Holidays and Holy Days
Grub "was an altered man." Yet "he could not bear the thought of returning to a place where his repentance would be scoffed at, and his reformation disbelieved." So Gabriel Grub disappeared from his village for ten years. When he finally returned, he was "a ragged, contented, rheumatic old man." The moral of the story, according to the narrator, was "that if a man turn sulky and drink by himself at Christmas time, he may make up his mind to be not a bit the better for it: let the spirits be never so good."
Reading the story of Gabriel Grub is like looking at the charcoal sketches of an artist getting ready to paint a masterpiece. The parallels between "The Story of the Goblins" and A Christmas Carol are obvious: a solitary, nasty old man not only refuses to celebrate Christmas, but also spurns the greetings of those who do, and even tries to hurt a boy who sings a Christmas carol. On Christmas Eve this man receives unexpected supernatural visitors who proceed to show him many scenes of life, including a moving scene of a poor, loving family whose youngest child is terribly ill. In the end the man is changed by this experience.
Of course there are also many differences between "The Story of the Goblins" and A Christmas Carol. Yet one of the most striking differences is the conclusion. Whereas Gabriel Grub slunk away out of fear that the townspeople would laugh at him, Ebenezer Scrooge resolved to live a changed life. After the Ghost of Christmas Future revealed to Scrooge his own sorry death, Scrooge exclaimed: "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach." And so he did.
Yet in light of the tale of Gabriel Grub, who ran away from town for fear of people's laughing scorn, let's read once again the conclusion to A Christmas Carol. Scrooge had just promised to Bob Cratchit that he would raise his salary and help his struggling family. After this Dickens writes:
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
Both in "The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton" and in A Christmas Carol Dickens recognizes that people will laugh when a person is transformed from bad to good. Yet whereas this fear kept Gabriel Grub in bondage, Scrooge was able to transcend it. "His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him." Just as Gabriel Grub recognized that people must have happiness in their hearts, and that this helps them overcome life's difficulties, so it was with Ebenezer Scrooge.
But the difference between Grub and Scrooge suggests a tantalizing question: Why did Ebenezer Scrooge change? And why did he change so thoroughly that he didn't even mind if people were to laugh at him?