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Appendix D: English Society in the 1840s

England, December 1843

The Spirit of Christmas Immediately Past
A Christmas Carol was written when English Christmas traditions had been in a centuries-old decline. Most of the holiday traditions Dickens recounts in A Christmas Carol have roots in the Roman Saturnalia and the Saxon holiday of Yule and are much older than Christianity. In fact, in many periods throughout the history of Christianity, these traditions were even "sinful."

For most of their history, the English lived in rural areas and rarely left the place where they grew up. "Christmas" was a twelve-day festival taking place in the manor of the local "lord," and included burning the Yule log, playing traditional games, and feasting on traditional foods.

In the mid-seventeenth century, the Cromwellian Revolt abolished Christmas as well as the monarchy. However when the monarchy was subsequently "restored," the traditions of the winter holiday never recovered. But religious prescription was not the only cause of the decline of Christmas. Even by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the industrial revolution, especially in the north, was changing the communities that still tenuously kept the customs of their ancestors.

By the time the Carol was written in 1843, the lavish celebrations of the past were a distant, quaint memory. Some still remembered them, and even before Carol a few popular books attempted to record the celebrations of the past, such as The Book of Christmas by T. H. Hervey (1837) and The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall by Washington Irving (1820). But social forces beyond simple nostalgia were at work, rekindling the need for winter celebrations.

"All persons say how differently this season was observed in their fathers' days, and speak of old ceremonies and old festivities as things which are obsolete. The cause is obvious. In large towns the population is continually shifting; a new settler neither continues the customs of his own province in a place where they would be strange, nor adopts those which he finds, because they are strange to him, and thus all local differences are wearing out." Robert Southey, 1807

Better employment prospects in the cities prompted many people to leave their homes for jobs in the cities. More and more boys were being sent away to school, and their winter homecoming inspired celebrations that drew upon what traditions could be remembered.

Dickens was one of the first to show his readers a new way of celebrating the old holiday in their modern lives. His Christmas celebrations of the Carol adapted the twelve-day manorial feast to a one-day party any family could hold in their own urban home. Instead of gathering together an entire village, Dickens showed his readers the celebration of Fred, Scrooge's nephew, with his immediate family and close friends, and also the Cratchits' "nuclear family": perfectly happy alone, without the presence of friends or wider family. He showed the urban, industrial English that they could still celebrate Christmas, even though the old manorial twelve-day celebrations were out of their reach. Dickens's version of the holiday evoked the childhood memories of people who had moved to the cities as adults.

A Christmas Carol without Christ
The Carol was first published in a time of great religious controversy, and its lack of babes, Wiseman, stars, mangers, and other icons of the Christian nativity inspired a multitude of sermons and pamphlets. Some religious leaders believed that any story of Christmas without references to the birth of Jesus was self-indulgent and unchristian, and that the ritualistic celebrations in the story were pagan and sinful.

Although A Christmas Carol is generally associated with the Christian winter holiday season, for it does contain references to the Christian Jesus; its themes are not exclusive to Christianity and it inspired a tradition for decades in Christmas books and celebrations that appealed to many non-Christians.

Victorian Family Values
The first readers of A Christmas Carol were able to see themselves in the people shown to Scrooge by the Spirit of Christmas Present. While today the most remembered character of the story is Scrooge, Dickens's first readers identified most strongly with the Cratchit family.

The Cratchit family, although quaint and sentimental to modern readers, was a familiar portrait of the lower-middle class families who read the Carol, familiar in fact to Dickens himself, who modeled the Cratchits' lifestyle on his own childhood experience. Dickens demonstrates that even in poverty, the winter holiday can inspire good will and generosity toward one's neighbors. He shows that the spirit of Christmas was not lost in the race to industrialize, but can live on in our modern world.

Great debates over the plight of the poor and other social issues were beginning to be the focus of much political discussion during the 1840s. When the Spirit of Christmas Present warns of impending doom for "Man's Children," the symbolic "Want and Ignorance," Dickens's readers could instantly identify these symbols. They were the offspring of a new industrial society, who filled the new industrial cities.

