Mankind is my Business

In the Preface to the 1843 publication of A Christmas Carol, made available online courtesy of the University of North Carolina, Charles Dickens writes:

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.

Indeed it has not, as the story has remained a favorite, retold in many forms on Christmas Day for the past 178 years. We recently re-watched the 1935 movie version with Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge. Rather marvelous.

A “man of business” Scrooge stands equally unmoved by the sufferings of the poor, the welfare of his own clerk Bob Cratchit, the warm friendship of his nephew Fred, or the spirit of the season.

Bah! Humbug! Nephew, keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.

Marley’s Ghost by John Leech

Then on a fateful Christmas Eve Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley’s ghost is weighed down by a heavy chain made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.

Recognizing that the fate of his business partner may well be his own, Scrooge implores for any word of comfort.

“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house—mark me!—in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!”

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.

Scrooge’s Third Visitor by John Leech

The Ghost does offer hope of redemption. Scrooge will be visited that very night by three spirits – the Spirit of Christmas Past, the Spirit of Christmas Present, and that of the Future. What these spirits show may influence a change in Scrooge that can ease his fate.

With the first spirit, Scrooge tours the places of his youth where his heart was once more open. The second spirit shows him how even the most humble and poor are touched by the spirit of Christmas and give thanks for what they have. Though Scrooge has been neither generous nor kind to his only nephew or to his clerk and his family, he sees that they remember him with goodwill in their season’s toasts.

The third spirit reveals what will be in the future should Scrooge not change his ways. Scrooge is devastated. But hardest to bear is that without expensive medical treatment, Bob Cratchit’s son, the sweet-natured Tiny Tim, will certainly die.

Scrooge wakes delighted to find it is still Christmas Day. He sets out to make amends, joining in the season’s festivities, giving alms to the poor, offering his nephew a partnership in his business, pledging to raise the wages of Bob Cratchit and to tend to the health and welfare of his family.

The movie version ends with the Cratchit family gathered around their Christmas table made full with the bounty brought by the now generous and merry Scrooge. Bob Cratchit declares:

“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

Which all the family re-echoed.

“God bless us everyone!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.