Notes to Ch 9, The Leech
The Scarlet Letter

under..was hidden another name ...sl09.html#g01
In Chapter 3 we read that this old man, just returned from the wilderness, asked about Hester. In Chapter 4 we learned that he was Hester's husband (and thus should have been called Master Prynne) but has decided to conceal this identity and now goes by the name of Roger Chillingworth. Hester had come to New England on an earlier ship, and Prynne's was assumed lost, but he had actually been captured by the Indians. Because he had been assumed dead, Hester had been granted a more lenient sentence than otherwise, but was still punished because she was still legally married. Therefore Pearl could not have been conceived by Hester's husband in the given time frame, and must have been conceived by an adulterous father.
a new purpose ...sl09.html#g01
This new purpose or plan by Chillingworth was twofold. He is to conceal his true identity and try to find out who the natural father of Pearl is. Both are important--if he were known as the husband, it would be hard to live in the community; if he is to find out the adulterous father, he would have to do it in secret. The plan is "dark" and "guilty" because it is done in secret and by means of lies--he is doing this in isolation and by means of science uncontrolled by the humanity of society and law--and he is afraid or too proud to be shamed like Hester. (As an instance of the lies, he starts living with Dimmesdale under false pretences--he also only pretends to be religious.) Further, he means not only to discover the identity of the father, but also to do him harm--this is unsaid, but implied. The implication of "full strength of his faculties" is that he will use his drugs and powers of alchemy--and any other powers he can call up, including perhaps the Devil if he had met him in the wilderness--in this plan. We know there is another element in the plan--Hester knows his identity and has been forced to promise to conceal it (the lock and key of her silence).
daily and habitual flourish of a razor ...sl09.html#g02
Chillingworth becomes a physician (no license was needed then). Physicians were rare, and even rarer in New England, since the population was still small and as yet unattractive for such skilled men. Such drugs as existed were dispensed by a parttime druggist, and any necessary surgery by the barbers who in their day jobs cut hair and shaved faces.
Elixir of Life ...sl09.html#g02
The elixir of life is a mythical substance that is supposed to prolong life without definite end. ("Elixir" is a word derived from the Greek for dried powder, but elixirs when legitimate medicines are usually dispensed in a liquid with alcohol to dissolve the powder.) The Elixir of Life was much sought after by alchemists, along with the philosopher's stone, which was supposed to turn base metal into gold. Here the author points out that alchemists usually tried to make the drug from a mixture of many ingredients, like the "heterogeneous" remedies of "antique physic." In contrast with that mixture, he mentions the "simples" or drugs such as the Indians used, with just one ingredient for each remedy. Hawthorne used this Elixir of Life symbol in many of his writings (see for example "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"), and seemed to be fixated on it in the unfinished work he left on his death. Hawthorne always treated this alchemy effort as very wrong, a usurpation of science over human life and the limits God or Nature has placed on life. There was much pseudoscience in his day as well as in the days of the Puritans and much scope for criticizing it in fiction. Here there seems to be an indirect reference to the practice of homeopathy as medicine.
In his Indian captivity ...sl09.html#g02
We have already encountered Prynne-Chillingworth's captivity, and here we are reminded of it. (The need for a reminder might not seem quite necessary in this novel, so soon, but you might bear in mind that other novels were published first in serial form in magazines, and so readers might have forgotten elements of the plot after a few weeks--we do not know whether Hawthorne was influenced at all by that style, but this was the first long novel he attempted, so it is possible.) Note that Hawthorne never has to tell us the details of how Prynne-Chillingworth was ransomed or redeemed from his Indian captors, but it seems that is quite irrelevant to the plot.
the now feeble New England Church ...sl09.html#g03
We are not prepared for this odd statement. Earlier it seemed that the author was picturing the Puritans as stern and powerful. Why now call the church feeble? For one reason, to justify the attention paid to young Dimmesdale, in this novel, regardless of historical fact. But it was probably recognized at the time that the Puritan Church had lost a lot of its energy as soon as twenty-five years after founding the new colonies. The earliest arrivals, the Plymouth Bay Colony, were the sternest and purest. A decade later, the Massachusetts Bay Colony in Boston and Salem introduced strains that were hard to patch over when the church operated by consensus and at most synods rather than central leadership. The Antinomian heresy with Anne Hutchinson caused internal conflicts. But most important was probably the fact that the control of the Elect, the appointed church leaders, was diffused by so much new immigration. At one point, it was possible for the church to require a public act of faith in joining a church, for the church member to have full power. In later years this proved impossible to require, as the descendants of church members wanted automatic membership. Only church members could have power in the church and government--the concept of membership had to be rethought. But it is true that during these developments many church leaders longed for a return to the old days and hoped for some revivalist preacher to carry the society back to its roots. Hawthorne is being historically accurate, but he rather paints a mood than an exact history, and he does compress the real history for artistic reasons in this novel. The feebleness of the church seems to parallel too nicely the feebleness of Dimmesdale--are both caused by hypocrisy?
