Charles Dickens’s manuscript for A Christmas Carol lies open in a great hall of books, the Morgan Library in New York City. There it is by the great fireplace in a plexiglas box. Children await a story time, based on the popular novel. Visitors file through the room, examining the Gutenberg Bible, the various musical scores (all with too many notes for my fingers), and other rare books and manuscripts.
I felt the hair on my arms stand on end as I looked at a page of the very first book published in moveable type in the western world. I was breathless standing before scores by Beethoven, Brahms and Stravinsky. A lover of books, creativity and the written word, I felt as if I had walked into a temple. The whole room is a wonder.
But it was the Dickens manuscript that brought me here (and to which I brought six of my family members.) I studied the page at which the book was left open. Dickens’s curly handwriting was there, along with all kinds of editing marks, crossed out words, deletions and additions. Time has not yet dimmed the page, still bright white with black ink. I couldn’t read the tiny script very well although I saw Scrooge’s name quite well. The manuscript was turned to the page where Marley departs after telling Scrooge three ghosts will visit him.
I love to see pages like this and think about the writer who created them. Imagine him dipping his pen into the black ink… (Or did he have a fountain pen by then? I discovered when I wondered about this that a Baltimore shoemaker, Peregrin Williamson received the first American patent for such a pen in 1809.)
If he’s like me he might have whispered the sentences as he wrote. Maybe he silently scribbled, read and edited as he went. Or he stopped and looked back over the page, reading, re-reading, re-writing.
I hear the voice of Scrooge rising from those pages, the call of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the sounds of Christmas carols. All from a scribbled page written 173 years ago.