For almost a hundred years, experts have been arguing about the authorship of the famous Christmas poem,
Night Before Christmas. Before the Internet, many of those opinions were lost in the archives
of libraries. With new websites offering subscriptions to historical newspapers, it's now possible to rediscover those old arguments.
Although Henry's great granddaughter Cornelia Griswold Goodrich,
first tried to bring the family's belief in Henry's authorship to the public in 1886, she failed
for lack of direct evidence. The poems that Cornelia was able to show to Dutchess County historian Benson Lossing
did make him write back to her that
"The circumstantial evidence that your G. G. Grandfather wrote "The Visit of St. Nicholas" seems as conclusive as that which has taken innocent men to the gallows."
It wasn't until 1899 that the family claim backed into public view. Henry's grandson, Henry Livingston of
Babylon LI, had told his friend Simon W. Cooper the stories of his grandfather's authorship, and Cooper made the claim public in a question he asked
of the The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun.
Mr. Henry Livingston, editor of the South Side Signal of this place, claims that his grandfather, Henry Livingston, of Hyde Park-on-the-Hudson,
and not Clement C. Moore, was the author of the poem, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Mr. Livingston says his grandfather's poem was originally printed in the
Knickerbocker Magazine somewhere about 1800. Can you inform me if the claim of Mr. Moore to the authorship of the poem is well founded?
BABYLON, Dec. 27  SIMON W. COOPER
That publication did get Cornelia in touch with her cousin Babylon Henry,
who wrote back to her:
My father, [Sidney Montgomery Livingston] as long ago as I can remember, claimed that his father (Henry Livingston, Jr.) was the author:
that it was first read to the children at the old homestead below Poughkeepsie, when he was about eight years old,
which would be about 1804, or 1805. He had the original manuscript, with many corrections in his possession, for a long time,
and by him was given to his brother Edwin. Edwin's person effects were destroyed when his sister Susan's home was burned at
Kaskaskia, Wis., about 1847 or 8.
Family stories being what they are, the fundamental facts one can get from Babylon Henry is that his father heard the poem recited
a decade and a half before the poem was published in the Troy Sentinel, and that the original manuscript was seen by the family before it was lost.
The letter reiterated the poem's publication in the Knickerbocker Magazine, but there have been no other stories down any other family line that
confirms that particular magazine.
Cooper's question sunk quickly into oblivion and it was another twenty years before the claim was given a full public airing
in an article
written in the Christian Science Monitor by Winthrop P. Tryon.
To those who like the poems of their childhood well enough to care who wrote them, the seventy-ninth milestone on the Albany Post Road
might conceivably be a goal of pilgrimage. For within view of the spot where it is located, lived Henry Livingston Junior, who, according
to a tradition handed down through four generations of his descendants and unanimously held by those representing him today, was the author
of the famous ballad beginning with the line "'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house."
What had been inherited along the various descendant lines had been collected by daughter Jane's grandson, William Sturgis Thomas. This included
witness letters recounting memories passed on by Henry's children, as well as a book of poems in a manuscript book in Henry's handwriting.
As Tryon described it:
Important amongst this material is a manuscript book of about 45 poems, all of them short and the greater part of them humorous and playful,
dating from 1784 to 1789. One-third of them are composed in pairs of anapaestic verses, as is the ballad of "St. Nicholas."
When "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was first published in the Troy Sentinel on December 23rd, 1823, the editor wrote about the poem:
There is, to our apprehension, a spirit of cordial goodness in it, a playfulness of fancy, and
a benevolent alacrity to enter into the feelings and promote the simple pleasures of children,
which are altogether charming.
Vassar President Henry Noble MacCracken expanded on that in his 1958 book, Blithe Dutchess.
The Visit from St. Nicholas is a little masterpiece of juvenile poetry. It is one of the best
poems for children ever written. It begins and ends with children. everything is designed in minature.
Mamma and papa are mere spectators. Mamma even disappears altogether after the first mention. But
who cares? Papa is only a reporter of the sight, not a sharer.
Children love motion, and the Visit is all motion. Papa flies to the window. The reindeer
fly, too. So do the dry leaves. Santa Claus is all action, though no words.
The adjectives all suggest childhood. Snug, rosy, joly, happy, quick, are all in the child's world.
So is the up and down, the on and away, of the reindeer. The tempo
is that of the happy child, who must run to express his excitement.
It is this breathless quality that gives speed to the rhythm of the anapaestic
gallop. Only two images give even a hint of the adult point of view; the dry leaves blown aloft
by the wild hurricane; and the midday lustre of a clear moonlight in snow. Both are novel and net, but
not beyond a child's observation.
These four qualities, the childhood level of miniature, the motion of flying, the adjectives of joy,
and the speed of action, are characteristic of Major Henry's verse, and woefully lacking in Moore's.
The anapaests of the Visit carry out these principles. The accented syllable is stressed, the
lighter syllables either unaccented parts of words, or else minor parts of speech, prepositions,
articles, copulatives, conjunctions, pronouns. It is literally impossible to read the poem slowly.
It races on to its end, like the reindeer.
All the devices for giving speed and emphasis to those swift anapaests are simple and obvious. They
consist of exclamations, but chiefly of repetitions, in which, as in music, force and speed
accumulate without the useless obstruction of new thought. On, on, on; away,away, away; this is
nursery bouncing, which every child loves.
Children love to learn exactly what folks wear, just how they look. Mamma and Papa are dressed; so
is santa. The detail of his pack and its unpacking satisfies child curiosity, who wants the fairy
vision explained? Whoever wrote it loved his children, and knew how to enter their minds and feelings
Moore's book, Poems, was published in 1844 in New York by Bartlett & Welford.
William S. Pelletreau describes Moore's book in his definitive biography
of Moore in 1897, Pelletreau's information seeming to have come from the Moore family. This was, of course, before there was any public
discussion of the Livingston claim.
The brief intervals of time which could be spared from his [Moore's] arduous labors were devoted to the writing of
short poems chiefly for the diversion of his children, and among these were his famous "Visit of St. Nicholas."
This little poem, which has given its author a fame which his greater works have failed to bestow, was written
in 1822, as a Christmas present for his children, which was highly appreciated.
Among their many friends were the family of Rev. Dr. David Butler, then rector of St. Paul's church, in the city of Troy.
The eldest daughter of Dr. Butler, while visiting the Moore family, saw the poem and quickly copied the verses in her "album"
(an article which every young lady at that time was supposed to possess), intending to read them to the children at the rectory.
She was so impressed with their value that she sent a copy to an editor, and they were first printed in the "Troy Sentinel,"
of December 23, 1823, accopanied with a cut illustrating Santa Claus on his rounds, and preceded by an introduction by the editor.
Strange to say the name of the author did not then appear. It is said that Dr. Moore was displeased at first, as in his opinion the
poem had slight literary merit, but it instantly won general favor, and for years the republication of the verses at Christmas time
was one of the most joyous features of the newspapers.
This is the origin of the story of Harriet Butler giving the poem to the Troy Sentinel. When the owner of the Sentinel, Norman Tuttle,
corresponded with Moore just before Moore's book was published in 1844, Tuttle
described the editor, Orville L. Holley, as saying that he had received the poem from the wife of Daniel Sackett. Since both stories
have some degree of evidence behind them, we can only assume that there was some connection between the Butlers and the Sacketts for both
stories to be true. A research librarian, Honor Conklin, made some connections between the families.
