Page 76. " It was like nothing so much as the phantasmagoric play of the northern lights "

This is the popular name for the aurora borealis, the spectacular natural light display that occurs around the north pole. It is caused by highly charged electrons from the solar wind colliding with oxygen and nitrogen particles as they enter the earth’s atmosphere. As these react together, they create luminous flares that swirl across the sky. These can be green and reddish-brown where oxygen particles are struck, while nitrogen gives off rarer blue and red lights. During the seventeenth century, the aurora borealis was the wellspring of much superstition and was interpreted either as an ill omen or the result of aerial armies clashing with each other in the sky.

Watch an amazing time lapse video of the aurora borealis below.  

Aurora over Iceland
Creative Commons AttributionAurora over Iceland - Credit: Victor Montol

Page 76. " She never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing broadcast the dragon’s teeth, whence sprung a harvest of armed enemies, against whom she rushed to battle "
The Crop of the Dragon's Teeth (1919)
Public DomainThe Crop of the Dragon's Teeth (1919) - Credit: John Dickson Batten

Greek mythology testifies to the hazards attendant upon dragon dentistry. The Argonautica tells that one of the trials which Jason must pass in order to win the golden fleece is to sow four acres of land with dragons' teeth; each of these will grow into an armed warrior and Jason must defeat them all before they can slay him. He succeeds in this by using a piece of trickery recommended by Medea: he hurls a rock into their midst and, since they cannot work out where it has come from, the warriors turn on each other with deadly force.

The Phoenician prince Cadmus confronts a similar challenge after the water-dragon who guards the Castalian Spring kills his followers. Cadmus gets his revenge by slaying the dragon and then, on the advice of Athena, pulls out his teeth and sows them in the ground. As in the Jason myth, they sprout into warriors and Cadmus overcomes them by employing the same trick. In this case, however, five survive and go on to help him build the great citadel of Thebes. Hawthorne published a retelling of this myth in his Tanglewood Tales (1853). Read it below. 

Page 77. " a little imp, whose next freak might be to fly up the chimney "

Imps, who were thought to be witches’ familiars during the seventeenth century, shared with their mistresses a predilection for flying up chimneys. The idea that witches did so was imported from Europe and can be traced back to the ancient Germanic goddess Holda, the matron of witches who flew with her sisters on a broomstick and, in the days prior to Santa Claus, swooped down chimneys delivering gifts to children. The association between imps and chimneys may have been further cemented by the practice of employing young, agile boys as sweeps. Testimonies from Hawthorne’s time show that these youngsters, permanently caked in black soot from their labors, struck fear into the hearts of wealthier children who associated them with the devilish “black man” of folklore.  

One of Hawthorne’s finest short stories, ‘Feathertop’ (1852), features a witch whose unseen familiar resides in her chimney. Read it here.


Page 78. " I have no Heavenly Father! "
God Inviting Christ to Sit on the Throne at His Right Hand (1645)
Public DomainGod Inviting Christ to Sit on the Throne at His Right Hand (1645) - Credit: Pieter de Grebber

Puritans, who believed God shunned those born out of wedlock, had only to turn to Deuteronomy 23:2 for verification: “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” This shameful stigma was recorded at the infant's baptism, where filius populi (child of the people) was entered in the records, and was even sometimes reflected in the name the child was accorded. Repent, Lament and Flie-Fornication were standard monikers for illegitimate children, serving both as a life-long badge of their status and as a reminder to others of their Christian duties. In contrast to the Catholic stance, Puritans did not believe this condition could be ameliorated by the parents subsequently marrying. 

Page 78. " poor little Pearl was a demon offspring "
Lilith (1892)
Public DomainLilith (1892) - Credit: John Collier
Vampir (1899)
Public DomainVampir (1899) - Credit: Tuschzeichnung von Ernst Stöhr

Demon offspring are a murderous, promiscuous lot. Mesopotamian mythology has the lilin, a race of demons which Lilith, queen of the succubi and Adam’s first partner, gives birth to in their hundreds every day. Greek mythology, meanwhile, has the lamiae, the snake-like spawn of Lamia, the Libyan Queen-cum-child devourer; and the empusae, offspring of witch-goddess Hecate, who in their natural state have the hind quarters of asses and are shod with brass slippers. These monstrous creatures share an enthusiasm for killing young children and late-night travelers, as well as the ability to shapeshift into the guise of beautiful women. The lamiae use this talent to seduce men and then steal their eyes or eat their bodies mid-coitus, whilst the lilin prefer to pilfer their sperm in order to beget yet more demons to haunt the unwilling fathers until death.

The intertwining of witchcraft, sexual voracity and the subversion of maternal instinct is plain in these myths and makes clear the light in which Pearl is seen by her fellow Bostonians. What is most interesting in Hawthorne’s labeling of Pearl as “a demon offspring,” though, is the light in which it casts her father. Through his original begetting and subsequent denial of Pearl, Dimmesdale becomes the “fiend-like” spirit Hester sees reflected in her eyes.  

