious, experienced, benevolent, old physician, with his concord of paternal and reverential love for the young pastor, was the very man, of all mankind, to be constantly within reach of his voice. After a while, at the suggestion of Roger Chillingworth, the friends of Mr. Dimmesdale arranged for the two to live together, so that the anxious and attentive doctor could observe every aspect of the minister’s life. The townspeople were very happy about this arrangement. They thought it was the best possible thing for the young minister’s health—that is, unless he was to select one of the town’s many lovely young women to be his devoted wife. But there seemed to be no hope of Arthur Dimmesdale becoming convinced to take that step. He rejected all suggestions of that kind, as if his church, like the Catholics, required its ministers to remain celibate. So he doomed himself to always eat unfulfilling meals at someone else’s table, to forever endure the unshakable chill that comes when warming yourself by someone else’s fire. And so it truly seemed that this wise, experienced, benevolent old physician, who loved the young pastor like a son, was the very best man to be his constant companion.
The new abode of the two friends was with a pious widow, of good social rank, who dwelt in a house covering pretty nearly the site on which the venerable structure of King’s Chapel has since been built. It had the grave-yard, originally Isaac Johnson’s home-field, on one side, and so was well adapted to call up serious reflections, suited to their respective employments, in both minister and man of physic. The motherly care of the good widow assigned to Mr. Dimmesdale a front apartment, with a sunny exposure, and heavy window-curtains to create a noontide shadow, when desirable. The walls were hung round with tapestry, said to be from the Gobelin looms, and, at all events, representing the Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet, in colors still unfaded, but which made the fair woman of the scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe-denouncing seer. Here, the pale clergyman piled up his library, rich with parchment-bound folios of the Fathers, and the lore of Rabbis, and monkish erudition, of which the Protestant divines, even while they vilified and decried that class of writers, were yet constrained often to avail themselves. On the other side of the house, old Roger Chillingworth arranged his study and laboratory; not such as a modern man of science would reckon even tolerably complete, but provided with a distilling apparatus, and the means of compounding drugs and chemicals, which the practised alchemist knew well how to turn to purpose. With such commodiousness of situation, these two learned persons sat themselves down, each in his own domain, yet familiarly passing from one apartment to the other, and bestowing a mutual and not incurious inspection into one another’s business. The two friends lived with a pious widow of good social rank, whose house stood on almost the exact same spot where the cherished King’s Chapel sits now. The graveyard—originally Isaac Johnson’s yard—sat on one side, so it was well suited to inspire the sorts of serious reflections appropriate for a minister and a doctor. With a mother’s consideration, the good widow gave Mr. Dimmesdale a front apartment that got lots of sunlight but also had heavy curtains to shade him when needed. Tapestries, said to be from the

Gobelin

Famous family of tapestry makers in France in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Gobelin
looms, hung on the walls. They told the

Biblical story

King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of his most trusted soldier, Uriah, whom David then had killed in battle. Nathan, David’s prophet, admonished David for his actions.

Biblical story
of David and Bathsheba and Nathan the Prophet, in vivid colors that made the lovely woman look almost as grim as the disapproving prophet.The pale clergyman brought with him a library full of parchment-bound books containing the teachings of the apostles, the stories of the rabbis, and the knowledge of the monks. Even though Protestant ministers denounced those writers, they often felt compelled to resort to them. Old Roger Chillingworth set up his study and laboratory on the other side of the house. Chillingworth had a distilling apparatus and the means of mixing drugs and chemicals that a modern man of science might consider primitive but that the experienced alchemist knew how to use. These two learned men sat themselves down within their own comfortable space, though they often spent time in one another’s apartment, showing a sincere interest in each other’s business.

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