30th December 1853. A Christmas Carol.
Today in 1853 the 41 year-old Charles Dickens was standing before 2,000 ‘working people’ in Birmingham Town Hall preparing to read the ‘Christmas Carol‘, having ordered that tickets be priced so cheaply that even the poor could afford them.
Appearing on the platform the audience stood up and cheered: he began, ‘My good friends I have always wished to have the great pleasure of meeting you face to face at this Christmas time’, he then opened his book and started to read: ‘Marley was dead…’
The reading from a lectern, was lit by a row of gas lamps with tin reflectors, took three hours, and exhausting as he became emotionally involved with the characters.
The inspiration for the Christmas Carol published on 17th December 1843 came from visiting Clerkenwell Ragged School which when he entered, the children laughed at his white trousers and his companion left owing to the stench.
He saw before him examples of ignorance and want: ‘wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable’, which would be unveiled to Scrooge by the second of the Three Spirits.
Christmas Carol had taken him six weeks to complete and is filled with Christmas festivity-Fezziwig’s Ball- contrasting with Evangelical seriousness.
The book came out at five shillings with red cloth bound with gilt design containing four colour and four black and white etchings by John Leech.
Fraser’s Magazine said that ‘the book was so spread over England….that no sceptic could review it down’.
His biographer John Forster said, ‘no one was more interested in nursery tales and giving them a higher form’.
For the Victorians Christmas was all over in a day with shopping being done the day before. Bob Cratchit in the Christmas Carol, had to fight to get the day off from his employer Scrooge.
On March 15th 1870 in his last reading Dickens told his audience that, ‘from these garish lights I vanish now for ever more’: he died three months later.
Ref: David Perdue, Charles Dickens’ Page/Images.