Page 78. " Luther, according to the scandal of his monkish enemies, was a brat of that hellish breed "
Martin Luther (1529)
Public DomainMartin Luther (1529) - Credit: Lucas Cranach the Elder
Caricature of Luther as the devil's bagpipes (1535)
Public DomainCaricature of Luther as the devil's bagpipes (1535) - Credit: Eduard Schoen

Martin Luther (1483-1546), a monk himself, preached that salvation could not be achieved through one’s deeds but depended on God’s grace alone. Arguing that the Bible was the sole source of divine wisdom, he opposed the Pope’s authority and railed against the profligacy and materialism of the Catholic Church. Unsurprisingly, he attracted virulent censure and in 1521, was called before Charles V at the Diet of Worms to renounce his views. When he refused, the Emperor delivered an edict which declared that he was “not a man but a demon in the appearance of a man, clothed in religious habit to be better able to deceive mankind.”

The best-known public figure of his time, Luther produced a vast body of literature, including two catechisms, numerous scriptural commentaries, hymns, anti-papal polemics and, most influentially of all, the first translation of the Bible into his native German. The movement he inspired ultimately led to the split of the Catholic Church and the establishment of Protestantism

Page 79. " Hester Prynne went, one day, to the mansion of Governor Bellingham "
A 17th century mansion house in Boston
Creative Commons AttributionA 17th century mansion house in Boston - Credit: Boston Public Library

Richard Bellingham built his grand brick mansion on Tremont Street opposite the Burying Ground, an area then known as Cotton Hill. He lived there through his several governorships up until his death in 1672. The site is now occupied by the One Beacon Street skyscraper, home to assorted legal, financial and governmental concerns. 


Google Map


Page 79. " the chances of a popular election had caused this former ruler to descend a step or two from the highest rank "
The Elopement (1764)
Public DomainThe Elopement (1764) - Credit: John Collett

In the 1642 election, after just one year of power, Bellingham lost his place to his rival John Winthrop. His fall from office was no doubt precipitated by the fact that he was the subject of a local scandal: he had recently taken a rather unedifying starring role as one third of a love triangle. A friend of his who was lodging in his house at the time had been seeing 20-year-old Penelope Penham whom he hoped to marry. She and Bellingham, 30 years her senior, fell in love, and the smitten governor misused his ministerial powers to preside over their hastily-arranged marriage before the banns could be published. When the matter came before the court, Bellingham refused to step down from the bench to face his fellow magistrates, leading to an embarrassing impasse.

After his ousting, he returned to his previous position as an assistant to the council, providing advice to his successor and serving as a judicial authority. 


Page 79. " no higher jurisdiction than that of the selectmen of the town "

The selectmen were an executive board of officers, exclusive to New England, who were appointed at annual elections to look after various local concerns.

Page 79. " a dispute concerning the right of property in a pig "
Nefarious pig-stealer of the nursery rhyme,
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeNefarious pig-stealer of the nursery rhyme, "Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son" - Credit: The Henry Ford

This controversy took place in 1642 when one Mrs. Sherman accused Captain Robert Keayne of stealing her pig. This pig, who was apparently of a gallivanting bent, had wandered away from its foraging spot and gone to rootle around the grounds of Keayne’s estate. Keayne advertised that the animal was in his possession and bade the owner come and collect it. When no-one did so, he decided to kill it for pork. Sherman, finding her pen empty and hearing of Keayne’s actions, accused him of stealing, concealing and killing her livestock.

At court, the case pitted the twenty-two elected deputies against the governor and his twelve assistants, the former sympathizing with Sherman and the latter with Keayne. At the time, both sat together as one body and, since the deputies had the greater number, their vote carried the day. The result made plain the fact that the deputies would act according to the sympathies of those who had elected them (town feeling was very much on the more likeable Sherman’s side) rather than on true judgment, and that the court needed to be reformed. In 1644, the deputies and assistants were constituted as separate bodies that were to function independently but had to agree on any new act before it could be enshrined in law.

Page 81. " the scarlet fever, or some such half-fledged angel of judgment "
'Strawberry tongue' characteristic of scarlet fever
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike'Strawberry tongue' characteristic of scarlet fever - Credit: Martin Kronawitter

Scarlet fever is an infectious disease that usually occurs in children aged four to eight years old. Its most prominent symptom is the bright red rash, starting from the face and neck before spreading to the rest of the body, from which it derives its name. This is accompanied by a sore throat, abdominal pains and fever. Before a vaccine was invented in 1924, scarlet fever claimed many young lives and was amongst the most virulent epidemic diseases the settlers brought with them to the New World.

Page 81. " This was a large wooden house, built in a fashion of which there are specimens still extant in the streets of our elder towns "
The kitchen of a reconstructed settler's house as it would have been in the 1630s
Creative Commons AttributionThe kitchen of a reconstructed settler's house as it would have been in the 1630s - Credit: James Walsh

In fact, Bellingham’s house was laboriously constructed from stone specially imported from Holland. Most settlers, however, built their dwellings from timber frames filled with wicker and clay and clad in wooden slats. They typically had steep thatched gables and centered around a large chimney and fireplace. Explore a historic recreation of Plimoth Plantation, the first European Puritan settlement, by navigating around the screen below.

