Historical deconstruction, iconoclasm, or just plain contrarianism?
The Scotsman 19 December 2010
By Brian Ferguson
BAH humbug no more. The Scottish merchant who inspired one of the most famous Christmas characters of all time is finally to be recognised for his place in literary history.
Ebenezer Scroggie was a hugely successful Edinburgh merchant renowned as much for his generosity and jovial nature as his wild parties.
But a misreading of his gravestone by novelist Charles Dickens turned Scroggie into Scrooge, and a mean-spirited Christmas legend was born.
Now historians, tour guides and heritage chiefs want to raise awareness of how one of the most festive stories was triggered – and the intriguing character whose grave now lies unmarked just yards off the city’s Royal Mile.
Dickens was thought to have created the character of Ebenezer Scrooge after stumbling across the wealthy trader’s tombstone in the Canongate kirkyard while killing time on a lecture visit to the capital in 1842.
He was shocked by the apparently hard-hearted inscription, “Meanman”, later writing in a notebook: “To be remembered through eternity only for being mean seemed the greatest testament to a life wasted.”
What Dickens, who published A Christmas Carol the following year, had failed to realise was that the tombstone had actually read “Mealman” in recognition of Scroggie’s successful career as a corn trader.
Many historians and literary experts are unaware of the city’s claim to be the origin of the story, with the tombstone which inspired Dickens removed in the 1930s to make way for a redevelopment of the graveyard, best known as being the final resting place of economist Adam Smith.
Now a memorial may be erected, along with interpretation panels charting Scroggie’s fascinating life story. Scroggie, who died in 1836, may also feature in material promoting Edinburgh as a Unesco World City of Literature.
Edinburgh World Heritage, the Cockburn Association, the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust and tour guides all want to see more done to raise awareness of Scroggie’s claim to fame. Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, said: “These kind of stories are part of the cultural heritage of the city and of course it should have greater recognition, particularly at the graveyard.
“Characters like this should not be hidden away or forgotten about.”