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The Scarlet Letter

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And the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale’s best discerning friends, as we have intimated, very reasonably imagined that the hand of Providence had done all this, for the purpose,—besought in so many public, and domestic, and secret prayers—of restoring the young minister to health. But—it must now be said—another portion of the community had latterly begun to take its own view of the relation betwixt Mr. Dimmesdale and the mysterious old physician. When an uninstructed multitude attempts to see with its eyes, it is exceedingly apt to be deceived. When, however, it forms its judgment, as it usually does, on the intuitions of its great and warm heart, the conclusions thus attained are often so profound and so unerring, as to possess the character of truths supernaturally revealed. The people, in the case of which we speak, could justify its prejudice against Roger Chillingworth by no fact or argument worthy of serious refutation. There was an aged handicraftsman, it is true, who had been a citizen of London at the period of Sir Thomas Overbury’s murder, now some thirty years agone; he testified to having seen the physician, under some other name, which the narrator of the story had now forgotten, in company with Doctor Forman, the famous old conjurer, who was implicated in the affair of Overbury. Two or three individuals hinted, that the man of skill, during his Indian captivity, had enlarged his medical attainments by joining in the incantations of the savage priests; who were universally acknowledged to be powerful enchanters, often performing seemingly miraculous cures by their skill in the black art. A large number—and many of these were persons of such sober sense and practical observation, that their opinions would have been valuable, in other matters—affirmed that Roger Chillingworth’s aspect had undergone a remarkable change while he had dwelt in town, and especially since his abode with Mr. Dimmesdale. At first, his expression had been calm, meditative, scholar-like. Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still the more obvious to sight, the oftener they looked upon him. According to the vulgar idea, the fire in his laboratory had been brought from the lower regions, and was fed with infernal fuel; and so, as might be expected, his visage was getting sooty with the smoke. As I suggested, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale’s most perceptive friends reasonably concluded that the hand of God arranged all of this for the benefit of the young minister’s health. Many people had prayed for it in public, with their families, and in the privacy of their hearts. But, it must now be said, another part of the community began to take a different view of the relationship between Mr. Dimmesdale and the mysterious old doctor. An undisciplined public is likely to be fooled when looking at a situation on the surface. But when that group bases its judgment, as it usually does, on the intuitions of its great and warm heart, its conclusions are often so profoundly correct that they seem to be magically revealed truths. In this case, these individuals could not point to any significant fact or serious argument to justify their prejudice against Roger Chillingworth. True, there was an old handyman who had lived in London at the time of Sir Thomas

Overbury

English man of letters who was poisoned for his opposition to the adulterous relationship, and later marriage, between the Count of Rochester and Lady Essex. Dr. Forman was convicted for his part as provider of the poison.

Overbury
’s murder—some thirty years ago now—who remembered seeing the doctor in the company of Dr. Forman, the famous conjurer implicated in the crime. Chillingworth went by some other name then, though the handyman forgot what it was. Two or three people hinted that the doctor, during his captivity, had learned spells from the Indian priests. It was widely accepted that the Indians were powerful sorcerers, often achieving seemingly miraculous cures through their black magic. Many reasonable people, whose opinions were valued in the community, said that Roger Chillingworth had undergone a great physical change during his time in the town, particularly since he started rooming with Mr. Dimmesdale. At first, his expression had been calm, thoughtful, and studious. Now there was something ugly and evil in his face that those reasonable people hadn’t noticed before. But the more they looked at him, the more obvious the deformity became. One popular rumor suggested the fire in his laboratory came from the underworld and was fed with demonic fuel, so it made sense that his face was growing darker from the smoke.
To sum up the matter, it grew to be a widely diffused opinion, that the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, like many other personages of especial sanctity, in all ages of the Christian world, was haunted either by Satan himself, or Satan’s emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth. This diabolical agent had the Divine permission, for a season, to burrow into the clergyman’s intimacy, and plot against his soul. No sensible man, it was confessed, could doubt on which side the victory would turn. The people looked, with an unshaken hope, to see the minister come forth out of the conflict, transfigured with the glory which he would unquestionably win. Meanwhile, nevertheless, it was sad to think of the perchance mortal agony through which he must struggle towards his triumph. To sum up, it came to be widely believed that the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, like other especially holy Christians throughout the ages, was haunted either by Satan himself or by Satan’s messenger in the person of old Roger Chillingworth. For a period of time, God would allow this hellish agent to work his way into the minister’s private life and plot against his soul. But no sensible man doubted who would triumph in the end. The townspeople had every faith that their minister would emerge from the conflict transformed by the glory of his spiritual victory. In the meantime, it was sad to think of the great pain he had to endure to achieve this triumph.
Alas, to judge from the gloom and terror in the depths of the poor minister’s eyes, the battle was a sore one, and the victory any thing but secure! But to judge from the gloom and terror deep in the poor minister’s eyes, the battle was a hard one, and his victory anything but certain.

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