Page 81. " The brilliancy might have befitted Aladdin’s palace "

Aladdin is the eponymous hero of a Middle Eastern folk tale which appears in the Arabian Nights. A young and idle boy, he is taken in by a sorcerer who pretends to be his uncle and sent on a quest to retrieve an oil lamp from an enchanted cave. On rubbing the lamp, Aladdin unwittingly unleashes a genie who, indebted for the liberation, is obliged to do his bidding. Aladdin has the genie secure him the Sultan’s daughter’s hand in marriage and then instructs him to build a palace fit for her, a glittering marble edifice with walls of solid gold and silver studded in precious stones. Read the full tale here.


Aladdin snoozing amid the luxuries of his palace
Public DomainAladdin snoozing amid the luxuries of his palace - Credit: Walter Paget
Illustration from the 1909 Arabian Nights
Public DomainIllustration from the 1909 Arabian Nights - Credit: Maxfield Parrish



Page 82. " a free-born Englishman, but now a seven years’ slave "
This painting of mid-17th century colonial life shows indentured servants and their masters
Creative Commons AttributionThis painting of mid-17th century colonial life shows indentured servants and their masters - Credit: Keith Rocco; Photo by National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center

Emigrating to the New World was an expense few could afford upfront. Poorer individuals paid for their passage by indenturing themselves to wealthy men for whom they were bound to work unwaged for several years. In the seventeenth century, nearly two thirds of settlers were in this condition, providing labor for newly-established farmers and planters. Conditions were miserable and tales of suicide and attempted escape pepper the chronicles of the time, while the high death rate meant many slaves expired before they could fulfill their contracts and live freely once more.

Page 82. " The serf wore the blue coat, which was the customary garb of serving-men at that period "

Indentured servants were not allowed to buy any goods themselves and had to rely on their masters to provide them with clothing. Since blue dye, deriving from woad, was cheap, their uniforms were typically of this hue.

Flowering woad plant and woad pigment
Creative Commons AttributionFlowering woad plant and woad pigment - Credit: naturaldyer
Page 82. " The Chronicles of England, or other such substantial literature "

Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland is a collaborative work first published in 1577 with a revised version appearing in 1587. It not only provides an exhaustive account of Britain’s history but also details its flora and fauna, minerals, weights and measures, laws, currency, customs and clothing, making it an invaluable resource for historians. The ambition of its scope is reflected by the fact that it spans several volumes and runs to around 3,000 densely-printed pages. Both the 1577 and 1587 editions, together with useful background information, can be accessed here.

Open page from Holinshed's Chronicles
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumOpen page from Holinshed's Chronicles - Credit: Rooke Books

Holinshed's Chronicles in six volumes
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumHolinshed's Chronicles in six volumes - Credit: Rooke Books

Page 83. " the frothy remnant of a recent draught of ale "
Puritans Drinking from Pewter Mugs in Colonial Massachusetts
Public DomainPuritans Drinking from Pewter Mugs in Colonial Massachusetts
A tankard of ale
Creative Commons AttributionA tankard of ale - Credit: Jessica Spengler

Though Puritans figure in the popular imagination as a crew of joyless teetotalers, they in fact enjoyed alcohol very much. Preachers advocated moderate consumption — Increase Mather famously declared “Drink is in it self a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan” — but that did not stop their congregations quaffing prodigious quantities. At a time when water was unsafe to drink without being boiled, alcohol accompanied every activity, from work to weddings, christenings to court trials. The settlers were hugely inventive in their brewing and concocted alcoholic beverages from dandelions, squash, corn silk, onions, tomatoes, and plenty more besides.

Page 83. " There was a steel head-piece, a cuirass, a gorget, and greaves, with a pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath "
British basket-hilted sword, 1600-25
Creative Commons AttributionBritish basket-hilted sword, 1600-25 - Credit: (Gift of Alan Rutherfurd Stuyvesant, 1949)
An English suit of armour from c.1630
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeAn English suit of armour from c.1630 - Credit: Mary Harrsch

These pictures show just what an up-to-the-minute suit of armour looked like in the early seventeenth century. The cuirass, usually made up of separate back and breast plates, covered the torso from neck to waist; the gorget was a steel or leather collar that fastened around the throat; and the greaves shielded the shins. Gauntlets — gloves made either from fully articulated metal or from leather reinforced with steel plates — protected the fingers, hands and forearms.


Gauntlet from 1633/4
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGauntlet from 1633/4 - Credit: Mary Harrsch


Page 83. " the head of a regiment in the Pequod war "

The Pequod (or Pequot) tribe of south-east Connecticut were in the middle of a violent bid to expand their territory when the Europeans began to settle Massachusetts, and relations with neighboring tribes were tense in the extreme. They saw the newcomers as a potential resource and sought to gain a monopoly on fur-trading with them. This resulted in fractious disputes with both the English and the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes which became violent in 1633 after the Pequot killed a number of settlers. War was officially declared on 1st May 1637, with an English-Mohegan alliance heading the charge against the Pequot. Just 26 days later, it escalated into one of the bloodiest events in American history: the Mystic massacre, in which the allies burnt down the Pequot settlement and slaughtered around 500 people, mainly women and children. Over the following week, over 200 more were hunted down and killed or captured and forced into slavery. On 21st September 1638, the Treaty of Hartford was ratified, depriving the few remaining Pequot of their land and identity and outlawing their very name. The effects of this lasted until the twentieth century when their descendants reorganized in Connecticut once more.

