On a Miserable Miser

John Elwes was said to have been so cheap and miserly that he lamented the birds who took hay and straw from his animal stalls to build their nest, that there was nothing he could do to stop them. Another story about Elwes is from a relative who stayed in his large house for a time being awakened one night in bed by rain hitting him in the face from a hole in the ceiling that Elwes refused to spend money to fix. When asked about the hole the next morning, the host remarked that he often slept in that room and actually found the rain in the face quite refreshing.

Man, that’s cheap.

And it wasn’t that he was hurting financially.

In fact, Elwes had been the recipient of not one but rather two large inheritances. He also had lived a fairly interesting life. Part of his education had come from Geneva, Switzerland, where he had become one of Europe’s premier horsemen. It was also during his educational years that Elwes had been introduced to the famous philosopher, Voltaire.

But miserliness ran in the family, apparently. One of his inheritances came from an uncle who gave Elwes a run for his money when it came to being a skinflint. And the approximately £8,000,000 he received from his parents was handed down to him, in part, because his mother’s health suffered severely and she passed away when she refused to spend money on enough food to eat.

Elwes did manage to get elected to Parliament for twelve years, but he retired when he realized that it was costing him money to travel to London so much on parliamentary business. In later years, his reputation for being cheap was cemented by tales spun by his renters in his large real estate holdings who testified that he often forbade fires in his houses in the winters for fear that damage would be done to the rentals. Living on less than most people people spent in a year, upon his death at age 75, his estate was worth almost £75,000,000 in today’s money (approximately just over $90,000,000 in US funds).

At his poorly attended funeral, it was generally agreed that he did no one real harm other than himself for living so cheaply.

The stories of John Elwes were told for several generations. They heavily influenced a writer a couple of generations later. This writer was looking for inspiration for a character who was to be the epitome of miserliness, someone whose name would become synonymous with unbridled thrift. And so, Charles Dickens is said to have chosen John Elwes as his inspiration for his story, A Christmas Carol. Unlike Elwes, however, Dickens’s character learned to be not so stingy in the end.

You know that character as Ebenezer Scrooge.

On The Horrible Houseguest

Surely, most of us know who Hans Christian Andersen is.


The Danish author of beloved children tales such as The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling, Anderson was a young writer breaking into success when he visited London in 1847.



There, he met the famous British author, Charles Dickens. At the time the two men met, Dickens was already a celebrated author, known for his stories such as Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickelby, and A Christmas Carol.

Dickens thought the angular young Dane to be eccentric but interesting.
After their brief meeting, Anderson wrote in his diary, “I was so happy to see and speak to England’s now greatest living writer, whom I love the most.”
When Anderson returned to his native Denmark at the end of his trip, he wrote a letter to his new acquaintance.
“Dear Mr. Dickens,” the letter began, “the next time I am in London, I would wish to come spend some time with you if you would agree.“
Dickens wrote a short note back, acknowledging receipt of the letter and said that yes, sometime in the future, a visit from the young author would be welcome. It seems that Dickens answered more out of a formality and courtesy rather than truly extending an invitation.
Much to Dickens’ surprise, Anderson showed up at his house… in 1857.
He brought with him enough luggage to stay for an extended visit.
Unfortunately, Anderson’s arrival could not have come at a worse time for Dickens. He was in the middle of working on a play in London, and his marriage was going through a difficult phase.
Nevertheless, Dickens and his family did the best they could to make the odd, thin Dane feel welcome in their home.
Immediately that were problems. It turned out that Anderson did not have a good grasp of English.
Dickens noted that his French was even worse. But the language difficulty was the least of the issues.
Anderson had a habit of sleeping until almost noon every day. When he finally woke up and came downstairs, he seemed flummoxed that breakfast, which had been cleared away hours before, was not made available to him.
He would take long walks in the woods and fields surrounding the Dickens house.
When he was with the family, he would get a pair of scissors and made elaborate and oddly strange cut outs from any paper he could find. These amused Dickens’s children at first, but soon they grew tired of the game.
The most bizarre part of Anderson’s stay was when he requested that Dickens’s oldest son, for whom Anderson had grown inordinately fond, be made to shave him every morning.
This was something that Dickens would absolutely not allow.
Anderson was visibly upset that he was now forced to go into town to be shaved by a barber.
Soon, Anderson would spend most of his time in town, shopping or walking the streets.
The entire household was soon in an uproar. Every one in the family and even the servants devised elaborate plans to avoid having to interact with Anderson.
How do you tell an unwelcome houseguest that he has overstayed his welcome?
Dickens found a way, and, after five long weeks, Anderson left the Dickens household.
When he had finally cleared out, Dickens pinned a note to the door of the bedroom that Henderson had used. The note said, “ Hans Christian Andersen slept in this room for five weeks, but, to the household, it seemed like an eternity.“
After he returned home, Anderson wrote Dickens again, this time apologizing for his behavior and asking the forgiveness of the older author.

Even though he never completely understood why he’d been asked to leave, Anderson must’ve realized the tumult he brought to the household, and he tried to repair the damage done to the relationship.
Dickens didn’t reply.
The two legendary authors never saw or spoke to each other again.