I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea,
which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with
the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to
Their faithful Friend and Servant, C. D. December, 1843.
Stave 1: Marley's Ghost
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register
of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief
mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon `Change, for anything
he chose to put his hand to.
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly
dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail
as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors
is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's
done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was
as dead as a door-nail.
Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge
and he were partners for I don't know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor,
his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend,
and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event,
but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and
solemnised it with an undoubted bargain. The mention of Marley's funeral brings
me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This
must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going
to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's Father died before the
play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night,
in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged
gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot -- say Saint Paul's Churchyard
for instance -- literally to astonish his son's weak mind.
Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards,
above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley. The firm was known as Scrooge and
Marley. Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes
Marley, but he answered to both names. It was all the same to him.
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind- stone, Scrooge! a squeezing,
wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as
flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained,
and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his
pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin
and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and
on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about
with him; he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.
External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm,
no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling
snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul
weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and
sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often `came
down' handsomely, and Scrooge never did.
Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, `My dear Scrooge,
how are you? When will you come to see me?' No beggars implored him to bestow a
trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in
all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind
men's dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their
owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they
said, `No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!'
But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along
the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, was
what the knowing ones call `nuts' to Scrooge.
Once upon a time -- of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve -- old
Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy
withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down,
beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement
stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite
dark already -- it had not been light all day -- and candles were flaring in the
windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air.
The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that
although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.
To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have
thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.
The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon
his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters.
Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that
it looked like one coal. But he couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box
in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master
predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on
his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not
being a man of a strong imagination, he failed. `A merry Christmas, uncle! God save
you!' cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon
him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach. `Bah!'
said Scrooge, `Humbug!'
He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew
of Scrooge's, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes
sparkled, and his breath smoked again. `Christmas a humbug, uncle!' said Scrooge's
nephew. `You don't mean that, I am sure?' `I do,' said Scrooge. `Merry Christmas!
What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough.'
`Come, then,' returned the nephew gaily. `What right have you to be dismal? What
reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough.'
Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said `Bah!'
again; and followed it up with `Humbug.' `Don't be cross, uncle!' said the nephew.
`What else can I be,' returned the uncle, `when I live in such a world of fools
as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What's Christmas time to you
but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older,
but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in
`em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work
my will,' said Scrooge indignantly, `every idiot who goes about with "Merry Christmas"
on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly
through his heart. He should!' `Uncle!' pleaded the nephew. `Nephew!' returned the
uncle sternly, `keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.' `Keep
it!' repeated Scrooge's nephew. `But you don't keep it.' `Let me leave it alone,
then,' said Scrooge. `Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!'
`There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not
profited, I dare say,' returned the nephew. `Christmas among the rest. But I am
sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from
the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can
be apart from that -- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time:
the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem
by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below
them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race
of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never
put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good,
and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'
The clerk in the Tank involuntarily applauded. Becoming immediately sensible
of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and extinguished the last frail spark for
ever. `Let me hear another sound from you,' said Scrooge, `and you'll keep your
Christmas by losing your situation! You're quite a powerful speaker, sir,' he added,
turning to his nephew. `I wonder you don't go into Parliament.' `Don't be angry,
uncle. Come! Dine with us tomorrow.'
Scrooge said that he would see him -- yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length
of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first. `But
why?' cried Scrooge's nephew. `Why?' `Why did you get married?' said Scrooge. `Because
I fell in love.' `Because you fell in love!' growled Scrooge, as if that were the
only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas. `Good afternoon!'
`Nay, uncle, but you never came to see me before that happened. Why give it as a
reason for not coming now?' `Good afternoon,' said Scrooge. `I want nothing from
you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?' `Good afternoon,' said Scrooge.
`I am sorry, with all my heart, to find you so resolute. We have never had any quarrel,
to which I have been a party. But I have made the trial in homage to Christmas,
and I'll keep my Christmas humour to the last. So A Merry Christmas, uncle!' `Good
afternoon,' said Scrooge. `And A Happy New Year!' `Good afternoon,' said Scrooge.
His nephew left the room without an angry word, notwithstanding. He stopped at
the outer door to bestow the greetings of the season on the clerk, who cold as he
was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned them cordially. `There's another fellow,'
muttered Scrooge; who overheard him: `my clerk, with fifteen shillings a week, and
a wife and family, talking about a merry Christmas. I'll retire to Bedlam.'
This lunatic, in letting Scrooge's nephew out, had let two other people in. They
were portly gentlemen, pleasant to behold, and now stood, with their hats off, in
Scrooge's office. They had books and papers in their hands, and bowed to him. `Scrooge
and Marley's, I believe,' said one of the gentlemen, referring to his list. `Have
I the pleasure of addressing Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Marley?' `Mr. Marley has been dead
these seven years,' Scrooge replied. `He died seven years ago, this very night.'
`We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner,'
said the gentleman, presenting his credentials.
It certainly was; for they had been two kindred spirits. At the ominous word
`liberality,' Scrooge frowned, and shook his head, and handed the credentials back.
`At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,' said the gentleman, taking up
a pen, `it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision
for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands
are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts,
sir.' `Are there no prisons?' asked Scrooge. `Plenty of prisons,' said the gentleman,
laying down the pen again. `And the Union workhouses?' demanded Scrooge. `Are they
still in operation?' `They are. Still,' returned the gentleman, `I wish I could
say they were not.' `The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?' said
Scrooge. `Both very busy, sir.' `Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first,
that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,' said Scrooge.
`I'm very glad to hear it.' `Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian
cheer of mind or body to the multitude,' returned the gentleman, `a few of us are
endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink. and means of warmth.
We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt,
and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?' `Nothing!' Scrooge replied.
`You wish to be anonymous?' `I wish to be left alone,' said Scrooge. `Since you
ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas
and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments
I have mentioned -- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.'
`Many can't go there; and many would rather die.' `If they would rather die,' said
Scrooge, `they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides --
excuse me -- I don't know that.' `But you might know it,' observed the gentleman.
`It's not my business,' Scrooge returned. `It's enough for a man to understand his
own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly.
Good afternoon, gentlemen!'
Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen
withdrew. Scrooge returned his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and
in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.
Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring
links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them
on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping
slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and
struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards
as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense.
In the main street at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the
gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged
men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the
blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowing sullenly
congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice. The brightness of the shops where holly
sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy
as they passed. Poulterers' and grocers' trades became a splendid joke; a glorious
pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles
as bargain and sale had anything to do. The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the
mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas
as a Lord Mayor's household should; and even the little tailor, whom he had fined
five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and bloodthirsty in the streets,
stirred up to-morrow's pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the baby sallied
out to buy the beef.