It probably wasn't religion, since Rev. Butler was Episcopalean, and Daniel Sackett was active
in starting up the 2nd Presbyterian Church of Troy. Daniel Sackett, Orville Holley and Rev. Butler were, however, all members of the same anti-slavery society, the Troy Colonization
Society. In addition, Honor noted that Daniel Sackett and Orville Holley worked next door to one another. The Troy Sentinel was located at
225 River Street, and Sackett & Lane Crockery was located at 221-2 River Street.
Pelletreau then went on to note that
In 1844, the various poems written by Dr. Moore were published in a small volume, but the only one
that has attracted the slightest attention was the one that the author considered of so little merit.
In fact, what attention Moore's poetry garnered was more negative than anything else. Don Foster, in Author Unknown,
describes the reaction of most of Moore's contemporary critics - ranging from sarcasm to tepid praise. Except for one.
One well-kept secret - unknown, evidently, even to the Professor's many biographers - is that Clement Moore as a young bechelor
published many of his poems under the pseudonym "L." In 1844, when publishing his collected Poems under his own name, not under
his youthful pseudonym, the Professor must have been disappointed in the response: reviews of his Poems ranged from sarcasm to
tepid praise. But one reviewer, writing for The Churchman, the magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church of America, gave
Clement Moore's Poems a ringing endorsement, a review suitable for framing. I don't know for sure who wrote it, but the author
of that flattering Churchman blurb signs himself "L." Perhaps the old Professor wasn't humorless after all. Perhaps he even
wrote his own book review.
Moore's later critics were not particularly kind, themselves.
Tryon describes Moore's book in his Christian Science Monitor piece:
In 1844, a book of poems was published by Moore, and the "St. Nicholas" ballad was included in the collection. All but two of the 44 pieces
in this book are in iambic meter, and are studiously, elegantly and seriously composed. They are more or less in a moralizing vein, and their
style bears some resemblance to that of Whittier. They contain scarcely anything, however, except the ballad, to commend the author as a humorist.
The famous writer of The New Yorker, James Thurber put in his two cents on the subject.
Dr. Moore loved to write. His chief literary work is a ponderous book entitled "A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language."
He also liked to turn out pieces such as one called "Observations upon Certain Passages in Mr. Jefferson's Note on the State of
Virginia which Appear to have a Tendency to Subvert Religion and Establish a False Philosophy." In 1836 he published a volume of verses.
The best of the lot was "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
There was only one other in the same metre (anapaestic) and it was not so good.
Vassar President Henry Noble MacCracken treats Moore's work by saying:
There runs through all Professor Moore's verse a kind of frustration. He feels he should be a greater man than he is, a greater poet. The
public did not agree with him, even about his poetry. His friends tried to get him to relax, but he never let down his moral guard.
Dr. Willy Bard tried to get him to come to a dance, but Moore answered the famous physician in a surly poem. He was a self-torturing
Midas; all around him was a rich harvest of poetry, which he turned to lead.
MacCracken continues by quoting Moore from his introduction to Poems:
"Another reason why the mere trifles in this volume have not been withheld, is, that such things have often been found
by me to afford greater pleasure than what was by myself esteemed of more worth."
Since he [Moore] printed A Visit from St. Nicholas without comment, it is obvious that he considered it of no value whatsoever,
but was writing to indulge his friends with mere trifles. But is there any other instance in the history of
literature, of such complete blindness to the comparative merits of one's own compositions?
Without quoting the entire volume, I cannot prove to my readers that no other poem than the Visit could possibly
arouse anything so ungenteel as a good hearty laugh. On the contrary, that still more vulgar exhibition, the protracted
yawn, is the only physical exercise produced by a further perusal.
Moore's own opinion of poetry, according to Poughkeepsie Journal reporter Helen Myers' 1963 article,
quotes Moore as saying:
"No production which assumes the guise of poetry ought to be tolerated,
if it possesses no other recommendation than the glow of its expressions and the tinkling of its syllables..."
Which probably explains why Moore implied the now famous poem to have been a mere trifle.
James Aldredge discusses Moore's book in his 1968 article.
In writing his general style was as correct and sedate as the Hebrew-English dictionary which brought him fame during his lifetime.
Could he have cut loose, for once, in those rollicking Christmas verses? His other poetry doesn't seem to prove it. In character,
it is too stiff and stilted - it lacks the gay spontaneity of even the major's [Henry Livingston's] rhymed letters.
In Don Foster's book, Author Unknown, he enumerates themes of Moore's poems.
The world, as represented in Professor Moore's Poems, is a place inhabited by loud children, frivolous maids, scolding wives,
loud children, lazy mechanics, loud children, soft-spoken rogues, rude barflies, lewd coquettes and prostitutes, rich men ill-clad,
loud children, dull schoolmen, manly-treading female would-be-scholars, and loud children - all of whom must be scolded: the little ones,
with patience, and the adults, who ought to know better, with sneering sarcasm.
Foster is not exaggerating, as the excerpts below show:
But, speaking of crying, I'm sorry to say
Your screeches and screams, so loud ev'ry day,
Were near driving me and my goodies away.
Good children I always give good things in plenty;
How sad to have left your stocking quite empty:
From St. Nicholas
There was a towering manly-treading lass,
With long sharp nose and philosophic look;
Her brain, of borrow'd thoughts a mingled mass,
Who valued nought that was not in a book.
Heav'n help the mortal doom'd by cruel fate
To bide the wordy torrent of her tongue!
And, now and then, might fall upon the ear
The voice of some conceited vulgar cit,
Who, while he would the well-bred man appear,
Mistakes low pleasantry for genuine wit.
Some few, who would philosophers be deem'd,
At what is sacred aim'd their heartless wit;
Whose wanton sallies, to the pious, seem'd
The pale cold light which putrid things emit.
From such, our Henry never turn'd aside,
When aught they said was to his ear address'd;
But, by superior lore, abased their pride;
Or, by his keen reproof, their levity repress'd.
He made them know and feel that, in his eyes,
The humblest pauper who could hope and pray,
With heart sincere, above this state to rise,
Was of a higher, nobler caste than they.
What mean those careless limbs, that conscious air,
At which the modest blush, the vulgar stare?
Can spotless minds endure the guilty leer,
The sober matron's frown, the witling's sneer?
Are these the charms which, in this age refin'd,
Ensure applause, and captivate the mind?
Shame! shame! heart-rending thought! deep-sinking stain!
That Britain's and Columbia's Fair should deign,
Nay strive, their native beauties to enhance
By arts first taught by prostitutes of France!
For if, regardless of my friendly voice,
In Fashion's gaudy scenes your heart rejoice,
Dire punishments shall fall upon your head:
Disgust, and fretfulness, and secret dread.
Unmeaning forms shall swim before your eyes,
Wild as the clouds which float in vernal skies.
Invitation to a Ball
But strain'd research becomes not well the fair;
Deep thought imparts a melancholy air;
The sparkling eye grows dim, the roses fade,
When long obscur'd beneath a studious shade.
Suffice it for a tender nymph to stray
Where strength and industry have clear'd the way;
To cull the fruits and flowers which bless the toil
Endur'd by Newton, Verulam and Boyle.
Oh! sacred harmony! what lawless feet
within thy precincts boldly tread!
What vain and reckless triflers there we meet,
Where all should feel a holy dread!
Hence, wanton trills and sliding semitones,
Light-finger'd runs and turns misplac'd,
Bravuras, from the stage, and love-sick moans,
With which God's worship is disgrac'd.
Foster pithily summarizes Moore's book.
"The Night Before Christmas" is as different from Moore's other children's verse as Christmas cookies from steamed spinach.
