Christmas Poet Cover

Source Materials
Famous Single Poems
Burton E. Stevenson
New York, 1924.

Historical Articles Chronological Articles
Historical Arguments
for Henry Livingston, Jr. as the Author of
"Night Before Christmas"
Famous Single Poems and the Controversies
Which Have Raged Around Them
Burton E. Stevenson, pp47-80, First Published in 1924

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap;
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the luster of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering sight should appear
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch ! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

Clement Clarke Moore

[Early versions differs widely in wording. Later versions differ more in punctuation.]

This is not the original 1823 version with the awkward phrasing of the reindeer names.
        "Now!   Dasher, now!   Dancer, now!   Prancer, and Vixen,
        "On!   Comet, on!   Cupid, on!   Dunder and Blixem;

Nor the 1830 Troy Sentinel broadsheet with the names partially corrected.
        "Now, Dasher!   now, Dancer!   now, Prancer and Vixen!
        "On, Comet!   on, Cupid!   on, Dunder and Blixem!

It's basically a mixture of the two very close versions from Moore's 1844 'Poems' and the handwritten copy in the New York Historical Society.

NOTHING is harder to kill than a nursery rhyme. Once let it become part of the patter of childhood and its immortality is assured. Jack Sprat, King Cole, Miss Muffety and boy Blue are known and loved by thousands upon thousands who have never heard, nor cared to hear, of Endymion or Prometheus or Child Harold. Mother Goose will probably be the last work of English literature to perish.

It is astonishing how a mere jingle will sometimes win a tremendous vogue. When Julia Fletcher Carney wrote

Little drops of water,
  Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
  And the pleasant land,

as a lesson in ethics for her Boston Sunday school class, she had no idea that she was winning everlasting fame; and when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow tried to soothe his second daughter by chanting

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead,
  When she was good
  She was very, very good,
But when she was bad she was horrid,

as he walked up and down the garden carrying her in his arms, he would have been aghast had he suspected that these lines were to become more widely known than "Evangeline" or "Hiawatha."

Similarly, when a learned professor of Oriental and Greek literature in the General Theological Seminary of New York City, the editor of a monumental Hebrew lexicon, and a thoroughly grave and learned man, so far unbent as to write some merry Christmas verses for his two little daughters, he would have been indeed disillusioned and impressed with the vanity of human attainments had he forseen that of all his works this jingle alone was destined to survive. Yet such was the strange fate which befell Clement Clarke Moore.

Stranger still, it has recently been alleged that Dr. Moore did not write the poem, but had it forced on him, as it were, by a curious series of circumstances, and was finally impelled to the moral turpitude of claiming it as his own.

The poem in question is that nursery classic, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which has probably given pleasure to more children than any other poem ever written, and which seems destined to live as long as Christmas itself.

Its first appearance in print was in the Troy (N. Y.) Sentinel, on December 23, 1823. It was called "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," occupied nearly a column of the paper, and was unsigned. The editor of the paper, Orville Holley, prefaced it with an appreciative note, of which this is the first paragraph:

We know not to whom we are indebted for the following description of that unwearied patron of music - that homely and delightful personage of parental kindness, Santa Claus, his costume and his equipage, as he goes about visiting the firesides of this happy land, laden with Christmas bounties; but from whomsoever it may come, we give thanks for it. 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.

[Livingston's poem 'Timmy']

Master Timmy brisk and airy
Blythe as Oberon the fairy
On thy head thy cousin wishes
Thousand and ten thousand blisses.

Never may thy wicket ball
In a well or puddle fall;
Or thy wild ambitious kite
O'er the Elm's thick foliage light.

When on bended knee thou sittest
And the mark in fancy hittest
May thy marble truly trace
Where thy wishes mark'd the place.

If at hide and seek you play,
All involved in the hay
Titt'ring hear the joyful sound
"Timmy never can be found."

If you hop or if you run
Or whatever is the fun,
Vic'try with her sounding pinion
Hover o'er her little minion.

But when hunger calls the boys
From their helter skelter joys:
Bread and cheese in order standing      
For their most rapacious handling
Timmy may thy luncheon be
More than Ben's as five to three.

