John Dickens, a Naval Pay office clerk, saw to it that his eight children received schooling. He aided their education by returning home from work with cheap reprints of 18th century novels like Robinson Crusoe, Tom Jones, and Peregrine Pickle, that delighted his family. His London colleagues described him as "a well-dressed fellow of infinite humor; very courteous, imposingly so; the jolliest of men." John's flaw was a poor head for finance. The eternal optimist described himself as "a cork which, when submerged, bobs up to the surface again, none the worse for the dip."

Life's darkest currents run deep. In 1821, John Dickens lost his post and most of his income. A year later creditors began beating at the family door. In 1824, the ex-clerk was arrested for debt and sent to Marshalsea prison where all but one of his family would join him. His second born, Charles Dickens, age 12, was yanked from the school he loved and sent to toil at a dingy warehouse ironically called Warren's Blacking Factory, labeling pots. "No words," Charles would write, "can express the agony of my soul as I sunk into this companionship."

One of biggest misconceptions about antiques is that they are nothing more than objects to be bought and sold. This column concerns itself with the products of our forefathers, many of which can be enjoyed by all. One need not own a rare 1843 first edition of Charles Dicken's, A Christmas Carol, to appreciate it. All you need do is borrow an unadulterated edition from your local library and read it.

I know what you're saying, "Already did."

"Did you?"

If you're talking about seeing a Christmas Carol movie or show, that doesn't count. If you're taking about breezing through it 20+ years ago because you were forced to in school, that doesn't count either. If you pawed over it cover to cover in recent years but did not read it to your children, that still doesn't count.

A good story is more than the plot we see on screen. Great writers apply words as a master artist dabbles on her paint. In the opening of  A Christmas Carol Dickens grabs his reader's by the throat in half a sentence; "Marley was dead,."

His description of Scrooge cannot be duplicated in a movie;

"a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!  Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out a generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait ... He carried his own low temperature always about him; he iced his office in the dog-days, and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas."

In the end, the author who had every right to turn a bitter cheek toward mankind, found pity for even old Scrooge, redeeming his soul; "and it was said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!"

Charles Dickens overcame the black years of his youth to become the greatest enemy of social injustice in Victorian England and the most popular writer of his time. This holiday season, turn off the TV set and curl up with as old-fashioned Christmas Carol. God bless us, everyone!


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