Washington Irving’s Sketchbook
“There is something in the very season of the year, that gives charm to the festivity of Christmas. At other times, we derive a great portion of our pleasures from the mere beauty of nature. Our feelings sally forth and dissipate themselves over the sunny landscape, and we ‘live abroad and everywhere’……But in the depth of winter, when nature lies despoiled of every charm, and wrapped in her shroud of sheeted snow, we turn for our gratification to moral sources….our thoughts are more concentrated; our friendly sympathies more aroused. We feel more sensibly the charm of each other’s society, and are brought more closely together by dependence on each other for enjoyment. Heart calleth unto heart, and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells of living kindness which lie in the quiet recesses of our bosoms; and which, when resorted to, furnish forth the pure element of domestic felicity.”
– From “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon”, “Christmas”, by Washington Irving (Above).
A Public Reading of “A Christmas Carol”
“It must be sixteen or seventeen years ago — I cannot fix the date exactly, though the affair made a strong impression on me at the time — that I witnessed Charles Dickens’ debut as a public reader. …. It was the Christmas Carol that Mr. Dickens read; the night was Christmas Eve. As the clock struck the appointed hour, a red, jovial face, unrelieved by the heavy moustache which the novelist has since assumed, a broad, high forehead, and a perfectly Micawber-like expanse of shirt-collar and front appeared in a red baize box, and a full, sonorous voice rang out the words ‘Marley was dead to begin with’ — then paused, as if to take in the character of the audience. No need of further hesitation.”
The above quotation is taken from an account of a public reading given by Charles Dickens of his fabulous, and wildly successful story, “A Christmas Carol” . The publication of “A Christmas Carol” came at a very low ebb in Dicken’s career. He had achieved great fame and celebrity with his work “Sketches by Boz”, and had achieved (then) unheard-of publishing success with “The Pickwick Papers” which was published in installments, and for which 40,000 readers were lining up for copies by the end of November of 1837. But these successes were followed by “Oliver Twist”, which did reasonably well, but then came “Barnaby Rudge” , and “Martin Chuzzlewit” both of which failed to attract nearly the readership of the previous works. In publishing, then as now, a writer is only as successful as his latest book, and “A Christmas Carol” proved to be exactly what Dickens needed to revive his flagging fortunes, selling out the initial printing of 6,000 copies in three days, and achieving nearly universal critical acclaim.
Unfortunately, Dickens did not receive nearly the financial boost to his fortunes from Carol, as the financial machinations of his publishers left him with very little to show for. And further, copyright laws in the year of 1843 when Carol was published did not protect a writers work from theft by others as it does now. It was very common for successful works of literature to be copied almost verbatim for unauthorized stage productions. While Dickens did not realize the financial gain which he had hoped for, “A Christmas Carol” definitely revived his career, and set the stage for later financial successes. And the unauthorized stage productions sent Dickens himself out on the road to public readings of his work such as the one described above. The Anonymous audience member continued:
” The voice held all spellbound. It’s depth of quiet feeling when the ghosts of past Christmases lead the dreamer through the long forgotten scenes from his boyhood –its embodiment of burly good nature when Old Fezziwig’s calves were twinkling in the dance….its exquisite pathos by the deathbed of Tiny Tim dwell yet in memory like a long-known tune.”
“The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.” by Washington Irving, Oxford Univ. Press, 2009.
“Social & Literary Speeches of Charles Dickens” by Charles Dickens. London, John Camden Hotten, 1869.
“The Man Who Invented Christmas” – Les Standiford, Crown Publsihers, New York, 2008.