But if hasty pudding's dish
Meet thy vast capacious wish -
Or lob-lollys charming jelly
Court thy cormorantal belly
Mortal foe to megre fast
Be thy spoonful first & last.

[Moore's poem 'To a Young Lady
on her Birth-day']

To hail thy natal day, fair maid,
   Once more I wake the lyre;
Once more invoke each favoring muse
   My accents to inspire.

But frown not if my humble strain
   No soothing homage pay
To all the charms that grace thy mind,
   Or round thy features play.

Alas! the brightest charms but yield
   A taper's trembling light;
When fann'd by praise, awhile they glare,
   Then vanish from the sight;

Or, like the soft unsullied snows
   That fall in graceful play,
They shrink beneath the gentlest touch,
   And, silent, melt away.

Nor shall the Muse thy foibles mark
   With keen relentless eye,
That seem like clouds of lightest wing
   That speck the vernal sky.

O! may young life's empurpled morn,
   Still mantling round thy head,
Its balmly airs of youthful hope,
   with kindest influence, shed.

May every cloud of darker hue,
   Ere evening shades advance,
Dissolve away, or just be seen
   To skirt the blue expanse.

And may soft tints of rosy light,
   With gold of purest ray,
Their mild effulgence widely throw
   Around thy closing day.

From which it is evident that Mr. Holley was one of those rare personages who know a masterpiece when they see it! He was not mistaken in thinking the poem would have a wide appeal. It standardized Santa Claus. It visualized the appearance of the old saint so clearly that no artist since has dared to depart from the specifications there set down. Clarence Cook well called it "a true piece of Dutch painting in verse." No homely detail is overlooked, and each is drawn with rare precision. St. Nicholas is painted for all time as a jolly, fun-loving, rotund old elf, whose ruddy skin and bright eyes belie his snow-white beard, who dimples with merriment and makes one laugh just to look at him.

[Livingston's poem 'Apollo Rebus']
The initials of these if you place with precision
Will show you a damsel whose smile is Elysian.
Blended high in her cheek is the rose's rich dye,
With the crimson of rubys her lovely lips vie.
Her breath aromatic surpasses the gales
When fraught with the sweets of ten thousand sweet vales.
Her brow the lake's smoothness exhibits serene,
Its calm representing the sunshine within.

Clad in furs, his sack of toys slung across his back, he skims over the housetops in his little sleigh, whistling and shouting to his reindeer. That sleigh drawn by reindeer was pure inspiration!   [With a dash of Washington Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York]

[Livingston's poem 'War Rebus']
Take the name of that hero who dreadful in war
Spread the terror of Rome thro the nations afar,
With the King of the fairies that sly jealous sprite
Who sleeps all the day but who gambols all night
Green caty-dids draw him - a nutshell contains him,
His kingdom a meadow & a dewdrop sustains him.

For two or three years following, the Sentinel used the poem in its Christmas number, and then issued it as a broadside to be distributed by its carriers on their Christmas round. In this form, it was embellished by a clever woodcut engraved by Myron King, of Troy, showing the old saint flying in his sleigh above the housetops on his merry errand.

During all this time, there had been no disclosure of its authorship, but on January 1, 1829, the New York Courier published the poem with an inquiry as to who wrote it, and on January 20, Mr. Holley, who was still editor of the Sentinel, gave the following hint:

A few days since, the editors of the New York Courier at the request of a lady, inserted some lines descriptive of one of the visits of that good old Dutch Saint, St. Nicholas, and at the same time applied to our Albany neighbors for information as to the author. That information, we apprehend, the Albany editors cannot give. The lines were first published in this paper. They came to us from a manuscript in possession of a lady of this city. We have been given to understand that the author of them belongs, by birth and residence, to the city of New York, and that he is a gentleman of more merit as a scholar and a writer than many more of more noisy pretensions.

No doubt, during the years which had intervened since the first appearance of the poem, Mr. Holley had been investigating the question of its authorship for himself; he had discovered the person who had originally sent the poem to him, had learned from her who the author was, and by this play upon words was endeavoring to indicate a name which he did not feel wholly at liberty to reveal.

