Adapted from the Twitter feed and posted Saturday, December 31, 2016.
In which your pompous old professor bends a beloved literary classic to his purposes in order to make a political point, something he rarely does when he’s actually teaching:
It's very rare for old men to change their ways and their hearts. Ebenezer Scrooge is not an old man.
He's not young, of course. But we know this: Marley has been dead for seven years when the story begins…
"Dead as a doornail".
"This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate."
The Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to the night Marley dies, which, as I mentioned, was seven years before the story begins…
And they go to Belle's house!
We find out she got married and has a family. She's the mother of small children!
They were in another scene and place; a room, not very large or handsome, but full of comfort. Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to one of them. Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn't for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn't have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. As to measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn't have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.
But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such a rush immediately ensued that she with laughing face and plundered dress was borne towards it the centre of a flushed and boisterous group, just in time to greet the father, who came home attended by a man laden with Christmas toys and presents. Then the shouting and the struggling, and the onslaught that was made on the defenceless porter. The scaling him with chairs for ladders to dive into his pockets, despoil him of brown-paper parcels, hold on tight by his cravat, hug him round his neck, pommel his back, and kick his legs in irrepressible affection. The shouts of wonder and delight with which the development of every package was received. The terrible announcement that the baby had been taken in the act of putting a doll's frying-pan into his mouth, and was more than suspected of having swallowed a fictitious turkey, glued on a wooden platter. The immense relief of finding this a false alarm. The joy, and gratitude, and ecstasy. They are all indescribable alike. It is enough that by degrees the children and their emotions got out of the parlour, and by one stair at a time, up to the top of the house; where they went to bed, and so subsided.
And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever, when the master of the house, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat down with her and her mother at his own fireside; and when he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called him father, and been a spring-time in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew very dim indeed.
"Belle," said the husband, turning to his wife with a smile, "I saw an old friend of yours this afternoon."
"Who was it?"
"How can I? Tut, don't I know," she added in the same breath, laughing as he laughed. "Mr. Scrooge."
"Mr. Scrooge it was. I passed his office window; and as it was not shut up, and he had a candle inside, I could scarcely help seeing him. His partner lies upon the point of death, I hear; and there he sat alone. Quite alone in the world, I do believe."
This means she can't be more than forty at the time. Which means that Scrooge was probably not more than fifty. So he's probably not yet sixty when the story opens, possibly not much more than fifty. Like I said, no kid, but not an old man. This isn't all that important, it's just worth keeping in mind that Scrooge has made himself prematurely old by shutting up his heart and pushing away all human company and affection. That's the point of having Fred in the story. He's another reminder that Scrooge was once a better person. His sister loved him and Fred loves him for his mother's sake. Fred represents the pull of affection for other people Scrooge still feels but resists.
The Cratchits represent the pull of responsibility and compassion Scrooge still feels…
“I suppose you’ll want the whole day off tomorrow…”
"If quite convenient, sir."
"It's not convenient. And it's not fair.
"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?"
The clerk smiled faintly.
"And yet," said Scrooge, "you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work."
The clerk observed that it was only once a year.
"A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!" said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. "But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning."
In other words, there is still some good in Scrooge. He still has a heart. That's why we care that he might be redeemed.
"Are you the Spirit, sir, whose coming was foretold to me?" asked Scrooge.
The voice was soft and gentle. Singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, it were at a distance.
"Who, and what are you?" Scrooge demanded.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past."
"Long Past?" inquired Scrooge: observant of its dwarfish stature.
"No. Your past."
Perhaps, Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered.
"What!" exclaimed the Ghost, "Would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!"
Scrooge reverently disclaimed all intention to offend or any knowledge of having willfully bonneted the Spirit at any period of his life. He then made bold to inquire what business brought him there.
"Your welfare," said the Ghost.
Scrooge expressed himself much obliged, but could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to that end. The Spirit must have heard him thinking, for it said immediately:
"Your reclamation, then..."
This is something to think about for anyone who is expecting that being President will cause the septuagenarian about to enter the White House to change for the better. I realize that at this point that’s mainly the dopiest hacks in the political press corps and the more credulous members of both parties in Congress, but it’s still worth noting that Donald Trump has never shown he feels the least sense of responsibility toward all the Cratchits who've worked for him, that whatever affection he has for his family seems completely tied up with how much money they make him, how much money he can make off them, and how well they serve the Trump brand, and if he ever had a heart he shut it up so tight and so long ago it might as well be buried in a lost pharaoh's tomb.
Ok, lecture's over. Class dismissed. Remember there are twelve days of Christmas and today’s only the seventh. It’s also the eighth night of Hanukkah. Hope everyone's having a Merry Christmas and holiday season! Happy Hanukkah! Happy New Year!
Your homework assignment: Read the textbook.
For further (fun) reading (for fun): David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.