Monday, 29 October 2012

Is Ebenezer Scrooge A Methodist?

Evidence, here and there, that 'Ebenezer' was taken by people in the first half of the nineteenth-century as an archetypal Methodist name. Here, for instance, is Robert Southey’s article ‘On The Evangelical Sects’, Quarterly Review 4 (1810), 480-515—a review of Hints to the Public and the Legislature, on the Nature and Effect of Evangelical Preaching (4 vols, 1808-10) by ‘A Barrister’—which begins:
It is now about fourscore years since a handful of young men at Oxford obtained the appellation of Methodists, the least opprobrious name that ever was affixed by scorn, and likely to become one of the most memorable. A single room in Lincoln College was then sufficient to contain the whole community: they have now their Tabernacles and their Ebenezers in every town of England and Wales: their annual increase is counted by thousands; and they form a distinct people in the empire, having their peculiar laws and manners, a hierarchy, a costume, and even a physiognomy of their own.
I'm guessing that 'physiognomy' is Scroogeish. Scroogesque. Scroogeus-Pip.


Archie_V said...

Aha! I'd always assumed - largely because of the "United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association" in Pickwick - that Ebenezer was just a name that Dickens happened to associate with killjoys. It had never occurred to me that there might have been any winks or implications in his choices of names that contemporary readers would pick up on but that have since been lost, other than his apparent penchant for slapping Old Testament-thumping forenames onto some of his least sympathetic characters: we sense he'd have been unlikely to have considered, say, Ezekiel as an appropriate forename for, say, Mr Micawber.

He was often so unsubtle with much of his naming - Dotheboys Hall was never going to turn out to be a caring, sharing institution, was it? - that the idea that some names might have carried less obvious markers of character that would be picked up on by his original readers is an interesting one that's worth exploring further.

Archie_V said...

A postscript to that. Here's a Methodist preacher explaining what "Ebenezers" are. They're symbols of God's assistance, apparently, so in the "Tabernacles and Ebernezers" you quote, it would seem to be referring to objects rather than people.

Incidentally, when looking into the question of Scrooge's possible Methodism (it's been a slow morning), I found this - from Bentley's Miscellany, vol. 9, which was published two years before ACC. (That volume included contributions from Dickens, although this particular piece is credited to The Man About Town.)

[H]e had that lank, greasy, uncontortible fire-proof hair, against which no curling-iron can prevail, and which is generally supposed to be monopolized by Methodist parsons.

Doing a quick search of ACC, I haven't been able to find any description of Scrooge's hairstyle, unfortunately; otherwise it'd be case closed if it matched.

Adam Roberts Project said...

That is genuinely fascinating, Archie -- and useful, too, for something I'm working on. I'm happy that you had a slow morning.

Archie_V said...

It dawned on me during my smootings that although lots of researchers have explored the origins and meanings of the surnames that Dickens used, few if any have paid attention to the forenames.

At first sight at least, he seems to have liked naming his goody characters with what are still seen as typically English first names: Nicholas, Oliver, David, obviously, but also James (Steerforth), Daniel (Peggotty), John (Jarndyce), and the many - invariably reliable salts of the earth - single-syllable short-form ones: the Pips, Sams, Joes, Bobs and Tims.* But as soon as he dusts off his Old Testament, we go "Uh-oh."

I'm now wondering whether in the mid-nineteenth century those Old Testament names could indeed have been, as you suspect, associated with then-burgeoning neo-Puritan, nonconformist (not just Methodist) attitudes that Dickens must have despised, from utter joylessness (Ebenezer Scrooge), via avarice (Joshua Smallweed) and greed (Jacob Marley), to self-importance and hypocrisy (Josiah Bounderby) and oleaginous, oh-so-werry-'umble duplicity (Uriah Heep).

I couldn't remember the cold, scheming Tulkinghorn's first name in Bleak House, so I looked it up: Josiah. Result!

(*Whaddya mean, "Bill Sikes"? Exception that proves the rule, innit.)

Adam Roberts Project said...

It tangles nicely with Dickens's autobiographimania as far as names are concerned: I mean his love for 'Dick' (or 'ick' more generally) and 'Charles' as names -- Pickwick, Nicholas Nickleby, Dick Swiveller on the one hand, and Charles Darnay (CD!) from Tale of Two Cities on the other hand. There's also the case when names are actually lifted from life; Fagin, say, was a boy Dickens met in the Blacking Factory.

There may also be a 'old-fashioned' element. Old Testament names were more popular in the eighteenth- than the nineteenth-century (Isaac Newton, Isaac Walton and so on); New Testament names were more popular with the Victorians. It could be a Malvolio-wearing-yellow-garters thing going on.

Adam Roberts Project said...

And that 'Methodist Preacher' link you posted above is a doozy ...