"The Second of The Three Spirits" or "Scrooge's third Visitor"
Steel engraving, hand-coloured
12.2 cm x 8.3 cm vignetted
Fifth illustration in A Christmas Carol (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843), facing p. 78.
The fifth illustration is John Leech's introduction to literature of that "pre-Father Christmas" figure, the Spirit of Christmas Present, not quite sitting on a "couch" or "kind of throne" (77), but decidedly "a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who [bears] a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn" (77). [Commentary continued below.]
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Passage Illustrated (facing the engraving)
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," said the Spirit. "Look upon me!"
Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare, as if disdaining to be warded or concealed by any artifice. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust. [Stave Three, "The Second of the three Spirits," p. 78]
With its wainscoting, fireplace, and fireside chair, this is the same room in which (in Scrooge's dream vision) on the previous night Scrooge encountered Jacob Marley's Ghost — but how changed are both the room, formerly dark, cold, and forbidding, and its equally forbidding occupant, Ebenezer Scrooge.
As Jane Rabb Cohen has remarked of all eight original Leech illustrations, this full-page, hand-coloured steel engraving for Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Scrooge's third Visitor, elegantly and uniquely combines "the ideal, real, and supernatural" (142) with pathos, whimsy, and humour. The "transcendental but secular spirit" (143) of the entire series is evident in the vivid accumulation of realistic details (the puddings, oysters, and punch bowls) and the expressions of the genial Spirit and the amazed Scrooge. The abundance of comestibles implies an overflowing of the spirit of generosity and the joys of the domestic hearth, aspects of social relationships entirely lacking in Scrooge's life for so many years. Throughout the Leech composition one finds ample evidence of what the reviewer for The Illustrated London News for 23 December 1843 described as "the delicacy of fine etchings" (411); indeed, many of the subtle effects of the hand-coloured original have been lost in the blurry black-and-white reproductions such as those in the Penguin and Oxford Illustrated Dickens, so that it may be instructive to investigate the extent to which Leech realised in the most minute particulars the text that Dickens provided him, but also added thoughtful touches that make this illustration a highly informed and sensitive interpretation of Dickens's text read in draft, before anyone else had had the opportunity to read Dickens's six-week wonder.
The oft-reproduced and copied Spirit of Christmas Present celebrates the evergreen nature of a holiday redolent with childhood memories as the green-clad Spirit (a Green Man for the nineteenth century, here perhaps representing the possibility of a social and spiritual rather than just a physical renewal of quality of life) recalls Scrooge to the joys of a season and a festival that he has roundly pronounced "humbug." The yuletide greenery (cedar or fir rather than the acanthus traditionally associated with the Green Man) spills out from above the mantelpiece and surges across the room, connecting the enormous, holly-wreathed head of the gigantic and virile Spirit and the night-capped head of the diminutive Scrooge, wearing an almost feminine night-gown that reaches to his ankles and tiny, slipper-clad feet. The bare-footed, bare-chested, exuberant, bearded epitome of December 25th appears to be sitting, although the "throne" of poultry, meats, and fruits which Dickens enumerates in loving detail is not evident in Leech's delicately engraved and subtly coloured plate. In his right hand, the genial Spirit holds the concord-producing torch which suggests in emblematic fashion Christ as The Light of the World; with his left, his hand open in welcome, he gestures to another kind of welcoming spirit in a steaming, golden bowl. That the object leaning against his left knee is an empty scabbard (signifying universal peace) is not immediately apparent in black-and-white reprints of this engraving, but the colouration of the original makes it clearer that this is the "ancient sheath . . . eaten up with rust" (78) which Dickens describes on the facing page. Although an amazed Scrooge attempts to smile at all he observes, his gesture is a closed one, as if he is trying to gird himself against so much conspicuous consumption. Prominent in the foreground is a huge version of the type of Christmas pudding that Mrs. Cratchit makes for her family. The oysters, a small pie, and a single dead hare represent the abundant game spread out on what had been mere barren floorboards fifty pages earlier.
