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The Quick 10: A Christmas Carol

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It was 168 years ago this week that Tiny Tim and Ebeneezer Scrooge made their debut. In 1843, Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic was published in England. Despite the fact that it's been around for ages, there are a few things you might not know about A Christmas Carol:

1. A Christmas Carol must hold some sort of record for being the fastest classic tale ever written. Dickens started writing in October of 1843 and finished up before December. He left enough time for illustrator John Leech to do his thing and then it was printed, published and on bookshelves by December 17.

2. Based on notes from Dickens' original manuscript, Tiny Tim was almost Little Fred. Dickens scholars think "Fred" was a reference to Dickens’s younger brother Frederick, another brother named Alfred who died relatively young, and a sickly nephew. He ended up using the name for Scrooge's nephew instead.

3. When Dickens’ publishers were unimpressed with his idea for a short holiday novella, Charles decided to take matters into his own hands. He arranged the whole publishing process himself, from editing to printing, binding and advertising. He kept the price low so the masses could afford it. His finances suffered as a result: Dickens had expected to make about £1,000 from the first printing but ended up barely clearing £137. Though the book was a hit, the price was just too good to turn a profit.

4. Spoiler alert - that is, if a 168-year-old book has spoilers (This just in: Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet get married) - Tiny Tim dies. At least, he does in the version of What May Come to Pass presented by the Ghost of Christmas Future. The scene is so very sad that a critic at a public reading of the story in 1868 commented that his death "brought out so many pocket handkerchiefs that it looked as if a snow-storm had somehow gotten into the hall without tickets."

5. The next time you wonder why we say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Christmas,” think of Charles Dickens. Though “merry” was in use in the 1800s, Dickens’ repeated use of the phrase in the book really popularized it. The story was such a smash hit that the greeting became standard.

6. If you’ve ever been inspired to go out and do good deeds after enjoying A Christmas Carol, well, you’re in good company. In 1874, Robert Louis Stevenson read the book and wrote to a friend, “I want to go out and comfort someone; I shall never listen to the nonsense they tell one about not giving money - I shall give money; not that I haven’t done so always, but I shall do it with a high hand now.”

7. Since that original publishing that Dickens managed to scrape together by himself, A Christmas Carol has never been out of print.

8. We’re never officially told what Tiny Tim’s illness was. Time magazine speculated that it may have been distal renal tubular acidosis, a type of kidney failure; another theory is that the little lad had rickets due to his lack of Vitamin D.

9. Both Dickens and Washington Irving shared an idealistic view of Christmas and mutually admired one another. I wonder how they would feel about “A Sleepy Hollow Christmas Carol.

10. Even great leaders thought A Christmas Carol contained some lessons worth sharing. In a speech he gave just three days before his assassination, JFK quoted a passage from the story:

“I hope it is not rushing the season to recall to you the passage from Dickens' 'Christmas Carol' in which Ebenezer Scrooge is terrified by the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley, and Scrooge, appalled by Marley's story of ceaseless wandering, cries out, 'But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.' And the ghost of Marley, his legs bound by a chain of ledger books and cash boxes, replies, 'Business? Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.’

"Members and guests of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, whether we work in the White House or the State House or in a house of industry or commerce, mankind is our business. And if we work in harmony, if we understand the problems of each other, and the responsibilities that each of us bears, then surely the business of mankind will prosper.

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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.

1. ON GOD

"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

2. ON THE WORLD AS A STAGE

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."

3. ON FORGIVENESS

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

4. ON GOOD VERSUS BAD

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

5. ON GETTING ADVICE

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

6. ON HAPPINESS

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

7. ON CYNICISM

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

8. ON SINCERITY

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."

9. ON MONEY

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."

10. ON LIFE'S GREATEST TRAGEDIES

"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

11. ON HARD WORK

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

12. ON LIVING WITHIN ONE'S MEANS

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

13. ON TRUE FRIENDS

"True friends stab you in the front."

14. ON MOTHERS

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

15. ON FASHION

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

16. ON BEING TALKED ABOUT

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

17. ON GENIUS

"Genius is born—not paid."

18. ON MORALITY

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

19. ON RELATIONSHIPS

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"

20. ON THE DEFINITION OF A "GENTLEMAN"

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."

21. ON BOREDOM

"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."

22. ON AGING

"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."

23. ON MEN AND WOMEN

"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."

24. ON POETRY

"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

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P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said. He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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