A Christmas Carrol
by Charles Dickens
Preface to Dicken's Christmas Stories
THE narrow space within which it was necessary to confine these Christmas
Stories when they
were originally published, rendered their construction a matter of some difficulty, and almost
necessitated what is peculiar in their machinery. I could not attempt great elaboration of detail, in
the working out of character within such limits. My chief purpose was, in a whimsical kind of
masque which the good humour of the season justified, to awaken some loving and forbearing
thoughts, never out of season in a Christian land.
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 lay it.
Their faithful Friend and Servant,
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,
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 grindstone. Scrooge! a squeezing,
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 lips blue; 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 dog-days, 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 a
and 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
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,
'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 to-morrow.'
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