“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Dickens was a great walker and he used to walk all over London seeing how people lived for himself. He wrote this passage to reflect the desperate situation that many people faced at the time, especially children. Remember that, in 1843 when the book was written, it was still considered to be good practice to lower children as young as three down chimneys to clean them. Beside the inevitable accidents which might maim or kill a child, many didn’t live long as they daily ingested dangerous amounts of carcinogens.
Nearly 180 years later, we might shake our heads and say how terrible conditions were for the poorer sections of Victorian society. Yet, it is my strong feeling that, in thinking this, we are as wrong as those smug Victorians who soothed their feeble consciences by saying that it was all ordained by God and nothing at all to do with them.
Dickens thought otherwise and he was horrified by reports of how poor working children were treated. He planned to write some crusading pamphlets but changed his mind when he had the idea for A Christmas Carol. The effect that this little book had on Victorian society cannot be overestimated. Poor children were no longer faceless and nameless, they were Tiny Tim.
But, as we look back, can we say that we are any better than those smug Victorians? In Dicken’s book two gentlemen go to Scrooge to ask for a donation as – ‘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.’
Isn’t this exactly what is happening right now though? In a first world European country, the appeals for donations to stop their fellow citizens from starving or freezing to death over the winter are unfortunately really needed. Yet, we have a high proportion of incredibly rich people who must look down at their fellow citizens as though they live on another planet and have nothing to do with them. Jacob Marley has something to say about this – ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’
So, remember this when you hear people blame the poor for being poor, demonize immigrants for just wanting a better life or just ignore the misery they see around them, they are all unreformed Scrooges, every single one of them. Let’s be more like Charles Dickens himself, who said –
‘I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable 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.’
Also, if you can look kindly on your fellow passengers to the grave, don’t let it be just a Christmas thing. As the now reformed Ebenezer promised –
‘I will honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.’
So, have a Merry Christmas, remember those that may be worse off than you and don’t be a Scrooge and shut out the light that Christmas can bring…