A CHRISTMAS CAROL FOR 1862.
BY GEORGE MAC DONALD.
From Cornhill Magazine for January.
Title:A Christmas Carol for 1862
Publication:The Bolton Chronicle
Date:27th December 1862
In this carol George MacDonald describes the harsh effects of the Lancashire Cotton Famine on innocent people who appear powerless to improve their poverty-stricken lives. Men having been denied the ability to work are left emasculated while the low temperature of the environment appears to mirror the low spirits of the people in a form of pathetic fallacy. The cold weather compounds the suffering of the people with their hunger hastening the aging process of men. Against these desperate conditions the speaker pleads for the intervention of religion, calling for the birth of Christ in a repeated refrain to fulfil his role as the savior of humankind by providing these people with the ability to work and earn money.
Formally the carol has a regular ABAB rhyme scheme and is comprised of five octet stanzas with the lines in each stanza alternating between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. The only time the meter changes is in the seventh line of the first stanza when the speaker questions whether humankind is ‘lost’ with the shift in meter reflecting this sense of loss. McDonald makes reference to the destructive consequences of the American Civil War both in America, with the country’s men fighting, and internationally with the American supply of raw cotton to Europe cut off devastating the Lancashire community as a result. The fact that ‘the strife is long’ is important with the cotton that had already been supplied to Lancashire used up, and for prolonging the suffering of the Lancashire people with ostensibly ‘good’ men resorting to telling lies for their own benefit. The speaker highlights in the final stanza how even those who are not directly implicated by the famine can acknowledge that it is ‘not right’ with even the Earth personified as crying.
- Olivia Galyer, University of Exeter.
N.B. In some collections of MacDonald's work, this poem is subtitled 'The Year of the Trouble in Lancashire'.