Henry Livingston, Jr.
The arguments for Henry Livingston
As the Author of
"A Visit From St. Nicholas"


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Historical Arguments

Holding Up Santa

Once the Livingston descendants discovered that Moore had claimed the poem that his children had heard Henry recite to them more than a decade before it saw a Troy December morning, the next question was what were they going to do about it. Moore was very rich and very well connected with the Episcopalian church. His reputation was sterling.

Except for the fact that he claimed Henry's poem when the children knew for a fact that the poem wasn't Moore's.

Initially the Livingston descendants came up with numerous excuses as to why Moore hadn't really claimed Henry's poem.

It was a mistake.   "My mother was greatly excited when the first edition of the "Night Before Christmas" was published in the name of Clement C. Moore- She bought a copy & brought it to my grandmother, who calmly said "Some one has made a mistake- Clement Moore did not write the "Night Before Christmas." Your grandfather Henry Livingston wrote it."  Jeanne Denig, 1918

Moore was displeased at the attribution.   "The question of the authorship of the poem "The Night Before Christmas" was never brought up, to my knowledge, until after 1862, when it was published and credited to Clement C. Moore. Moore was then a very old man, and died the same year. It does not appear, however, that he ever laid claim to the authorship, and it is said he was displeased at first when it was attributed to him!"  Babylon Henry Livingston, 1900

It was attributed to Moore after his death.   "...they got put among his papers & not until years after, when he died, all the poems he had written, the family collected together, and had them printed in a book. Among them was "The Night before Xmas." The Livingstons were surprised to find it had accidentally gotten among Mr. Moore's papers & printed. Mr. Moore not being alive to contradict it."   Mary Livingston Hewins, 1917

When they ran out of those excuses, they were quiet for awhile. After all, though the family had a long history with the Dutch Reformed Church, many now had religious careers in the same church as Moore. Arguing with a prominent figure was probably not a very good career move.

Eventually, the descendants of Henry's eldest daughter Catharine (her children were the same age as Henry's second family) began to gather together whatever they had of Henry's in the hope that memories and documents would prove their case. But what they discovered was only circumstantial. But they worked with what they had, and the family group expanded to include academics and writers who argued for Henry or for Moore.

These arguments have been summarized to help you through a century's worth of conflict on the subject.

The Detailed Historical Arguments

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The Authorship Problem

Clement Moore For almost 180 years, families have loved and shared a joyous poem of Christmas with their families. The poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas, more commonly known as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, has been a classic since its first appearance in the Troy Sentinel in 1823. The poem was published anonymously and, as excitement over the verses grew, everyone wanted to know the name of the author. In 1837 Clement Clarke Moore, a biblical scholar in New York City, allowed his name to be attached as author and, in 1844, he included the piece in his own book, Poems. Moore explained that he had written the poem on the Christmas eve of 1823.

One would think that that would have put the issue to rest. But there was a problem.

Clement Moore The problem was that for at least fifteen years before the poem saw the light of a Troy New York day, by 1808 at the latest, a group of children had been listening to Henry Livingston read them the poem. And all four of them - Charles, the oldest, and his next-door-neighbor bride Eliza, second son Sidney, and third son Edwin - all remembered the event and their pleasure in the poem.

Whether Henry, dead by the time Moore took credit for the poem, would have cared for the fame and attention is doubtful.

Whether he would have appreciated someone appropriating his work, though, is a completely different thing.

For over a century and a half, those who remembered have passed on the story to the next generation. Descendants collected one another's memories in the hopes that some stray thread would be found that could be pulled on, and maybe, just maybe, unravel the curtain preventing their story from emerging.

The Quest

But for all that time, and all that effort, the Livingston descendants failed to make a case strong enough to put up against the word of the son of the Rector of New York City's Trinity Church.

There was no smoking gun. The original in Henry's handwriting had burned in a Wisconsin fire. What it took was someone who could look at the problem from a completely new point of view. A literary detective who could trace the origin of writing styles.

It took Don Foster.

Don Foster

Reading Henry Livingston is usually a surprise and can be a delight.

Want to know what a pine tree thinks? Ask Henry! Curious about those rumors of what's holding up the ladies' bosom? Never fear. He'll let you peek through the fingers he holds over his eyes.

Henry is funny and teasing and loving and sincere. He shines through his writing, and it's really hard not to smile right back.

Moore's lasting claim to fame as a writer lay only with the Christmas poem, and because there were no reprints of his book, and because the few existing copies of his 1844 book were locked away in library archives, not many people read his work and judged for themselves. In some sense, Moore was able to maintain his reputation as a great poet exactly because he wrote such bad poetry. Ironic isn't it?

But why not take this opportunity to compare for yourself the writings of both men, and see on what side of the question you come down!

The Poet
Poetry and Prose of Henry Livingston
Poetry of Clement Moore
You Decide!
The Publicity

The Poet

Henry filled the years after the death of his first wife with a flurry of activity. There was his farm, his surveying work, the boat landing and store, and various political jobs for Dutchess County. And there was his writing.

The first published piece that we see of Henry's, and there may be many that we haven't yet found, is A new year's address of Richard & George, two boys of the printer N. Power, published in the Political Barometer of January 1, 1787. A carrier's address was usually a one page broadsheet that the newsboys gave away on New Year's Day in the hope of receiving a tip.

Benjamin Moore That first publication must have opened something inside of Henry because, after that, the poetry and prose just flooded out. There were humorous poems and prose pieces, religious pieces and elegies. Using a transcript of Henry's poetry manuscript as a Rosetta stone, we can see that Henry published anonymously AND under the pseudonym of R. Frequent publications in which he published include the Poughkeepsie Journal and the New-York Magazine or Literary Repository.

