Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • A Christmas Carol is a novella, or short story, written by Charles Dickens and first published in the Christmas of 1843. The allegorical tale tells the story of the transformation of the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge through the visits of the spirit of his former business partner and three ghosts over the course of a Christmas Eve night. It remains a much-loved traditional Christmas tale.

Context.

This quote is said by some businessmen talking about the death of Ebenezer Scrooge in a scene is set in the future shown to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in Stave 4 of A Christmas Carol.

In the vision, a group of businessmen have been discussing Scrooge’s death, the night before. None of them appear to be sympathetic to his loss and are making jokes about his passing. As the group start to disperse Scrooge focuses in on a conversation between just two of them, described as ‘very wealthy, and of great importance‘. At the time Scrooge, who recognises the men and respects them as fellow businessmen, doesn’t understand who they are talking about.

The first man greets the other by saying that ‘Old Scratch has got his own at last, hey?‘. Old Scratch is an old term for the devil. The businessmen clearly have little respect for Scrooge by alluding to the devil having taken one of his own.

Soon after this event, Scrooge is transported to the graveyard of a Church by the Ghost, who points at a tombstone. Scrooge see’s that it is his own grave and realises that the men have been talking about his own death.


Illustration from Stave 4 of the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge tormented by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Literary Technique.

This is an example of the literary devices Charles Dickens uses in his works, here using the technique of an allusion. An allusion is used by an author to help to associate a character, scene or object in a story to another character, scene or object from another literary work. Dickens uses religous undertone throughout A Christmas Carol and in this example he has used allusion to refer to the Devil. Old Scratch (also knwon as Mr. Scratch) is a nickname or pseudonym for the Devil. The name likely comes from Middle English scrat, the name of a demon or goblin, derived from Old Norse skratte. Dickens was not the only notable author during the nineteenth century to use an Old Scratch allusion. American writer Mark Twain’s 1876 novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, set in the 1840s, refers to Ol’ Scratch. As well as allusions to the bible, in A Christmas Carol Dickens also makes reference to the works of Shakespeare and tales from Greek mythology.

Ebenezer Scrooge.

The group of businessmen appear in Stave 4 of A Christmas Carol in a scene set in the future shown to Ebenezer Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The men knew Scrooge during his lifetime, and knowing his mean ways they joke about the lack of people likely to be at his funeral. At the time Scrooge, who recognises the men, doesn’t understand who they are talking about. Dickens portrays the businessmen as cold-hearted and mean as Scrooge, and also with unkindly features. One is described as a great fat man with a monstrous chin whilst another as a red-faced gentleman with a pendulous excrescence on the end of his nose, that shook like the gills of a turkey-cock.

The Businessmen.

Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most famous characters created by Charles Dickens and arguably one of the most famous in English literature. The protagonist of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is the cold-hearted and mean-spirited accountant. His business partner, the equally mean Jacob Marley, died seven years previous and he lives alone, having never married. Through a visit one Christmas Eve by the ghost of Marley and three subsequent spirits, Scrooge is awakened to his meaness and the impact it has on others.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Stave 4 (The Last Of The Three Spirits) of A Christmas Carol:

The Spirit stopped beside one little knot of business men. Observing that the hand was pointed to them, Scrooge advanced to listen to their talk.

“No,” said a great fat man with a monstrous chin, “I don’t know much about it, either way. I only know he’s dead.”

“When did he die?” inquired another.

“Last night, I believe.”

“Why, what was the matter with him?” asked a third, taking a vast quantity of snuff out of a very large snuff-box. “I thought he’d never die.”

“God knows,” said the first, with a yawn.

“What has he done with his money?” asked a red-faced gentleman with a pendulous excrescence on the end of his nose, that shook like the gills of a turkey-cock.

“I haven’t heard,” said the man with the large chin, yawning again. “Left it to his company, perhaps. He hasn’t left it to me. That’s all I know.”

This pleasantry was received with a general laugh.

It’s likely to be a very cheap funeral,” said the same speaker; “for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go to it. Suppose we make up a party and volunteer?”

I don’t mind going if a lunch is provided,” observed the gentleman with the excrescence on his nose. “But I must be fed, if I make one.”

Another laugh.

“Well, I am the most disinterested among you, after all,” said the first speaker, “for I never wear black gloves, and I never eat lunch. But I’ll offer to go, if anybody else will. When I come to think of it, I’m not at all sure that I wasn’t his most particular friend; for we used to stop and speak whenever we met. Bye, bye!”

Speakers and listeners strolled away, and mixed with other groups. Scrooge knew the men, and looked towards the Spirit for an explanation.

The Phantom glided on into a street. Its finger pointed to two persons meeting. Scrooge listened again, thinking that the explanation might lie here.

He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men of business: very wealthy, and of great importance. He had made a point always of standing well in their esteem: in a business point of view, that is; strictly in a business point of view.

“How are you?” said one.

“How are you?” returned the other.

“Well!” said the first. “Old Scratch has got his own at last, hey?”

“So I am told,” returned the second. “Cold, isn’t it?”

“Seasonable for Christmas time. You’re not a skater, I suppose?”

“No. No. Something else to think of. Good morning!”

Not another word. That was their meeting, their conversation, and their parting.

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Old Scratch has got his own at last.
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