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The voice which had called her attention was that of the reverend and famous John Wilson, the eldest clergyman of Boston, a great scholar, like most of his contemporaries in the profession, and withal a man of kind and genial spirit. This last attribute, however, had been less carefully developed than his intellectual gifts, and was, in truth, rather a matter of shame than self-congratulation with him. There he stood, with a border of grizzled locks beneath his skull-cap; while his gray eyes, accustomed to the shaded light of his study, were winking, like those of Hester’s infant, in the unadulterated sunshine. He looked like the darkly engraved portraits which we see prefixed to old volumes of sermons; and had no more right than one of those portraits would have, to step forth, as he now did, and meddle with a question of human guilt, passion, and anguish. The voice that had called her name belonged to John Wilson, the oldest minister in Boston. He was a great scholar, like most ministers of his day, and a warm, kind man. But he had not cultivated his warmth as carefully as his mind: Indeed, he was more ashamed of that quality than proud of it. He stood there in the broad daylight with his white curls poking out underneath his skullcap. His gray eyes, accustomed to the dim light of his study, squinted like those of Hester’s baby. He looked like one of the engraved portraits in an old book of sermons. And he had no more right than one of those portraits to step into and judge, as he did now, the world of human guilt, passion, and pain.
“Hester Prynne,” said the clergyman, “I have striven with my young brother here, under whose preaching of the word you have been privileged to sit,”—here Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the shoulder of a pale young man beside him,—“I have sought, I say, to persuade this godly youth, that he should deal with you, here in the face of Heaven, and before these wise and upright rulers, and in hearing of all the people, as touching the vileness and blackness of your sin. Knowing your natural temper better than I, he could the better judge what arguments to use, whether of tenderness or terror, such as might prevail over your hardness and obstinacy; insomuch that you should no longer hide the name of him who tempted you to this grievous fall. But he opposes to me, (with a young man’s over-softness, albeit wise beyond his years,) that it were wronging the very nature of woman to force her to lay open her heart’s secrets in such broad daylight, and in presence of so great a multitude. Truly, as I sought to convince him, the shame lay in the commission of the sin, and not in the showing of it forth. What say you to it, once again, brother Dimmesdale? Must it be thou or I that shall deal with this poor sinner’s soul?” “Hester Prynne,” said the clergyman, “I have been arguing with my young brother here, whose preaching of the Gospel you have been privileged to hear.” Mr. Wilson laid his hand on the shoulder of a pale young man beside him. “I have tried, I say, to persuade this godly young man to confront you with the wickedness of your sin here in front of God, these rulers, and all the people. Knowing you better than I do, he could better judge what arguments to use against your stubborn refusal to reveal the man who tempted you into this state. But this young man refuses. He says, with a wise but too-soft heart, that it would be a wrong against your feminine nature to force you to reveal the secrets of your heart in the broad daylight and before this crowd. I have tried to convince him that the shame lays in your sin, not in your confession. So what do you say, brother Dimmesdale? Will it be you or me who deals with this poor sinner’s soul?”
There was a murmur among the dignified and reverend occupants of the balcony; and Governor Bellingham gave expression to its purport, speaking in an authoritative voice, although tempered with respect towards the youthful clergyman whom he addressed. There was a murmur among the dignitaries on the balcony. In a respectful but authoritative voice, Governor Bellingham spoke aloud what everyone else had whispered:
“Good Master Dimmesdale,” said he, “the responsibility of this woman’s soul lies greatly with you. It behooves you, therefore, to exhort her to repentance, and to confession, as a proof and consequence thereof.” “Good Master Dimmesdale,” he said, “you are responsible for this woman’s soul. You ought, therefore, to encourage her to repent and to confess as proof of her repentance.”
The directness of this appeal drew the eyes of the whole crowd upon the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale; a young clergyman, who had come from one of the great English universities, bringing all the learning of the age into our wild forest-land. His eloquence and religious fervor had already given the earnest of high eminence in his profession. He was a person of very striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow, large, brown, melancholy eyes, and a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt to be tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility and a vast power of self-restraint. Notwithstanding his high native gifts and scholar-like attainments, there was an air about this young minister,—an apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened look,—as of a being who felt himself quite astray and at a loss in the pathway of human existence, and could only be at ease in some seclusion of his own. Therefore, so far as his duties would permit, he trode in the shadowy by-paths, and thus kept himself simple and child-like; coming forth, when occasion was, with a freshness, and fragrance, and dewy purity of thought, which, as many people said, affected them like the speech of an angel. The directness of the governor’s appeal focused all eyes in the crowd on the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. He was a young minister who had graduated from one of the great English universities and brought his learning to this undeveloped land. His eloquence and religious passion had already earned him great respect. He was a striking man, with a high, white forehead and sad brown eyes. His lips often trembled if he didn’t press them together—a sign of both his nervous temperament and enormous self-restraint. Though he possessed impressive natural gifts and significant scholarly achievements, this young minister also had a startled, half-frightened look about him. It was as though he felt lost on the pathway of life and comfortable only in solitude. As often as he could, he wandered alone. In this way, he kept himself simple and childlike. When he did come forth to speak, his freshness and purity of thought led many people to compare him to an angel.
Such was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. Wilson and the Governor had introduced so openly to the public notice, bidding him speak, in the hearing of all men, to that mystery of a woman’s soul, so sacred even in its pollution. The trying nature of his position drove the blood from his cheek, and made his lips tremulous. This was the young man whom the Reverend Mr. Wilson and Governor


Former governor of Massachusetts who caused a minor scandal after marrying a woman betrothed to his friend.

had introduced so publicly and encouraged to address, in front of everyone, the mystery of a woman’s soul, which was sacred even in sin. The difficult position in which he was placed drained the blood from his face and set his lips trembling.
“Speak to the woman, my brother,” said Mr. Wilson. “It is of moment to her soul, and therefore, as the worshipful Governor says, momentous to thine own, in whose charge hers is. Exhort her to confess the truth!” “Speak to the woman, my brother,” said Mr. Wilson. “It is essential to her soul and, therefore, as the honorable Governor says, essential to yours as well, since you are responsible for hers. Tell her to confess the truth!”