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Ebeneezer Scrooge

Posted December 1st, 2011 at 01:30 PM by Chookie

A while back I introduced you to the real-life model for Dr Jeykll, now I'm going to tell you about another literary character based on a real person. That literary character is Ebeneezer Scrooge and his mere existence is an insult to the man whose tombstone Charles Dickens misread.

Ebeneezer Scroggie was a successful merchant, vintner and Town Councillor (or Baillie) in Edinburgh. He held the first contract to supply whisky to the Royal Navy in Leith and was also responsible for supplying the drink for King George IV's visit to Edinburgh in 1822. This alone would have moved him into the “Fortune 500” if such a concept had existed at the time.

Ebeneezer Scroggie was a cousin of Adam Smith. He was born in Kirkcaldy but I can't find his date of birth (due mainly to the fact that I can't find which parish his birth was registered in...) he died in 1836 and is buried in Canongate kirkyard in the Royal Mile (it's the one with the statue of Robert Ferguson outside the east side of the gate). Dickens is thought to have misread the inscription on his tombstone while on a lecture tour in 1842.

Dickens was thought to have created the character of Ebenezer Scrooge after stumbling across the wealthy trader's tombstone in the Canongate kirkyard while killing time on a lecture visit to the capital in 1842. He was shocked by the apparently hard-hearted inscription, "Meanman", later writing in a notebook: "To be remembered through eternity only for being mean seemed the greatest testament to a life wasted." While I don't know why Dickens was haunting graveyards in Edinburgh (or anywhere else for that matter), I can and will speculate; 1) he was seeking a sexual liaison 2) he was caught short 3) he was drink taken and didn't know where he was. But that's all speculative. (Mind you, he had been a student at Edinburgh University and we all know what students are like).

I also wonder how he managed to misread the inscription.

Our original Ebeneezer was, in modern parlance a “party animal”. Scroggie was known as a dandy and terrible philanderer who had several sexual liaisons which made him the talk of the town. He was a jovial and kindly man, not the mean-spirited miser with which he was associated. He had a lot in common with a certain William Brodie with the exception of criminality and no unacknowleged children.

What Dickens, who published A Christmas Carol the following year, had failed to realise was that the tombstone had actually read "Meal Man" in recognition of Scroggie's successful career as a grain merchant. Dickens misread this as a 'mean man' and noted in his diary the shock of this description even amongst traditionally parsimonious Scots. Thus the character Ebenezer Scrooge came into being in A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843, and Scroggie forever acquired an ill-deserved reputation.

Many historians and literary experts are unaware of the city's claim to be the origin of the story, with the tombstone which inspired Dickens removed in the 1930s to make way for a redevelopment of the graveyard, best known as being the final resting place of his better known cousin, the economist Adam Smith.

The moral of this little tale is never let the facts get in the way of a good story.....
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  1. Old Comment
    okamido's Avatar
    I just finished watching the Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol, and remembered your blog entry. Do you think that Scroggie would mind that this little misinterpretation lead to a wonderful story that is meant to inspire people to be better?
    Posted December 23rd, 2011 at 09:54 PM by okamido okamido is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Chookie's Avatar
    I've only just seen your comment (sorry). Personally I think our Ebeneezer (Scroggie that is) would laugh his arse off.
    Posted January 21st, 2012 at 01:54 PM by Chookie Chookie is offline
 
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