Source: Linda Rosewood Hooper, A Little Book About A Christmas Carol (subsequently removed from its original location).

Victorian London

If in the first half of the nineteenth century it was Manchester, not London, which was regarded as the prototype of the unplanned industrial city. But in the second half of the century London fascinated the West as the first example of the "world city."

I. The "world city."
This new form of city was characterized primarily by a very large population spread over a very large area; by 1900 Greater London had a population of over six million inhabitants spread over more than a hundred square miles. This spread of the city had been made possible by the mechanization of transport. The construction of the railroads from the 1830s mad e possible the middle-class commuter and the development of suburbia.

The dispersion of the poorer classes was made feasible first by the underground railroad in 1865, and then in the 1880s by the laying down of rails in the streets themselves for horse drawn trams and later for electrically powered cars.

Secondly, the world city's population was drawn from the whole world. London's population was constantly augmented by the influx of great numbers of migrants, from within Britain and abroad. The railroads brought into London the dispossessed and the ambitious of the countryside and the northern cities, as well as the poor and politically oppressed from the South and East of Europe; the steamship brought migrants from the empire, Indians and Chinese above all.

Thirdly, the world had direct industrial and commercial ties to the rest of the planet. The steamships brought into the Port of London eight million tons of goods in 1880, compared with only 800,000 at the beginning of the century; and Baedeker was sending visitors to see the warehouses that could store 200,000 tons of foods. "Nothing will convey to the stranger a better idea of the vast activity and stupendous wealth of London," he wrote, "than a visit to the warehouses, filled to overflowing with interminable stores of every kind of foreign and colonial products."

Fourthly, the world city was deeply involved in the internal affairs of the other nations of the world. For Victorian London, this involved a dual responsibility. It was the administrator of a growing colonial empire and the undisputed leader of a group of self-governing dominions; and as its industrial supremacy and its naval might made it, at least until about 1870, the major power in the world, it was a necessary participants in all important world affairs. Indeed at times its attitude seemed well summed up by the popular music hall song:

We don't want to fight
But by Jingo, if we do
We've got the men, we've got the ships,
We've got the money too.

The change in London in the nineteenth century was due to the conversion of an industrial, commercial and administrative capital to a new world role; and its physical adaptation was made possible by the application of a new technology to the needs of urban life.

II. Social Tensions
The years between the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and the continent wide revolutions in 1848 had not been years of social peace in Britain. The predominant mood had been a state of disquiet for the future of British society, due to either a distrust of British institutions or fear for their survival. It is true that the industrial revolution was continuing unabated, passing from a transformation of textile production to an industrialism of railroads, coal, and iron. industrial production rose at an average of thirty-seven percent each decade. Yet the working classes were continuously discontented and intermittently riotous.

In the 1830s and 1840s, bad harvest combined with the tariff on imported wheat to keep food prices high; downturns in the business cycle, uncontrolled by government action, produced severe unemployment; and there was even a fall in the real wages of those who had jobs. The reform measures that were finally passed in the 1840s, such as the Factory Acts and the repeal of the Corn Laws, were little more than palliatives. Only higher wages and more secure employment could end working-class misery.

Discontent with the country's political institutions had been focused on the method of electing the House of Commons. The Reform Bill of 1832 had at last spread representation to the industrial cities, and had given the wealthier middle classes suffrage. But only one man in five had the vote; and no women had the privilege. The general discontent with the nature of parliamentary representation and even, in the early part of the century, extended to include the monarchy itself.

George III had been totally insane in the last years of his reign. His son George IV (reigned 1820-1830) was, in the words of The Spectator, "a weak, ignorant, commonplace sort of person." Little more was expected of Victoria when she ascended the throne at the age of eighteen, unprepared by education or background for her new responsibilities. The people of London, as The Times commented, "saw the monarchy in Queen Victoria, and pledged themselves that for their own sakes they would uphold it, with the help of their Sovereign, so - if not, they would preserve the monarchy, in spite of an ill-advised monarch."

As for the empire, which was to become the chief source of national pride by the end of Victoria's reign, only the working classes showed any interest. In the 1830s, over 100,000 persons emigrated annually; in the 1840s, over 200,000. Their destinations were Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and also the United States. The government fought small wars, like the Opium War in China, to increase trade facilities, and permitted both governmental and private agencies to expand their territorial hold in India and south Africa. But for the general public the disillusionment that had followed the loss of the American colonies persisted.

III. Character of Victorian Age
By 1851, the discontent with industrialism and with the country's political institutions had been alleviated, and the first glimmerings of interest in empire were being roused by the activities of antislavery groups and explorers. From 1848 to the crash of 1873, the mid-Victorian age knew steady and real prosperity. Its basis was the expansion of the heavy industries linked to coal, iron, and steel, especially for the building of railroads, steamships, and other forms of heavy engineering. The beginning of industrialism on the continent made the developing countries there major importers of British coal, iron and steel, and heavy engineering products until they themselves, from the 1870s, could challenge Britain's position as the workshop of the world.

Capital accumulated in the earlier phases of the industrial revolution now sought new openings for profitable investment in new forms of industry and in overseas investment. Britain became the world's banker as well as its manufacturer. Even the farmers found that they could profit from the growing home market by capital investment in land or mechanical improvements, and ceased to regret the repeal of the Corn Laws. Free trade was welcomed as the common philosophy of both industrial and agricultural classes, and a climate of opinion thus came to exist that was favorable to the capitalist expansion.

Even working-class wages rose faster than the rising prices that were themselves acting as an inflationary stimulus to the economy. Money wages probably rose fifty-six percent between 1850 and 1874. Taken in relation to the rise in prices, the average working-class family probably received about ten percent more in real wages. The rise was sufficient to blunt the discontent of the poorer people.

One important factor strengthening faith in Britain's political institutions was the sense of relief at having avoided the upheavals that rocked the continental capitals in 1848. British governments, even if elected by a minority of the country's population, had answered demands for reform with bills ranging from the abolition of slavery in the British empire (1833) to the institution of a ten-and-a-half-hour working day in the factories (1847). Moreover the predominant liberal ethic was against the increase in state controls, and hence minimized the significance of widespread political participation. London itself lacked an effective local government, and even an adequate water supply and sanitary system, and efforts to provide them received little public support. "We prefer to take our chance of cholera and the rest," wrote The Times, "than be bullied into health." Even minor attempts at parliamentary reform in the 1850s died for lack of interest.

To this renewed acceptance of the validity of Britain's political institutions, Victoria herself had contributed substantially. From the moment of her accession, Victoria showed the qualities that were to remain with her throughout her reign: a sense of duty, a conviction of moral righteousness, and a deep feeling for her country. "since it has pleased Providence to place me in this station," she wrote in her diary, "I shall do my utmost to fulfill my duty towards my country; I am very young, and perhaps in many, though not in all things, inexperienced, but I am sure, that very few have more good will and more real desire to do what is fit and right than I have."

Her marriage in 1840 to the earnest young German prince, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, helped her find her political role. Albert was well-educated and intelligent. He had grasped the significance of the monarchy's new functions, which combined a small amount of political manipulation with an unlimited responsibility as the emotional and ceremonial focus of a people in social turmoil. It was Albert whose growing domination over his wife forced Victoria to take an interest in matters that had previously bored her, such as science and literature and even industrial progress. As Victoria accepted the necessary transition of power to men with whom she had little personal sympathy, she pursued family interests with her nine children, visits to the seaside and the country with the family, and admiration of Albert's plunge into the world of British industry.

IV. The Crystal Palace
In 1849, Albert hit upon the idea of the Great Exhibition, "to give us a true test and a living picture of the point of development at which the whole of mankind has arrived in this great task of applied science and a new starting point from which all nations, will be able to direct their further exertions." The prince's idea was approved by the Royal Society, and won the financial backing of industry and the general public, who subscribed £200,000 as guarantee. A Royal commission of architects and engineers was appointed to plan the building and exhibits.