Analysis of particular poems of Moore's has generated some particularly pithy comments of their own. Moore's poem to his
young countrywomen draws from MacCracken the comment, "The poem rises to heights of indignation worthy of
TO MY YOUNG COUNTRYWOMEN
Lines addressed, many years ago, to the fashionable
part of my young countrywomen; and happy am I to say,
now no longer applicable to them.
Who in the stream of fashion thoughtless glide;
No modish lay, no melting strain of love
Is here pour'd forth, your tender hearts to move.
Yet think not envious age inspires the song,
Rejecting all our earth-born joys as wrong.
Think me no matron stern who would repress
Each modern grace, each harmless change of dress;
But one whose heart exults to join the band
Where joy and innocence go hand in hand;
One who, while modesty maintains her place,
That sacred charm which heightens every grace,
Complacent, sees your robes excel the snow,
Or borrow colors from the aerial bow.
But in those half-rob'd bosoms are there hid
No thoughts which shame and purity forbid?
Why do those fine-wrought veils around you play,
Like mists which scarce bedim the orb of day?
What mean those careless limbs, that conscious air,
At which the modest blush, the vulgar stare?
Can spotless minds endure the guilty leer,
The sober matron's frown, the witling's sneer?
Are these the charms which, in this age refin'd,
Ensure applause, and captivate the mind?
Are these your boasted powers; are these the arts
Which kindle love, and chain inconstant hearts?
Alas! some angry power, some demon's skill
Hath wrought this strange perversity of will;
For sure some foe to innocence beguiles,
When harmless doves attempt the serpent's wiles.
True, Fashion's laws her ready votaries screen,
And ogling beaux exclaim, Oh Goddess! Queen!
But, vile the praise and adoration sought
By arts degrading to each nobler thought!
A base-born love those notes of praise inspires;
That incense rises from unhallowed fires.
If deaf while shame and purity complain,
If reason's gentle voice be rais'd in vain,
Learn from the scented nosegay in your hand
The charms that can alone true love command.
The flaunting tulip you reject with scorn,
Though ting'd with all the hues that deck the morn;
And, careful, search for humbler flowers which bloom
Beneath the grass, yet scatter sweet perfume.
The buds which only half their sweets disclose
You fondly seize, but leave the full-blown rose.
Humble the praise, and trifling the regard
Which ever wait upon the moral bard!
But there remains a hateful truth unsung
Which burns the cheek, and falters on the tongue;
And which, if modesty still hover round,
Each virgin breast with sorrow must confound.
"Those graceful modes," thus say your flattering beaux,
"From ancient times and tastes refin'd arose."
Disgrace not thus the names of Greece and Rome,
Their birth-place must be sought for nearer home.
Shame! shame! heart-rending thought! deep-sinking stain!
That Britain's and Columbia's Fair should deign,
Nay strive, their native beauties to enhance
By arts first taught by prostitutes of France!
O Modesty and Innocence! sweet pair
Of dove-like sisters! still attend our Fair.
Teach them, without your heav'nly influence,
How vain the charms of beauty or of sense.
Invest them with your radiance mild, yet bright;
And give their sparkling eyes a softer light.
Quick-mantling dimples on their cheeks bestow;
And teach them with a purer red to glow;
Let winning smiles too round those dimples gleam,
Like moon-beams on the ruffled stream.
And if resentment on the Muse attend
From those she loves, and truly would befriend,
Tell them, that cruel and unjust their ire;
That she would warm their hearts with holy fire;
And to the charms that soon must pass away
Would add those mental beauties which shall ne'er decay.
MacCracken describes Moore's 481 line poem, Saratoga, as follows:
A Trip to Saratoga is Dr. Moore's masterpiece, and it occupies the place of honor in his book of poems, while A Visit from St. Nicholas is
buried in the group of insignificance. In six stately cantos the scholarly father takes his children to Saratoga, probably the worse choice
in America. Mrs. Maturin Livingston, at any rate, thought its hotel and sporting life all that was most vulgar and vicious. Hiding himself
under the name "our Henry", the poet tried to rationalize a desire to be in the swim at Saratoga by a moralistic trick.
With wealth and the whole of America to choose from, his choice of Saratoga shows how much he knew of childhood. I must quote the whole passage that ended this epic.
Then, ere retiring to their welcome rest,
Kate to her father's cheek approach'd her lip,
And ask'd him, as he held her to his breast,
"Now, father, was it such a foolish trip?"
"No," said our Henry, "not, if you're return'd
With health robust, and love of home renew'd;
If to appreciate true worth you've learn'd,
And with due scorn have worthless folly view'd;
If Nature's works have tended to inspire,
For what is beautiful and pure, a keener love;
If, at their view, you felt a holy fire
Enwrap your heart, and call your thoughts above.
But, if this be the first step to the moon,
For which you seem'd so eager, in the Spring;
If, henceforth, we're to sail in a balloon,
Or other craft of new-invented wing;
If this, your first excursion do but tend
To render you unquiet, prone to roam,
To make your peace on what's abroad depend,
'Twere better far you ne'er had left your home.
And now, my darling rogue, to bed away,
Still to this sublunary state resign'd;
And, whereso'er your lot, forever pray
That Heav'n may grant you a contented mind."
With which piece straight out of Sandford and Merton the poet hastily closes, before his daughter asks any more embarrassing questions.
There are those who believe that Moore did, indeed, write the Christmas poem. Their usual argument, before Moore's anapaestic From St. Nicholas
was discovered, was that Moore wrote other children's fantasy poems, as evidenced by The Pig and the Rooster.
THE PIG AND THE ROOSTER
On a warm sunny day, in the midst of July,
A lazy young pig lay stretched out in his sty,
Like some of his betters, most solemnly thinking
That the best things on earth are good eating and drinking.
At length, to get rid of the gnats and the flies,
He resolv'd, from his sweet meditations to rise;
And, to keep his skin pleasant, and pliant, and cool,
He plung'd him, forthwith, in the next muddy pool.
When, at last, he thought fit to arouse from his bath,
A conceited young rooster came just in his path:
A precious smart prig, full in vanity drest,
Who thought, of all creatures, himself far the best.
"Hey day! little grunter, why where in the world
Are you going so perfum'd, pomatum'd, and curl'd?
Such delicate odors my senses assail,
And I see such a sly looking twist in your tail,
That you, sure are intent on some elegant sporting;
Hurra! I believe, on my life, you are courting;
And that figure which moves with such exquisite grace,
Combin'd with the charms of that soft-smiling face,
In one who's so neat and adorn'd with such art,
Cannot fail to secure the most obdurate heart.
And much joy do I wish you, both you and your wife,
For the prospect you have of a nice pleasant life."
"Well, said, master Dunghill," cried Pig in a rage,
"You're doubtless, the prettiest beau of the age,
With those sweet modest eyes staring out of your head,
And those lumps of raw flesh, all so bloody and red.
Mighty graceful you look with those beautiful legs,
Like a squash or a pumpkin on two wooden pegs.
And you've special good reason your own life to vaunt,
And the pleasures of others with insult to taunt;
Among crackling fools, always clucking or crowing,
And looking up this way and that way, so knowing,
And strutting and swelling, or stretching a wing,
To make you admired by each silly thing;
and so full of your own precious self, all the time,
That you think common courtesy almost a crime;
As if all the world was on the look out
To see a young rooster go scratching about."
Hereupon, a debate, like a whirlwind arose,
Which seem'd fast approaching to bitings and blows;
'Mid squeaking and grunting, Pig's arguments flowing;
And Chick venting fury 'twixt screaming and crowing.
At length, to decide the affair, 'twas agreed
That to counsellor Owl they should straightway proceed;
While each, in his conscience, no motive could show,
But the laudable wish to exult o'er his foe.
Other birds, of all feather, their vigils were keeping,
While Owl, in his nook, was most learnedly sleeping:
For, like a true sage, he preferred the dark night,
When engaged in his work, to the sun's blessed light.
Each stated his plea, and the owl was required
To say whose condition should most be desired.
It seem'd to the judge a strange cause to be put on,
To tell which was better, a fop or a glutton;
Yet, like a good lawyer, he kept a calm face,
And proceeded, by rule, to examine the case;
With both his round eyes gave a deep-meaning wink,
And, extending one talon, he set him to think.
In fine, with a face much inclin'd for a joke,
And a mock solemn accent, the counsellor spoke --
"'Twixt Rooster and Roaster, this cause to decide,
Would afford me, my friends, much profesional pride.
Were each on the table serv'd up, and well dress'd,
I could easily tell which I fancied the best;
But while both here before me, so lively I see,
This cause is, in truth, too important for me;
Without trouble, however, among human kind,
Many dealers in questions like this you may find.
Yet, one sober truth, ere we part, I would teach --
That the life you each lead is best fitted for each.
'Tis the joy of a cockerel to strut and look big,
And, to wallow in mire, is the bliss of a pig.
But, whose life is more pleasant, when viewed in itself,
Is a question had better be laid on the shelf,
Like many which puzzle deep reasoners' brains,
And reward them with nothing but words for their pains.
So now, my good clients, I have been long awake,
And I pray you, in peace, your departure to take.
let each one enjoy, with content, his own pleasure,
Nor attempt, by himself, other people to measure."
Thus ended the strife, as does many a fight;
Each thought his foe wrong, and his own notions right.
Pig turn'd, with a grunt, to his mire anew,
And He-biddy, laughing, cried -- cock-a-doodle-doo.
In the original 1920 article making Henry's claim, Tryon describes the poem.
All but two of the 44 pieces in this book are in iambic meter, and are studiously, elegantly and seriously composed.
They are more or less in a moralizing vein, and their style bears some resemblance to that of Whittier. They contain scarcely
anything, however, except the ballad, to commend the author as a humorist. The two pieces not iambic are the ballad, and a
laborious effort at fun composed in the anapaestic meter of the ballad, entitled "The Pig and the Rooster." This poem of
"The Pig and the Rooster" might fairly be compared with the work of the butcher in the
of the myth of St. Nicholas,
so sadly in it are wit, fancy and imagination dismembered and cast into the tub. The poem of "The Visit," in turn, might be compared
with the joyous rectification of the butcher's work by the saint of the Lorraine story. And yet, such comparison cannot be made by
way of condoning the inferiority ot "The Pig and the Rooster," for according to the evidence of a note printed on the page with its
title, it is the later, instead of the earlier, composition of the two.
Burton E. Stevenson, a strong supporter of Moore, in his book "Famous Single Poems," says of the first four lines of the poem,
These four lines are the best in the poem, which, as a whole, is vastly inferior to "A Visit from St. Nicholas," and entirely lacking
in the spontaneity and sprightly fancy which make the latter so delightful.
Don Foster, as usual, has the last word.
In "The Pig and the Rooster," written about 1833, Moore allegorizes a "conceited young rooster" and a "lazy young pig" (a fashion-monger and
a wine-bibbing glutton), and a "counselor owl" (who despises them both). Moore's supporters always point to the form of this anapestic "Pig and Rooster"
fable as evidence that the Professor really was capable of writing a children's poem like "A Visit from St. Nicholas," Major Livingston's heirs point
to the content as evidence that he couldn't have. Major Livingston's heirs are right.
PUBLISHED POEMS FROM MANUSCRIPT BOOK
The earliest poem we have from Henry Livingston is in a September 9th 1775 letter he wrote to his wife from
his military post prior to heading north with General Montgomery's invasion of Canada. The poems from
his manuscript book begins with one for Easter, dated 1784, then continues with an older
poem, Job from 1776. Many of the poems were published, some anonymously, some under the pseudonym "R".
1 Jan 1787
Richard and George
7 Feb 1787
Country Journal &
14 Feb 1787
"Death of Wolfe"
15 Aug 1787
5 Sep 1787
10 Mar 1789
or Literary Repository
Banks of the Hudson
Vine & Oak
or Literary Repository
Banks of the Hudson
or Literary Repository
Banks of the Hudson
or Literary Repository
19 Jul 1794
Henry continued publishing Carrier Addresses through at least 1823, using his typical style of changing
rhythms within the poem and using many of his old familiar terms.
An ancient sage was once requir'd
To name the object most desired;
Reply'd in brief, nor less sublime,
Twas sum'd in one short word, 'twas TIME.
With Time the fair creation rose
And steady Time still onward goes
With ceaseless pace, 'till that great day
When in portentous dread array
'Th Angelic herald's trump shall pour
These awful words "TIME IS NO MORE."
But still that solemn hour shall come,
The tide of Time goes rolling on,
And each expiring billow view
'Th expansive heaving of the new.
But 'tis neither fair or witty
Thus to urge my PATRONS' pity;
Pity! no, I here disclaim it,
You yourselves wont let me name it.
On her MERIT rests thy Muse,
Grace her kindly if you choose.
As you have smiled on me may heaven smile upon you,
The sky o'er your heads be enchantingly blue,
The streamlets and rivers which flow at your feet
Be smooth as the mirror, as the eglantine sweet,
No thorn in the roses that lie in your road,
And the angel of PEACE hov'ring o'er your abode.
MacCracken noted of a Carriers' Address not in Henry's manuscript book:
Even more typical of Major Henry's skill in light anapaestic rhythm is The News Boy's Address, written in 1803.
For many years these broadsides were presented to subscribers, who were thus teased to contribute a New Year's gift
to the diligent purveyor of news. Major Henry wrote several, out of pure good nature. The editors of the Political Barometer
were his friends Jesse Buel and Isaac Mitchell. Though Major Henry speaks through the newsboys of 1800, the poet's own personality,
loving life good-naturedly but quite willing to let the world wag without his worrying about it, comes clearly through the poetical screen
The most recent poem published by Henry that was NOT a Carriers' Address was from 20 Mar 1822,
Adventures of an American Eagle. It has an odd quirt, as do many
of Henry's pieces - it's written from the point of view of gold in the ground.
ADVENTURES OF AN AMERICAN EAGLE
In bleak Potosi's inmost cells
Where everlasting Chaos dwells
Small rills of mercury abound
Meandering through the deep profound:
These rills by kindred atoms join'd
By lapse of time grow more refin'd;
Internal heat then adds its pow'r
Till what was fluid flows no more
And the result is golden ore.
Such once I was -- and haply lay,
Nor knew, nor wish'd, for light or day.
A Capac rose, a Capac fell
A thousand fathoms o'er my cell;
And to my dismal dark recess
E'en Spanish thunder could not press.
At length discordant sounds arose
To fright me from my long repose.
I saw the light -- the human face --
And man usurp'd my native place.
Borne from the mine, far, far away
A mass of kindred ores we lay
But stay not long -- Fierce chemic fire
Bid ev'ry drossy part retire
Till at the forceful last essay
A splendid ingot fair I lay.
Commerce now join'd me to its store
And o'er the foaming ocean bore,
Safely within the Mint was flung
Where other changes o'er me hung.
