Bob Cratchit ". . . tried to warm himself at the candle" (1905), illustration for "Stave One: Marley's Ghost," 7.3 x 8.1 cm., vignetted (7). Charles Edmund Brock, 1905.

Passage Illustrated

Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already — it had not been light all day: and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

The door of Scrooge's counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk's fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn't replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed. [Stave One, "Marley's Ghost," 6]


Brock in what is essentially a children's book underscoring Ebenezer Scrooge's parsimony as an employer since he does not provide his clerk with sufficient coal to keep his office warm. Today such forcing one's employees to work in such conditions would contravene health and safety regulations in most western countries, but such labour regulations were over six decades away. Brock's introduces Scrooge's clerk (apparently his only office clerk) in his miserable cubby-hole nicknamed "The Tank" in Scrooge's counting-house; this scene was not part of John Leech original program of illustration in 1843. In that first edition, Bob appears just once in the eight illustrations, as a cartoon-like figure in Scrooge and Bob Cratchit; or, The Christmas Bowl (see below). However, the next major illustrator of the novella, Sol Eytinge, Junior, accorded the browbeaten clerk considerable prominence, beginning with In the Tank (see below).

Another major illustrator of A Christmas Carol after Leech, E. A. Abbey, the illustrator of the American Household Edition (1876) foregrounded the figure of Scrooge's oppressed clerk as family man, showing him sliding on ice with boys near Scrooge's office in Went down a slide on Cornhill twenty times, in honor of its being Christmas-eve, and saluting Scrooge as a benevolent employer in the Cratchit family Christmas toast, "Mr. Scrooge!" said Bob; "I'll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the feast!" (see below). The British Household Edition illustrator, Fred Barnard, also expanded Cratchit's role by showing him as a devoted father in He had been Tim's blood-horse all the way from church, and had come home rampant, as a browbeaten subordinate in "It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?" (see below). These 1870s illustrations underscore the fact that, although December 25th was an established bank holiday in England, the 26th (Boxing Day) did not become a statutory holiday until 1871.

Brock in his energetic line-drawing highlights Cratchit's role as Scrooge's clerk. In order to avoid putting down his quill-pen, charged with ink, the chilled but jovial Bob at his desk holds up both gloved hands to the office candle, a scene replicated in most dramatic adaptations, including the 1951 Renown Rank film. Fifty-two-year-old Welsh actor David Mervyn Johns (1899-1992) played the genial clerk as harried and oppressed at work, but a model of empathy and kindness at home, revered by his extended family​and devoted to his crippled son. In the office of Scrooge and Marley,​ Johns' Cratchit, wearing woolen gloves without finger tips, attempts to warm​his hands by the candle at his desk as he overhears Scrooge's nephew, Fred, extol​the virtues of Christmas to his anti-social uncle. In Brock's illustration, Cratchit (not wearing gloves of any kind) warms his hands around the candle flame as he looks apprehensively to the right, presumably the direction of Scrooge's​office.

Relevant Illustrations from the 1843 and later Editions

Left: Leech's interpretation of Scrooge's playing host to his clerk, Scrooge and Bob Cratchit; or, The Christmas Bowl. Right: Eytinge shows Bob trying to look cheerful and stay warm, despite a shortage of coal in In the Tank, in the 1868 Ticknor-Fields volume.

Left: Harry Furniss's composite scene in which Bob Cratchit attempts to overhear Scrooge's denouncing Christmas as "humbug" to his nephew in Scrooge Objects to Christmas (1910). Right: Barnard's showing Scrooge upset about having to give his clerk December 25th as a holiday, "It's not convenient," said Scrooge, "and it's not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you'd think yourself ill-used, I'll be bound?" (1878).

Above: Abbey's full-page rendering of the scene in which, after dinner, Bob proposes to his family that they toast his employer, "Mr. Scrooge!" said Bob; "I'll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the feast!" (1876).

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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_____. Christmas Books. Illustrated by Fred Barnard. Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.

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Hearn, Michael Patrick, ed. The Annotated Christmas Carol. New York: Avenel, 1976.

Created 18 September 2015

Last modified 28 May 2020