Not improbably, it was to this latter class of men that Mr.
Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of character, naturally
belonged. To the high mountain peaks of faith and sanctity he
would have climbed, had not the tendency been thwarted by the
burden, whatever it might be, of crime or anguish, beneath which
it was his doom to totter. It kept him down on a level with the
lowest; him, the man of ethereal attributes, whose voice the
angels might else have listened to and answered! But this very
burden it was that gave him sympathies so intimate with the
sinful brotherhood of mankind; so that his heart vibrated in
unison with theirs, and received their pain into itself and sent
its own throb of pain through a thousand other hearts, in gushes
of sad, persuasive eloquence. Oftenest persuasive, but sometimes
terrible! The people knew not the power that moved them thus.
They deemed the young clergyman a miracle of holiness. They
fancied him the mouth-piece of Heaven's messages of wisdom, and
rebuke, and love. In their eyes, the very ground on which he
trod was sanctified. The virgins of his church grew pale around
him, victims of a passion so imbued with religious sentiment,
that they imagined it to be all religion, and brought it openly,
in their white bosoms, as their most acceptable sacrifice before
the altar. The aged members of his flock, beholding Mr.
Dimmesdale's frame so feeble, while they were themselves so
rugged in their infirmity, believed that he would go heavenward
before them, and enjoined it upon their children that their old
bones should be buried close to their young pastor's holy grave.
And all this time, perchance, when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was
thinking of his grave, he questioned with himself whether the
grass would ever grow on it, because an accursed thing must
there be buried!
It is inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration
tortured him. It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth, and
to reckon all things shadow-like, and utterly devoid of weight
or value, that had not its divine essence as the life within
their life. Then what was he?--a substance?--or the dimmest of
all shadows? He longed to speak out from his own pulpit at the
full height of his voice, and tell the people what he was. "I,
whom you behold in these black garments of the priesthood--I,
who ascend the sacred desk, and turn my pale face heavenward,
taking upon myself to hold communion in your behalf with the
Most High Omniscience--I, in whose daily life you discern the
sanctity of Enoch--I, whose footsteps, as you suppose, leave a
gleam along my earthly track, whereby the Pilgrims that shall
come after me may be guided to the regions of the blest--I, who
have laid the hand of baptism upon your children--I, who have
breathed the parting prayer over your dying friends, to whom the
Amen sounded faintly from a world which they had quitted--I,
your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a
pollution and a lie!"