Tag Archives: Alistair Sim

Marley’s Tragic Wisdom

At our house, we read A Christmas Carol every year as we approach Christmas Day.  We also read Dickens’ short story A Christmas Tree and “A Good-Humored Christmas” from The Pickwick Papers, ending with “Gabriel Grub”, a story within a story, on Christmas Eve.  It’s a full-on Dickens fest at our house in December.


We also watch the 1951 Alistair Sim Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. It’s one of my very favorite films.

We began this when the kids were kids and it became an integral part of our Christmas celebration. Now that the kids have jobs, it has become difficult for us all to gather for our readings.  But I “wouldn’t neglect to keep it up on any account.”

Jacob Marley’s newfound wisdom, tragically acquired after his life was over, was clearly not only that we ought to be kind to our fellow human beings, but that we must make good use of the time we are given. That clearly, the “Founder” of the celebration would have us use our powers in the service of our fellows’ needs. That our lives are wasted, useless, if we spend our efforts on ourselves.

That we might do well to look at our lives from the end toward the beginning.  Imagining hindsight from the end of my life might be very instructive.

Jacob,” he said, imploringly.  “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more.  Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”

“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied.  “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men.  Nor can I tell you what I would.  A very little more, is all permitted to me.  I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere.  My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house — mark me! — in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!”


“Oh!  captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed.  Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulnessNot to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!  Yet such was I!  Oh!  such was I!”


At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said “I suffer most.  Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!  Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”


The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.  Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free.  Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives.  He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step.  The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

Nobody writes like Dickens.  Merry Christmas!