Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

a

beauty. But as the lines of her face hardened and the natural and external graces disappeared, the great soul waxed greater, more capable of love and pity and tenderness. She became a ministering angel whose coming was looked for as if she had indeed been sent from Heaven.

It was a singular fancy of Hawthorne's to give Hester a child like Pearl, precocious, fitful, enigmatic, a will-o'-the-wisp, more akin to the 'good 'people' of legendary lore than to the offspring of human men and women. This too was a part of Hester's discipline, that this un-human, elf-like creature should have sprung from her, with a power transcending that of other children to mix pain with pleasure in a mother's life.

Looking at Roger Chillingworth as he appears in his ordinary life, one sees only the wise, benevolent physician, infinitely solicitous for the welfare of his young friend Arthur Dimmesdale. Surprise him when the mask of deep-thoughted benevolence is for the moment laid aside and it is the face of a demon that one beholds.

Without a grain of pity for his victim he probes the minister's soul. Morbidly eager, he welcomes every sign that makes for his theory of a hidden, a mental rather than a physical sickness. He gloats with malignant joy over the discovery that this spiritually minded youth has inherited a strong animal nature. Here is a deep and resistless undercurrent of passion which has led to certain results.

a

An unflinching and cruel analysis will make clear what those results have been. Suspicion becomes certainty, but proof is still wanting.

For terrible suggestiveness there are but few scenes in American fiction comparable with that where Chillingworth bends over the sleeping minister in his study and puts aside the garment that always closely covered his breast. The poor victim shuddered and slightly stirred. ‘After a brief 'pause, the physician turned away. But with what 'a wild look of wonder, joy, and horror! With 'what a ghastly rapture, as it were, too mighty to ‘be expressed only by the eye and features, and ‘therefore bursting through the whole ugliness of ‘his figure, and making itself even riotously mani'fest by the extravagant gestures with which he threw

up

his arms towards the ceiling, and stamped ‘his foot upon the floor! Thus Satan might have 'comported himself when a precious human soul ‘is lost to heaven and won into his kingdom. But 'what distinguished the physician's ecstasy from Satan's was the trait of wonder in it!'

Dimmesdale is the deeply pathetic figure in this tragedy of souls. Seven years of hypocrisy might well bring the unhappy man to the pitiable condition in which he is found when the lines of interest in the story draw to a focus. Day by day, month by month, his was a life of lies. No course of action seemed open to the wretched minister which did not involve piling higher the mountain

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

of falsehood. To lie and to scourge himself for lying — this was his whole existence. We praise Hester Prynne's courage. Not less extraordinary was Dimmesdale's wonderful display of will power. A weaker man would have confessed at once, or fled, or committed suicide. The minister may not be accused of stubbornly holding to his course from fear. He feared but one thing: the shock to the great cause for which he stood, the shame that the revelation of his guilt would bring upon the church, the loss of his power to do good, the spectacle, for the eyes of mocking unbelievers, of the full-fraught man and best indued' proved the guiltiest. This were indeed another fall of man.'

Incomparable as The Scarlet Letter undoubtedly is, there are admirers of Hawthorne's genius who have pronounced The House of the Seven Gables the better story of the two. The judgment may be erroneous, it is at least not eccentric.

In handling the genealogical details of the first chapter, Hawthorne showed a deft touch. The descendants of the proud old Colonel Pyncheon are as clearly defined as if the name and station of each had been enumerated. With no less ease does one follow the fortunes of the humble house of Matthew Maule. This progenitor of an obscure race had been executed for witchcraft. All of his descendants bore the stamp of this event. They were ‘marked out from other 'men.' In spite of an exterior of good fellowship, there was a circle about the Maules, and no man had ever stepped foot inside of it. Unfortunate in its early history, this family was never other than unfortunate. It had an inheritance of sombre recollections, which it brooded upon, though unresentfully.

Its life was linked with that of the proud house whose visible mansion was founded on property wrested from the old martyr to superstition. For Colonel Pyncheon had shown acrimonious zeal in the witchcraft persecutions, and unbecoming speed in seizing on the wizard's little plot of ground with its spring of soft and pleasant water. Inseparable as substance and shadow, wherever there was a Pyncheon there was also a Maule. An endless chain of dark events depended from that crime of witchcraft days. On the scaffold the condemned wizard prophesied concerning his accuser : ‘God will give him blood to drink.' Men shook their heads when Colonel Pyncheon built the House of the Seven Gables, on the site of Matthew Maule's hut. They had not long to wait for the fulfilment of the prophecy. The spring became bitter, and on the day when the stately dwelling was first opened to guests Colonel Pyncheon was found dead in his study, with blood-bedabbled ruff and beard. Against this tragedy of old colonial days as a background Hawthorne projects the later story of The House of the Seven Gables.

In its simplest aspect the narrative concerns the persecution of an unfortunate and weak representative of the Pyncheon family by a powerful and unscrupulous representative. At intervals through the centuries the spirit of the great Puritan ancestor made its appearance in the flesh, as if the Colonel “ had been gifted with a sort of intermit'tent immortality.' Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon stands as a modern reincarnation of the old persecutor of witches. Clifford, his cousin, is a victim of the law at one of those moments when the law seems to operate almost automatically. Suspected of murder, he might have been cleared had Jaffrey but told what he knew, the real manner of their uncle's death. This were to disclose certain of his own moral delinquencies, and Jaffrey keeps silent. And thus it happens that, both being in their young manhood, the one is incarcerated and the other enters on a path leading to influence, wealth, and good repute.

To the somber dignity of an inherited curse' the Pyncheons added yet another dignity in the form of a shadowy claim to an almost princely tract of land in the North. The connecting link, some parchment signed with Indian hieroglyphics, had been lost when the Colonel died; but the poorest of his race felt an accession of pride as he contemplated that possible inheritance. And the richest of modern Pyncheons, the Judge, was not proof against ambitious dreams excited by the same thought.

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »