"Scrooge Extinguishes the First of The Three Spirits"
6.7 cm x 5.3 cm vignetted
Fourth illustration in A Christmas Carol (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843), facing p. 78.
The fourth illustration is John Leech's realisation of what Freudians might term "suppression" of painful memories. [Commentary continued below.]
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL.] .
Passage Illustrated (facing the engraving)
"Spirit." said Scrooge in a broken voice," remove me from this place."
"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "That they are what they are, do not blame me."
"Remove me." Scrooge exclaimed," I cannot bear it."
He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.
"Leave me. Take me back. Haunt me no longer."
In the struggle, if that can be called a struggle in which the Ghost with no visible resistance on its own part was undisturbed by any effort of its adversary, Scrooge observed that its light was burning high and bright; and dimly connecting that with its influence over him, he seized the extinguisher-cap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head.
The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguisher covered its whole form; but though Scrooge pressed it down with all his force, he could not hide the light: which streamed from under it, in an unbroken flood upon the ground. [Stave two, "The First of the Three Spirits," p. 72-73]
Related Illustrations in The Christmas Books (1868-1910)
Left: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s "The Spirit of Christmas Past", and (centre) "A Retrospect" (1868). Right: Harry Furniss's "The First of the Three Spirits" (1910).[Click on images to enlarge them.]
Initially, Scrooge enjoys going back into his past, visiting his old school and observing the Christmas dance in Fezziwig's warehouse. However, when the Spirit of Christmas Past compels Scrooge to witness Belle (his former fiancée) and her husband's discussion of Marley's death and therefore of Scrooge's being "Quite alone in the world" (71), Scrooge demands that he be "removed" from these painful scenes. Scrooge could realistically be described here as snuffing a bedside candle. On a more symbolic level he is an angry, anti-Christmas magician, snuffing the truth of his past with his magician's hat. [The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge, 31]
Scrooge simply finds these scenes of memory unbearable, even though he must confront his past selves in order to reintegrate himself and lead a whole rather than a fragmented existence. These memories, whether painful or joyful, are what has made Scrooge, so that this first spirit, both a child and an old man, teaches Scrooge the value of social interaction "by adding the inward truths of memory, thought, and reflection to the fragmentary facts from external experience" (The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge, 32). Recovering rather than continuing to suppress his past is the first stage of Scrooge's spiritual and social reclamation. Perhaps, then, the point of Leech's tail-piece for Stave Two, "The First of the Three Spirits," is that, despite our best (or worst) efforts, the past refuses to be suppressed.
Necessarily a difficult figure to draw ("a strange figure — like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man," 43), the Spirit of Christmas Past does not appear in most of the nineteenth-century editions of A Christmas Carol, the exception being the twenty-fifth anniversary Carol published after Dickens's second American reading tour. Eytinge may have enjoyed the challenge; since he included this figure four times in the volume, the American illustrator must have felt that his message to Scrooge was significant. Both Sol Eytinge, Jr., and Harry Furniss depict the First of the Three Spirits in the context of Scrooge's old school, although Eytinge also shows the spirit awakening Scrooge and Furniss associates this spirit with holly and Scrooge's being left at school by himself over the Christmas holidays. One wonders what else this spirit guide intended to show Ebenezer Scrooge about himself. Leech has undoubtedly cheated the viewer in that he does not depict the actual spirit, only his snuffer.
Bentley, Nicolas, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis. The Dickens Index. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1988.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. "The Illustrators of the Christmas Books, John Leech." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1980. Pp. 141-151.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
--------. The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. New Haven and London: Yale U. P., 1990.
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 8.
_____. Christmas Books. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
_____. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
_____. A Christmas Carol in Prose being a Ghost Story of Christmas. Il. John Leech. London: Chapman and Hall, 1843.
Last modified 10 December 2013