The Scarlet Letter HTML version

22. The Procession
Before Hester Prynne could call together her thoughts, and consider what was practicable
to be done in this new and startling aspect of affairs, the sound of military music was
heard approaching along a contiguous street. It denoted the advance of the procession of
magistrates and citizens on its way towards the meeting-house: where, in compliance
with a custom thus early established, and ever since observed, the Reverend Mr.
Dimmesdale was to deliver an Election Sermon.
Soon the head of the procession showed itself, with a slow and stately march, turning a
corner, and making its way across the market-place. First came the music. It comprised a
variety of instruments, perhaps imperfectly adapted to one another, and played with no
great skill; but yet attaining the great object for which the harmony of drum and clarion
addresses itself to the multitude--that of imparting a higher and more heroic air to the
scene of life that passes before the eye. Little Pearl at first clapped her hands, but then
lost for an instant the restless agitation that had kept her in a continual effervescence
throughout the morning; she gazed silently, and seemed to be borne upward like a
floating sea-bird on the long heaves and swells of sound. But she was brought back to her
former mood by the shimmer of the sunshine on the weapons and bright armour of the
military company, which followed after the music, and formed the honorary escort of the
procession. This body of soldiery--which still sustains a corporate existence, and marches
down from past ages with an ancient and honourable fame--was composed of no
mercenary materials. Its ranks were filled with gentlemen who felt the stirrings of martial
impulse, and sought to establish a kind of College of Arms, where, as in an association of
Knights Templars, they might learn the science, and, so far as peaceful exercise would
teach them, the practices of war. The high estimation then placed upon the military
character might be seen in the lofty port of each individual member of the company.
Some of them, indeed, by their services in the Low Countries and on other fields of
European warfare, had fairly won their title to assume the name and pomp of soldiership.
The entire array, moreover, clad in burnished steel, and with plumage nodding over their
bright morions, had a brilliancy of effect which no modern display can aspire to equal.
And yet the men of civil eminence, who came immediately behind the military escort,
were better worth a thoughtful observer's eye. Even in outward demeanour they showed a
stamp of majesty that made the warrior's haughty stride look vulgar, if not absurd. It was
an age when what we call talent had far less consideration than now, but the massive
materials which produce stability and dignity of character a great deal more. The people
possessed by hereditary right the quality of reverence, which, in their descendants, if it
survive at all, exists in smaller proportion, and with a vastly diminished force in the
selection and estimate of public men. The change may be for good or ill, and is partly,
perhaps, for both. In that old day the English settler on these rude shores--having left
king, nobles, and all degrees of awful rank behind, while still the faculty and necessity of
reverence was strong in him--bestowed it on the white hair and venerable brow of age--
on long-tried integrity--on solid wisdom and sad-coloured experience--on endowments of
that grave and weighty order which gave the idea of permanence, and comes under the