- gift that descended...at Pentecost, in
tongues of flame ...sl11.html#g01
- Pentecost was the traditional holy day, fifty days after the
first day of the Jewish Passover, for Christians the seventh
Sunday after Easter. The Puritans did not actually celebrate such
holidays of the Episcopal Church of England. The origin is in
Acts 2:1-6ff, where we read:
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with
one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from
heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house
where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven
tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they
were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with
other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were
dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under
heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came
together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them
speak in his own language.". . . .
Hawthorne had a deep view of language. In his American Note-Books of 1840
we read of their thick and darksome veil: "May
19th.--. . . Lights and shadows are continually
flitting across my inward sky, and I know neither whence they
come nor whither they go; nor do I inquire too closely into them.
It is dangerous to look too minutely into such phenomena. It is
apt to create a substance where at first there was a mere shadow.
. . . If at any time there should seem to be an expression
unintelligible from one soul to another, it is best not to strive
to interpret it in earthly language, but wait for the soul to
make itself understood; and, were we to wait a thousand years, we
need deem it no more time than we can spare. . . . It is not
that I have any love of mystery, but because I abhor it, and
because I have often felt that words may be a thick and darksome
veil of mystery between the soul and the truth which it seeks.
Wretched were we, indeed, if we had no better means of
communicating ourselves, no fairer garb in which to array our
essential being, than these poor rags and tatters of Babel. Yet
words are not without their use even for purposes of
explanation,--but merely for explaining outward acts and all
sorts of external things, leaving the soul's life and action
to explain itself in its own way."
And ten years later, Hawthorne experimented with this natural
language in The Marble
Pentecost is significant later when we find Dimmesdale at work on
his great task of delivering the Election Day sermon. Election
Day was fixed at fifty days after Easter. The
governor of the colony was elected until 1684, when Charles II
took away the charter. Hawthorne of course favored electing
rather than appointing the governor.
Although the author states that New England Puritan ministers
were not so gifted orators, there is evidence that this quality
It seems that there is a paradox in the Tongues of Flame at
Pentecost--the gift was given to natural people who were sinners,
and the flame (or baptism by the Holy Ghost) was intended to
cleanse them--although here Hawthorne says the gift was for
"chosen disciples," it was really for all humans.
It seems odd that there is discussion of Dimmesdale's
eloquence here but in the end we never read a word of
it--Hawthorne is able to communicate the message just by the
sound of it, apparently. But perhaps this is just the beauty of
the reflection again?
- virgins of his church ...sl11.html#g01
- "Virgins" here means young ladies. It has to be
more than a bit ironic that they were so thrilled by all this
talk of sin from one whose speech was supposed to be so safe and
sanctified--their white bosoms must have turned red in the
process, and they must have "transferred" (as the
psychologists say) their budding sexual feelings to religious
passion. But Dimmesdale can only try harder to tell the truth,
and then everybody believes just the opposite.
- the sanctity of Enoch ...sl11.html#g01
Genesis 5:21-24. "And Enoch lived sixty and five years,
and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat
Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And
all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years:
And Enoch walked with God: and he [was] not; for God took
The interpretation is that Enoch was alive when he walked with
God, and did not have to die to go to Heaven. Someone would have
to be pretty good to have that happen. So comparing Dimmesdale to
him is quite extreme.
- He had striven to put a cheat upon
- This is supposed to mean he cheated (defrauded, tricked)
himself by believing he had made a full confession.
Alternatively, the word "escheat" means for property to
revert back to the crown or government in certain cases--by
placing such a clause in his wording he would let something
happen that he did not control.
- practices...in accordance with...faith of
- The scourge or whip and such extreme self-denial and harm to
the physical body was not Puritan practice. Some Catholic
devotions of monks and the like practiced it.
- to fast...to purify the body ...sl11.html#g01
- Fasting was practiced as a group on certain occasions--there
are still Fast Days set by New England legislatures because of
the death of a governor or other important dates--now they have
only the significance of another holiday and nobody goes without
food. This self-starvation by Dimmesdale might account for his
weakness, and the whipping or other self-mutilation might account
for the red mark on his chest that some said they saw. Note that
this is one of the only occasions upon which he is said to think
of Hester and Pearl, and it is only with shame not love.
- To the untrue man, the whole universe is
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Letter. 1999. 23 Sep. 1999.
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