This week in history - Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol published

19 December 2014

By Pan Macmillan

19 December 1843: Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol published 

Inspired by seeing the abject conditions of small children in a Cornish mining village and drawing on elements from his own impoverished childhood, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was first published on 19 December 1843. With this story of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come and repents of his penny-pinching ways, Dickens, in the words of his biographer Peter Ackroyd, ‘almost singlehandedly created the modern idea of Christmas’.

The book was written in six weeks and the first print run of 6,000 copies sold out in just five days. Produced in conjunction with the publisher Chapman and Hall, it appeared, at Dickens’ insistence, in such a lavish, if under-costed, edition with woodcut illustrations by John Leech that the author saw little in the way of profit from its immediate success.

If perhaps fittingly, given the tale’s underlying critique of avarice, Dickens did not make much money from A Christmas Carol , it did earn him the lasting admiration both the British public and his literary peers.

His contemporary, the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, reviewing the book for Fraser’s Magazine, was moved to write:

‘Who can listen to objections regarding such a book as this? It seems to me a national benefit, and to every man or woman who reads it a personal kindness. The last two people I heard speak of it were women; neither knew the other, or the author, and both said, by way of criticism, ‘God bless him!’ . . . As for Tiny Tim, there is a certain passage in the book regarding that young gentleman, about which a man should hardly venture to speak in print or in public, any more than he would of any other affections of his private heart. There is not a reader in England but that little creature will be a bond of union between the author and him; and he will say of Charles Dickens, as the woman just now, ‘GOD BLESS HIM!’ What a feeling is this for a writer to be able to inspire, and what a reward to reap!’

Between 1844 and 1848, Dickens was to publish four more special Christmas books:The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain. The form proved such a hit with festive book buyers that Thackeray also got in on the act, writing six Christmas tomes in total himself in as many years, with the first, Mrs. Perkins’s Ball, appearing in 1847 and under the pen-name Mr. M. A. Titmarsh.