There was mulled wine, mince pies (and humbugs!) for all; and - hopefully not just because of these substantial bribes - the audience was ecstatic! As a contemporary report of one of Mr Dickens' readings put it: "At the close there was an outburst, not so much of applause as of downright HURRAHING!"
And, after that bit of gratuitous self-congratulation, I will attempt to justify my shameless promotion of the show -- "Seats in all parts!" -- with a piece of curious trivia...
Charles Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge ruthlessly declared:
"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!"
As I mentioned the other day, the philosophy that the poor were an expendable part of the "surplus population", was a teaching which Scrooge had learned from Thomas Malthus, but there was another direct (if erroneous) inspiration for the character of Dickens' infamous miser who was known as being "a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone".
In 1841, Charles Dickens went to Edinburgh to deliver a lecture. Taking a stroll through the city, he happened to visit the Canongate Kirk graveyard. There he saw a memorial slab which read:
EBENEZER LENNOX SCROGGIE
The inscription referred to Mr Scroggie's trade as a corn merchant; however, in recording this discovery in his diary, Dickens mistakenly reported the man's epitaph as "mean man", a description which he found so shocking that, two years later, it prompted him to give a similar sounding name to the the central protagonist in his A Christmas Carol.
Dickens resolutely believed that his creation was rooted in truth to the extent of writing that that while Scots had a reputation for frugality, they were not mean and that it must have "shrivelled" Scroggie’s soul to carry "such a terrible thing to eternity".
The undeservedly maligned Scroggie was, it seems, not at all known for his meanness. Born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scroggie's mother was the niece of Adam Smith, the 18th century political economist and philosopher. A vintner as well as a corn merchant, he won the catering contract for the visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 (the first British monarch to visit since Culloden), and also secured the first contract to supply whisky to the Royal Navy.
However, Scroggie didn't live an entirely blameless life, having once 'goosed' the Countess of Mansfield during a debate at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland; and, worse still, in 1830, fathered a child out of wedlock with a servant girl whom he allegedly ravished on a gravestone. It's probably just as well that Dickens didn't know about all that!
Maybe old Scroggie wouldn't have minded too much about having his memory maligned seeing as it inspired the creation of a character who undergoes such a wonderful transformation...
Images: Brian Sibley & David Weeks, © 2007