Destruction of Pequot village, 1637
Public DomainDestruction of Pequot village, 1637 - Credit: John Mason

Page 83. " Bacon, Coke, Noye, and Finch "
Francis Bacon (c.1610)
Public DomainFrancis Bacon (c.1610) - Credit: Paul van Somer

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an archetypal English Renaissance man, his talents extending from science to philosophy, history to jurisprudence. He became a barrister after completing his Cambridge education and remained a dedicated proponent of reform throughout his life. Numerous honors were bestowed on him, including a knighthood, baronetcy and viscountship, and he played a prominent role in establishing the British colonies in America. Though his life ended in disgrace — he was charged with twenty-three counts of corruption in 1621 and banned from ever holding a public office again — his advocacy of the scientific method and common law reforms have made him one of the most influential figures in western thought.


Edward Coke
Public DomainEdward Coke - Credit: attributed to Thomas Athow

Edward Coke (1552-1634) was likewise a noted English barrister, and a fierce rival of Bacon’s both professionally and romantically. He was awarded a knighthood for his successful prosecution in high-profile cases, including the Gunpowder Plot, and made Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. From this position he alarmed the monarchy by introducing reforms that made them subject to law, as a result of which he was then cast into positions intended to limit his influence. Nonetheless, in 1628 he introduced the Petition of Right which allowed property to be recovered from the Crown. This document is held to be one of the three crucial cornerstones of the British constitution, whilst his Institutes and Reports have both been instrumental in shaping the legal system. He is a vital figure in American history as his writings acted as a guiding force in the War of Independence, and later led to the introduction of the Third and Fourth Amendments


William Noy
Public DomainWilliam Noy - Credit: William Faithorne

William Noy(e) (1577-1634) took up a legal career in 1602 and was made attorney-general in 1631. Among the proceedings he instituted were those against William Prynne, whose surname Hawthorne may have borrowed for Hester. Though a redoubtable lawyer, he made himself deeply unpopular with the public by implemented draconian tax-raising measures and supporting the Crown’s interests above those of the citizenry.


John Finch
Public DomainJohn Finch - Credit: Anthony van Dyck

Similar accusations were leveled at John Finch (1584-1660), who was called to the bar in 1611. He too was active in the judgment against William Prynne, and James Granger’s Biographical History of England (1769) contends that he “wrested the laws to a perverse meaning, to answer the purposes of a despotic court” (p. 430). Though he was made a baron in 1640, his woeful public standing led to his impeachment by the Long Parliament in the same year. Most of his remaining days were spent as an exile in Holland.


Bellingham rubbed shoulders with these illustrious figures as both he and they were elected members of parliament for the third government of Charles I’s reign in 1628. 

Page 84. " the Reverend Mr. Blackstone, the first settler of the peninsula "
Blackstone house, Boston, Massachusetts (1889)
Public DomainBlackstone house, Boston, Massachusetts (1889) - Credit: Edwin WhitefieldMemorial plaque honoring Rev. William Blaxton in Boston, Massachusetts, USA (240 * 180)

William Blackstone (1595-1675) was an English Anglican priest who, unable to abide by ecclesiastic requirements that ran counter to his religious beliefs, joined Ferdinando Gorges’ expedition to the New World in 1623. Though the mission was a failure that ended with most of the would-be settlers returning to Britain, Blackstone's craving for personal freedom guaranteed that he remained. He traveled alone to Boston — or Shawmut, as it was then called — where he erected a solitary home on what is now Boston Common, making him the first colonist to settle in the area. His only companions were his books and the roses and apple trees he planted.

His peace was shattered by the arrival of John Winthrop and his fellow voyagers in 1630. Initially he welcomed the newcomers and, since they were in need of potable water, invited them to join him on his land which was rich in natural springs. However, he soon found that their harsh rule was no more palatable to him than that of the English bishops had been, and he departed for Rhode Island where he preached his tolerant brand of Christianity to settlers and Native Americans alike. Among his endearing idiosyncrasies is the fact that, when he grew too old to travel on foot, he tamed a bull and trained it to let him ride on its back.

Below is a poetic rendering of Blackstone's life and experiences.

Page 85. " an elaborate ruff, beneath his gray beard, in the antiquated fashion of King James’s reign "

James I of England (and VI of Scotland) was the predecessor of the current monarch, Charles I. Born in 1566, he ascended the Scottish throne just a year later. When England and Scotland were allied through the Union of the Crowns in 1603, he gained the rule of both kingdoms and retained it until his death in 1625. Contemporary portraits show him in a variety of ostentatious ruffs.

Portrait of James I Stuart. (c.1620)
Public DomainPortrait of James I Stuart. (c.1620) - Credit: Frans Pourbus the younger
James I (c.1605)
Public DomainJames I (c.1605) - Credit: John De Critz the Elder
Page 85. " caused his head to look not a little like that of John the Baptist in a charger "
Salome with the head of John the Baptist on a charger (1889)
Public DomainSalome with the head of John the Baptist on a charger (1889) - Credit: Leon Herbo

John the Baptist is a nomadic prophet who features in both the Canonical Gospels and the Qur’an. He foretells the coming of Christ and is sometimes considered to be his precursor. The most famous tale about him appears in the Gospels when he falls foul of Herodias, both wife and niece of the tetrarch Herod Antipas. He incurs her wrath by condemning the union as sinful, a view for which Herod imprisons him. Later, their daughter Salome performs a dance at Herod’s birthday feast that so pleases him he promises to give her whatever her heart desires. The girl consults her mother and is instructed to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a silver charger. Herod, though horrified, abides by his pledge. This tale, one of the best-known in the Bible, has provided grist for hoards of poets, painters, screenwriters and composers. The most famous reinterpretation is Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play which, together with Richard Strauss’s subsequent opera adaptation, introduced the sado-sexual elements with which this tale is now usually associated. Watch a beautifully-filmed silent performance from 1923.


