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My great-great grandfather, Wilson Thompson Rogers, was born on December 29, 1843, less than two weeks after Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol sold out its first printing in London.
I love knowing what was going on in the world at large during landmark events in my ancestors’ lives, and so I particularly enjoyed the film The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens and Christopher Plummer as Scrooge.
The film’s epilogue states that Christmas as a season of goodwill, generosity, and charity was spawned in large part by Scrooge’s overnight transformation in the book.
I’d learned a lot about life in the first half of the nineteenth century while writing Fips, Bots, Doggeries, and More and Pride of the Valley, and with that trivial knowledge I was aware that in 1843, the time was right for Dickens’ message to have an enormous impact.
Prior to 1800, growth and innovation worldwide crept along at a glacial pace. It’s almost unbelievable that farm implements and farming methods were the same during George Washington’s day as they had been in Julius Caesar’s.
According to economist Deidre McCloskey, for most of recorded history prior to 1800, the average person earned three dollars a day—adjusted for inflation. In the 1600s and 1700s in Holland and England, a rise in economic liberty and social honor for those working as merchants, inventors, and in trades caused a burst of innovation which had heretofore been discouraged.
New inventions led to less labor-intensive farming and created a need for factory workers in manufacturing. This increase in productivity brought about an increase in the average wage.
But back to A Christmas Carol…Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchitt, earned fifteen shillings a week, which would be, in modern terms, the equivalent of about $89 US, or $1.48 an hour on a 60-hour work week.
It was a measly sum when you consider the book A Christmas Carol originally sold for five shillings—but that $1.48 an hour, which was perceived as a low wage doled out by the miserly Scrooge, was nearly five times the average wage just forty years prior.
Average people were getting wealthier—and quickly, when one consider that the daily wage remained static at three dollars a day throughout most of recorded history prior to 1800. In 1843, more regular people were not just surviving, but thriving, and therefore, could afford to be generous to those less fortunate.
God bless us, everyone.