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Walter Prichard Eaton’s “The Man Who Found Christmas”

BLOG #49, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #59
WALTER PRICHARD EATON’S
THE MAN WHO FOUND CHRISTMAS
December 7, 2016

It is time for our seventh Christmas book selection, building on the shoulders of Abbie Farwell Brown’s The Christmas Angel, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Lloyd C. Douglas’s Home for Christmas, Henry Van Dyke’s The Other Wise Man, Kate Douglas Wiggin’s The Birds’ Christmas Carol, and Pearl Buck’s Christmas Day in the Morning. All year long, as soon as a new year begins, I start thinking about the next Christmas book selection. It’s not as easy as one might think for powerful Christmas books are in short supply.

And so it was this year. But finally, a Christmas book I first read some ten years ago kept popping up in my mind, meekly suggesting, Don’t you think that this year would be a good time to resurrect me from the ash heaps of the past? No one remembers me any more. And it’s true: no one remembers Walter Prichard Eaton any more.

So I re-read the book for the third time, and then concluded that 2016 was the right time to resurrect The Man Who Found Christmas.

man-who-found-scan                                    Frontispiece by Walter King Stone

It is a timely book, for, just as is true today, the Roaring 1920s were characterized by profound post-World War One disillusion and loss of faith in God. The prevailing sentiment being, Where was God when so many millions were mercilessly and needlessly butchered in the bloodstained trenches of France? Veterans returned home to joblessness and no support system to ease their re-entry into civilian life. The prevailing mood was secularism and hedonism.

With this preamble, let’s turn to Eaton’s opening words:

A new generation has come into the world since what is here took place. There has been a mighty war, when ‘peace on earth’ seemed very far away. The automobile has conspired mightily to change our ways of life, possibly our ways of thinking and even feeling. . . . We today, and especially our young people, are supposed to be more sceptical [skeptical] of sentiment than we were of old; so therefore we are presumably more sceptical of Christmas, which is the feast and holiday of sentiment. But unless this story grievously errs—and how can that be, since it took place as set forth just about twenty years ago [the book was published in 1927]—young people have been sceptical of sentiment before, and if Christmas could prove them wrong then, perhaps it can again.

Eaton’s protagonist is a young New York newspaper reporter turned author. Like his closest companions, he is cynical about life, Christian values, and especially Christmas, which he unabashedly loathes. Glad he was to be a charter member of the To-Hell-with-the-Merry-Yule-Tide Association.

But something happens one evening, when searching for a long-buried manuscript, he stumbles upon a bundle of old souvenirs, dusty and forgotten. All else is forgotten as he rummages around in his past—things as disparate as programs, a class prophecy, a dance card, a photograph of the old house among apple trees where he’d grown up, a photograph of a girl he’d loved when he was seventeen, a book of quotations he’d hand-copied, childish compositions, a letter he’d written home—and finally a big Christmas card. The colorful card depicted a small boy in a long nightgown standing before a big fireplace with his hands stretched to the blaze. The warm red glow of the fire was reflected on his face. From the mantle hung a stocking. And behind him, through a window, was a church roof, white with snow, and a cold moon riding high.

Suddenly, inexplicably, he longs for his boyhood home in New England—but, both his parents being dead, there is no home to go to. But one thing is certain, he must leave New York that very day, board a train, head north to a town he knew nothing about—and somehow, he knew not how . . . find Christmas.

The rest of the little book tells the story of the journey that follows . . . and the lonely pure-hearted beauty who lives in that remote snow-flocked New England town.

If you’re anything like me, by the time you come to the end, tears—happy tears—will be almost guaranteed.

It is likely to be a tough search, even on the web, for the book has all but disappeared. But we did find several available on Amazon.

The book was originally published in 1913 by McBride, Nast & Co. Apparently, 14 years later, Eaton rewrote the introductory paragraph so the book seemed more contemporary, Wilde republished it in paperback form in 1941.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Walter Prichard Eaton (1878-1957) was born in Malden, Massachusetts, graduated from Harvard, was a drama critic for various newspapers and magazines, and wrote numerous books. He was also a professor of playwriting at Yale. His papers are at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Among his books are, The American Stage of Today (1908), Barn Doors and Byways (1913), The Idyl of Twin Fires (1915), Green Trails and Upland Pastures (1917), etc. He was also author of many Boy Scout books. The Man Who Found Christmas was published by W. A. Wilde Company in 1927.

Whatever you do, you must not reach Christmas Eve of 2016 without being able to hold a copy of this precious little book in your hands and revel in the story. That is a command!

Glossary: Here are some archaic words that may be confusing: sceptical – should be skeptical; gel – gal; pung – automobile; grip – suitcase.

 

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