The poem continued to be widely quoted during the next few years, always unsigned, but in 1837 a collection of verse called The New York Book of Poetry was published by George Dearborn. "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was one of the poems included, and the name of Clement C. Moore appears beneath its title as its author.

In 1844, Dr. Clement Clarke Moore, of New York City, published his collected poems, and one of them was "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

This apparently settled the question, and from that time forward the poem has always been ascribed to him. Griswold in his Poets and Poetry of America, published in 1849, is said to have so credited it (though the poem has been replaced by another one by Dr. Moore, possibly at his own suggestion, in the 1852 edition of that work owned by the present writer); it is so credited in Duyckinck's Cyclopedia of American Literature published in 1855; and there has been no question concerning its authorship in the mind of any subsequent anthologist. Indeed such a question would have seemed preposterous.

Accompanying the verses in Duyckinck is a very complimentary note about Dr. Moore, from which the following is taken:

Professor Moore has lightened his learned labors in the seminary by the composition of numerous poems from time to time, chiefly expressions of home thoughts and affections, with a turn for humor as well as sentiment, the reflections of a genial, amiable nature. They were collected by the author in a volume in 1844, which he dedicated to his children. Though occasional compositions, they are polished in style, the author declaring in his preface that he does not pay his readers "so ill a compliment as to offer the contents of this volume to their view as the mere amusements of my idle hours; effusions thrown off without care or meditation, as though the refuse of my thoughts were good enough for them. On the contrary, some of the pieces have cost me much time and thought; and I have composed them all as carefully and correctly as I could." The longest of these poems is entitled "A Trip to Saratoga," a pleasant narrative and sentimental account of a family journey. Others are very agreeable vers de societe commonly associated with some amusing theme. One, a sketch of an old Dutch legend greatly cherished in all genuine New York families, has become a general favorite wherever it is known. It is "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

The lesson of the amiable life and character of this accomplished Christian gentleman is happily expressed in one of the resolutions passed by the faculty of the General Theological Seminary, which he had served as a professor for nearly thirty years, and endowed with a magnificent grant of land. "We recognize in him," is its language, "one whom God has blessed with selecter gifts; warm-hearted in friendship, genial in society, kindly and considerate to all; possessed of fine literary tastes, poetic instincts and expressiveness, and of cheerful humor withal; at the same time well accomplished in severer studies and resolute for more laborious undertakings, as his learned works in Hebrew grammar and lexicography distinctly testify."

Dr. Moore's life seems to have been an exceptionally full and happy one. He was the only child of the Right Reverend Benjamin Moore, president of Columbia College and Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York, one of the most prominent men of his time, who had, among other things, assisted at the inauguration of George Washington as first president of the United States and administered the last communion to Alexander Hamilton as he lay dying after his duel with Aaron Burr. His wife had inherited from her father a tract of land extending from the present Nineteenth street to Twenty-fourth street, and from what is now Eighth avenue to the Hudson River. Here the family mansion, known as "Chelsea Farm," stood on a knoll, looking down upon the Hudson, and here on July 15, 1779, Clement Clarke Moore was born.

He graduated from Columbia in 1798 and prepared for the ministry, but never took orders. Instead, continuing to live in his father's house, he devoted himself to oriental and classical studies and to the occasional writing of verse. The first fruit of his studies was a Hebrew and English lexicon, in two volumes, published in 1809. It was a decidedly important work for those days, the first of its kind published in America. Though long since superseded, it was undoubtedly, as its compiler hoped it would be, "of some service to his young countrymen in breaking down the impediments which present themselves at the entrance of the study of Hebrew."

In 1818, Dr. Moore presented to the newly organized General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church the tract of land between Ninth and Tenth avenues and Twentieth and Twenty-first streets, with the water-right on the Hudson belonging to it, on the sole condition that the seminary buildings be erected there a truly magnificent gift which few millionaires could duplicate to-day. In 1821, he accepted the appointment of "Professor of Biblical Learning" in the seminary, a designation which was afterwards altered to that of "Oriental and Greek Literature." He resigned this position in 1850, was appointed Professor Emeritus, and passed the remainder of his life placidly either at Chelsea Farm or at a summer place at Newport, where he died July 10, 1863.

