Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Rowing

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your door and Charles Dickens’ tome of A Christmas Carol are images long associated with Christmas. Did you know that the singer Mel Torme imagined those warm chestnuts and the brisk, cold snow while stuck in LA traffic during a heat wave before most cars had air conditioning? Torme created holiday lyrics as a way to cool down in a hot situation. Victorian author Charles Dickens created masterful tomes filled with colorful characterization and vivid description eventful  in Great Expectations and Hard Times situation. Where would Christmas be without the lessons learned from humbug Scrooge’s Christmas Eve dream and the hopeful spirit of Tiny Tim?

Bet you didn’t know that Dickens began to write when he was very young observing Victorian life in merry old London. Dickens drew on his early perceptions to create enduring classics like A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens’ early essays and tales were first published one by one and later republished as a collection in Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Everyday Life and Everyday People with few changes.

Here’s what Charles Dickens thought of rowing on the River Thames:

“A rowing-match on the Thames, is a very lively and interesting scene. The water is studded with boats of all sorts, kinds, and descriptions; places in the coal-barges at the different wharfs are let to crowds of spectators, beer and tobacco flow freely about; men, women, and children wait for the start in breathless expectation; cutters of six and eight oars glide gently up and down, waiting to accompany their protégés during the race; bands of music add to the animation, if not to the harmony of the scene; groups of watermen are assembled at the different stairs, discussing the merits of the respective candidates; and the prize wherry, which is rowed slowly about by a pair of sculls, is an object of general interest.

Two o’clock strikes, and everybody looks anxiously in the direction of the bridge through which the candidates for the prize will come – half-past two, and the general attention which has been preserved so long begins to flag, when suddenly a gun is heard, and a noise of distant hurra’ing along each bank of the river – every head is bent forward – the noise draws nearer and nearer – the boats which have been waiting at the bridge start briskly up the river, and a well-manned galley shoots through the arch, the sitters cheering on the boats behind them, which are not yet visible.

‘Here they are,’ is the general cry – and through darts the first boat, the men in her, stripped to the skin, and exerting every muscle to preserve the advantage they have gained – four other boats follow close astern; there are not two boats’ length between them – the shouting is tremendous, and the interest intense. ‘Go on, Pink’ – ‘Give it her, Red’ – ‘Sulliwin for ever’ – ‘Bravo! George’ – ‘Now, Tom, now – now – now – why don’t your partner stretch out?’ – ‘Two pots to a pint on Yellow,’ &c., &c. Every little public-house fires its gun, and hoists its flag; and the men who win the heat, come in, amidst a splashing and shouting, and banging and confusion, which no one can imagine who has not witnessed it, and of which any description would convey a very faint idea.”

Two pots to a pint indeed. Keep Christmas well and have a very, merry holiday!


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