his dawning light would be extinguished ...sl09.html#g04
Of course, neither the Church leaders nor Dimmesdale's admirers among his congregation believed that the central problem here was hypocrisy. The pastor tells them the truth, but the more he does so, the more they believe him a saint who is trying to take the sin of the world on his shoulders--or is it on his heart? We have to recognize that Hawthorne is using a lot of irony here. Now the pastor is described as making gestures toward his chest or neck. These are ambiguous and were variously read, according to the text. But we ought to remember that Dimmesdale's decline started before Chillingworth came to live with him. Later this point is obscured and it seems that Chillingworth is entirely responsible for poisoning Dimmesdale. Here we observe that Dimmesdale's face is alternately pale and red (flushed)--possibly a sign of mental conflict. Also, we do not really know what causes these strange chest symptoms of Dimmesdale. But one possibility is offered by these vigils and even the idea that Dimmesdale might be whipping himself secretly. That would be something that the Puritan leaders would not support--instead, they would urge Dimmesdale to get married instead of trying to handle his sexual feelings this way. "Priestly chastity" might have been admired by a segment of parishioners, but was not mainstream Puritanism. One observation is that universities of the day mainly produced ministers for the church. Harvard had been founded for that purpose in 1636 (by a Cambridge man), but Oxford would have been more famous. Indeed, a Puritan minister who was admired for his scholarship at Oxford would have been a real "acquistion" for New England; most Oxford-trained ministers supported the Crown. Incidentally, Hawthorne had earlier noted the gravestone of one Nathaniel Mather next to the home of his in-laws the Peabody family (see Passages from the American Note-Books, 1838)--he apparently died at age 19 from studying books too much.
Sir Kenelm Digby ...sl09.html#g04
Digby was a real figure, placed here no doubt for some authenticity since otherwise he adds nothing. He was a sort of alchemist like Chillingworth, but did make real scientific discoveries. Hawthorne had read of him and read at least one book by him, and apparently exaggerated his life in the story, "The Birth-mark". This story is quite similar to how the author treats the character of Chillingworth from now on.
from a German university ...sl09.html#g04
"German" adds some romantic touch. The continental universities were more famous for their scientific work than for producing ministers, as was Oxford. (Cambridge at the time produced Isaac Newton.)
"dealt with him" ...sl09.html#g07
No "deal" was intended--the ministers and deacons gave him an ultimatum, ordered him to shape up.
golden pavements of the New Jerusalem ...sl09.html#g09
See Revelation 21--this was the place that redeemed souls were supposed to reside, as in Heaven. It would be impious to wish to be dead so as to go to this new City of God, in spite of the wordplay between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale here. "New Jerusalem" might be an epithet also for Boston, the "city on a hill" that was deliberately sanctified anew and separate from the Old World and its sins, by the Puritans. Dimmesdale's role as a minister and intellectual is largely to expound on this mission and to justify it. We see many references in this novel, even in this chapter, to the Puritan's belief in the role of Providence in arranging matters to reward them for their faith--this was a text that could be read from the smallest matters of daily life. Again, we see the irony in Dimmesdale's answering the truth, but not being believed.
seashore or sea-shore? ...sl09.html#g12
The first edition spells it "seashore" while the Centenary Edition text has "sea-shore.". Later in this book it is spelled "sea-shore," and not "seashore," but the latter spelling is used in other Hawthorne works. We have not regularized it here.
