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The Mighty Pen

The story of how one man changed Christmas and the Season of Giving

It was a cold dark morning; the sun wouldn’t be up for hours yet.  A twelve-year-old boy suddenly awoke.  At first he might have been happy, in those few moments after waking up, when his mind was coming out of dreams and he thought all was well as it should be.  But then after allowing himself to remember the present circumstances, reality must have hit him like a full blow.

Today would be different, the mark of a new sort of life for him.  A life he didn’t want, but had to commit to all the same.  

His father had just been sentenced to prison, and although the boy hadn’t even reached his teen years yet, he had now been forced to support himself while his father was ‘away.’  There wouldn’t be enough money to go around to feed him, his siblings and his mother, so it had been a welcomed solution even by his own parents.  That may have been the factor that tormented him the most.

Loving his father and hating him at the same time, the boy dropped out of school and took a job at a nearby factory. The trepidations that formed on that first morning were only met by an experience he deemed worse than his expectations. The humiliation, the hardship and the fearfulness of the situation affected the boy greatly.  

He began having nervous fits, and according to a book by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, the boy would later describe his dimmed hopes during that time period, saying that his “rescue from this kind of existence [he] considered quite hopeless and abandoned as such….” Referencing the literary inscription atop the gates of Dante’s Hell.  

In the factory, the boy was exposed to things he had never seen before: people living in squalor, among such poor conditions that rags were all they had to wear; working for low wages that got them nothing more than the bare essentials, and sometimes not even that much. No hope or kindness could be found anywhere in the seedy, run-down parts of what he had formerly seen as a great city of wealth and fortitude.  

After his father was released from prison, the boy was forced to continue in the factory for a while longer, but eventually returned to his schooling. This experience, though (according to several biographers), stayed with him and haunted him throughout his life.

Soon afterward, the young man began a writing career, fueled by the same sensitivities and keen inflection that left him so vulnerable during his work in the factory. As he became a young adult and earned some accolades through his professional work, he would make it a point to help the poor and become actively involved in doing what he could by visiting the poorest parts of the city to observe the conditions of the schools and housing accommodations.

According to biographer Jane Smiley, upon witnessing particularly horrible circumstances at the Field School in London, where the stench within the school was so vile it nearly made most who entered wretch, the young writer decided to do what he could in his own right. He formulated the idea of writing a pamphlet, further  demonstrating to the public what the slums were like, and the desperate need for aid. But as he began to plan out his ideas and materials, the writer’s enthusiasm waned. He wasn’t sure an informational pamphlet would catch the attention-- or more importantly, capture the hearts-- of the public. A narrative instead seemed to be a far more appealing method.

So in mid-October of that year, the young man sat down with a quill in hand and a flickering candle beside, and began writing his story.

A mere six weeks later, in early December, young Charles Dickens finished his book, and aptly named it "A Christmas Carol," because it was about an old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge who is too busy and too selfish to stop and consider the plight of the poor people around him. But on one Christmas Eve night, he is given the harrowing yet precious gift of traveling through time and space in a spirited effort to teach him the evil of his ways. As a result, Scrooge allows love and kindness into his heart and from then on, he is generous and giving.

"A Christmas Carol" was published and released in December of 1843 and was met with immediate critical acclaim. According to Dickens biographer Ruth Glancy, copies everywhere sold out, reprints ran, and copies sold out again.

The following Christmas, there were several stage productions around England depicting the now-famous Christmas story. But besides the fame and the (numerous) plays, what the story of Scrooge did was inspire people into the spirit of generosity.  

According to The Gentlemen’s Magazine, in the years following the release of "A Christmas Carol," annual giving to the poor soared.  And according to Glancy, many individuals were deeply affected by the story including the Queen of Norway who gave generously to the crippled children of London signing it “With Tiny Tim’s Love.”     

And (according to Douglas-Fairhurst), one American factory owner closed his factory and sent all his employees a turkey for the holidays after attending a Christmas Eve reading of the book.

But most importantly, what it proves is that one person can make a difference and can motivate others to do the same.

So to you, your friends, your family, and to well, everyone you have helped in the season’s spirit of giving……

~ Merry Christmas ~ 

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