Ebenezer Scrooge is misunderstood. His name has been traduced. He has been blackened by a political polemicist. History, it has been said, is written by the victors. More than that: it is given very existence by the publicists. If people only know of one version, how are they to understand what else can be said? - perhaps to the contrary? Guard yourselves:
Skulduggery walks the land.
Dickens was a publicist, he had views and he had borrowed money; what struggling artist, novelist, poet or painter has not? In one of his early days, having scratched with his quill, all day, and to great effect; having produced soaring prose that could not fail to move his readers to a wonderful generosity of spirit; he had visited his pantry.
Time for his reward.
He had swung open the door, as one might, swing open the door on to the bounties of state. He had reached into the shelves for his supper. Merely a moment’s scratching, this time of the wooden boards and with a fevered fork, found him: nothing.
The writer’s week had ended and so had his cheese.
Dickens was a clever man: a modicum of thought, and he had an answer: he had a friend: A friend along the road, around the corner, down the hill and off an alley way. A money lender, a small banker, a man with a little shop, that had a dusty counter behind grimy little window panes. A man who had no wife, no friends, a menagerie of mangy cats who thought only of themselves, and who kept a clerk - who made mistakes; an old man, bent, constantly harangued by the impecunious, the promisers, the foolish and sometimes, just sometimes those who made good and repaid the loan with that margin of interest that kept him, the cats and his clerk. This man was Ebenezer, Ebenezer Scrooge, a man of uncertain origin and uncertain permanence. Ebenezer was old, ailing and unhappy. He made trade by providing for his fellow man, as had his father before him. Alas, they resented their need and therefore: him. Perforce, he dealt in a commodity that he could take with him if he had to go, if he had to leave in a hurry, if: life in the soot of London with no one but fair-weather-friends, did in fact break his windows and turn him out. Dickens stroked these thoughts, like fleas in his beard; he could borrow from this man. The man would be glad of his business; he would be his grateful friend.
Money lenders are always your friend.
Consider a hypothesis: supposing this man, this generous, this indulgent lender had, in the warmth of his heart, advanced a substantial sum to Charles Dickens, impecunious writer, What then? Now you know that Charles eventually became famous. Ebenezer could not know that, not at that stage. At that stage the young, as yet unacclaimed, Charles was just another attic scrivener – much like his own helpless, hopeless, clerk. What were the prospects for getting his money back, let alone his interest, - the pence he would need for his own sliver of cheese?
Would there be cheese?
Do writers garner gold from their labours? No, I hear your thoughts. No, writing is work, work that oft goes unappreciated and usually unrewarded. No. A pittance might come to some perhaps, and much later.
You begin to see, think.
Ebenezer explained that risk to the aspiring Charles, and that he must charge a rate of interest that balanced it.
What would you have done?
There are those who say that fixed interest is usurious, that the lender should instead share in the risks of the enterprise. Perhaps Ebenezer should have demanded to stand by Dickens’s desk, prompting and advising him. Charles might have welcomed that, or, then again, he might not.
What would you have done?
Charles, having been made to feel grateful, embarrassingly, grateful, accepted the terms, wrote his name and took the money. Now think on this: something had reversed, something had changed; the moral landscape had had a tectonic shift. Before, Charles had no money, now he had some money. Whereas the lender previously and much money now, well, he still had some money, if not quite so much. To fill the difference he also had a piece of paper that, when one comes down to brass tacks, was intrinsically worth nothing. By contrast, the chinking of silver in Dickens’ hand was a solid substance. Pride swelled the waistcoat once more and prompted a thought:
He could reverse his embarrassment.
What if the honour gradient were to be reversed? What if the lender were be denounced as a fraud and usurer? Who in the world would come to his defence? Who of the skulking friends, who had borrowed money, would support him? Better, they would say, that he should go, leave, depart, or, or, disappear under a carpet of disapprobation.
Who would have the money then?
Come Christmas Eve, and Ebenezer, sitting by the two coals in his grate, whose flame did little more than throw light on his clerk’s empty stool, wanted to eat. His stomach ached but he had only a crust of rye bread, long gone stale. He could not stumble his way to the baker’s shop, the baker did not loan bread. He could not stumble to the vegetable stall, that man would not lend carrots, or potatoes or, anything. Their money had to be paid on the spot, but he had none. The loan he had made to that bumptious writer had not been repaid. It was overdue. What was this Spirit of Christmas?
Bah ! Humbug.
He called it from the door way and he called it from the window. Folk looked askance and veered away from him. What did they know? At last a saddened man reached for his crust, crumbled it and swallowed it with water, cold water.
The stale wheat had festered ergot.
Ergo, when his eyes closed on his bed, as dark descended, he dreamed. His mind was griped by a delirium that was a visitation of horrors. By morning he had woken three times with burning in his limbs. By morning he was convulsed and confused; his mind was like a pot of maggots.
How would you have fared?
Ebenezer leaned far out of the window, escaping, in his hallucination, the dread rattling of prison chains. . . . .
A splat of cold woke him - the butcher’s boy had seen his distress and thoughtfully lobbed a snow ball that had caught his cheek. Realizing the danger he had been in and that he had not been able to give his clerk the usual Christmas hamper, he called to the boy. “Take that big bird to Thomas Cratchit.”
Would you have done that?
Later that day Ebenezer walked the slippery pavements to the tall narrow house occupied by the young Charles Dickens. Ebenezer asked for his money, so he could buy a little Christmas cheer. Charles Dickens was embarrassed, cross, haughty, rude, unkind, and ruthless. He had spent the money – on drink. He was flying; he did not care. He would nullify the debt with his own slicing word skills; history is written by the victor. He would be revered long after the poor, shambling, old man had gone to his quickened end. He told him that a great and glorious story would appear in the newspaper denouncing Ebenezer for literary ever:
Ebenezer returned to his bare office and lay upon the wooden floor, in the cold. His good works would be forgotten; his staff would despise him; his foolish kindness would be slapped back at him. He would be remembered only as a miserable miser.
Poor, poor Scrooge.