"The Spirit of Scrooge's Former Self" by Charles Green (p. 49). 1912. 7.8 x 9.4 cm, vignetted. Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Pears Centenary Edition, in which the plates often have captions that are different from the titles in the "List of Illustrations" (p. 15-16). Specifically, The Spirit of Scrooge's Former Self has a caption that is quite different from its title in the "List of Illustrations"; the textual quotation that serves as the caption for this illustration of the forlorn child who was Ebenezer Scrooge losing himself in imaginative reading is "A lonely boy who was reading near a feeble fire" (p. 46, adapted from a passage on the same page) in "Stave Two, The First of the Three Spirits" — the passage realised is immediately below the illustration, so that one reads through the text and picture simultaneously, integrating the two modes of presentation. Although there is no equivalent illustration in the 1843 first edition of the novella, or in the British Household Edition single-volume Christmas Book anthologies of 1876 and 1878, Harry Furniss in the 1910 Charles Dickens Library Edition has realised a similar scene, The First of the Three Spirits, in which the Spirit shows Scrooge his former self, reading on a wooden bench of the type used in early 19th c. schoolrooms. Furniss's composition, however, juxtaposes the exterior of the country school with the figure of the melancholy but absorbed reader in the fashion of the early nineteenth century — and long hair.

Passage Illustrated

They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to a door at the back of the house. It opened before them, and disclosed a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain deal forms and desks. At one of these a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.

Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scuffle from the mice behind the panelling, not a drip from the half-thawed water-spout in the dull yard behind, not a sigh among the leafless boughs of one despondent poplar, not the idle swinging of an empty store-house door, no, not a clicking in the fire, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with a softening influence, and gave a freer passage to his tears.

The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon his reading. ​["Stave Two: The First of the Three Spirits," page 49-50]

Commentary: "The Child is the Father of the Man" — Wordsworth (1802)

Although Dickens was concerned from Oliver Twist onward with the plight of children, his illustrators have often neglected the image of the forlorn young Scrooge, left at school over the Christmas holidays, as unworthy of visual comment. John Leech in the original edition focusses not on this scene of Scrooge as a neglected child not even permitted to go when his colleagues take the break; rather, he focusses on the office party which the young accountant Scrooge's employers, the Fezziwigs, would throw for the extended family of employees every Christmas, Mr. Fezziwig's Ball; indeed, because the country dance is positioned as the frontispiece in the 1843 edition, the only scene from the second part or "stave" is Scrooge Extinguishes the First of The Three Spirits, the final scene in "Stave Two." Here, then, Charles Green addresses the romantic notion that the adult is the product of his upbringing, that, to quote Wordsworth's 1802 lyric "My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold," "The Child is father of the Man"(line 7). Through this image of the neglected boy Green implies that Scrooge's parsimony and usury are the direct consequences of parental neglect and social isolation; that his poor relationship with his father has left Scrooge emotionally ungrounded; and that, feeling unwanted and unloved, he has made the error of substituting things (money and material goods) for human relationships. Through his characterisations of neglected children such as Oliver, Nell, and Scrooge, Dickens shows how from infancy the individual is oppressed, moulded, and channelled into his or her adult identity, his chief explorations of this theme being David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

In contrast to Leech, Sol Eytinge, Junior, in his twenty-fifth anniversary Christmas Carol,​ published to mark Dickens's copyright agreement with Boston's Ticknor and Fields, seems to have been the first illustrator to consider the impact of Scrooge's earlier experiences on his character as a miser, including the deserted schoolroom scene, The Vision of Ali Baba, the vignette at the head of "Stave 2. The First of the Three Spirits." Neither of the Household Edition illustrators, having the space for only a few illustrations, have chosen to show Scrooge as a child. Thus, the likely inspiration for British illustrator Charles Green, who had probably not seen Eytinge's work, is Furniss's composite scene of Scrooge as a child in the Charles Dickens Library Edition, published just two years before the Pears Centenary Edition. In contrast to that 1910 edition, however, this later edition offers realisations of six scenes from the second stave, including a separate illustration for Scrooge's childhood "friends," Robinson Crusoe, his man, Friday, Ali Baba, Scheherazade (the tale-spinner of The Arabian Nights), and Valentine and Orson — all figures from Charles Dickens's own childhood reading.

What distinguishes Green's treatment of the scenes in "Stave 2. The First of the Three Spirits" is his initially focusing not on the ambivalent nature of the spirit messenger, the supernatural dimension of the novella announced in its subtitle, "A Ghost Story of Christmas," but on the psychological dimensions of Scrooge's cold, exclusionary nature. Green is interested in how his father's treatment of Scrooge, the child whose birth robbed that shadowy figure of his beloved wife, made Scrooge a miser and social isolate. Green's study of young Scrooge as a reader foreshadows his redemption through engaging in imagined (envisioned) scenes of present and future, and remembered scenes of a sometimes joyful, sometimes painful past. Here, Green shows Scrooge as not entirely friendless and alone at the Christmas holidays, for he has the companionship of books and imagined experiences. Moreover, by including Scheherazade in his cavalcade of characters in the next illustration, Green underscores the value of a well-told tale and the emotional release that fiction gives us all.

Relevant Illustrations from the 1843, 1868, and 1910 Editions

Left: Sol Eytinge, Junior's scene of Scrooge's being visited by the figures from his beloved books, The Vision of Ali Baba. Right: John Leech's interpretation of Scrooge's attempting to suppress painful memories, Scrooge Extinguishes the First of The Three Spirits. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Left: Harry Furniss's The First of the Three Spirits (1910), featuring a psychologically introverted child and a country school in the mists of memory. Right: Arthur Rackham's more humorous scene from Scrooge's school days, (1915). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


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Last modified 29 July 2015