Tuesday, January 06, 2009

It being Christmas Past and all…

and after looking in on the OldWhig I just can not let this past.

Dickens on Scrooge (from the very first few paragraphs of “A Christmas Carol”) –

Oh ! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, was Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! External heat and cold had little influence on him. No warmth could warm, no cold could chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he. No falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain and snow and hail and sleet could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect, -- they often "came down" handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

- the man for whom Al, and TF, and a number of others express admiration?
Compare that description of Scrooge with the opening of Scrooge’s two visitors seeking donations for “a worthy cause”, and the ensuing conversation…

"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, air."

"Are there no prisons?"

"Plenty of prisons. But under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the unoffending multitude, a few of us are endeavoring to raise a fund to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?"


"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the prisons and the workhouses, -- they cost enough, -- and those who are badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Now that little exchange, for the probligo at least, is one of the best described if not rather unkind characterisations of “capitalism” that has ever been written. Now, AL, TF and the rest of you, note the small “c”. It is not Capitalism – the economic term and system.

Butler Shaffer must have been groping in the darkest reaches of his own nethers if he is serious about his view that –
Make no mistake about it: my client has been the victim of a cruel criminal conspiracy to extort his money, as well as of such torts as intentional infliction of emotional distress, libel and slander, trespass, assault, malicious prosecution, battery, nuisance, and false imprisonment. To that end, my client may elect to bring his own suit, but for now let us focus upon his defense to this action. As we do so, pay particular attention to the utter contradiction underlying Dickens’ case: my client is charged with being a greedy, money-hungry scoundrel, and yet it is the conspirators against him who want nothing more than his money!

This is a joke, right? Dickens’ essential elements of that statement and characterisation of Scrooge are quoted above. Shaffer must have really been suffering a major columnist’s block perhaps even a major pre-Christmas hangover, to have seriously thought that Scrooge warranted a defence. As Marley said, when warning Scrooge of his last chance…
"O blind man, blind man! not to know that ages of incessant labor by immortal creatures for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunities misused! Yet I was like this man; I once was like this man!"

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

So, from this old atheist, man of a few letters, I rather belatedly wish all and sundry a very merry Christmas. The New Year wishes can wait for a few weeks – I quite prefer the Lunar New Year as ‘tis far more fun. And to all those who venerate Scrooge as the image of human perfection, those who (seem, at least to) think that humans are in some way less fallible than animals (the reverse is in fact true as animals are acting on instinct rather than intent and hence can do no evil) I wish a goodly dose of the same pox of selfishness and self-centred loneliness toward which Scrooge himself was bound.


Al said...

I love you, Man! Merry Christmas!

I don't take the story any more seriously than you do, no more than The Pickwick Papers, say. I enjoy all of Dickens. I just thought Schaffer's hyperlawyerly act was funny. I worry that people take Scrooge more seriously than I do.

Oh, hey! Check out John T. Flynn's biographies (pdfs) of Henry Ford and Rockefeller, The Wild Wheel and God's Gold respectively. I doubt they'll stimulate any great ardor for capitalism in you, but they're a good read. If you don't google them before I put them up, I'll post the links on my blog.

They weren't Scrooges, but they certainly weren't perfect saints either.

The probligo said...

Al, in return I recommend Buckminster Fuller's book "Critical Path".

Now, I worked with CP and Gantts and all that crap for some while which is why the title grabbed me. It is not about Gantts or CP at all.


T. F. Stern said...

Ba, humbug; isn't that the requested remark?

Eugene Tan said...

Sadly for me, Dickens is like the spindle that put Beauty to sleep. I've not gotten past page 1 of any of his books.

The probligo said...

TF, no "remarks" were requested. Comments are always welcome. I do not seek either.

However, if you consider a humbug to be the appropriate response so be it.

If it is so, then I can only suggest that you might go back, read all of "A Christmas Carol" again and note the progression of Scrooge's character through the story.

Eugene, you are missing on some of the best tales ever told. His portrayal of the time in which he wrote is unsurpassed for its breadth and accuracy.

Al said...

Bob, I absolutely agree with the last comment. I love Dickens. A couple of the books start kind of slow, but I enjoy his turns of phrase and his character development. And I know I'm going to end up somewhere marvelous by the end.

The way you talk about the stories puts me right back into those marvelous places. ...Though, I'd rather you didn't put me back in that debtor's prison, thank you.