He was buried in the Trinity Church cemetery at One hundred and fifty-third street and Amsterdam avenue, and around his grave on every Christmas eve the children from the Chapel of the Intercession near by gather to sing hymns and to recite the poem which has made St. Nicholas a real person for so many generations of young folks.

Dr. Moore's book of poems (Poems by Clement C. Moore, LL.D., New York, Bartlett & Welford, 1844), begins with a preface explaining why and in what manner the collection was made. It is important because it is self-revealing, and is in part as follows:

My Dear Children:

In compliance with your wishes, I here present you with a volume of verses, written by me at different periods of my life.

I have not made a selection from among my verses of such as are of any particular cast; but have given you the melancholy and the lively; the serious, the sportive, and even the trifling; such as relate solely to our own domestic circle, and those of which the subjects take a wider range. Were I to offer you nothing but what is gay and lively, you well know that the deepest and keenest feelings of your father's heart would not be portrayed. If, on the other hand, nothing but what is serious or sad had been presented to your view, an equally imperfect character of his mind would have been exhibited. For you are all aware that he is far from following the school of Chesterfield with regard to harmless mirth and merriment; and that, in spite of all the cares and sorrows of this life, he thinks we are so constituted that a good honest hearty laugh, which con- ceals no malice, and is excited by nothing corrupt, however ungenteel it may be, is healthful to both body and mind. 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.

Which would indicate that Dr. Moore was very far from being the dry, humorless pedant he is sometimes pictured. It shows, too, that he was very fond of his children indeed he wrote more than one set of verses for them, though, it must be confessed, more often to instruct than to amuse!

[Moore's poem 'Portrait']
Think that you still can trace within those eyes
The kindling of affection's fervid beam,
The searching glance that every fault espies,
The fond anticipation's pleasing dream.

Fancy those lips still utter sounds of praise,
Or kind reproof that checks each wayward will,
The warning voice, or precepts that may raise
Your thoughts above this treach'rous world of ill.

And thus shall Art attain her loftiest power;
To noblest purpose shall her efforts tend
Not the companion of an idle hour,
But Virtue's handmaid and Religion's friend.

[Moore's poem 'Daughter's Marriage']
And you, my child, while yet your life is strong,
While in the calm of peace your thoughts repose,
Prepare for ills that to our state belong,
And arm you to contend with numerous foes.

For many ills unseen beset us round,
And many foes within ourselves we raise.
What sudden checks in smoothest paths are found!
How few and fleeting are our golden days!

[Moore's poem 'Snow']
But see, my darlings, while we stay
   And gaze with fond delight,
The fairy scene soon fades away,
   And mocks our raptur'd sight.

And let this fleeting vision teach
   A truth you soon must know --
That all the joys we here can reach
   Are transient as the snow.

[Moore's poem 'From St. Nicholas']
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:

He seems never to have suspected that his authorship of any of these poems would be questioned, and so made no effort to authenticate it.

[He did, however, check with the owner of the Troy Sentinel to see if the man had known the author of the poem when he published it anonymously. When the reply came from Tuttle that he hadn't known the author, Moore immediately published the poem. Don Foster considers this "the coast is clear" letter.]

Nor, so far as known, was the original manuscript of any of them preserved. The only record of any direct statement by him as to the circumstances of the composition of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is contained in a letter written in 1862, the year before his death.

In that year, the librarian of the New York Historical Society, wishing to secure an autograph copy of the poem to be preserved in the society's archives, received the following response to his request:

73 East 12th Street,
New York, March 15, 1862.
George H. Moore, Esq.,

Librarian of the New York Historical Society.
Dear Sir:

I have the pleasure to inform you that Dr. Clement C. Moore has been so kind as to comply with my request (made at your suggestion) to furnish for the Archives of our Society an autograph copy of his justly celebrated "Visit from St. Nicholas." I enclose it to you.

I hardly need call your attention to the distinctness and beauty of his handwriting - very remarkable considering his advanced age (he completed his 82d year in July last), and his much impaired eyesight.

