Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • If man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? ” is a quotation from A Christmas Carol (Stave 3).

Context.

Quote said by The Ghost of Christmas Present to Ebenezer Scrooge. The Ghost of Christmas Present is the second of the three spirits that haunt the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, in order to prompt him to repent his selfish ways.

The Ghost takes Scrooge to see the family of his clerk, Bob Cratchit, He witnesses a table prepared for the Christmas meal. Bob comes home from church with their youngest child, Tiny Tim, who is disabled and walks with a crutch. Scrooge asks the Ghost if Tim will live. The Ghost replies that he see’s an empty chair, and if his situation is left unaltered, Tim will die. Scrooge is saddened by this.

The Ghost then uses words back at Scrooge, which he used to dismiss two benefactors at the beginning of the story (see If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.


Illustration from Stave 3 of the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing the
Ghost of Christmas Present visiting Ebenezer Scrooge.

Character Profile: Ghost of Christmas Present.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is the second of the three spirits that haunt the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, in order to prompt him to repent. He appears to Scrooge as a jolly giant with dark brown curls, wearing a fur-lined green robe and on his head a holly wreath set with shining icicles. He carries a large torch, made to resemble a cornucopia, and appears accompanied by a great feast, and a scabbard with no sword in it, a representation of peace on Earth and good will toward men. The spirit transports Scrooge around the city, showing him scenes of festivity and also deprivation that are happening as they watch, sprinkling a little warmth from his torch as he travels. Amongst the visits are Scrooge’s nephew, and the family of his impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit and hs disabled son Tiny Tim.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Stave 3 (The Second Of The Three Spirits) of A Christmas Carol:

At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovel-full of chestnuts on the fire. Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, meaning half a one; and at Bob Cratchit’s elbow stood the family display of glass. Two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and cracked noisily. Then Bob proposed:

“A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

Which all the family re-echoed.

“God bless us every one!” said Tiny Tim, the last of all.

He sat very close to his father’s side upon his little stool. Bob held his withered little hand in his, as if he loved the child, and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him.

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”

“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”

“No, no,” said Scrooge. “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared.”

“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Scrooge bent before the Ghost’s rebuke, and trembling cast his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them speedily, on hearing his own name.

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If man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die?
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