The Die and the terrific Screw
Another form around me threw;
I rose an Eagle fresh and new.
A congress sage of aspect grave
Not over wise nor quite a knave,
Receiv'd me in the shape of pay
(The stipend of a single day)
And bore me to the south away.
Here I was bounc'd and urged through
Adventures rare as well as new.
A man of rice thro' one whole day
Controul'd with undisturbed sway
But e'er the dawn of morrows light,
Evanish'd from his purse and sight.
From rice to cotton I was flung:
Then in a Reticule was hung:
My mistress was all smirk all smile
And bore my jingling well a while,
Then in a fit of finery lost me
And to a Canton Crape man tost me:
He grin'd as he receiv'd the treasure
And dropt me in his till at leisure.
Here I lay slumbering out of sight
Two long, long days and one short night
The sherriff came with stern Fi Fa
And bore me from the till away.
How I came there I scarcely know
Or right or wrong 'twas truly so
I found myself with lott'ry Waite
Who long had whirl'd the wheel of Fate
A paltry prize a carman drew
And in his leather pouch I flew
But er he sought his crib of rest
A grocer hous'd me in his nest.
Dandies and Belles by turn carest me
And Feds and Tails by fits possest me.
I'm worn a little I must own
And my first blush of brightness gone;
A little too decres'd in weight
But what is left is sterling plate;
Tho' clip'd and sweated, worn and old
My latest atom will be GOLD.
One little word of moral o'er
And then we part to meet no more.
Pursue me reader if you please
With moisten'd brow or yawn of ease;
Urge on the chase or slow or keen,
Keep conscience clear and fingers clean.
The golden calf of Moab's plain
Was Israel's sin and Israel's shame
Till wiser Moses made them quaff
Their recent God the molten calf.
The last poems that we know Henry wrote are from daughter Jane's manuscript book,
and are dated 1827, the year before Henry's death. They are just as vibrant and alive as his early pieces, though more focused now on
the end of his life.
SCOTS WHA HAE WIE WALLACE BLED - OLD SONG
In arts and arms Escotia stands
Foremost of European lands
Dear soil! from whence my fathers came
I bless and hail thy worth and fame.
Thy sturdy sons in martial pride
With their good broad-swords by their side
In tartain plaid and bonnets blue
A band of Heroes in review.
Scotland excels in peaceful arts:
-Her pulpits warm the coldest hearts;
In poetry her Thompson shines
And thrills us with his glowing lines.
Ramsay and Burns each in their day
Attune their lyres in sweetest lay,
While Scot ascends Parnassus heights
And all the listening world delights.
-But - useless grown my broken shell
I bid the land of cares farewell
Oppressed with the lapse of time
I faintly dream of Auld Lang-Syne.
But until 2000, only Henry's manuscript poems were known. The original pages
are available thanks to Livingston descendant Stephen Livingston Thomas.
Tryon described them in his 1920 article.
Important amongst this material is a manuscript book of about 45 poems, all of them short and the greater part of them humorous
and playful, dating from 1784 to 1789. One-third of them are composed in pairs of anapaestic verses, as is the ballad of "St. Nicholas."
Henry Litchfield West asked in an 1921 article in Bookman, "Who Wrote ''Twas the Night Before Christmas'".
West had his own opinion of the answer.
A further examination of Livingston's versifications discloses his delight in the use of such rhymes as "clatter" and "matter", "belly"
and "jelly", "elf" and "self", all of which are to be found in "St. Nicholas". He was fond of repetitive phrases, such as
"to the top of the porch, to the top of the wall". He invariably used the word mamma, when referring to his wife, while the
adverbial use of the word all and the odd usage of gave, occurring frequently both in his verses and the Christmas poem,
are cited as additional evidence in his favor. Then, further, he was fond of the idea of levitation, while tininess frequently
appealed to him. In one of his poems he describes Oberon as riding in a tiny royal coach made of a nutshell drawn by "green catydids".
And, finally, he repeatedly wove into his lines some references to articles of clothing — shoes, soft "shammy" gloves, ruffles, wristbands,
new shirts, cravats, and even "chamezes"—just as in "St. Nicholas" there is a description of "mamma in her "kerchief and I in my cap".
Surely if Livingston did not write "A Visit from St. Nicholas" he wrote much that was cast in the same mold.
And James Thurber had more to say in his 1927 New Yorker piece.
Mr. Livingston, a statesman and a soldier, wrote a book of poems too. "'Twas the Night" isn't included in it but nearly half of the verses are in its
metre and many of them are said to display the same tricks of expression and phrasings.
Dutchess County historian, Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, noted the great difference in personality
shown by the two sets of poems.
It may be permissable to say in passing that any person who becomes familiar with what is known definitely of Clement C. Moore and
of Henry Livingston, Jr., will realize how completely different the two men were in mind and temperament and tastes.
Dr. Moore was learned, measured, rather ponderous, and his writings do not indicate gayety of spirit and have no lightness of touch.
And Vassar President MacCracken, in Blithe Dutchess, said of Henry's verse.
There is no one line of elegy, one bite of sarcasm in either verse or prose. A truly joyous nature. It is hard to believe that a Justice of the Peace
he ever sent anyone to the lock-up, or as assessor of taxes put on the screws.
In 1968 James Aldredge made the point that Henry's style is completely consistent with that of the Christmas poem.
And what a gay, sprightly image the major put forth with his pen! Time and again, when he would start writing a letter to relatives or friends,
he would switch to poetry, and the result was that he would break out with some of the gayest, most rollicking verses ever written by an amateur.
Whatever conclusions one may wish to draw, it is plain as berries on a holly bush that Major Livingston dashed off nobody knows how many verses
in the same rollicking vein. Anyone reading his gay letters in rhyme would have to concede it would have been no effort at all for him to have
turned out the famous poem in question.
Tristram Potter Coffin, a Professor specializing in folklore, was another believer
in Henry's authorship. In his 1973 book, The Illustrated Book of Christmas Folklore, Coffin concluded that Moore may not deserve the honor of
The chances are excellent it [the honor] should go to a sometime major in the Revolution, land surveyor and "renaissance man" from Dutchess County,
Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828).
The truth probably is that Moore heard verses about a visit from St. Nicholas somehow, somewhere, perhaps from the "Dutch gardener," perhaps in his
twenties from a governess or guest. He probably reworked these verses, possibly adding enough that he came to think of them as his own. Probably the
original from which he worked and which had come to him via the gardener or "young lady" was a poem by Henry Livingston, Jr. Certainly, Livingston makes a
better father for this particular brainchild than Moore. Moore was a learned, ponderous man, "educated for the church," with a limited penchant for gaiety,
while Livingston was a whimsical chap who once switched the lyrics in his music book from "God Save the King" to "God Save Congress" and who produced a
steady stream of light, occasional verse, much of it in the same meter as "The Night Before ..."
Coffin may be giving Moore too much the benefit of the doubt.
Since what Moore published in 1844 was based on the editing of other people,
it seems unlikely that an actual author would be so generous as to incorporate so many people's suggestions
into the original 1823 variant if that early one was, indeed, Moore's own work.
As with Moore, the reviewers looked at some specific poems of Henry's. Tyron addressed himself
to Henry's poem letter to his brother Beekman.
A piece that resembles the "St. Nicholas" ballad not only in metrical design, but also somewhat in pictoral method, is a rhymed letter.
which Livingston wrote at Locust Grove and addressed to his brother Beekman
Richard Pritchett quoted Winthrop Tyron in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner in 1975.