the solemn wind-anthem among the tree-tops ...sl09.html#g12
In many places such as this in the text (and throughout Hawthorne's writings) the author does not repeat the actual conversation, but prefers to give us a sort of reflection or echo of it--we hear the sounds, but cannot make out the distinct words, yet we seem to catch the meaning. Here is a long passage from American Note-Books, 1842, describing a scene from a hill at sunset: "Nearer the base of the hill, I could discern the shadows of every tree and rock, imaged with a distinctness that made them even more charming than the reality; because, knowing them to be unsubstantial, they assumed the ideality which the soul always craves in the contemplation of earthly beauty. All the sky, too, and the rich clouds of sunset, were reflected in the peaceful bosom of the river; and surely, if its bosom can give back such an adequate reflection of heaven, it cannot be so gross and impure as I described it yesterday. Or, if so, it shall be a symbol to me that even a human breast, which may appear least spiritual in some aspects, may still have the capability of reflecting an infinite heaven in its depths, and therefore of enjoying it. It is a comfortable thought, that the smallest and most turbid mud-puddle can contain its own picture of heaven. Let us remember this, when we feel inclined to deny all spiritual life to some people, in whom, nevertheless, our Father may perhaps see the image of His face. This dull river has a deep religion of its own; so, let us trust, has the dullest human soul, though, perhaps, unconsciously." Hawthorne at this point seems to prefer the reflected beauty to the real thing--perhaps under too much influence from the Transcendentalists? Longfellow beautifully captured Hawthorne's reflective voice, so similar to that of wind in the trees, in his funeral eulogy. In his time in Concord he must have heard the wind-chimes and wind-harps of Alcott and Thoreau, as well as the wind in the tree-tops.
a fascination for the minister in...the man of science ...sl09.html#g12
Similar to the earlier presentation of sounds of a conversation, here the author manages to present Dimmesdale's state of mind and philosophy of religion without ever mentioning any particular religious doctrine. We really have little idea of what new ideas might have withered in the "fresh and chill" air that forced them back into orthodox thought. Surely the pastor would have been inclined when thinking about religion to bear in mind his own predicament as a sinner, but here it is treated in the abstract. At least we see some motivation for the two men to talk together.
the soul of the sufferer be dissolved ...sl09.html#g13
Hawthorne continues by stating his conviction that nobody should have the right to look into another person's mind or soul, a conviction expressed throughout his writings. The fact that a physician can do this, he says, must be understood in the context that the physician must be trusted to be a healer, and Chillingworth was not. Nevertheless, there is a strong psychological component to many diseases, and healing can proceed only when there is intimate contact between the doctor and sufferer, and a proper consideration of both mind and body--we see a play on words of "bosom" meaning both.
priestly celibacy ...sl09.html#g15
"Priest" could be used to refer to a Puritan minister. However, neither Puritan nor Church of England ministers were required by church doctrine to be celibate (abstain from married sex). Protestants were well acquainted with the abuses that the practice of celibacy among Catholic priests had caused. But here the author only states that Dimmesdale's actual life was "as if priestly celibacy were one of the articles of church-discipline," not that it actually was. It is never stated just why Dimmesdale did not accept the offer of the hand of one of these comely parishioners. We see no evidence he was in love with Hester. We can only suppose that he was depressed and did not feel worthy.
King's Chapel ...sl09.html#g16
King's Chapel was built in 1688, after the time of this story. Orginally an Episcopal chapel, it was occupied by British troops during the Revolution and is now a Unitarian church and a popular site for visitors walking the Freedom Trail. Hawthorne described a bit of the inside in 1835 in his American Note-Books.
Isaac Johnson ...sl09.html#g16
We learned of Johnson in Chapter 1. He died in 1630. Here his name adds a touch of authenticity to the story. Many New England houses are oddly named not after the current occupants but after the preceding ones (e.g., the "Perry House" instead of the "Eldred House," even though Eldred has lived in it for a couple of decades now--or "The Old Manse" even though no minister lived there when the Hawthornes did.) Perhaps in this case superstitious people did not like to use the direct term "burying ground" but euphemized it as "Isaac Johnson's lot." One justification for that is that, according to Snow's History of Boston, Johnson started the graveyard by asking on his deathbed to be buried in the lot's southwest corner--it seemed appropriate for other early settlers to places graves nearby. You have to understand the author's irony in mentioning that it was an appropriate place for a minister and a physician to live.
Gobelin ...sl09.html#g16
"Gobelin" refers to the tapestry factory in Paris of that name, starting from 1601, perhaps too late for these to be found in Boston. Its woven tapestries were popular in Hawthorne's day and have always been considered the finest available, perhaps too expensive even for this bachelor couple. It is possible that similar handwoven tapestries or carpets were placed on the walls of homes, because there was no insulation in the walls, and the walls were drafty, especially in winter. Puritans did not use carpets on the floor as we do today.
