December 13, 2012

A Christmas Carol comes home


The title page of “A Christmas Carol”, with the inscription to Mrs. Smithson.

A signed copy of A Christmas Carol is due to take up residence in the place that inspired Dickens’s portrait of Scrooge’s counting house, the former office of Charles Smithson, solicitor, in Malton, North Yorkshire, after having been bought at auction in November.

Smithson and Dickens met each other in London, when Smithson was a young lawyer training for the Bar, and they became good friends — Dickens was godfather to Smithson’s first child and often came to visit him in Malton. A BBC story explains the Christmas Carol connection:

Dickens’s classic Christmas story was set in London but the author visited Smithson in Malton in 1843, just before he wrote the book. Smithson’s descendants say the author told him Scrooge’s retreat was based on the Malton office and that the church bells in the story were those of nearby St Leonard’s.

When Smithson died in 1844, just a few months after the initial publication of A Christmas Carol, Dickens sent a copy of the book to Smithson’s widow, and it’s this copy, inscribed “Mrs Smithson, from Charles Dickens, 18th April 1844,” that will be returning to Malton. What’s especially un-Scrooge-like about the story is that the entire town chipped in to raise the whopping £27,000 that the book eventually went for.

As Selina Scott, one of the leaders of the campaign to buy the book for Malton, tells it:

The rare edition was purchased not by a heritage committee or a millionaire collector, but by the people of Malton. Everyone chipped in to raise the cash to buy it—schoolchildren, butchers, bakers, local grandees—in just two weeks. They achieved this after being turned down by every publicly funded organisation they approached, including, incredibly, the Heritage Lottery fund for Yorkshire.

When the book arrived in Malton last week, members of the local Dickens Society “greeted it dressed in full Victorian regalia and celebrated with one of the author’s favourite beverages, a potent punch called Smoking Bishop.” Smoking Bishop is referred to A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge, post-ghosts, slaps Bob Cratchit on the back and says

A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!

And food blog SippitySup has your Smoking Bishop recipe right here:

Smoking Bishop (from Drinking with Dickens, by Cedric Dickens)

I like these “add a bottle of port” recipes …



Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.