Out of 234 plans submitted, the commission, urged by the prince, eventually picked the most original design of all, a massive greenhouse designed by the head gardener of a northern duke. Joseph Paxton, however, was no mere gardener, but an engineer, railroad director, newspaper promoter, and imaginative architect in glass and iron. He offered a building 1,848 feet long, 308 feet broad, and 66 feet high, tall enough to cover the old elm trees already occupying the chosen site in Hyde Park. It was composed of mass-produced and standardized parts, including over 6,000 15-foot columns and over one million square feet of glass. It could be erected in seventeen weeks; and it could be, and was, dismantled and re-erected in another part of London when the exhibition was over. In spite of many fears expressed over the building's durability, it survived until 1936.

The completed building found few detractors. All of the thirteen thousand exhibitors had ample space; and so did six million visitors from all over the world, who gazed in fascination, as described by Lord Tennyson, on

... the giant aisles
Rich in model and design;
Harvest-toll and husbandry,
Loom and wheel and enginery,
Secrets of the sullen mine,
Steel and gold, and coal and wine,
Fabric rough or fairy-fine...
And shapes and hues of Art divine!
All of beauty, all of use,
That one fair planet can produce.

To Victoria, it was Albert's greatest triumph, "the greatest day in our history, the most beautiful and imposing and touching spectacle ever seen, and the triumph of my beloved Albert." The Queen was right in thinking that the exhibition summarized the aspirations of her time. She had little idea how diverse would be the judgments of later ages on the contents of her Crystal Palace and on the state of mind and taste that they epitomized.

Source: Professor Gerhard Rempel, Lectures in Western Civilization, Western New England College.

Dicken's London: The East End

Long after the last traces of the Crystal Place had been removed from the lawns of Hyde Park, and a memorial to Albert, dead in 1861 at the age of forty-two, was erected on its site. This statue was in Victorian Gothic and consisted of a canopy 175 feet high covering Albert among some 178 life-size figures. Albert was to look forever over the scene of his greatest triumph.

Albert died of typhoid fever, a reminder that even the highest in society could not ignore the debased conditions of sanitation and housing in which the mass of London's population lived. Buckingham Palace was connected with the poorer districts of London by its sewers and it shared their water supply. So, the aristocracy of the new mansions of Belgravia or Regent's Park were prey to the epidemics of typhus, cholera, typhoid, and febrile influenza that swept the poorer districts.

In the 1840s, a tough-minded reformer called Edwin Chadwick dramatized the plight of the poor by publication of a large number of official reports on the state of public health in the unsanitary cities and especially in London. Chadwick's studies were followed over the next half-century by a large number of detailed, well-documented exposés, of which the most influential was the seventeen-volume Life and Labour of the People in London (1886-1903) of Charles Booth, a philanthropic Liverpool shipowner.

During the same time, some of England's novelists, with Charles Dickens preeminent among them, found among the teeming poor of London the subject matter for their stories. The problems of urban growth were thus approached in a unique, double-barreled way: in the reports, the problems were analyzed in meticulous depth and feasible solutions, proposed, while the novelists prepared the public for acceptance of these solutions by making the problems comprehensible in human terms.

I. The slums of London 
The mushroom growth of nineteenth-century London had been responsible for many of its problems. London had developed from two nuclei, Westminster where the king resided and Parliament met, and the City of London where the port, trading companies, and financial offices were situated. By the end of the eighteenth century, when London had a population of about 800,000, the two nuclei were joined in a continuous band of buildings, with the thoroughfare called the Strand joining the older sections. Much of the expansion had been in aristocratic or middle-class quarters, but already London possessed the slum areas that fascinated painters like Hogarth. They were small, however, compared with those that sprang up in the first forty years of the nineteenth century when London's population increased by a million.

Better medical care, including vaccination and hospitals, accounted for some of the rise. New employment opportunities were provided by huge new docks and by the expansion of London's own industries like foodstuffs, drink, building materials, and soap. Service industries grew to supply the growing numbers in commerce and administration. The bulk of the new population lived in the boroughs to the east of the City, down both sides of the river from the Tower of London in what came to be called the East End. While the aristocracy were building their town houses in the elegant squares and crescents near Westminster in the West End, about one-third of London's population lived in Stepney, Poplar, Bethnal Green, Bermondsey, and Southwark in the oppressive squalor that Chadwick described in 1842 in his Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Classes.