A subscription list to the New-York Magazine shows that many members of Henry's family subscribed to the publication, as well as a more surprizing name - Rev. Moore, the rector of Trinity Church in NYC, and Clement Clarke Moore's father!

Some of Henry's poetry and prose are included below. It seems likely that mining Henry's work will be a fertile research area for quite some time to come.

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The Writing of Henry Livingston

1819 Carrier's Address
Careless Philosopher
The Crane & The Fox, A Fable
The Dance [Rebus on 'Nancy Crooke']
Hiding Place
Joanna's entrance into her 33rd year
Master Timmy
The Procession
A Tenant of Mrs. Van Kleeck
To My Little Niece, Annie Duyckinck
To My Little Niece, Sally Livingston
A Valentine
The Vine & Oak, A Fable
More Poems

Honey Dew
Journal of an Asiatic Expedition
The Maelstroom
Universal Hospital
Antiquity and Universality of English
More Prose

The Poetry of Clement Moore

All poems by Moore, including transcriptions from his mss book

The Santa Claus poem believed by Don Foster to be Moore's

A Santa Claus poem guaranteed to be Moore's

Summary of how Moore published Henry Livingston's poem

C. C. Moore, LL. D.
New York, Bartlett & Welford, 1844.
A Trip to Saratoga
Fashionable Countrywomen
The Mischievous Muse
Lines Written After a Snow-storm
Natural Philosophy
My Name in the Sand
Cowper the Poet
To Petrosa
A Song
Old Dobbin
Invitation to a Ball
Fragment Fair
To a Lady
A Visit From St. Nicholas
From a Husband to his Wife
Flowers to a Friend
Yellow Fever
Nymphs of Mount Harmony
To a Young Lady on her Birth-day
The Organist
The Pig and the Rooster
Lines for Valentine's Day
The Wine Drinker
The Water Drinker
To My Daughter, on her Marriage
To Southey


And if you'd like to compare some of the above poems on the same themes, try these combinations!

Valentine's DayHLjrCCM
Social WhirlHLjrCCM

Apologists for Clement Moore's authorship of the poem point to the fact that he wrote lighter poems as well. In fact, there were two other poems published in Moore's 1844 book POEMS that were not in the same rhyme scheme as the ones above. One of the poems was a light and pleasant piece to the Moore horse, Old Dobbin.

Oh Muse! I feel my genius rise
On soaring pinions to the skies.
Whom shall I sing? The Muse replies --
Old Dobbin.

Come then, sweet Goddess, come, I pray,
Assist me with responsive lay,
To all I sing you need but say
Old Dobbin.

The poem continues in that vein. I actually was quite impressed by this poem until I began to research poetry of the period. At that time I realized that if Moore's genius was rising, it was standing on a lot of other shoulders to do so!

Weekly Museum, Nov 16, 1805
Who wash'd my face and comb'd my hair,
And put my little shirt to air,
To make me clean to go to fair?
My Granny!

Weekly Museum, Dec 21, 1805
Who took me from my mother's arms,
And, smiling at her soft alarm,
Showed me the world and nature's charms?
My Father.

Weekly Museum, Mar 16, 1805
Who fed me from her gentle breast,
And hush'd me in her arms to rest,
And on my cheek sweet kisses prest
My mother.

Weekly Museum, Jul 28, 1810
Who is it stands in yonder shop,
Enticing rough faced rogues to stop,
And trimming yon gay gallant fop?
My Barber.

Political Barometer, June 3, 1807
text What covers up an ugly face,
And hides each want of Female grace,
When bordered with a veil of lace?
My Bonnet.

And, finally:
Boston Magazine, Feb 8, 1806
For the Boston Magazine.
Messrs. Editors,
Many elegantly, pathetic poems have lately appeared in the papers, addressed to My father, My mother, My sister, My brother, My uncle, My aunt, My grandmother, &c. &c. In humble imitation, permit me to address My Boot.

PROP of my limbs, and body too,
To thee, what praises are not due.
I owe thee blessings not a few,
My Boot!

Enough said!

The other one of Moore's two light poems was actually in the same rhyme scheme as that of A Visit from St. Nicholas, the anapestic rhyme scheme. This poem, The Pig and the Rooster, includes a long explanation relative to the other poems in his book that makes it clear it was written after the Christmas poem. One could certainly argue that the purpose of the pig poem was actually posterior covering to show that Moore was willing to write anapests. But the other argument against the pig poem being by the same author as the Christmas poem comes from the psychology of the two poems. The pig poem's humor is nasty and sarcastic; the moral is proclaimed by heavy-handed fiat of the judge. The Christmas poem flies free as pure air.

Want to compare Moore's Pig and the Rooster with a fable of Henry's?


Now that you've got the works of the two men in your head, why not go back and read the Christmas poem again, as it originally appeared in the Troy Sentinel of 1823.

Fascinating, as Spock would say. Wouldn't you?

Fun Activities for Christmas
  65 TV Xmas Music Videos
  Antique Illustrations to musical NBC Recitation
  CBS Good Morning America, 2000
  Comic Book Poetry with antique postcards
  The Poem's Story in Anapest
  Antique Illustrated Editions
   Antique Santa Postcards
And after the fun, fall asleep to Clement Moore's Poetry

Timeline Summary
Arguments,   Smoking Gun?,   Reindeer Names,   First Publication,   Quest to Prove Authorship,   Scholars,  
Witness Letters,   Early Variants,   Sources,   Publicity,   Clement Moore's Poetry,   Fiction,   Letters from You

   Book,   Slideshow,   Xmas,   Writing,   The Man,   Work,   Illos,   Music,   Genealogy,   Bios,   History,   Games  

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