Sunday, December 26, 2004

'Bah Humbug'...It Was In The Genes

Charles Dickens' inspiration for Ebenezer Scrooge turns out to have been a grandnephew of Adam Smith, who taught the world why diamonds sell for more than water:

Dickens was in the capital to deliver a lecture to an audience of Edinburgh notables. He was wandering the city, killing time before the talk, when he visited the Canongate Kirk graveyard.

There, as revealed by his diaries, he saw a memorial slab which read: "Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie - meal man". The description referred to his main trade as a corn merchant. However, the author mistakenly translated it as "mean man".

Though he was shocked by the description, it gave him food for thought and two years later, art imitated life - or so the author believed. When A Christmas Carol , one of Dickens’ finest works, was published in 1843, it featured Ebenezer Scrooge, a "mean man" erroneously based on Ebenezer Scroggie.

Dickens always believed his creation was rooted in truth. Later, he wrote that while Scots had a reputation for frugality, they were not mean. It must have "shrivelled" Scroggie’s soul, said Dickens, to carry "such a terrible thing to eternity".

But, now, appropriately, on the eve of Christmas, Scroggie’s reputation is restored. Peter Clark, a political economist and former Conservative ministerial aide who has researched the episode, said:

"I’ve always thought A Christmas Carol was splendid, a story of redemption, but Scrooge was based on Scroggie, who could not have been more different.

"Mere chance associated him with Dickens’ creation."

....Scroggie was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife; his mother was the niece of Adam Smith, the 18th century political economist and philosopher. Mr Clark added:

"Scroggie was not mean-spirited, but he did attract the admonition of the Church of Scotland by having a child out of wedlock to a servant in 1830. It is alleged he ‘ravished’ her upon a gravestone. Still, what else was there to do in Edinburgh in 1830?"

Perhaps Scroggie’s most delightful claim to fame was the result of his dramatically halting proceedings at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, when he "goosed" the Countess of Mansfield during a particularly earnest debate.

"It fairly dampened the proceedings," said Mr Clark.

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