A Christmas Carol, "Stave Three: The Second of the Three Spirits." in Dickens's Christmas Stories, 10 cm x 13.3 (4 x 5 ¼ inches) (9 cm by 11.5 cm), framed, p. 28. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]by E. A. Abbey. American Household Edition (1876), fifth illustration for
- Bob Cratchit (John Dickens) raises the toast
- Mrs. Cratchit (Elizabeth Dickens) reluctantly does likewise
- Peter Cratchit (young Charles Dickens) in over-sized collar
- Belinda Cratchit and Martha Cratchit (Letitia and Fanny Dickens)
- Timothy Cratchit and the youngest Cratchit daughter (Alfred and Harriet Dickens)
Passage Illustrated: The Cratchits' Christmas Dinner
These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:
"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us."
Which all the family re-echoed.
"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.
He sat very close to his father's side upon his little stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.
"Spirit," said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, "tell me if Tiny Tim will live."
"I see a vacant seat," replied the Ghost, "in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die."
"No, no," said Scrooge. "Oh, no, kind Spirit. Say he will be spared."
"If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race," returned the Ghost, "will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
"Man," said the Ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust."
Scrooge bent before the Ghost's rebuke, and trembling cast his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on hearing his own name.
"Mr. Scrooge!" said Bob; "I'll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!"
"The Founder of the Feast indeed!" cried Mrs Cratchit, reddening. "I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it."
"My dear," said Bob, "the children. Christmas Day."
"It should be Christmas Day, I am sure," said she, "on which one drinks the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge. You know he is, Robert. Nobody knows it better than you do, poor fellow."
"My dear," was Bob's mild answer, "Christmas Day."
"I'll drink his health for your sake and the Day's," said Mrs. Cratchit, "not for his. Long life to him. A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! He'll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!"
The children drank the toast after her. It was the first of their proceedings which had no heartiness. [Stave Three, "The Second of the Three Spirits," 27-28]
Commentary: Anti-Malthusian Sentiments
Illustrating Dickens' story for an early-Victorian audience, John Leech had not cast Bob and Tim in central roles. His illustrations focused on Scrooge and the spirits. He did not even depict the Cratchit Christmas feast. Bob Cratchit appears in only one of his pictures (fig. 38 [Scrooge and Bob Cratchit]), a black-and-white tailpiece showing him sharing the bowl of smoking bishop with Scrooge. But later Victorian illustrators devoted themselves to the Cratchits. Three of the six illustrations E. A. Abbey produced for the American Household edition of 1876, for example, depicted the Cratchits, including a picture of the family circle dominated by Bob and his two sons as they toast "the Founder of the Feast". [Paul Davis, The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge, 83]
As Davis, notes, Dickens's denying Mrs. Cratchit even a Christian name does tend to relegate to the status of supporting character at best; certainly, she does not appear at all in Leech's original sequence or in Barnard's five woodcuts for the British Household edition, and is overshadowed by her outgoing, bustling husband in those series in which she does make an appearance: Abbey's (in which she sits well to the right-hand margin, presiding over the distaff side of the familial hearth) and Eytinge's 1867 Diamond Edition illustration (in which she welcomes home her husband, her back towards the viewer in Bob Cratchit at Home and is seen only in profile as she serves The Wonderful Christmas Pudding. Even in the deathbed scene Poor Tiny Tim! she is curiously absent, as if even Tim's imagined death is gender-restricted as yet a final opportunity for male bonding.
If Mrs. Cratchit is somewhat marginalized in Abbey's illustration, occupying the right-hand register with her adolescent daughter Martha, the two smaller Cratchits (a boy and a girl), and Beinda, in the accompanying text Dickens lets her speak her mind (even though she is the proverbial homemaker) about the parsimonious skinflint whom the kindly Bob has just charitably dubbed "The Founder of the feast":
At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle. [Stave Four, 27]
In fact, although this dialogue spills over onto the twenty-eighth page, Abbey has attempted to convey the perfect harmony and good will that prevades the Cratchit hearth prior to Bob's raising his tumbler. Mrs. Cratchit looks demurely at her her husband as he pronounces the toast, and does not remonstrate with her charitable spouse.
Possibly aided by John Forster's The Life of Charles Dickens (1872, volume 1), Abbey has constructed a family gathering in the front parlour of the four-roomed house in Camden Town (shared by the real-life family of John Dickens, at 16 Bayham Street, and the fictional family of the Micawbers in David Copperfield) which parallels the Dickens family in the early 1820s: "There were six Dickens children then who correspond to the six Cratchits: Fanny is the eldest Cratchit, Martha; Charles is Peter; Letitia is Belinda; Frederick and Harriet are the unnamed Cratchits, also a boy an girl; and the youngest, Alfred, is Tiny Tim" (Hearn, 119).
One can see in Abbey's illustration that the artist has placed Peter immediately to the right of the father, and Tim, under Bob's protective hand, to the father's left. The little girl, sitting immediately before the fire, her back towards the viewer, would be the equivalent of Harriet Dickens. In the female-dominated right-hand register, Mrs. Cratchit (Dickens) is at the top of a parenthesis, and immediately below her are Belinda Cratchit, Martha Cratchit, and the unnamed Cratchit son who corresponds to Fred Dickens. The faces of the three Cratchit females bear a striking similarity in profile. The wreath above the fireplace is an interpolation implying a halo for this blessed family. Although we cognize Bob's checkered trousers from his initial appearance in Abbey's series, his double-breated jacket seems to grown longer and more stately than the short suit jacket he wears in the Cornhill sliding scene. Even though the text is explicit about the entire family's drinking the toast ("The children drank the toast after her" 28), in order to avoid any suggestion that the Cratchit children are imbibing an alcoholic beverage, Abbey does not provide any of them with a tumbler: the youngest boy (right, on Belinda's lap) appears to be eating a small apple, and only the two adults have tumblers — presumably filled with the jug of steaming punch from the hearth, immediately above Tiny Tim's head.
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Guiliano, Edward, and Philip Collins, eds. A Christmas Carol. The Annotated Dickens. Vol. 1. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1986.
Davis, Paul. Charles Dickens A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, 1998.
_______. The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. New Haven and London: Yale U. P., 1990.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
---. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Guida, Fred. "A Christmas Carol" and Its Adaptations. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.
Hearn, Michael Patrick. The Annotated Christmas Carol, il. John Leech. New York: Avenel, 1976.
Parker, David. Christmas and Charles Dickens. New York: AMS Press, 2005.
Created 20 November 2012 Last modified 5 February 2021