The Scarlet Letter HTML version

1. The Prison Door
A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats, inter-
mixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front
of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with
iron spikes.
The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they
might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical
necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the
site of a prison. In accordance with this rule it may safely be assumed that the forefathers
of Boston had built the first prison-house somewhere in the Vicinity of Cornhill, almost
as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot, and
round about his grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated
sepulchres in the old churchyard of King's Chapel. Certain it is that, some fifteen or
twenty years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was already marked with
weather-stains and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-
browed and gloomy front. The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door looked
more antique than anything else in the New World. Like all that pertains to crime, it
seemed never to have known a youthful era. Before this ugly edifice, and between it and
the wheel-track of the street, was a grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed,
apple-pern, and such unsightly vegetation, which evidently found something congenial in
the soil that had so early borne the black flower of civilised society, a prison. But on one
side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in
this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their
fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal
as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be
kind to him.
This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; but whether it had
merely survived out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines
and oaks that originally overshadowed it, or whether, as there is far authority for
believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she
entered the prison-door, we shall not take upon us to determine. Finding it so directly on
the threshold of our narrative, which is now about to issue from that inauspicious portal,
we could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers, and present it to the reader. It
may serve, let us hope, to symbolise some sweet moral blossom that may be found along
the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow