Meanwhile, the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way.  The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremendous vibrations afterwards, as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.  The cold became intense.  In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered, warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture.  The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowings sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice.  The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed,.  Poulterers’ and grocers’ trades became a splendid joke: a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do.  The Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a lord Mayor’s household should; and even the little tailor, whom he had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk and blood-thirsty in the streets, stirred up to-morrow’s pudding in his garret, while his lean wife and the baby sallied out to buy the beef.

     Foggier yet, and colder!  Piercing, searching, biting cold.  If the good St. Nicholas had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose.  The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge’s keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol; but at the first sound of—

                         God bless you merry gentlemen!

                         May nothing you dismay!

Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.

      This passage does double duty for Dickens.  He is able to emphasize that it is a very cold day, and hint that Scrooge is colder still.  Screen versions generally use only the little caroler, to emphasize Scrooge’s dislike of Christmas and children (this latter being nowhere evident in the text.)  The Lord Mayor does show up a little later in Hicks.

     This caroler has the most to do in Magoo, Marsh, Caine, and Stewart.  Magoo is confronted by three children singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”  He bellows “Begone!  Begone, you miserable little beggars, before I give you something to sing about!”  Lashing out with one foot, he kicks their tin can into the air.  The two older children leave, but the smallest stands staring at him, utterly uncomprehending until the door is slammed.  Shedding a tear, he shuffles off.  Inside, Scrooge growls “Nothing to eat and they sing of Christmas!” his version of the “I’ll retire to Bedlam” speech.

     Leaving March’s office, Cratchit is enheartened by carolers who sing of Santa Claus.  Scrooge, still inside, is enraged by this and delivers a lecture in verse about Santa Claus’s stupidity and hypocrisy.  The chorus of this peroration is “Bah humbug! Bah humbug!”  His irritation with carolers will come back into his story later.

     In Caine, the caroler is a small rabbit who sings “Good King Wenceslaus”.  Scrooge is amazed by this outrageous audacity.  Seething, he charges to the door to demand “What do you want?”  Asked for a penny, he slams the door.  The bunny starts to leave but turns back in hope on hearing the door reopen.  Scrooge hurls Fred’s wreath at him, and slams the door again.

     In Stewart, carolers are moving along the street, delivering a passable “From Hev’n Above to Earth I Come” when a small member of the group cries, “I’m going to try Scrooge’s!”  His friends warn him, but he makes the attempt anyhow.  Bob Cratchit is pleasantly surprised by strains of “Good King Wenceslaus” but Scrooge is both amazed and appalled.  Taking up his ruler, he charges to his front steps, terrifying not just the boy but the entire chorus, shouting “Away wiv ye!”

     The caroler appears in passing in many other versions.  When Hicks hears a trio at his window, he reacts rather as if mice were trying to creep past the sash.  The singers see him reach for the ruler, and skedaddle before he reaches the door.

     Long before this point in the story, Sim I snarled his way through a group of carolers, actually shoving one girl into the street when she implies that she’d like a penny.

     The girl in the group drops a doll as Haddrick pushes through the carolers early in his version; he kicks the doll out of his way.

     Finney opens with a quartet of carolers; when he threatens them with his coal shovel, they sing pleasantries likening him to Father Christmas.  These boys, older than the general run of carolers seen in this role, will be back to torment Scrooge later in the picture.

     Early in his version, Matthau spots children building a snowman at his window.  When they call “Merry Christmas!”, he returns the wish by dashing outside, shaking his stick to disperse them.

     Scott merely pushes past carolers in the street, resenting the nuisance, and growling at them to clear the way.

     Curry uses a lot of the business about the cold, but his small boy beggar, oddly, just peers in at the window and the keyhole (the only caroler to make use of the keyhole) and never sings.  He is frightened terribly by the sight of the growling Debit; Scrooge finally flings the door wide and hurls a handful of coal at him.

     Sim I and Haddrick add some non-canonical business here, with similar intentions.  Haddrick’s episode is brief: a grocer (whose mustache keeps changing color) remarks to his customers that Christmas brings no joy at all to Mr. Scrooge, a man so tight-fisted that he can’t get his gloves off when he goes to bed.

     Sim I indulges in a bit of prop pride, as Tiny Tim studies a display of Victorian mechanical toys in action at a shop window.  Mrs. Cratchit, who is bare inches taller than Tiny Tim, comes out of another shop and collects him, heading homeward as she delivers a few telling remarks about the horrid old slave driver her husband works for.  She also mentions how Bob would be carrying Tim on his shoulder.

      FUSS FUSS FUSS #5: Hark!

      One of the mighty difficulties in mounting these productions is fitting Christmas carols into “A Christmas Carol”.  Most of the songs WE regard as holiday standards simply didn’t exist in 1843, or had not yet made their way to English-speaking countries.  Jingle Bells, for example, the great American scene-setting winter song, would not be written for another fifteen years.  The only hint Dickens provides is these two lines from “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen”.  (This existed well before the time of our story; a number of antiquaries insist, by the way, that the original text was “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”.  Dickens is no help at all his with “God Bless ye Merry gentlemen”, perhaps the only place in the text where he misses the chance to toss in a comma.)

     In England, the scene-setting song preferred to let an audience know it’s That Time of Year is “Good King Wenceslaus”, which was perhaps a thousand years old when Dickens wrote, and much used in screen versions of the story.  Less British but at least old enough, “The First Noel” is given frequent exposure here.  Vaguely contemporary though less likely to be found in the repertoire of street singers of the time would be “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!’, which were growing in popularity through the 1830s.

     Even in the criticism-inclined world of the Internet, however, most viewers are going to be a little vague on the proper dating of Christmas carols.  So as long as you steer clear of “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Snoopy’s Christmas”, you’re probably safe.

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