Monday, February 15, 2016

A Letter to Mr. Dickens

            You, sir, are a scoundrel.
            You defamed me in your odious little book, and to do this you employed ghosts. Ghosts! Of that I will say no more.
            I could sue you for libel. Could the similarity of my name to that of your character be credited to chance? Ezra Scruggins and Ebenezer Scrooge? Chance, insignificant chance? I was alerted to the fact that I was the model for Scrooge by acquaintances; it was only then that I wasted money on purchasing A Christmas Carol. I have it on the desk beside me. When this letter is completed I will shove it into the waste basket.
            Do we not know one another, Mr. Dickens? Is your brother-in-law not married to my niece? As for your attack on me, what was its motivation? Could it be an act of revenge? Did you not come to me two months ago asking for a loan? Did we not write up a contract, setting the rate of interest and the schedule of repayment and the penalty for non-compliance? Did you not sign it, in your flourishing script? You seemed very casual about it. And casual you continued to be when the time for the first installment of the repayment came due. In your profligate soul did you believe that our familial ties would relieve you of financial responsibility? I called you to my office and pointed out a stipulation in the contract: non-payment would result in the interest rate on the entire loan to be raised by four percent. I told you that, unless I received the installment owed me by six o’clock of that day, the penalty would go into effect. You were no longer casual. Oh, how you fumed, how you abused me. I was “gouging” you, I was a “grasping miser,” “a wrenching old sinner.” Et cetera (the same words you would later heap upon Scrooge). You stormed out of my office. Perhaps you asked your publisher for an advance; perhaps you begged money from relatives and friends. At any rate, you returned before six with the full amount owed me, which you threw on my desk. More eloquent abuse poured from your mouth as I counted the money and wrote out a receipt: Paid in Full. I bid you a “Good day.” You expressed the wish that I would go straight to hell.
            Does this incident constitute motivation for your attack on me?
            But I will not turn to the courts for redress for your libelous fiction. Even if you have no sense of propriety, I do; I will keep my grievance private. But read on, Mr. Charles John Huffam Dickens, read on. I too can write.
            You refer to events in my past that have some basis in fact. My niece is a guileless and voluble soul, and is susceptible to expertly-applied coaxing. I also detect your snooping into my business and my routines. But you’ve both distorted and omitted facts. You skip the years after I left home. You, sir, worked in a blacking factory, and you found it exceedingly unpleasant. But you were there for only a matter of months. From the ages of thirteen to sixteen — four years, sir — I was employed in the most brutish jobs that greed has imagined; the money I earned was barely enough to keep me among the living. I learned some lessons. Yes, I came to value money. Yes, I felt the need to accumulate it. I believe that you also share the same compunction.
            Despite my exhaustion, at night I taught myself bookkeeping, and because of my adeptness with numbers I had the good fortune to gain employment as an apprentice to a man to whom you assign the name Fezziwig. This marked a radical change in my circumstances. But your overly-fervent imagination has conjured up a Christmas Eve scene at Fezziwig’s office with food, drink, dancing and cries of “Hilli-ho” and “Chirrup.” It never happened. Fezziwig did give his employees a bonus and sent them home early on that day. He was a lenient and generous employer. A soft-hearted man — not at all like the tight-fisted Scrooge. But do you know of Fezziwig’s fate? His business failed, and he was forced to work as a common clerk for meager wages. His wife died of pneumonia, brought on, no doubt, by the lack of sufficient heat in their lodgings. I saw Fezziwig shortly before he died. His jolly voice was a hoarse whisper, his waistline had dwindled — no more of your roasts and mince pies and beer. In looking at his emaciated face I observed the bitter fruits of leniency, of a soft heart, of loose dealings. The men who employed me after Fezziwig taught me lessons which I could practically apply. They knew the importance of money in this world. They were hard men, and they treated me much more harshly than I treat my clerk. You describe Scrooge as “hard and sharp as flint.” I was already hard, and I grew harder and sharper under the tutelage I received. It became flint against flint, and my employers came to respect me and then to rely on me. I struck out on my own business, and I prospered. I did so honestly: Ezra Scruggins’ word is trusted. But I allow no Fezziwiggy looseness in my dealings. As you, a loose man, found out.
             My loquacious niece must have informed you that, in my twenties, I had a relationship with a woman, one that lasted for years. But you know nothing of the nature of our intimacy — and so is it not despicable for you to intrude and distort that relationship? You conjure out of thin air a scene in which you have her saying that she had been displaced in my heart by something I valued more than her: gold. She never spoke those words. The truth is that I loved both her and gold. At our last meeting she merely put off our marriage. And it became clear why a few days later when, by chance, I espied her on the streets, accompanied by him. How in love they were — that was clear to my eye. It was she who loved another. As I noted, I was already a hard man; I became harder. I was a suspicious man; I became more suspicious. I perceived that the one point at which I was vulnerable, the one area in my dealings with others that could not be bound with a firm contract, was in the realm of the heart.