These lines were composed for his two daughters as a Christmas present, about forty years ago. They were copied by a relative of Dr. Moore's in her Album, from which a copy was made by a friend of hers, from Troy, [This mitigates the confusion over whether the copy of the poem was removed from Moore's home by a relative or a friend. Harriet Butler was a relative of the Moores (as well as a relative of the Livingstons). Mrs. Daniel Sackett was, like the Butlers, a Troy NY resident, needing no connection to either the Moores or the Livingstons.]

and, much to the surprise of the Author, were published (for the first time) in a newspaper of that city.

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.

I remain, very resp'y,

Your o'b't S't,

T. W. C. Moore.

This is the nearest approach, so far as known, to a statement as to the authorship of the poem made directly by Dr. Moore. But it is surely explicit enough and the autograph copy of the verses which accompanied it is signed by Dr. Moore as follows:

Clement C. Moore
1862, March 13th.
Originally written many years ago.

[Don Foster notes that detectives tend to be suspicious of declarations made in the passive tense.]

Objection has been made that in 1822 Dr. Moore had three daughters, Margaret, born in 1815, Charity, born in 1816, and Mary, born in 1819, and that consequently if it was written for two daughters, it must have been written before September, 1819. But this is mere trifling. What Dr. Moore undoubtedly meant was that the poem was written for his two elder daughters, who, in 1822, were aged seven and six respectively just the ages to enjoy such a bit of jollity.

It was not until 1897 that any story appeared in print which explained fully how the poem came to be published in the Troy Sentinel. In that year, Mr. William S. Pelletreau, of New York City, published a little volume entitled The Visit of St. Nicholas,   [The Visit of St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore, LL.D. Facsimile of the original manuscript, with life of the author. By William S. Pelletreau, A.M. New York : G. W. Dillingham Co., Publishers. MDCCCXCVII.]   in which the story is told substantially as follows:

The poem was written by Dr. Moore in 1822 as a Christmas present for his children, and with no thought that it would ever be published. Up to the end of his life, indeed, he seems to have regarded it as merely a nursery jingle without any serious merit. Among the many friends of Dr. Moore's family was the family of the Rev. Dr. David Butler, then rector of St. Paul's church in the city of Troy, N. Y., and Dr. Butler's eldest daughter Harriet happened to be visiting the Moore children and to be present when Dr. Moore read the verses. She liked them so much that she copied them in her "album" an essential property of all young ladies of that epoch and carried them home with her to read to the children at the rectory.

When the following Christmas season rolled around, she bethought her of the verses which she had found so delightful, and could not resist the inclination to make them public. Accordingly she made a copy of them and sent it to Mr. Holley, the editor of the Troy Sentinel, without other communication of any sort or any indication of the authorship, and Mr. Holley used the poem, as has been stated, in his issue of December 23, 1823. [An example of how the previous confusion drifted in. Tuttle's letter to Moore states that the newspaper received the poem from Mrs. Daniel Sackett, not Harriet Butler.]

This is a reasonable and straightforward narrative, but it has been objected that it was written by Mr. Pelletreau more than thirty years after Dr. Moore's death, and that he nowhere indicates his sources of information. However, it is only fair to infer that he got the story from the Moore family, where it must have been well known. At least it agrees in essence with such details as Dr. Moore himself gave in the letter of 1862.

It is said that Dr. Moore was considerably chagrined by the publication of his verses as well he might be. Any author would be chagrined to have one of his poems copied by a guest and published without his consent! And it should be pointed out that it is only on the theory that he was really the author that such chagrin is understandable. If he was not the author, there was no reason why he should feel any concern as to the fate of the poem or care how often it was published. But if he was really the author, its unauthorized publication in this manner must have seemed to him very much like a betrayal of confidence.

No public and formal challenge of Dr. Moore's authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" has ever been made; nevertheless, for more than a hundred years, the belief has persisted among the descendants of Henry Livingston that he and not Dr. Moore wrote it, and a great-grandson of Mr. Livingston, Dr. William S. Thomas of New York City, has for many years been assembling the evidence in the case. This evidence Dr. Thomas has been kind enough to place at the disposition of the present writer.