The quote most likely comes from a letter written by Tyron to William Sturgis Thomas, with whom he was in frequent communication.
For myself, I regard the 'Brother Beekman' lines so much in the form of the 'Visit', as to make it extremely likely that they are both from the same hand.
On the other hand, the verse that the man, to whom the 'Visit' by tradition is ascribed, was accustomed to write, has no formal resemblance to that
piece whatsoever. I most certainly count him out anyways.
Beekman Livingston was, for a time, working in the store of brother-in-law Peter Schenk, the husband of sister Joanna.
In Poughkeepsie in 1781, Beekman was said to have illuminated his store in celebration.
LETTER TO MY BROTHER BEEKMAN
To my dear brother Beekman I sit down to write
Ten minutes past eight & a very cold night.
Not far from me sits with a baullancy cap on
Our very good couzin, Elizabeth Tappen,
A tighter young seamstress you'd ne'er wish to see
And she (blessings on her) is sewing for me.
New shirts & new cravats this morning cut out
Are tumbled in heaps and lye huddled about.
My wardrobe (a wonder) will soon be enriched
With ruffles new hemmed & wristbands new stitched.
Believe me dear brother tho women may be
Compared to us, of inferiour degree
Yet still they are useful I vow with a fegs
When our shirts are in tatters & jackets in rags.
Now for news my sweet fellow - first learn with a sigh
That matters are carried here gloriously high
Such gadding - such ambling - such jaunting about
To tea with Miss Nancy - to sweet Willy's rout
New parties at coffee - then parties at wine
Next day all the world with the Major must dine
Then bounce all hands to Fishkill must go in a clutter
To guzzle bohea and destroy bread & butter
While you at New Lebanon stand all forlorn
Behind the cold counter from ev'ning to morn
The old tenor merchants push nigher & nigher
Till fairly they shut out poor Baze from the fire.
Out out my dear brother Aunt Amy's just come
With a flask for molasses & a bottle for rum
Run! help the poor creature to light from her jade
You see the dear lady's a power afraid.
Souse into your arms she leaps like an otter
And smears your new coat with her piggin of butter
Next an army of shakers your quarters beleager
With optics distorted & visages meagre
To fill their black runlets with brandy & gin
Two blessed exorcists to drive away sin.
But laugh away sorrow nor mind it a daisy
Since it matters but little my dear brother Bazee
Whether here you are rolling in pastime & pleasure
Or up at New Lebanon taffety measure
If the sweetest of lasses Contentment you find
And the banquet enjoy of an undisturb'd mind
Of friendship & love let who will make a pother
Believe me dear Baze your affectionate brother
Will never forget the fifth son of his mother.
P.S. If it suits your convenience remit if you please
To my good brother Paul an embrace & a squeeze.
Moore was the scholar, even though he was urging his daughter to avoid "strained research." And Livingston was the humorist,
the type of poet who could very well have penned "A Visit From St. Nicholas."
But Stevenson, a Moore apologist, blew off the value of the poem.
The resemblance to "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is very marked. To be sure, all anapaestic verse sounds much alike
The reader is referred back to Moore's "The Pig and the Rooster."
We'll leave this poem with MacCracken's scolding to Henry.
How kind it is of thoughtful Major Henry to tell Brother Beekman what a jolly time he is having, and then urge the moral values of
contentment upon his little brother. I'll bet Henry catches it when Beekman gets back from his clerking at Shaker Store in New Lebanon.
In the days before TV, games were a good way to keep the kids busy. Henry has a large number of poem quizzes called Rebuses. They are, admittedly,
difficult to solve as our background in Greek and Roman mythology is significantly less than what the children learned in Henry's days.
But, luckily, we do have the solution to one.
The initials of these, if adjusted with care,
Will show you the fairest where thousands are fair.
The sweet, pretty graces still hover about her,
And Cupid would die with vexation without her.
When she swims in the dance or wherever she goes
She's crowded by witlings, plain-fellows & beaux
Who throng at her elbow & tread on her toes.
If a pin or a hankerchief happen to fall
To seize on the prise fills with uproar the hall:
Such pulling and hawling & shoving & pushing
As rivals the racket of 'key & the cushion;'
And happy- thrice happy! too happy! the swain
Who can replace the pin or bandana again.
Tho the fellows surround & so humbly adore her
The girls on the contrary cannot endure her;
Her beauty their beauty forever disgraces
And her sweeter face still eclipses their faces.
For no lov'ly girl can a lov'ly girl bear
And fair-ones are ever at war with the fair.
Nancy Crooke was probably the same Nancy named in the Beekman poem, "To tea with Miss Nancy - to sweet Willy's rout."
Willy was, most likely, the same young man who was leaving Poughkeepsie in Henry's poem, as both poems are of
the same year.
MacCracken teased Henry's teasing once more.
Major Henry should be ashamed of himself. but he does hit it off. The joke is still green, after a hundred and seventy years.
And do you begin to catch the lilt of A Visit? The observation of details of dress, the conveyance of motion, music -- the waltz, this time --,
the use of repetition, alliteration, and contrast, the bandana and handkerchief, and the active little verbs, all crowding and pushing to get in the picture?
And, finally, to quote Don Foster again:
Fun stuff, fun poetry. You can't read Major Henry Livingston Jr. and not love the man from the top of his jolly head to the
tips of his Poughkeepsie feet. His correspondence and published poems and articles are usually witty, sometimes hilarious,
never sarcastic; full of love for humanity and driven by an irrepressible joie de vivre - or to say it more properly in Dutch, levenslust.
OTHER ARGUMENT THREADS
Moore Never Claimed He Wrote the Poem
There is a thread running through early articles that imply Moore never actually claimed the poem as his own. Burton Roscoe provided
a succinct description of this theory.
To Dr. Moore's credit, there is no evidence, except a facetitious one, that he ever claimed to have written, "A Visit From St. Nicholas." The
poem was included in a book called "The Collected Poems of C. C. Moore."
The book was made up of a lot of tedious verse which, it seems, the eminent theologian had written.
But it also contained several poems which research has shown Dr. Moore did not write. They had appeared
anonymously in English literary journals.
The poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas," is included in the collection, but is stuck away back in the pages, as though it had been dropped in
merely to pad out the book.
There is no evidence that Dr. Moore was responsible for the book, that he ever received a cent from it. In the New York
Historical Society's archives, there is a copy of the poem, written out. (It appears) in Dr. Moore's handwriting. But Dr. Moore doesn't
claim to be the author.
At the bottom of the last page there is simply this: "A poem written many years ago - C. C. Moore."
This argument gets a bit too technical. It's true that Moore doesn't have any preface to the Christmas poem, and that he carefully
uses only the passive tense in his 1862 copy of the poem, explaining that the poem "was written many years ago." But even if he didn't write the poem, and he did wait for
the "coast is clear" letter from Tuttle before publishing the poem, he wasn't as careful in his private life. His children absolutely believed he
wrote the poem. His friend Hoffman absolutely believed it when Hoffman included it in his 1837 book. And he let everyone after 1837, or 1844 if you
prefer, believe he did.
Stevenson quoted from the librarian of the New York Historical Society who interviewed Moore while requesting
the handwritten copy of the poem.
In an interview which I had yesterday with Dr. Moore, he told me that a portly, rubicund Dutchman, living in the neighborhood of his country seat, Chelsea,
suggested to him the idea of making St. Nicholas the hero of this Christmas piece for his children.
That seems unambiguous. Moore did take credit for the poem.