            The other love grew in prominence. Yes, I love gold. It gives me pleasure to count coins, to feel their weight in my palm. It gives me pleasure to study the numbers in my bankers-book. When I see how my assets have grown, I feel as if I have grown. I also feel secure from the brutal world. Love of money — it gives me pleasure, this love. Not for me the fleshy pleasures. I’ll leave those to you, Mr. Dickens. You are a greedy man too, in your way, and I predict (since you engage in predictions) that your lusts will bring pain to you and to others. Mark me well.
            I have used the word “prospered” in this letter, but that word is only relative to the poverty I have known. I am not a wealthy man. I do well, I am secure. If I were one of those unscrupulousness titans of business I might have accumulated a fortune. Those men are the truly greedy ones, yet they have your abiding respect. You have, at times in your life, far exceeded me in wealth. But whereas you squandered it, I tend it with care. I live modestly because it suits me to do so. My rooms, which you describe as “gloomy,” are not so to me. I take my “melancholy” meals at the same “melancholy” tavern each day because they give good, simple fare. (Was it your face that I saw peering in the window of the tavern one evening?) I am not a sauce man, and I carry no excess weight on my bones. I believe I’m as fit as anyone of my age in all of London. I keep my room cold because I prefer it that way. As for my lonely state, you write that Scrooge was “as solitary as an oyster.” That is one of the few statements that truly applies to me. I gradually adapted to the solitary life until, like an oyster, I became content in my shell. In all, I am satisfied with my way of life. It is you who want more — always more! — so, again, of the two of us who is the greedy one?
            I know that when I die I will not take my money with me. Did you suppose I imagined that I could? I do not give donations to men who come into my office uninvited. I suspect one of them told you of the reception they got. But if I gave all that I had, would it make one dent in the poverty rampant in this city? Look around you, man! Did I invent the Poorhouse, the Workhouse? I have chosen to limit what aid I can give to one institution. There is a orphanage that I have become familiar with, which I have visited on many occasions. They do well by their boys. They teach them a trade. To this institution I regularly contribute. And in my will it is they who will receive what “riches” I may have. As for beggars who stop me in the street — my habits are regular, and if I began handing out coins I would be daily hounded by them. So I turn them aside in such a way as to discourage any more persistence.
            Regarding my former partner, whom you call Jacob Marley, we had a most unusual association. For sixteen years we were partners who got along harmoniously. How often does this occur? You, sir, have kept up a running feud with your various publishers over money. But I can say that my partner in business was also my friend to the end.
            Which brings us to my clerk, to whom you assign the name Bob Cratchit. He is provided enough money to house and clothe and feed his family. A family with six children. Six! Why people who have to support a passel of children on a clerk’s wages keep having them is beyond my comprehension. Maybe you could inform me, for you have such a brood that I’ve lost count. But my Bob gets by. His salary provides enough money for him to have a splendid Christmas goose with all the fixings, along with presents for everyone. Further, the man is not mistreated. The problem with Bob is that he is both incompetent and lazy. I have to keep a sharp eye on him or the work would not get done, or it would not be done properly. If, as you depict it, his working conditions are so harsh, and my manner toward him so bullying, how can his boyish high spirits survive? And why would he not find employment elsewhere? In truth, no one would have him; Bob is another of my charity cases. The reason I keep such a ninny is because one of his children is crippled. It is due to compassion, sir, the very emotion you deny me. At any rate, Bob and I know each other well. He knows my bark is worse than my bite.
            In closing, I do use the word “humbug” when I encounter it, and your book eminently deserves a Humbug, with its clanking chains and lamentations, and then its revelatory change of heart with its “Hallo! Whoop! How are you! Merry Christmas!” You combine an assembly of creaky horror props with your trademark cloying sentimentality. This combination of bile and treacle is an exaggeration from start to finish. Only you could produce a book so slight and make it grossly overlong; I predict that, if it survives, three-fourths of it will be excised. Your flaw as an author is that no inner voice warns you to temper your outflow. To use a food analogy, your writing is as bloated as a duck destined to be made into foie gras (a dish which, I believe, you are partial to).
            And then there’s the book’s falsity. You, sir, are a hypocrite. You raise and wave the banner of compassion and charity and love while treating your Scrooge with the utmost cruelty. You even subject his corpse to horrors. And all this is done solely to bring him to his knees with fear. This book, at its sickly core, is a brutish attack. Readers may respond to its maudlin “message”; I have no faith in the perceptiveness of today’s readers. At any rate, no one besides the two of us will know that this attack is motivated by a personal grievance.
I remain, unbowed,
Ezra Scruggins 

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