"DECREASE THE SURPLUS POPULATION"
Ebenezer Scrooge at Christmas 1998

December 1998By Lawrence D. Hogan

Lawrence D. Hogan is Professor of History at Union County College in Cranford, New Jersey.

It could always be said of Ebenezer Scrooge that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man possessed the knowledge.”

Listen to a Christmas voice whose conversion from humbug-hurler to man of social conscience taught us presumably once and for all about the true meaning of the Christmas spirit.

Recall the scene in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol where those engaged in caring for the unwanted in Ebenezer Scrooge’s London are rebuffed by the miserable tightwad: “Let those poor go to the prisons and the Union workhouses,” is Scrooge’s reply to the plea for Christmas charity. “And if they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

That Scrooge, wrote G.K. Chesterton in 1929, “utters all the sophistries by which the age of machinery has tried to turn the virtue of charity into a vice.” And presciently pointing to where we are today, Chesterton went on to say that hardhearted Ebenezer belonged “not only to the hard times of the beginning of the nineteenth century, but to the harder times of the beginning of the twentieth century, and the yet harder times in which we live. Many amiable sociologists will say as he said, ‘Let them die and decrease the population.’ The improved proposal is that they should die before they are born.”


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