Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value” is a quotation from A Christmas Carol (Stave 2).
  • 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.

Quotation said by the character Ebenezer Scrooge who is talking to the Ghost of Christmas Past. Scrooge is lamenting his own childhood after witnessing a vision of Belle joyfully playing with her children.

In his youth, Scrooge was engaged to Belle, who broke off the relationship as Ebenezer became a meaner individual. In Stave 2 of A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past has transported Scrooge to relive this scene. Scrooge pleads to the ghost to show me no more! but the spirit pinioned him in both his arms and forces Scrooge to watch more scenes of Belle. In this passage Belle is now grown-up, married with children. She is joyfully playing with her daughter and sons, who are boisterously running around.

Scrooge watches the carefree way the children play with each other. He thinks back to his own childhood which was an unhappy one. Far from being a playful, happy child, Scrooge was treated harshly by his father. As a result he became a lonely individual, shutting out any joy for others. In this quote Scrooge wishes he could have the carelessness – or licence – of childhood, but with the wisdom that he now has as an adult to appreciate how important it is in life.

Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing a joyous Mr and Mrs Fezziwig dancing away at their Christmas party. The scene is one of a number from the past that
Ebenezer Scrooge is transported to by the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing a joyous Mr and Mrs Fezziwig dancing away at their Christmas party. The scene is one of a number from the past that Ebenezer Scrooge is transported to by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Ebenezer Scrooge.

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.

Belle.

Belle is a minor character in the novella A Christmas Carol, only appearing in the visions that are showed to Ebenezer Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Stave 2). Scrooge was engaged to be married to Belle in his youth, but when his pursuit of money consumed him, Belle ended the relationship. Without Scrooge, Belle goes on to become a happily married woman with a number of children. In Stave 2 we witness the scene of Belle breaking up with Scrooge, and also of Belle as a married woman in a cozy house with children happily playing.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Stave 2 (The First Of The Three Spirits) of A Christmas Carol:

They were in another scene and place; a room, not very large or handsome, but full of comfort. Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to be one of them! Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. As to measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.

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I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.
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