The contrast of West and East ends, which increased during the century, fascinated both English and foreign observers. The reason was obvious. "I was yesterday . . . over the cholera district of Bermondsey," the novelist Charles Kingsley wrote his wife in 1849. "And, oh God! what I saw! people having no water to drink - hundreds of them - but the water of the common sewer which stagnates full of . . . dead fish, cats and dogs, under their windows." Owing to an almost total lack of public administration in the newer areas - London did not get a city government until 1888 - there were few public services. Water, often polluted, was supplied by nine private companies at a profit, and usually was turned on only a few hours a day three times a week. Drainage was inadequate; uncovered ditches emptied the cesspools into the river Thames, which became, in Punch's words, a "foul sludge and foetid stream."

Cemeteries were overcrowded, and bodies buried above street level; shallow graves were inadequately provided, in pest fields and plague pits, for victims of the epidemics. No controls were extended to housing contractors, who threw up the slums called rookeries. the author of one report found 1,465 families in an area near London's most fashionable church, living in 2,174 rooms with only 2,510 beds among them. But it was Dickens, in Bleak House (1853), who permitted the London bourgeois to follow Kingsley's advice: "Go, scented Belgravian, and see what London is."

Jo live - that is to say, Jo has not yet died - in a ruinous place, known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone's. It is black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people; where the crazy houses were seized upon, when their decay was far advanced, by some bold vagrants, who, after establishing their own possession, took to letting them out in lodgings. Now, these tumbling tenements contain, by night, a swarm of misery. As on the ruined human wretch, vermin parasites appear, so these ruined shelters have bred a crowd of foul existence that crawls in and out of gaps in walls and boards; and coils itself to sleep, in maggot numbers, where the rain drips in; and comes and goes, fetching and carrying fever, and sowing more evil in its every footprint than Lord Coodle, and Sir Thomas Doodle, and The Duke of Foodle, and all the fine gentlemen in office, down to Zoodle, shall set right in five hundred years - though born expressly to do it.

II. Working Conditions
The vast numbers of poor were compelled to seek work in conditions of great hardship. The worst exploitation did not take place in factories but among small employers, particularly in the clothing trade where so-called sweated labor was normal. women and children worked at sewing in their homes for very small wages; they received four shillings and sixpence for sewing a dozen shirts. As a result of the lack of regular employment, thousands turned to trades like hawking and others less legal.

Henry Mayhew, in his very influential book London Labour and the London Poor (1861) estimated that there were 13,000 street traders, many of whom he interviewed. They included the children called mud-larks, who scraped the Thames mud for scraps of coal dropped by the bargers; sellers of sheeps' trotters, ham sandwiches, flowers, and birds' nests; and costermongers, who sold fish, fruit, and vegetables. There were also the dredgers, who went into the river for dead bodies, and the sewer hunters, who searched for bottles or iron that could be sold. Mayhew's books became a mine for novelists like Kingsley and Dickens; but Mayhew's own fear for the language of the interviewed and the illustrations he published were as effective as any novel in waking the conscience of London. His twenty-two-year-old birds'-nest seller told him:

Mother died five years ago in the Consumption Hospital at Chelsea, just after it was built. I was very young indeed when father died; I can hardly remember him. He died in Middlesex Hospital: he had abscesses all over him; there were six-and-thirty at the time of his death. . . . I'm a very little eater, and perhaps that's the luckiest thing for such as me; half a pound of bread and a few potatoes will do me for the day. If I could afford it, I used to get a ha'porth of coffee and a ha'porth of sugar and make it do twice. Sometimes I used to have victuals given to me, sometimes I went without altogether; and sometimes I couldn't eat. I can't always.

It was hardly surprising then that crime, especially theft, was rampant. The police believed that some 20,000 children were being trained in thieving in the 1860s, in the way Dickens described in Oliver Twist (1838). Prostitution was widespread. Gambling was a full-time profession for 10,000 people. By the 1880, it was common for reformers to compare the London slums unfavorably with the jungles of central Africa being described contemporaneously by England's explorers and missionaries. General Booth's In Darkest England and the Way Out began with the comment, "The lot of the Negroes in the Equatorial Forest is not, perhaps, a very happy one, but is it so very much worse than that of many a pretty orphan girl in our Christian capital?"

