25 May 2011

Nathaniel Hawthorne and the King's Chapel Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts

King's Chapel Burying Ground is on Tremont Street, downtown Boston, the city's oldest cemetery. Nathaniel Hawthorne used to enjoy walking around cemetries, and this is was one of them. Legend has it that the above gravestone, of Elizabeth Pain, who died in 1704, inspired Hawthorne's Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, because of the (tenuous) resemblance of the symbol at the top left to the letter 'A'.

Certainly, the closing paragraph of the novel seems to suggest something of this, even if the colors are incorrect:

'So said Hester Prynne, and glanced her sad eyes downward at the
scarlet letter. And, after many, many years, a new grave was delved, near an old and sunken one, in that burial-ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tomb-stone served for both. All around, there were monuments carved with armorial bearings; and on this simple slab of slate - as the curious investigator may still discern, and perplex himself with the purport - there appeared the semblance of an engraved escutcheon. It bore a device, a herald's wording of which may serve for a motto and brief description of our now concluded legend; so sombre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow:

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