Page 86. " in old King James’s time, when I was wont to esteem it a high favor to be admitted to a court mask "
Monkeys and Cats at a Masked Ball (1632)
Public DomainMonkeys and Cats at a Masked Ball (1632) - Credit: Flemish School

Masks were a ceasless diversion at the court of James I, when the royal consort Anne of Denmark succeeded in turning it into a “continued Maskarado, where she and her Ladies, like so many sea-Nymphs, or Nereides, appeared often in various dresses to the ravishment of the beholders. The King himself being not a little delighted with such fluent Elegancies, as made the nights more glorious than the days” (The History of Great Britain, p. 54).

Page 86. " we called them the children of the Lord of Misrule "
The Lord of Misrule
Public DomainThe Lord of Misrule - Credit: David Teniers the Younger

The Lord of Misrule was a master of revels appointed from among the peasantry to preside over the raucous Christmas festivities that took place at the court, high-ranking universities and the homes of noblemen. Drawing on the tradition of the pagan Saturnalia, these celebrations gave the populace a chance to throw off conventions and, for a while at least, turn the social hierarchy on its head. Decked in ribbons and bells, the Lord of Misrule would parade into his temporary seat of power accompanied by dozens of drummers, pipers and dancers astride puppet dragons and horses, and from then until his departure – anything from twelve days to three months in the future – everyone was obliged to do his bidding. The merrymakers followed him on an intoxicated spree, paying mock obeisance to their new king and humoring his followers’ bids to extract pecuniary tributes from them.


Unsurprisingly, this tradition appalled the Puritans, for whom it embodied an unholy alliance of “popish” luxury and pagan debauchery, and they protested it vociferously until it at last disappeared amidst the chaos of the English Civil War. Bellingham’s simile therefore not only characterizes Pearl as the product of a subversion of social laws but also, in that she embodies both Catholic and pagan values, a threat to the Puritan beliefs on which they are founded.  

Page 86. " Dost know thy catechism? "

The Catechism Lesson (1890)
Public DomainThe Catechism Lesson (1890) - Credit: Jules-Alexis Muenier
The catechism is a series of questions and answers designed to be memorized and repeated so as to inculcate Christian beliefs in children. The early settlers used those which had been favored by the Reformed Church in England, in particular John Calvin’s Genevan Catechism, but also penned their own. In Boston, John Cotton’s Doctrine of the Church (1642) was used by adults, while Milk for Babes (1646) molded the younger mind. Read the latter here.

Page 86. " Pearl?—Ruby, rather!—or Coral! "
Red coral specimen
Creative Commons AttributionRed coral specimen - Credit: ninniane

While pearls traditionally represent purity, rubies and red coral are at the opposite end of the symbolic spectrum. Both are allied with Mars, the planet of passion, vitality, sexuality and war, and are said to run with an energizing life-force. Whilst pearls evoke the peace of water, rubies and red coral are equated with blood and fire.

Cut ruby
Creative Commons AttributionCut ruby - Credit: Humanfeather
Page 87. " a fair examination in the New England Primer, or the first column of the Westminster Catechism "

The New England Primer became the first children’s textbook to be produced in the American colonies in 1690, and immediately established itself as a key educational staple. It introduced the youthful scholar to both the alphabet and religious doctrine via a series of rhyming couplets that lingered on the themes of sin and punishment. It was also heavy on moral lessons, incorporating John Cotton’s Milk of Babes, the Lord’s Prayer and the salutatory tale of a youth whose devotion to pleasure earns him a premature place in hell.


Front page of the 9th edition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism
GNU Free Documentation LicenseFront page of the 9th edition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism - Credit: Alekjds

The Westminster Catechism was produced in 1647 by the Westminster Assembly in both large and short form for the education of the laity. Aimed at Presbyterian and other Reformed churches, it drew strongly upon Calvinist doctrine. Like most of its kind, it covered the ten commandments, the sacraments and prayer, and placed a good deal of emphasis on the fallen condition of humanity. Read the Shorter Catechism here.

Page 88. " the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses, that grew by the prison-door "
A wanton woman plucking wild roses
Public DomainA wanton woman plucking wild roses - Credit: Alfred Glendening jr.
Wild rose
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeWild rose - Credit: Coralie Mercier

Hawthorne tells us in the first chapter that this rose bush sprang up under the footsteps of the antinomian dissenter Anne Hutchinson: Pearl, once more, is the product and embodiment of lawlessness. It is also significant that the wild rose has stood for secrecy since the Roman period, when a specimen was placed outside the door of a room in which confidential matters were being discussed. To this day, the expression “under the rose” means to keep a secret. In this sense, Pearl’s apparently perverse answer to John Wilson’s question is in fact extremely apposite, for a covert transgression of the colony’s laws, the details of which cannot be disclosed, was indeed what made her.

Page 88. " she is equally in the dark as to her soul, its present depravity and future destiny "
Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise (1551/2)
Public DomainAdam and Eve expelled from Paradise (1551/2) - Credit: Tintoretto

A central tenet of Puritan belief was the doctrine of total depravity. This stated that all of humanity, cursed by the fall of Adam and Eve, was born into a state of sin. No amount of faith or virtuous living was sufficient to atone for this. Only through God’s grace could a person hope to be saved.

Page 90. " I feared the woman had no better thought than to make a mountebank of her child "

The Mountebank (1635)
Public DomainThe Mountebank (1635) - Credit: Rembrandt

Mountebanks were itinerant hucksters who made their living selling quack medicines. American mountebanks embellished the showmanship typical of their kind with vivid entertainments, including displays of ventriloquism, hypnotism and conjuring tricks. John Wilson’s fears that Hester intends Pearl for this ignomious profession stem from the fact that mountebanks marked themselves out with exotic, flamboyant dress.

Doctor Botherum, the Mountebank (1800)
Creative Commons AttributionDoctor Botherum, the Mountebank (1800) - Credit: Thomas Rowlandson ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Page 90. " the tithing-men must take heed that she go both to school and to meeting "

In America’s Puritan colonies, tithing men were elected officers who occupied a similar position to constables but, whereas the latter ensured that citizens abided by the law, the former ensured that the moral and social order was adhered to. One tithing man was appointed to oversee ten townspeople. He would spy on his charges, ensure that they observed the Sabbath and upheld the colony's ideals, and report any wrongdoing to the minister at Sunday service. The official badge of the tithing man was a large stick with a fox-tail at one end: the heavy end was used to thump in the direction of anyone behaving in an unruly manner, while those caught drowsing off during church service had their faces tickled with the tail-end. 

Page 91. " forth into the sunny day was thrust the face of Mistress Hibbins, Governor Bellingham's bitter-tempered sister "
An exemplary portrayal of a crone-like witch
Creative Commons AttributionAn exemplary portrayal of a crone-like witch - Credit: John Hamilton Mortimer

Though history does not bequeath us any portraits of Ann Hibbins, Hawthorne's illustrators, including Hugh Thomson and Frederick C. Gordon, favor her with all the traditional features of a witch. This personage is memorably described in Samuel Harsnett's Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures (1603) as “an olde weather-beaten Croane, hauing her chinne, & her knees meeting for age, walking like a bow leaning on a shaft, hollow eyed, vntoothed, furrowed on her face, hauing her lips trembling with the palsie, going mumbling in the streetes.”

Illustration from the 1893 edition
Public DomainIllustration from the 1893 edition - Credit: Frederick C. Gordon
Illustration from the 1920 edition (detail)
Public DomainIllustration from the 1920 edition (detail) - Credit: Hugh Thomson


Page 91. " There will be a merry company in the forest; and I wellnigh promised the Black Man that the comely Hester Prynne should make one "
Witches going to their Sabbath (1878)
Public DomainWitches going to their Sabbath (1878) - Credit: Luis Ricardo Falero

Witches’ Sabbaths have been part of Christian lore since the mid-fourteenth century. According to popular belief, thousands of witches would fly — either by applying a magical ointment to their bodies or on the backs of goats or dogs — to congregate in remote forests or mountains. Here they would participate in diabolical revels, mocking the church through subverted enactments of its sacraments and trampling on the cross. Throwing their clothes to the wind, they feasted, danced and took part in sprawling orgies. The devil too was present, appearing in the form of a goat or satyr, and the merrymakers would take it in turns to kiss him on his bottom (a ritual greeting known as osculum infame — the kiss of shame) and to copulate with him. 

Watch a recreation of a witches' Sabbath from the 1922 Swedish film, Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages. Afficianados might be interested in watching the whole film, narrated here by William Burroughs.

Page 92. " I would willingly have gone with thee into the forest, and signed my name in the Black Man’s book too, and that with my own blood "
Witches exchanging the Bible for the devil's book
Public DomainWitches exchanging the Bible for the devil's book - Credit: From G. P. Guaccius' Compendium Maleficarum. Milan, 1626.

Puritan belief had it that in order to become a witch, one had to formally sign one’s name in the devil’s book. Through this signature, the witch denounced God and pledged his or her soul to Satan. The latter would then confer supernatural powers upon his new comrade in the war against God. During the Salem witch trials, a confession of having signed the devil’s book was considered key evidence. Read an account of one such confession, that of Mercy Short, here.

Page 94. " as if the proposed result had been the Elixir of Life "
White rabbit making the elixir of immortality
Public DomainWhite rabbit making the elixir of immortality - Credit: From an 18th-century embroidered Chinese emperor's robe.

The elixir of life is a fabulous potion believed to confer immortality on whoever drinks it. Alchemists from Asia to Europe strove to discover a recipe for this magical liquid in tandem with their quest for the philosopher’s stone. This often had disastrous consequences: many of the ingredients used were highly toxic and it was not unknown for people to usher themselves to an early grave by drinking these supposed elixirs.

