by William H. Benson
December 16, 1999
“You fear the world too much,” a woman tells Ebenezer Scrooge. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach.”
And so he had poured himself totally into his work. A hard-driving workaholic, he froze all other human pursuits. Even the death of his parter, Jacob Marley, seven years before had not softened him. His work was his passion. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly,” he said.
But because it was Christmas, some tried bravely to divert his mind and behavior in a more wholesome direction. His nephew, Fred, asked him over for Christmas the next day. “Bah! Humbug!” was his reply. Two men raising funds for charity he sent rudely packing down the street, and when a Christmas caroler sang at his door through the keyhole, Ebenzer seized a ruler. The singer fled in terror. Finally, a ghost (that of Jacob Marley) brought the message that dented and then demolished Ebenezer Scrooges’s protective and frozen bulwark against human kindness.
Most people do not require such drastic measures to experience a change and a softening of the heart, but the Ebenezer Scrooges of the world do. The mountain between them and the exalted virtues of mercy, generosity, consideration, love, gentility, and kindness is simply too high for them to climb. They lack the capacity and the will to even try; they miss so much.
The spirit of Christmas Past permitted Ebenezer to see himself as a boy–happy, full of life, dancing at an office Christmas party, enjoying his days. The scene stood in sharp contrast to the cold and melancholy life he had chosen to live as an adult at the office and at home. Regrets jumped up. The missed opportunities stomped in. When young, Ebenezer had refused to grab for that fleeting chance for happiness, and it had slipped him by.
The spirit of Christmas Present pulled back the curtain so that Scrooge could see into the Bob Cratchit family. Even though they were living in a humble situation, they were happy and were eating a Christmas dinner–roasted goose, applesause, mashed potatoes, and pudding. Tiny Tim walked in with a crutch, and pity for the lad overwhelmed Ebenezer.
The last of the spirits delivered Scrooge to a churchyard, through an iron gate, into the graveyard, and up to a tombstone. Emblazoned across it was the name “Ebenezer Scrooge”. Terror flooded Scrooge’s cold heart. He pleaded for another chance, and in so doing his transformation from hard to soft was completed.
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in about six weeks throughout all of November and into December of 1843. He then published it on December 19th, and it has remained the Christmas classic. Dickens unabashedly played upon his readers’ sentiments–bitter regrets, pity, a family’s joy, and then the fear of death. The reader feels all those emotions, as did Scrooge. The biographers tell us that due to childhood experiences, Dickens had an acute sense of “home”.
His main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, exemplified the contrast between warmth and cold, between the domestic interior and the noisome streets, between the well and the ill, between the need for comfort and the desperate anxiety about homelessness. Early in his life Ebenzer had apparantly answered this ambivalent dilemma by chosing a ferocious version of privacy, a hostile segregation from the masses, and a shelter that excluded any contact with those gentler virtues. He had shut off the outside world and its people and its charms, and only a ghost on Christmas Eve could unlock him.