University of Virginia Library


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9. IX.

Under the appellation of Roger Chillingworth, the
reader will remember, was hidden another name, which
its former wearer had resolved should never more be
spoken. It has been related, how, in the crowd that
witnessed Hester Prynne's ignominious exposure, stood
a man, elderly, travel-worn, who, just emerging from
the perilous wilderness, beheld the woman, in whom he
hoped to find embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of
home, set up as a type of sin before the people. Her
matronly fame was trodden under all men's feet. Infamy
was babbling around her in the public market-place.
For her kindred, should the tidings ever reach
them, and for the companions of her unspotted life,
there remained nothing but the contagion of her dishonor;
which would not fail to be distributed in strict
accordance and proportion with the intimacy and sacredness
of their previous relationship. Then why—
since the choice was with himself—should the individual,
whose connection with the fallen woman had been
the most intimate and sacred of them all, come forward
to vindicate his claim to an inheritance so little desirable?
He resolved not to be pilloried beside her on
her pedestal of shame. Unknown to all but Hester


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Prynne, and possessing the lock and key of her silence,
he chose to withdraw his name from the roll of mankind,
and, as regarded his former ties and interests, to
vanish out of life as completely as if he indeed lay at
the bottom of the ocean, whither rumor had long ago
consigned him. This purpose once effected, new interests
would immediately spring up, and likewise a
new purpose; dark, it is true, if not guilty, but of force
enough to engage the full strength of his faculties.

In pursuance of this resolve, he took up his residence
in the Puritan town, as Roger Chillingworth,
without other introduction than the learning and intelligence
of which he possessed more than a common
measure. As his studies, at a previous period of his
life, had made him extensively acquainted with the
medical science of the day, it was as a physician that
he presented himself, and as such was cordially received.
Skilful men, of the medical and chirurgical
profession, were of rare occurrence in the colony.
They seldom, it would appear, partook of the religious
zeal that brought other emigrants across the Atlantic.
In their researches into the human frame, it may be that
the higher and more subtile faculties of such men were
materialized, and that they lost the spiritual view of existence
amid the intricacies of that wondrous mechanism,
which seemed to involve art enough to comprise
all of life within itself. At all events, the health of the
good town of Boston, so far as medicine had aught to
do with it, had hitherto lain in the guardianship of an
aged deacon and apothecary, whose piety and godly
deportment were stronger testimonials in his favor, than


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any that he could have produced in the shape of a diploma.
The only surgeon was one who combined the
occasional exercise of that noble art with the daily and
habitual flourish of a razor. To such a professional
body Roger Chillingworth was a brilliant acquisition.
He soon manifested his familiarity with the ponderous
and imposing machinery of antique physic; in which
every remedy contained a multitude of far-fetched and
heterogeneous ingredients, as elaborately compounded
as if the proposed result had been the Elixir of Life.
In his Indian captivity, moreover, he had gained much
knowledge of the properties of native herbs and roots;
nor did he conceal from his patients, that these simple
medicines, Nature's boon to the untutored savage, had
quite as large a share of his own confidence as the
European pharmacopœia, which so many learned doctors
had spent centuries in elaborating.

This learned stranger was exemplary, as regarded at
least the outward forms of a religious life, and, early
after his arrival, had chosen for his spiritual guide the
Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The young divine, whose
scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford, was considered
by his more fervent admirers as little less than a heaven-ordained
apostle, destined, should he live and labor for
the ordinary term of life, to do as great deeds for the
now feeble New England Church, as the early Fathers
had achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith.
About this period, however, the health of Mr. Dimmesdale
had evidently begun to fail. By those best acquainted
with his habits, the paleness of the young
minister's cheek was accounted for by his too earnest


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devotion to study, his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial
duty, and, more than all, by the fasts and vigils of
which he made a frequent practice, in order to keep
the grossness of this earthly state from clogging and
obscuring his spiritual lamp. Some declared, that, if
Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die, it was cause
enough, that the world was not worthy to be any longer
trodden by his feet. He himself, on the other hand,
with characteristic humility, avowed his belief, that, if
Providence should see fit to remove him, it would be
because of his own unworthiness to perform its humblest
mission here on earth. With all this difference
of opinion as to the cause of his decline, there could
be no question of the fact. His form grew emaciated;
his voice, though still rich and sweet, had a certain
melancholy prophecy of decay in it; he was often observed,
on any slight alarm or other sudden accident,
to put his hand over his heart, with first a flush and
then a paleness, indicative of pain.