Hawthorne was enchanted by the notion of such marvelous medicines. In his short story ‘Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment’ (1837), he wrote of an elixir that returned its imbibers to their youth. Read it below.

Page 94. " The young divine, whose scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford "
An aerial view of present-day Oxford
Public DomainAn aerial view of present-day Oxford - Credit: SirMetal

Oxford is a small city in the south-east of England renowned for its world-class university. With its quadrangled and gargoyle-studded colleges, twisting alleyways and fine churches dating from every architectural period, it is often known as the city of dreaming spires.

Google Map


Page 94. " the fasts and vigils of which he made a frequent practice "

This sculpture of a fasting Buddha underscores the link between bodily denial and spiritual purity seen in many religions
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThis sculpture of a fasting Buddha underscores the link between bodily denial and spiritual purity seen in many religions - Credit: Sailko
Icon of Mary Magdalene wearing sackcloth
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeIcon of Mary Magdalene wearing sackcloth - Credit: Luis Fernández García
Fasting was an extremely popular practice among Puritans, who believed that afflicting suffering on oneself was an essential means of rendering the soul humble before God. The especially devout accompanied their fasting with the ritual donning of sackcloth so as to heighten their pious humiliation. In time, individual mortifications of this variety gave way to formal fast days designated by the church in response to specific problems of the day. On these occasions, everyone was required to abstain not only from food but all secular activities and to immerse themselves in prayer.

Page 95. " starting from the nether earth "
The Damned being cast into Hell (c.1605-10)
Public DomainThe Damned being cast into Hell (c.1605-10) - Credit: Frans Francken

This is, of course, a reference to Chillingworth’s possibly hellish origins. The Bible gives hell a subterranean location in many of its passages, for instance Psalm 69:3 (“But those that seek my soul, to destroy it, shall go into the lower parts of the earth”) and Isaiah 14:9 (“Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming”).


The reaper surveying the pit of hell
Public DomainThe reaper surveying the pit of hell - Credit: Stevan Aleksić
Page 95. " He was heard to speak of Sir Kenelm Digby "

Kenelm Digby (1603-65) was a natural scientist, astrologer and alchemist. Though he was responsible for such crucial discoveries as the necessity of oxygen to plant life, he was also a quackish figure whose practices were not far removed from sorcery. For example, he pioneered the Powder of Sympathy, a magical remedy which was applied to the source of affliction rather than the wound itself. He was also a fervent supporter of the Catholic church. Chillingworth’s association with him therefore indicates his estrangement from Puritan mores. 

Page 95. " what is known as miraculous interposition "
Triumph of Divine Providence fresco (1633-9)
Public DomainTriumph of Divine Providence fresco (1633-9) - Credit: Pietro da Cortona

Miraculous interposition, or divine providence, refers to an active intervention by God which allows him to realize his own intentions for humanity. The “individuals of wiser faith” to whom Hawthorne refers are the Deists, who held that God, having created the world, then allowed nature to run its course independent of his own design. Theism, on the other hand, supports the idea of an interventionalist God. 


Dream of Solomon (c.1693)
Public DomainDream of Solomon (c.1693) - Credit: Luca Giordano
Page 96. " the golden pavements of the New Jerusalem "

The New Jerusalem — the City of God which is to be founded on earth after Judgment Day — is foretold in the Book of Revelation: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21.2). It is here that the righteous are to live in eternity, and in which all of God’s promises are to be fulfilled.

14th century tapestry portraying the New Jerusalem
GNU Free Documentation License14th century tapestry portraying the New Jerusalem - Credit: photograph by Kimon Berlin
Page 98. " as if priestly celibacy were one of his articles of church discipline "
A Eunuch dreaming of tantalizing female forms (1874)
Public DomainA Eunuch dreaming of tantalizing female forms (1874) - Credit: Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouÿ

The idea that sexual relationships, whilst a natural part of the married state, are social ties which detract from the individual’s relationship with God is found in numerous biblical passages. Many religions insist that their higher clerics live a lie of absolute celibacy so as to transcend the limitations of the flesh. Though Puritanism is often thought of as antagonistic to all things bodily, it actively rejected these suppositions. In contrast to their great adversaries the Catholics, Puritans preferred their priests to be married family men and to exercise their faith within the community rather than from a remote high ground.

Page 99. " The walls were hung round with tapestry, said to be from the Gobelin looms "
Gobelin tapestry -
Public DomainGobelin tapestry - "Two Bulls" - Credit: Manufatura dos Gobelins

The Gobelins Manufactory was a tapestry producer standing on the edge of the Bièvre river in Paris. It was renowned throughout seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe as the source of the richest, highest-quality tapestries the continent had to offer, catering to royalty and nobility up until its closure during the French Revolution. Today, it is run as a museum by the French Ministry of Culture.

