by Paul Bommer
DECEMBER 19 Marley's Ghost
Illustration by Paul Bommer
Used by permission
So much of what we now think of Christmas comes, it seems, from the works and writings of Charles Dickens, and in particular A Christmas Carol, his famous ghost story of 1843. The book opens thus:
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.
And so opens 'Stave One', the first of 5 chapters (or Staves, as Dickens calls them)
Here the reader meets Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable but wealthy old man. Scrooge works in his counting house with his clerk, Bob Cratchit.
Bob writes out records of accounts and Scrooge oversees the business but we don't know (it's not important) what it exactly does. (There may be a clue in the next chapter, where we see Scrooge as an apprentice with Mr. Fezziwig.) It is Christmas Eve, and Scrooge receives several visitors.
One is his nephew, Fred, who invites Scrooge to dine with him for Christmas. Then come two gentlemen who are collecting for charity. We learn here that Scrooge had a partner, Jacob Marley, who died on Christmas Eve seven years previously.
Scrooge refuses to give the gentlemen anything, saying he helps the poor already through supporting prisons and workhouses. Scrooge allows Bob to have Christmas Day as a holiday, but insists that he be back at work all the earlier next day. (Boxing Day was not usually a holiday in the 19th century, but was the day when tradesmen collected their Christmas "boxes"—gifts from their customers.)
When Scrooge returns to his lodging he is visited by the Ghost of Jacob Marley who is weighed down by a massive chain, made up of cashboxes, keys and padlocks. The ghost says that any spirit which does not mix with other people in life must travel among them after death. Marley tells Scrooge that he, too, wears a chain, larger than Marley's. Marley has often sat by him unseen. Now he warns him of three more spirits which will visit to help him change his ways. . . .
From Paul Bommer: Illustration, design & Print-making. Used by permission.