III. Metropolitan Reform
The authors of these reports were clear on the reforms needed to remedy the problems of unplanned urban growth. They did not condemn the whole structure of capitalist society as the Socialist reforms were doing, but as practical men, they suggested practical reforms. London needed public construction and maintenance of a network of drains and sewers; public provision of pure water; slum clearance and provision of decent public housing; and public asylums for the insane and public hospitals for the indigent sick; and above all it needed a metropolitan government to deal with the problems of the whole sprawling area in a unified way.

Slowly the reformers gained their way. In the 1850s, there was established a Metropolitan Board of Works, which began a large-scale building program and sanitary improvements. Parks were purchased. Burial boards, an asylums board, a school board, and finally in 1888 a London Country Council were created. Life was still hard for the London poor, as the riots known as Bloody Monday in 1886 and Bloody Sunday in 1887 demonstrated. But a start at least had been made in remedying the most blatant grievances.

IV. The English Novel
In making the general public aware of these problems and receptive to a solution, the novelists of the mid-nineteenth century played a significant part. By then, the novel had been developed into a perfect vehicle for this task, although its history had been relatively short. Only a hundred years earlier, with the publication of Samuel Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1739), the modern form of novel had been invented. There had obviously been story-telling in prose for two millennia at least, in Lucius Apuleius's The Golden Ass (ca. 155 A.D.), for example, and the Arabian Tales of a Thousand and One Nights. But in London in the mid-eighteenth century, writers used the story in prose to prove human motivation and explore individual character, and to present a reconstruction of all the varieties of contemporary life, as they engaged in a dramatic form of infinite complexity.

With Henry Fielding (1707-1754), who was a magistrate in the Bow Street law court and head of the equivalent of the London police, the great variety of the London underworld first entered the English novel; and in his masterpiece Tom Jones, after the rollicking scenes of bucolic life in the West Country, we are thrown into the rough slums of London that satirist William Hogarth depicted in Gin Lane. By 1836, when Charles Dickens had swept his way to fame by depicting the meeting of Mr. Pickwick and his inimitable valet, Sam Weller, in the fifteenth number of the serialization of The Pickwick Papers (1837), the novel had won a vast public among the middle-class patrons of the monthly magazine and the lending library. With Jane Austen, it had explored the art of showing subtleties of character through the niceties of conversation; with Walter Scott, it has spread itself over vast panoramas of time and space, becoming the instrument for the Romantic movement's re-creation of the imagined dramas of medieval life; with Disraeli, it had begun to explore the nature of English class distinction. But Dickens was able to create a world in his novels that for many of his readers had a greater reality and coherence, and thus a more poignant message, than the necessarily restricted sphere of their own daily lives.

V. Dickens's London
For them, Dickens described the parts of London they had never known, or gave meaning to the parts they did. In Bleak House, it was the law courts along the Strand and the lawyers' chambers in Lincoln's Inn Fields, characterized by the fog that penetrates everything. "Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. . . . And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln's Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the Lord High Chancellor in his High Court of Chancery." In Oliver Twist, it is the dark recesses along the river bank where Fagin's gang lurks, where "the old smoke-stained storehouses on either side rose heavy and dull from the dense mass of roofs and gables, and frowned sternly upon water too black to reflect even their lumbering shapes." And there is the den in the slums where Fagin trains his boys as pickpockets, "these foul'd and frosty dens, where vice is closely packed and lacks the room to turn." Mr. Pickwick is consigned to a debtors' prison, just as Dickens's own father had been:

"Ohr," replied Mr. Pickwick, looking down a dark and filthy staircase, which appeared to lead to a range of damp and gloomy stone vaults, beneath the ground, "and those, I suppose are the little cellars where the prisoners keep their small quantities of coals. Unpleasant places to have to go down to, but very convenient, I dare say." "Yes, I shouldn't wonder if they was convenient," replied the gentleman, ""seeing that a few people live there, pretty snug." . . . "My friend," said Mr. Pickwick, "you don't really mean to say that human beings live down in those wretched dungeons?" "Live down there! Yes, and die down there, too, very often!" replied Mr. Rocker; "and what of that? Who's got to say anything agin it?"