Gobelin tapestries hung on the walls of Rosenborg Castle, Copenhageb
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGobelin tapestries hung on the walls of Rosenborg Castle, Copenhageb - Credit: KLMircea
Manufacture des Gobelins
Public DomainManufacture des Gobelins - Credit: World Imaging



Page 99. " the Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba "
David and Bathsheba (1562)
Public DomainDavid and Bathsheba (1562) - Credit: Jan Massys

According to 2 Samuel 11, King David spies the arrestingly beautiful Bathsheba bathing whilst he is walking on the roof of the royal palace, and desires her immediately. In order to seduce her, he sends her husband, Uriah the Hittite, off to war. When she becomes pregnant, he summons his rival back to sleep with Bathsheba again, hoping that he will believe the child to be his. When Uriah refuses to desert the army, David sends him to the front lines of battle where he inevitably meets his death. Her husband gone, Bathsheba marries the orchestrator of his demise.

This tapestry, with its evocations of seduction and betrayal, acts as both a reflection of Dimmesdale's conscience and a further torment to it.

Page 99. " Nathan the Prophet "
Nathan the Prophet delivering God's messages to King David
Public DomainNathan the Prophet delivering God's messages to King David - Credit: Palma il Giovane

Nathan also appears in 2 Samuel, serving as the conduit between God and David. Having promised to establish the House of David for the glory of his descendents, God is furious at the king’s relations with Bathsheba and sends Nathan to remonstrate:

Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. (2 Samuel 12:9-12) 

In his mercy, God withdraws the threat of death from David’s head but takes the life of the child resulting from his illicit liaison with Bathsheba. 

Chillingworth’s parallel with Nathan — the revealer of adulterous relations and conveyer of their punishment — is unmissable.

Page 99. " the lore of Rabbis "
Eine Streitfrage aus dem Talmud (19th century)
Public DomainEine Streitfrage aus dem Talmud (19th century) - Credit: Carl Schleicher

Rabbis are Jewish leaders or teachers. Crucial Rabbinic texts include the Talmud, which stipulates and expounds upon Jewish law, and the Torah, which comprises the five books of Moses: Bresheit (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Vayicra (Leviticus), Bamidbar (Numbers), and Devarim (Deuteronomy). Read a translation of the Talmud here and the Torah here.

The Torah
Creative Commons AttributionThe Torah - Credit: Lawrie Cate
Page 100. " the period of Sir Thomas Overbury’s murder "
Engraving of Sir Thomas Overbury (c.1615/6)
Public DomainEngraving of Sir Thomas Overbury (c.1615/6) - Credit: Renold Elstracke
Frances Howard (c.1615)
Public DomainFrances Howard (c.1615) - Credit: William Larkin

Thomas Overbury (1581-1613) was an English poet and essayist. His literary reputation, however, has been dramatically overshadowed by the scandalous murder that ended his life. The precipitating factor was Overbury’s objections to the romantic liaison between his friend Robert Carr, the Viscount of Rochester, and Frances Howard, the Countess of Essex and wife of Robert Devereux. Rather than heeding Overbury’s admonitions against their union, the smitten Carr reported them back to Howard who, enraged, began plotting her revenge against him. While the annulment of her first marriage was going through, she arranged for Overbury to be imprisoned in the Tower of London. There, she enlisted her waiting maid Anne Turner — a thoroughly unsavoury character with a side business as the madam of a brothel — to deliver poisoned tarts and jellies to the captive Overbury via the gaoler. The real cause of his death was not discovered until two years later, after the marriage between Howard and Carr had taken place. Howard was found guilty but spared execution, and was later pardoned by King James I. Anne Turner, lacking Howard’s position and connections, was not so fortunate. She was hanged at Tyburn on 15 November 1615.  

Page 100. " Doctor Forman, the famous old conjurer "
Simon Forman (1900)
Creative Commons AttributionSimon Forman (1900) - Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Simon Forman (1552-1611) — astrologer, quack doctor and alleged wizard — was another shady figure implicated in the Overbury case. Anne Turner sought his help in securing love philtres not only to gain the affections of her own paramour but also to ensure the bond between Frances Howard and Robert Carr. Forman also assisted with potions that would make Howard’s husband Robert Devereux impotent and thereby give her grounds for annulling the marriage. After Forman’s death — an incident which he accurately prophesied — obscene wax figures of the concerned parties were found by his widow. These, together with a highly incriminating letter from Howard to Forman, were key evidence in the Overbury trial.

The University of Cambridge is in the process of building an online repository of the insalubrious doctor’s writings, here. You can also listen to Dr. Lauren Kassell's informative podcast, “The Notorious Simon Forman,” here.

Page 100. " 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 "
Temptation of Saint Anthony (c.1515)
Public DomainTemptation of Saint Anthony (c.1515) - Credit: Matthias Grünewald

This indeed places Dimmesdale among revered company. The Book of Matthew tells how Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit in order to face the temptations of Satan, a trial from which he emerges triumphant. Similarly, in the Book of Job, God allows Satan to deprive the saintly Job of his wealth, health and children to try and tempt him into blaspheming against his maker. Again, he resists and is rewarded for his steadfastness with even greater wealth than he previously possessed. Other holy figures the devil has tried to lure from the path of righteousness include Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland; Anthony the Great, a Christian saint hailing from Egypt; and John Bunyan, the great preacher and author of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The Lamp of the Devil (1797-8)
Public DomainThe Lamp of the Devil (1797-8) - Credit: Francisco Goya
St Wolfgang Altarpiece - Temptation of Christ (1479-81)
Public DomainSt Wolfgang Altarpiece - Temptation of Christ (1479-81) - Credit: Michael Pacher