Charles Dickens and the Best Book in the World

Charles Dickens about the time he wrote A Christmas Carol.

I have recently finished reading A Midnight Carol: A Novel of How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas by Patricia K. Davis.

It was a uplifting read but I wanted more insight into Charles Dickens creation of A Christmas Carol (see the link for an 1843 reproduction). So I turned to The Letters of Charles Dickens published by his sister-in-law and daughter in 1881.

Here is the excerpt relating to A Christmas Carol.

“Devonshire Terrace, London, January 2nd, 1844

My Very Dear Felton,

A facsimile illustration from the 1843 edition of A Christmas Carol.

You are a prophet, and had best retire from business straightway. Yesterday morning, New Year’s Day, when I walked into my little workroom after breakfast, and was looking out of window at the snow in the garden—not seeing it particularly well in consequence of some staggering suggestions of last night, whereby I was beset—the postman came to the door with a knock, for which I denounced him from my heart. Seeing your hand upon the cover of a letter which he brought, I immediately blessed him, presented him with a glass of whisky, inquired after his family (the are all well), and opened the despatch with a moist and oystery twinkle in my eye. And on the very day from which the new year dates, I read your New Year congratulations as punctually as if you lived in the next house. Why don’t you?

Now, if instantly on the receipt of this you will send a free and independent citizen down to the Cunard wharf at Boston, you will find that Captain Hewett, of the Britannia steamship (my ship), has a small parcel for Professor Felton of Cambridge; and in that parcel you will find a Christmas Carol in prose; being a short story of Christmas by Charles Dickens. Over which Christmas Carol Charles Dickens wept and laughed and wept again, and excited himself in a most extraordinary manner in the composition; and thinking whereof he walked about the black streets of London, fifteen and twenty miles many a night when all the sober folks had gone to bed…Its success is most prodigious. And by every post all manner of strangers write all manner of letters to him about their homes and hearths, and how this same Carol is read aloud there, and kept on a little shelf by itself. Indeed, it is the greatest success, as I am told, that this ruffian and rascal has ever achieved…”

I was interested to discover the book his family read every December. Dickens called it “the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.” You can probably guess what book it was—the New Testament.

Dickens wrote an easy read adaptation so even his youngest children could catch a glimpse of its spirit.

His version didn’t see the light of day until the 1934, 64 years after his death. He called it The Life of Our Lord.

In 1868 he remarked on the little work to his son, Edward, who was on his way to Australia. “I put a New Testament among your books for the very same reason and with the same hopes, that made me write an easy account of it for you when you were a little child. Because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.”

He later wrote a correspondent that “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour, because I feel it…but I have never made proclamation of this from the housetops.”

Re-inspired by Charles Dickens I am planning to read through The Harmony of the Gospels via the LDS Gospel Library app in January.  This table compares “the teachings of the Savior as found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and latter-day revelation…”.  One thing I love about the digital Harmony is it takes you to the verses rather then having to manually turn to them in a physical set of scriptures.  In the Gospel Library app version a sidebar opens with the scripture in it so you don’t lose your place in the Harmony!