The Livingstons' Governess Story
Another thread that seems to continually recur is to excerpt part of Mary Goodrich Montgomery's letter describing the story that came down her
family line about how the poem got from the Livingston family to the Moores.
Henry Livingston + Sarah Welles
Catharine Livingston + Arthur Breese
Catharine Walker Breese + Captain Samuel Birdsill Griswold
Cornelia Platt Griswold + William McLean Goodrich
Mary Willis Goodrich + Edward Livingston Montgomery
This was first done by Stevenson, and later writers followed his lead. Stevenson quoted Mary as saying:
The little incident connected with the first reading of the "Visit of St. Nicholas" was related to me by my grandmother, Catherine Walker Griswold,
who was a daughter of Catherine Breese, the eldest daughter of Henry Livingston. As I recollect her story, there was a young lady spending the
Christmas holidays with the family at "Locust Grove" on Christmas morning. Mr. Livingston came into the dining room, where his family and their
guests were just sitting down to breakfast. He held the manuscript in his hand, and said that it was a Christmas poem he had written for them.
He then sat down at table, unfolded the manuscript, and read aloud to them "The Visit of St. Nicholas"
All were delighted with the verses, and the guest, in particular, was so much impressed by them that she begged Mr. Livingston to let her
have a copy of the poem. He consented, and made a copy in his own hand which he gave to her.
On leaving Locust Grove, when her visit came to an end, this young lady went directly to the home of Mr. Clement C. Moore, where she filled
the position of Governess to his children.
Stevenson then explained away the family story as untrue because Moore at the time was unmarried and would have had no need for a governess. Following
authors pick this up. But Stevenson had stopped quoting Mary early. Mary went on to say:
There are two further details which I think were a part of the story, although I am not so sure of my recollection of them as of the above main facts.
One is that the young lady was either a Canadian or an English woman (I am inclined to think the former) and that other is that, on leaving Locust Grove,
she went to join Mr. Moore's family in one of the Southern states.
Having a connection of both families traveling south to act as a governess in a Moore-connected household isn't that absurd.
Henry Livingston's first cousin and next door neighbor was Judith Livingston, who was married to John Moore, the brother of Clement Moore's uncle.
In 1815, their daughter Lydia was married to a student of Moore's, Rev. William Henry Hart, and the couple moved to Virginia.
And, after all, if one of Henry's next door neighbor children, Elizabeth (Eliza) Clement Brewer,
heard Henry recite the poem when she and her husband-to-be, son
Charles, were small, why isn't it reasonable that another next door neighbor child, a child of the Moores, heard it as well?
The Moore connection stayed strong with the family, with Lydia and William's daughter Frances Livingston Hart marrying the son of another student of Moore's,
Rev. Clement Moore Butler, the son of Rev. David Butler. The funds for Rev. Butler's St. Paul's church in Troy had come from Rev. Benjamin Moore's Trinity Church.
This young Clement Butler was also the brother of Harriet Butler, who is known for taking the Christmas poem to the Troy Sentinel.
Stevenson edited Mary's letter to make her argument seem absurd, rather than dealing with the possibility that her argument was true.
The consistency of later authors, such as even Coffin, to make this same argument
can be explained as they're not going back to original sources. Unfortunately, Don Foster, too, seems to have taken his quote from the same truncated source. He should
have known better.
Other Ways for the Poem to Have Traveled
Helen Meyers had her own theory that Clement Moores and Henry Livingston might well be acquainted through a local
gentleman, William Bard. Bard lived in Hyde Park, which is just north of Poughkeepsie, and Moore's father officiated at Bard's wedding. Bard was a friend of Moore's
and one of Bard's poems appears in Moore's
"That firmly places Moore in this [Poughkeepsie] area, so it seems more than probable that he
met Livingston at some of the many Hudson valley parties which Livingston described so vividly in a
rhymed letter to his brother Beekman"
The Great Reindeer Caper
Even if Livingston were acknowledged the author of "Night Before Christmas," Tristram Coffin believed that
Moore would get credit for the reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh since Coffin, like Don Foster.
believed that Moore was the author of the 1821 poem Old Santeclaus.
Old SANTECLAUS with much delight
His reindeer drives this frosty night,
O'er chimney-tops, and tracks of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you.
Foster was so sure that he, in fact, wrote:
If "Old Santeclaus" was not written by the original Grinch, Professor Clement Clarke Moore, himself, then call me "Rudolph" and never let me play
in reindeer games.
As to whether Old Santeclaus's single reindeer had an impact on "Visit's" eight, Don Foster had an opinion on that, too.
In academic and journalistic accounts of Santa's reindeer it has been a commonplace to observe that Moore (or whoever) borrowed the reindeer idea
from Gilley's 1821 children's book.
Moore could multiply one reindeer into eight, but from whom did the dull wit who wrote Gilley's "Old Santeclaus" poem acquire the original reindeer in
1821? Probably from Henry Livingston.
Reindeer, Foster felt, were right down Henry's Poughkeepsie alley.
The sky, in Major Henry's imagination is a busy place. As in "A Visit," where reindeer like dry leaves "mount to the sky," Livingston writes of children and souls and
storms and even lambkins who mount "to the sky,"
or "to the skies," [also to the skies] or "to the bright empire of the sky";
of Oberon, King of the Fairies, whose carriage is a nutshell pulled by a team of katydids; of a handsome white-stocking'd colt who "moves
as if he danced on air."
In Major Henry's verse and prose, whales gambol above the waves, boats fly, angels hover,
kittens bound, gnats flit, dancers float.
Even his dinosaurs can mount to the sky. When the
bones of a "gigantic quadruped" were discovered in Ulster County's Little Britain in 1783, the locals were awestruck by the majesty of the dinosaur.
In a short story for the New York Magazine two hundred years before Jurassic Park, Livingston imagines one of these ancient monsters hiding out
in the American wilderness, devouring men, flattening villages, ascending to the bluest summit, and leaping over the waves of the west at a bound.
Major Henry's interests extended beyond paleontology and aeronautics. As Dutchess County's local expert on the Arctic, Livingston wrote of northern cultures
around the world, from Labrador to Norway
to Russia to Siberia, borrowing everywhere from books that provide accounts of Scandinavian elves, Lapland reindeers, and of
the Norse god, Thor, whose chariot was said to have been pulled by airborne "He-Goats". By combining the pipe-smoking Dutchmen of
the Hudson Valley with the reindeer of Lapland and the flying goats of Norwegian mythology, our Christmas poet created an American original. Santa has traveled by
reindeer-drawn sleigh ever since.
If we assume that Henry's poem reached Moore before he read the poem to his children in 1822, there's nothing that stops us from assuming that the poem reached
the Moore household even earlier - in time to inspire Moore's 1821 "Old Santeclaus."
But those reindeer, according to Peter Christoph, are themselves dependent on the description of Santa Claus in
Washington Irving's "History of New York" from 1809.
And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hat-band, and laying his finger beside his nose, gave the astonished Van Kortlandt
a very significant look, then mounting his wagon, he returned over the treetops and disappeared.
Henry Livingston, according to the older children of his second family, read the poem to his children sometime between the mid and late 1800's.
That certainly makes it possible that Henry was influenced by Irving, but there's also the possibility that Irving was influenced by Henry
and his flying creatures.
Washington Irving (1783-1859) is
buried in the Sleepy Hollow
cemetery, in the same town where Henry's mother was born. When a yellow fever epidemic broke out in Manhattan, Irving, then 15, was sent to stay with a
friend in Tarrytown, less than a mile from Sleepy Hollow, where he learned about the old Dutch customs and stories Henry would have known about from his
mother and Uncle Johnny Conklin.