VI. The Londoners of Dickens
But even more than he did with places, Dickens brought alive a vast gallery of London characters. His anger blazed against the heartless and irresponsible among the middle classes. Mr. Snawley abandons his stepchildren to Mr. Squeers's nightmarelike school of Dotheboys Hall, in Nicholas Nickleby (1839):

"Not too much writing home allowed, I suppose?" said the step-father hesitating.

 "None, except a circular at Christmas, to say they never were so happy, and hope they may never be sent for," rejoined Squeers.

"Nothing could be better," said the step-father, rubbing his hands.

Unscrupulous lawyers abound in his pages. It is through the machinations of the firm of Dodson and Fogg that Mr. Pickwick finds himself in the Fleet prison. In Bleak House, the trial of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce has been prolonged for years, the symbol of the profitable legal procrastination of the court of chancery, "which has its worn-out lunatic in every madhouse and its dead in every churchyard." The bureaucrats who froze an army to death in the Crimean War appear as the Tite Barnacles of the Circumlocution Office in Little Dorrit. There is the cheap, hypocritical crook, like Uriah Heep in David Copperfield; and in Oliver Twist the violent, unthinking thief, like Bill Sikes, and Fagin, the almost likable trainer of pickpockets and psychological master of outcast children. Only occasionally is there an oasis of quiet and good will, like Pickwick's Christmas with the Wardles at Dingley Dell.

Usually Dickens's characters cannot avoid the great swelling tide of social injustice and the human malice that grows in such a system. For all his humor, Dickens's London was a place where the sufferings of human beings needed remedy. His method, which was to create innumerable scenes of the great macrocosm of metropolitan life, and then to multiply the effect by showing those scenes through the eyes of a large number of characters, was perfect for this task.

Dickens was able to bring alive the different worlds of London, and especially those in need of reform - the prisons, hospitals, mortuaries, slums, poorhouses, schools, countinghouses, law courts, hustings, ministries, factories, shipyards, cab stands, fishmarkets. "Heart of London," he wrote, "I seem to hear a voice within three that sinks into my heart, bidding me, as I elbow my way among the crowd, to have some thought for the meanest wretch that passes, and, being a man, to turn away with scorn and pride from none that wears the human shape." In spite of his sentimentality and sensationalism, or perhaps because of them, Dickens impressed on his huge reading public his own vision of a London in which the mechanism of society had not kept up with the needs of its diverse humanity. He was the reformers' finest ally.

Source: Professor Gerhard Rempel, Lectures in Western Civilization, Western New England College.

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Collections of Christmas Carols & Poetry
Compiled and Edited by
Douglas D. Anderson

Victorian Visions
A Christmas Poetry Collection

Divinely Inspired
A Christmas Poetry Collection

The Bridegroom Cometh
Poetry For The Advent

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The Christmas Poems of Father Andrew, S.D.C.

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Now, Now The Mirth Comes

Christmas Poetry by Robert Herrick

What Sudden Blaze Of Song

The Christmas Poems of Rev. John Keble

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All My Heart This Night Rejoices

The Christmas Poems of Catherine Winkworth

A Victorian Carol Book

Favorites from the 19th Century —
Still favorites today!

Other Books by Doug Anderson

A Psalter – A Book of the Psalms Arranged by Luther's Categories

Betbüchlein: A Personal Prayer Book, a recreation of Luther's 1529 prayer book

Daily Prayer

Luther's Passional

Luther's Writings on Prayer: A Selection

Devotions for the Advent – 2009
A new edition for 2010 is being prepared.

The Lenten Sermons of Martin Luther, Second Edition

Descriptions of all these volumes can be seen at
Books by Doug Anderson

Christmas is a wonderful, cheerful holiday.  Whether we spend it by a real tree or some Balsam Hill artificial Christmas trees, at the end of the day what matters is that we enjoy our time together with our loved ones. 

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Douglas D. Anderson

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Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam


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