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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December 12, 2011 - 7:21pm
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