Although Leech has included two bowls of punch and a barrel (containing oysters, one assumes, rather than spirits), he has omitted the sausages, fruits (except the "juicy oranges" at the base of the scabbard), and "great joints of meat" (77). The only object that could be a great Twelfth Cake is serving as the Spirit's footstool. Leech, then, is selective in his depiction of the bounty that accompanies Scrooge's third Visitor, avoiding an impression of clutter while suggesting the richness of the Christmas feast laid in the formerly spartan room.
Paralleling the abundance of food is the warmth that now invests the formerly chilly room, as the flames leap up in the brazier, illuminating the biblically-themed tiles in the fireplace, so that the roaring flames become an extension of the Spirit's torch which, we later learn, dispenses forbearance and good will as a kind of benediction. The coal grate, tiles, and mantelpiece establish that this is the very room in which in Stave one Scrooge encountered his ex-partner's ghost: he was seated approximately where now the Spirit holds court, and Marley stood where Scrooge now stands, right. But Leech has foreshortened the floor-boards to move the viewer closer, inviting the miser (and the reader) to participate with all his senses, not merely that of sight. The frightened candle flame separating the mortal from the shade in Marley's Ghost has been replaced as a vertical divider by the rusted sheath, the outward and visible sign of the Spirit's message to Scrooge in particular and humanity in general this Christmas Eve of 1843, when hunger stalks the mean streets of the metropolis and the workhouses reach full their complement.
In the series of four multi-coloured, full-page etchings and four less-than-full-page wood-engravings Leech exploits early Victorian nostalgia for the man-master relationship of pre-industrial England implicit in Mr. Fezziwig's Ball, in which the decorated warehouse has replaced the manor house and the office party the traditional entertainment that the landowner provided for his agricultural labourers. Leech exploits the general longing for the simpler world of two generations earlier, making Fezziwig's employees an extended family, and the Fezziwigs surrogate parents. He also exploits the contemporary addiction for the Blackwood's tale of the supernatural — as seen in Marley's Ghost, The Phantoms (Ghosts of Departed Usurers), and The Last of the Spirits, and the characteristically Victorian yearning for a satisfying closure, as seen in the final tailpiece, The Christmas Bowl [Scrooge and Bob Cratchit].
But there is one further element, drawn from the contemporary social ills of the nation, that ripples like a leitmotif through all of these illustrations and dominates one in particular, Ignorance and Want, at 8.6 cm by 7 cm the largest of the wood-engravings, but not quite a full-page illustration. In the third illustration, Leech had touched upon this theme of social inequality in the figure of the poor woman, in despair trying to warm her infant as the pair are freezing in the street opposite the miser's house.
Significantly, it is not the terrifying Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, but the genial Spirit of Christmas Present in his second appearance who delivers a stern rebuke to Scrooge and his fellow members of the business class about the dangers of denying that there even is a problem with poverty, hunger, and lack of educational opportunities among the marginalised labouring classes whom Scrooge had previously dismissed with the Malthusian phrase "the surplus population" (14):
"Spirit, are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.
"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end." [Stave Three, "The Second of the three Spirits," p. 119]
This Jeremiad, with its emphatic and parallel series of insistent imperatives, appears immediately above the scene of Scrooge, the Spirit, the shivering children, and the factory backdrop that closes Stave Three. No other spirit appears twice in the Leech sequence, suggesting that present ills rather than nostalgia for a former era or even the whimsy evident in Scrooge's suppressing his own bitter-sweet memories in The end of the First Spirit are Leech's chief concern. Indeed, the only character to occur more than twice in the entire series is Ebenezer Scrooge himself — he is the visual thread between the images is present in six of the eight.
Related Illustrations in The Christmas Books (1843-1910)
Left: John Leech's "Marley's Ghost" (1843); right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s "The Spirit of Christmas Present" (1868)
Harry Furniss's thumbnail of The Spirit of Christmas Present in "Characters in the Stories" (1910). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
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 4 March 2014