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1 gazette: Dating from the Restoration, The London Gazette was, along with its counterparts in Edinburgh and Dublin, issued by authority twice weekly with a list of government appointments and promotions, public notices, and (consistent with Scrooge's intention here) names of recent bankrupts.

3 counting house: "A building or apartment appropriated to the keeping of accounts; a private chamber, closet, or cabinet appropriated to business and correspondence; an office" (Oxford English Dictionary, XI, 1077). In 1855, Macaulay used the term in the sense of "office" (History of England, IV, 134).

4 overseers: a body of superintendents or supervisors appointed annually as parish officers "to perform various administrative duties mainly connected with the relief of the poor. The office was created in the Poor Law Act of Queen Elizabeth in order to assess, collect, and distribute the "Poor Rate" (1601). The office was customarily held by a parish's church warden (OED, VII, 322).

5 come down: Taken directly from Dickens's novella, the pun involves the colloquial phrase meaning "to lay down money; to make a disbursement" (OED, II, 655), as in Congreve's The Way of the World, III, v.

6 Ali Baba, Valentine and Orson, Robinson Crusoe: Taken from Dickens's own childhood reading, the figures of Ali Baba, Valentine and Orson, and even Robinson Crusoe come from the world of the Victorian theatre. Ali Baba made his stage debut only a few months after the publication of A Christmas Carol: the Keeleys opened the season at Easter, 1844, at the Lyceum with the burlesque The Forty Thieves. The knight Valentine and his savage brother Orson were walk-ons in Planche's pantomime Riquet with the Tuft (1836), and appeared prominently in Drury Lane's Harlequin and King Pepin; or, Valentine and Orson (Christmas, 1843). Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and his man, Friday, had been pantomime figures since the eighteenth century.

7 "Poetry by E. Fitzball." The Catalogue of Printed Music in The British Library to 1890(London: K. G. Saur, 1985), 48, 307.

8 Plummery: "In old times, plum-pottage was always served with the first course of a Christmas dinner" (OED, VII, 1022).

9 Camden Town: The north London middle-class district to which young Charles Dickens and his siblings moved in 1822. "It extends some five miles from High Holborn to the northern heights of Hampstead Heath, and covers an area of 8 square miles" (Britannica Micropedia [1985], 2: 762). The area was developed in the late 18th and early 19th century for townhouses, including no. 16 Bayham Street, the Dickenses' home -- Jemima Evans, Tommy Traddles, and Wilkins Micawber from David Copperfield also lived in Camden Town.

10 Goose that used to lay the golden eggs: a reference to the popular children's story from Norse legend "Jack and the Beanstalk," which became the basis for numerous pantomimes.

11 Blackamoor: According to the OED (I, 891), "any very dark-skinned person. (Formerly without depreciatory force; now a nickname.)" Like Dickens, the dramatist Stirling would have encountered the term colloquially and in Smollett's novel Humphrey Clinker (1771): April 26, "The first day we came to Bath, he . . . beat two black-a-moors."

12 "Decrease the surplus population": the Utilitarian phrase is derived from Reverend Robert Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population (1803), in which the statistician argues that human population will soon outstrip its means of subsistence and that therefore "checks on this increase are necessary." The followers of Jeremy Bentham urged control over the numbers of working poor rather than state charity.

13 "Picture": The stage direction is a reference to forming a tableau vivant well known to the audience, in this case John Leech's plate of Christmas Present, Ignorance, Want, and Scrooge with blackened factory chimneys in the background in Dickens's A Christmas Carol (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843).

14 "The light" is clearly a reference to a lighthouse which marks a shoal or reef, such as the famous Eddystone Light off the Cornish coast, which Dickens had visited a year before writing A Christmas Carol.

15 "Topper and Floss": Perhaps suggestive of "Profit and Loss." Colloquially, a "topper" was "a top thing or person" (OED XI, 155) or a top-hat, while "floss" may have meant "rough silk" in the 1840s (OED IV, 345).

16 "Blink and Sally Dark": While the former suggests a decorously tearful undertaker's man or "Habitually blinking" (OED I, 922), Sally Dark's name probably is intended to suggest a dark or blackened complection suitable to the cleaning-lady or charwoman who takes out the fireplace cinders. Mrs. Dibbler, Scrooge's housekeeper and laundress, in the novella ("The Last of the Spirits") is called "Mrs. Dilber," so that "Dibbler" is probably a transcription error.

17 "Permiscuously": Perhaps a malapropism for "fortuitously," but conveying the sense of "promiscuously."

18 "Gammon": Thieves' slang for "ridiculous nonsense suited to deceive simple persons only; 'humbug', 'rubbish'" (OED IV, 41).

19 "Hooky": Cockney street slang indicative of incredulity; perhaps after the prevaricating spy and police-informer Hooky Walker.

20 "Lumps": Cockney dialect for "lots" or "heaps," perhaps "a loop of malleable iron" (OED VI, 498-9).

21 "Nibbled": Thieves' cant for "stolen, pickpocked, or pilfered" (OED VII, 125); see also "nimmed."

22 "Beattle": A "beadle" was a parish authority appointed to keep order in the church and punish petty offenders -- a local constable (OED I, 725).

23 "Screw": "One who forces down (prices) by haggling; a stingy, miserly person" (OED IX, 275), as in William Makepeace Thacheray's novel Vanity Fair (1848), viii: "an old screw; which means a very stingy, avaricious person."


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Last modified 30 April 2003

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