Such was the young clergyman's condition, and so
imminent the prospect that his dawning light would be
extinguished, all untimely, when Roger Chillingworth
made his advent to the town. His first entry on the
scene, few people could tell whence, dropping down,
as it were, out of the sky, or starting from the nether
earth, had an aspect of mystery, which was easily
heightened to the miraculous. He was now known to
be a man of skill; it was observed that he gathered
herbs, and the blossoms of wild-flowers, and dug up
roots and plucked off twigs from the forest-trees, like
one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was valueless


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to common eyes. He was heard to speak of Sir
Kenelm Digby, and other famous men,—whose scientific
attainments were esteemed hardly less than supernatural,—as
having been his correspondents or associates.
Why, with such rank in the learned world, had
he come hither? What could he, whose sphere was in
great cities, be seeking in the wilderness? In answer
to this query, a rumor gained ground,—and, however
absurd, was entertained by some very sensible people,
—that Heaven had wrought an absolute miracle, by
transporting an eminent Doctor of Physic, from a German
university, bodily through the air, and setting him
down at the door of Mr. Dimmesdale's study! Individuals
of wiser faith, indeed, who knew that Heaven promotes
its purposes without aiming at the stage-effect of
what is called miraculous interposition, were inclined to
see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth's so opportune

This idea was countenanced by the strong interest
which the physician ever manifested in the young
clergyman; he attached himself to him as a parishioner,
and sought to win a friendly regard and confidence
from his naturally reserved sensibility. He expressed
great alarm at his pastor's state of health, but
was anxious to attempt the cure, and, if early undertaken,
seemed not despondent of a favorable result.
The elders, the deacons, the motherly dames, and the
young and fair maidens, of Mr. Dimmesdale's flock,
were alike importunate that he should make trial of the
physician's frankly offered skill. Mr. Dimmesdale gently
repelled their entreaties.

“I need no medicine,” said he.


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But how could the young minister say so, when,
with every successive Sabbath, his cheek was paler
and thinner, and his voice more tremulous than before,—when
it had now become a constant habit,
rather than a casual gesture, to press his hand over his
heart? Was he weary of his labors? Did he wish
to die? These questions were solemnly propounded
to Mr. Dimmesdale by the elder ministers of Boston
and the deacons of his church, who, to use their own
phrase, “dealt with him” on the sin of rejecting the
aid which Providence so manifestly held out. He
listened in silence, and finally promised to confer with
the physician.

“Were it God's will,” said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale,
when, in fulfilment of this pledge, he requested
old Roger Chillingworth's professional advice,
“I could be well content, that my labors, and my sorrows,
and my sins, and my pains, should shortly end
with me, and what is earthly of them be buried in my
grave, and the spiritual go with me to my eternal state,
rather than that you should put your skill to the proof
in my behalf.”

“Ah,” replied Roger Chillingworth, with that quietness
which, whether imposed or natural, marked all his
deportment, “it is thus that a young clergyman is apt
to speak. Youthful men, not having taken a deep root,
give up their hold of life so easily! And saintly men,
who walk with God on earth, would fain be away, to
walk with him on the golden pavements of the New

“Nay,” rejoined the young minister, putting his


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hand to his heart, with a flush of pain flitting over his
brow, “were I worthier to walk there, I could be better
content to toil here.”

“Good men ever interpret themselves too meanly,”
said the physician.

In this manner, the mysterious old Roger Chillingworth
became the medical adviser of the Reverend
Mr. Dimmesdale. As not only the disease interested
the physician, but he was strongly moved to look into
the character and qualities of the patient, these two
men, so different in age, came gradually to spend
much time together. For the sake of the minister's
health, and to enable the leech to gather plants with
healing balm in them, they took long walks on the seashore,
or in the forest; mingling various talk with the
plash and murmur of the waves, and the solemn wind-anthem
among the tree-tops. Often, likewise, one was
the guest of the other, in his place of study and retirement.
There was a fascination for the minister
in the company of the man of science, in whom he
recognized an intellectual cultivation of no moderate
depth or scope; together with a range and freedom of
ideas, that he would have vainly looked for among the
members of his own profession. In truth, he was startled,
if not shocked, to find this attribute in the physician.
Mr. Dimmesdale was a true priest, a true religionist,
with the reverential sentiment largely developed, and
an order of mind that impelled itself powerfully along
the track of a creed, and wore its passage continually
deeper with the lapse of time. In no state of society
would he have been what is called a man of liberal


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views; it would always be essential to his peace to feel
the pressure of a faith about him, supporting, while it
confined him within its iron framework. Not the less,
however, though with a tremulous enjoyment, did he
feel the occasional relief of looking at the universe
through the medium of another kind of intellect than
those with which he habitually held converse. It was
as if a window were thrown open, admitting a freer
atmosphere into the close and stifled study, where his
life was wasting itself away, amid lamp-light, or obstructed
day-beams, and the musty fragrance, be it
sensual or moral, that exhales from books. But the air
was too fresh and chill to be long breathed, with comfort.
So the minister, and the physician with him, withdrew
again within the limits of what their church
defined as orthodox.

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.
Whenever 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 groundwork
there. So Roger Chillingworth—the man of
skill, the kind and friendly physician—strove to go


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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.

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


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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
been revealed to him. It was a strange reserve!

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 clergyman'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.


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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


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one apartment to the other, and bestowing a mutual
and not incurious inspection into one another's business.

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;


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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

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,


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it was sad to think of the perchance mortal agony
through which he must struggle towards his 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!