What the Dickens – Why it’s Ebenezer Scrooge!

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‘Scrooge’ illustrated by John Leech

A favourite Christmas tale amongst us is A Christmas Carol but where did Charles Dickens get his inspiration for such a grumpy and selfish man as Ebenezer? We all know that Ebenezer Scrooge is the principal character in the 1843 Charles Dickens novel. A story of how a mean-spirited man is visited by three ghosts all in one night and who then transforms his life for the better.

Ebenezer worked as a banker or money lender, was disgusted by the poor, praised the workhouse but most of all – he hated Christmas! So where did this miserable, cold-hearted creature materialise from? Was there really such a man who was tight-fisted and greedy or was he simply an imaginary character? Could one man really despise Christmas so much that he would go to such great lengths to ensure other people did not get to enjoy this special time of year? I myself, sincerely hope not.

For me Ebenezer was a miserable miser and I am clearly not alone with this theory because generations before me digested Ebenezer Scrooge’s ability to be so stingy until his last name became a byword to miserliness. In fact the name Scrooge comes from a once-used verb to scrooge, which meant to squeeze. The story of how Charles first came across Ebenezer goes something like this … Charles Dickens noticed a man’s grave marker whilst having an evening stroll in Edinburgh and the name upon it was Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie. Written on the grave marker it said that Ebenezer was a ‘meal man’ (corn merchant) but Dickens suffered slight dyslexia and no doubt with the light fading and the marker perhaps a little worn, he read the inscription to say ‘mean man’. Dickens wrote that it must have: “shrivelled” Scroggie’s soul to carry “such a terrible thing to eternity”.

Ebenezer was indeed a very loathsome character and here Charles Dickens describes his facial features: “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and he spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice …”

So what else could have helped Charles create Ebenezer? More evidence may have come from a man who Dickens mentioned in some of his letters. A man who strongly resembled the character portrayed by Dickens’s illustrator and who was a British eccentric and miser named John Elwes. Another theory is that the once owner of the Gloucester Old Bank and possibly Britain’s first-ever millionaire was renowned for his stinginess. So it would appear there was evidence which suggested that there was a real ‘alive-and-kicking’ Ebenezer Scrooge which helped Charles create such a wonderful character.

Having said all that, I couldn’t help feel a little sorry for Ebenezer. After all he hadn’t had an easy life. He had been sent away from home at a young age to boarding school. He had previously been left alone at school for Christmas so you can understand where his hatred of Christmas stemmed from. His father had been cruel to him and his mother had died. Ebenezer only had his sister Fran to love and cherish and she also, sadly, died. I think you can see why his heart had turned to stone, but it was not so hard that the spirits who haunted him that fateful night were unable to soften it once more and show him the error of his ways.

For me, the story will always be one of my favourites because it shows that there is always hope. I believe people can change for the better; you just have to send three ghosts!

If you haven’t read A Christmas Carol already I truly recommend it. It is most definitely a classic and a tale that will help to make your Christmases that little more special. Oh! and don’t forget … Scrooge’s catchphrase, “Bah, humbug!” is often used to express disgust with many of the modern Christmas traditions so make sure you don’t complain this Christmas, otherwise you might find yourself turning into a modern day Ebenezer!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

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