On August 1, 1803, Washington Irving, then 20 years of age, was traveling by boat at the beginning of his trip north with the Hoffman and Ogden families, and a few others
including Stephen Van Renssaelar. The diary reads:
Sunday, Aug. 1.
... as soon as the tide turned we hoisted sail and proceeded through the highlands. The day was delightful. We had a fine view of the magnificent prospects
around us and tried the echoes with fowling peices and pistols, at every Mountain.
In the afternoon, we came to anchor 4 miles below Poughkeepsie when Brandram, Stephen Van Renaellaer & myself row'd ashore for milk. We found a tolerable house
near the landing Where a Quaker was seated on the stoop indulging in a delightful "vacuity of thought." we left our bottles here for milk and ascended a long &
steep hill search for Cheese. When we arrived at a house there, Brandram insisted on admission to the dairy to choose a cheese and notwithstanding the profoundness
of his judgement - he picked out the newest one to the great amusement of the Country people.
I then procured a pitcher of cold water and Brrandram called for brandy boasting how invaluable & indispensable a liquor it was in this climate.
While we sat here enjoying as Brandram called it "Luxury of disappation" a Breeze sprung up and we had to hasten from the house to regain the sloop.
There's no indication that their boat tied up at Harry's landing, or that they visited what had been Henry's father's home or Henry's.
DIALOGUE Between Madame J. L. & her Children
Pray dearest mother if you please
Cut up your double-curded cheese
The oldest of the brotherhood
It's ripe no doubt & nicely good
Your reputation will rise treble
As we the lucious morsel nibble
Praise will flow from each partaker
Both on the morsel and the maker.
Your suit is vain, - upon my word
You taste not yet my double-curd:
I know the hour - the very minute
In which I'll plunge my cutteau in it;
Am I to learn of witless bairns
How I must manage my concerns?
As yet the fervid dog-star reigns
And gloomy Virgo holds the reins
Be quiet chicks - sedate & sober
And house your stomachs till October,
Then for a feast! Upon my word
I'll really cut my double-curd.
Irving spent the rest of the week traveling first to Albany, where he visited some with Governor Clinton.
Then on to Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs, and then on to Utica.
Sunday, Aug. 8.
Utica is a very handsome town seated on the banks of the Mohawk which is here reduced to a very narrow stream. The people about this part of the country are from
New England generally and afford a pleasing contrast in looks and manners to the dutch who are settled in the lower parts of the river.
This morning I went to church presbyterian meeting with Mrs. Hoffman. The Meeting was an old house that served on week days for a school room. We had a decent moral sermon
& were entertained with very good singing-
In the afternoon we rode to Whitestown about 4 Miles distant a handsome flourishing settlement we drank tea with Mr. Platt here and then returned to Utica.
Mr. Platt was Judge Jonas Platt, Henry's brother-in-law and the mentor of Henry's son-in-law, Arthur Breese.
There's no question but that Jonas and Helen had at least one of Henry's poems - the one of their marriage.
The last reindeer issues are the rhythm of the reindeer name lines, and the changing names of two of the team.
Peter Christoph put forth the hypothesis that Moore's reluctance to acknowledge his authorship was due
to his embarrassment over the mistakes he'd made on those two lines.
He first noticed the use of a near-rhyme, Vixen/Blitzen, when all the other rhymes were perfect. Christoph solves the problem by assuming the mistake
took place between Moore's home and the typesetter. Of course, a better explanation is that Moore wasn't the author. Moore uses only 21 near-rhymes in all of
the poems in his book. Henry uses 153 near-rhymes in a lot fewer lines of poetry! Moore would have tried hard to avoid any near-rhymes.
Henry wouldn't have noticed one.
Christoph also noticed that the names were a bastard pair of a Dutch Donder (thunder) and a German Blitzen (lightning).
Christoph then noted that if Blitzen was a typographical mistake, then perhaps Moore originally used the Dutch word for lightning. But that was Blixem, and
that would have also been a near-rhyme. So Christoph concludes that Moore probably wrote the incorrect Blixen, which would have rhymed correctly but been
We must concede one of two possibiilites: either Bliksen was a dialect form in use in the Hudson Valley, or else Moore misunderstood the word when he heard it spoken.
... Whether blixen is dialect or simply a misunderstanding, its use would have been an embarrassment to the specialist in language and literature, reason enough for
Moore to avoid being identified as the author of "'Twas the night before Christmas."
Henry, after all, used "Dunder and Blixem!" as a favorite oath. Those names would seemed completely natural to the Dutch-descended Poughkeepsie resident.
One wonders what Christoph would have thought if he'd seen the original 1823 Troy Sentinel rhythms, which were completely gone by the time Moore published the
poem in his book.
How Many Children of Moore's Listened to the Poem in 1822?
A last point on a matter of no great importance except to tack down the corners of the details.
Henry Litchfield West notes in his 1921 article that Moore mentions in his 1862 interview with the
New York Historical Society that "a portly rubicund Dutchman, living in the neighborhood of his father's country seat, Chelsea, suggested to him the idea of
making St. Nicholas the hero of the Christmas piece", which West explains Moore elaborated as having, "had been written forty years previously for his two children."
West corrects that to say that Moore had had three children in 1822. This correction filters down the years in multiple articles until Don Foster corrects the correction.
In 1822, Moore had SIX CHILDREN.
|06 Jun 1815||Margaret Elliott Moore||7 1/2 yrs old|
|11 Sep 1816||Charity Elizabeth Moore||6 1/4 yrs old|
|24 Aug 1818||Benjamin Moore||4 1/4 yrs old|
|02 Sep 1819||Mary Clarke Moore||3 1/3 yrs old|
|03 Jan 1821||Clement Moore, Jr.||2 yrs old|
|13 Apr 1822||Emily Moore||3/4 yrs old|
Poor little Emily died in 1828, and Charity, along with her mother, in 1830.
THE MERE TRIFLE:
Henry Litchfield West quotes this rather convulated
sentence from Moore's preface to his 1844 book Poems.
Another reason why the mere trifles in this volume have not been withheld is that such things have been often found by me to afford greater pleasure
than what was by myself esteemed of more worth.
Even Burton Stevenson who supported the contension that Moore was the poem's author in his book, "Famous Single Poems" had to admit:
However, if no one else had claimed it, and if its authorship had to be decided on internal
evidence alone, "A Visit From St. Nicholas" might fairly be held to resemble the work of Henry Livingston much more closely
than it resembles the work of Clement C. Moore.
Is it important for Henry to be recognized as the author of "Night Before Christmas?" I think it is.
Richard Pritchard makes the plea:
Now it may be argued that Moore is dead, and that he should be left to sleep quietly in his grave. Also that it really doesn't
matter now who wrote the poem.
"A Visit From St. Nicholas" is probably the great American poem. Can you name another candidate?
If this is so, then the authorship should not be handed over to Clement Moore just because he claimed it in a book of poems
he wrote, - particularly since some of these poems are of doubtful origin.
Has not Henry Livingston waited too long in the wings for his moment of long overdue glory?
For now the question of how far the truth of Henry's authorship will spread, because publishers
still fear that leaving Moore's name off new editions of the poem will reduce sales for new authors. As for us, all we can do is leave it with the 1933
words of James H. Street. Because you really do have the make the decision
"He wrote it for children - if the legend is true
and the story gave rise to a cry and hue
as to who wore the 'kerchief and who wore the cap
and who settled down for that long winter's nap."