David and Bathsheba ...sl09.html#g16
See 2 Samuel 11-12 for the story of King David's adultery with Bathsheba, his sending Bathsheba's husband to death, and the prophet Nathan's condemnation of David's adultery. The consequence was that David and Bathsheba's first son died. Their second son was Solomon, and the Lord loved him, and had forgiven David. There is a parallel between David the priest and Dimmesdale the priest, though it cannot be followed too far.
Nathan the Prophet ...sl09.html#g16
It is rather striking that this strong pictorial evidence of adultery would confront both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth every day. It is not clear from our story who owned or who put up the tapestries. If it was Chillingworth (more likely, considering his wealth) then it was either earlier than his suspicions about Dimmesdale, and just to remind himself of his plan--or it was after his suspicions of the pastor, and it was another element to torture him. If, on the other hand, Dimmesdale put up the tapestries it might have been a way of confessing, the only way he could at the time--but then his sin would have been immediately obvious to Chillingworth, one thinks. Perhaps the best conclusion is that the author placed these ornaments in the story for our benefit, to enrich the texture, and did not mean them to have a role in the plot.
library, rich with parchment-bound folios ...sl09.html#g16
Although Dimmesdale was a pastor, and so presumably had ordinary churchly jobs such as weddings and funerals to take care of, he may have been excused from such duties because of his scholarly work--the parish was probably large enough to support some specialization of pastoral duties. (If so, one wonders how he ever met Hester Prynne or had the opportunity to spend time alone with her.) Hawthorne may have used Puritan ministers such as John or Cotton Mather as his model for Dimmesdale--they too spent most of their time collating manuscripts and facts to place in their books and as points for the logic of their sermons. The earliest Puritans left journals, and did not seem to have time for elaborate scholarly work such as given here. John Cotton played a role in the Anne Hutchinson case, and some believe that Hawthorne used him as Dimmesdale's model. John Harvard, a Charlestown minister, left his library to found Harvard College--that goes to show how valuable such books were in that time, when all print runs were very small and printing had not much begun in the colonies, yet books were the only way that culture could be transmitted widely. The works of rabbis would have been useful in translating the Hebrew of the Old Testament. Hawthorne never really had a library such as this, and he idealizes it considerably--notice the curtains over the windows that give the sort of romantic light that Hawthorne preferred, but which would have been inadequate for reading books. In contrast to the library, Chillingworth's alchemal laboratory seems rather devilish, but is not described in detail.
when an uninstructed multitude... see[s] with its eyes ...sl09.html#g17
These two sentences have been widely written down in memorandum books and later quoted--they sound so fine. Hawthorne urges us to disbelieve the rumors of the mob, then he urges us to believe its intuition as "truth supernaturally revealed." Then we are fed stories, of which we have to assess the truth. We realize that we are not sure that the narrator is also reliable. For the time being, we have to accept the narrator's word that these clues might be important. It seems that the author is not satisfied with the forebodings and general dark air he has placed in this apartment, but must drag in stories to make it sound more authentic. It is important to mark that the narrator and the truth are not the same, and we might be led in the future to disbelieve all this and form another opinion. Still, these fantastic stories are as fun as any other amusements.
Sir Thomas Overbury ...sl09.html#g17
Hawthorne gives us the essential facts of this case of possible poisoning by an alchemist, as part of a rather famous adultery scandal and trial in 1615, thirty years before this time. Here Hawthorne associates Chillingworth with the alchemist Dr. Forman, who was charged with making up potions for the adulterous wife to give to both her husband and her lover. Overbury, the friend of the lover, was apparently poisoned while in the Tower of London. The lover and the adulterous wife escaped but were ostracized. The husband, the Earl of Essex, is said to have given money to support the child of his wife--as Chillingworth eventually does after his death in this book. Although some critics have argued that this case really serves as the model for this novel, there are too many discrepancies to explain, and the setting is entirely different.
the black art ...sl09.html#g17
Not only was Forman said to be a "wizard" but also the Native American "incantations" were supposed to have magical powers, deriving from the Devil. Here we see again the recurrent theme of the Black Man ("sooty face") and his home in the wilderness outside the town walls. Hawthorne mixes it all up--Faust, the Devil, the Devil's emissary, the bad angel working with the permission of God at this time, the self-revenge of Dimmesdale authorizing this retribution, the black heresies of the Catholics and their Indian allies, and more to come!

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