Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Story of the Real Ebenezer Scrooge

Really just too wonderful not to pass along [via Brainiac]:
The story goes that Charles Dickens was visiting Edinburgh to give a public reading of his work in 1842, and spent some time looking around the Canongate church graveyard. He saw one grave that made him shudder. The name on the grave was Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie--mean man." According to Peter Clark, a British political economist who seems the starting point for this story, Dickens misread the inscription. It actually said "Meal man," because Scroggie was a corn merchant.

But Dickens was shocked by the inscription, and apparently noted it in  his diary. A geneology website reported Dickens's comment this way in 2010: "[T]o be remembered through eternity only for being mean seemed the greatest testament to a life wasted." In a 1996 telling, Clark reported the comment from Dickens diary in this way: "How bleak to have one's shrivelled soul advertised forever. It made me shudder. It made me feel for the flesh corrupting beneath me." Shortly afterwards, Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol," with a main character named Ebenezer Scrooge, and the plot revolving around what it would be like to be forever stamped as a "mean man," when there was still time to change your ways.

Apparently Ebenezer Scroggie was about as far from his fictional namesake as one can get. A "History of Leith, Edinburgh" website reported in 2010: "In life, Scroggie was apparently a rambunctious, generous and licentious man who gave wild parties, impregnated the odd serving wench and once wonderfully interrupted the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland by grabbing the buttocks of a hapless countess." However, for those seeking to link Ebenezer Scrooge more tightly to the heartlessness of economics, it may be comforting to know that Scroggie was apparently a cousin of Adam Smith. A 2004 article in the Scotsman newspaper reports: "Scroggie was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife; his mother was the niece of Adam Smith, the 18th century political economist and philosopher." There is now some talk in Edinburgh of erecting a monument to Scroggie, although his actual gravesite was apparently removed for redevelopment of the port back in the early 1930s.
Merry Christmas.

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