Henry Livingston was born on October 13, 1748, in his father's home, the old Livingston mansion, on the bank of the Hudson about a mile south of Poughkeepsie, and passed most of his life on an estate of 250 acres near by, known as "Locust Grove," given him by his father at the time of his marriage. He served as a major in General Montgomery's expedition to Canada, but was invalided home in December, 1775, and saw no further military service. [His enlistment was for only six months and expired.] After the Revolution, he held various minor offices, such as assessor and justice of the peace, and did some public surveying, but most of his time was spent looking after his farm. He was twice married, had twelve children, and died February 29, 1828. Mr. Livingston seems to have been a genial md cultivated gentleman, and all his life he had a fondness for writing playful rhymes for the amusement of his family. Some of these were published in contemporary newspapers and magazines, as were also a number of prose articles on such subjects as "Antiquity and University of the English Language," "Journal of Asiatic Expedition," or descriptive of plates made from the author's drawings. He was evidently very proud of these drawings, which though rude are not without merit, for he always carefully signed them.

A manuscript book containing forty-four of his poems written between 1784 and 1789 is in the possession of Dr. Thomas. In addition the evidence which these poems furnish, and the persistence of the legend itself, the belief that Mr. Livingston wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is supported by a number of family letters, the most important of which, as explaining how the poem came to be attributed to Dr. Moore, is by Mrs. Edward Livingston Montgomery and is as follows:

Henry Livingston (1748-1828) + Sarah Welles
  Catherine Livingston (1775-1775) + Arthur Breese
    Catharine Walker Breese (1798-1886) + Captain Samuel Birdsill Griswold
      Cornelia Platt Griswold (1821-1902) + William McLean Goodrich
        Cornelia Griswold Goodrich (1842-1927)
        Anne Livingston Goodrich (1851-1902)
        Mary Willis Goodrich (1859-1918) + Edward Livingston Montgomery
Mary [Willis Goodrich] Montgomery to William S. Thomas, 3 Mar 1917
The little incident connected with the first reading of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was related to me by my grandmother, 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 the family and their guests were just sitting down to breakfast. He held the manuscript in his hand and said it was a Christmas poem that he had written for them. He then sat down at the table and read aloud to them "A Visit from 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 Clement C. Moore, where she filled the position of governess to his children.

The inference to be drawn from this is, of course, that the young lady showed the poem to Dr. Moore, who made a copy of it and subsequently read it to his children (not necessarily as his own), and that Miss Butler, who was present at the time and who sent the copy to the Troy Sentinel, supposed him to be the author and so informed Editor Holley when that gentleman questioned her about it. In this way, the belief that Dr. Moore was the author might have started without any complicity on his part.

But Mrs. Montgomery's story is vitiated by the fact that in 1805, when Mr. Livingston supposedly wrote the poem, Dr. Moore was only twenty-six years old, unmarried, without children, and consequently in no need of a governess. Nor were there any children at "Chelsea Farm," Dr. Moore having been an only child. His first child was not born until 1815. Various attempts have been made to explain away tis discrepancy, but with no great success.

[Interestingly, Stevenson stopped excerpting Mary Montgomery's letter a little early. Otherwise he wouldn't have had to worry about Moore's children. Mary continues: "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.

I heard this spoken of by Mrs. Griswold after I had reached years of discretion (20 years). She spent the latter years of her life at my father's home at Poughkeepsie, where she died in 1881."

Mary's sister Cornelia had written that same story to Henry Livingston of Babylon, Long Island, the son of Henry Livingston, Jr.'s son Sidney. According to Cornelia: "a young governess was visiting in my g-g-grandfather's family at Locust Grove who was employed in the Moore family somewhere down South. She was a mutual friend of both families."]

However, there is another letter written in 1879 by Henry Livingston's daughter Eliza, who married Judge Smith Thompson of the New York Supreme Court.

Henry Livingston (1748-1828) + Jane Patterson
   Charles Paterson Livingston (1794-1847) + Elizabeth Clement Brewer (1798-1878)
      Jane Patterson Livingston (1829-1909) + Lester Samuel Hubbard
         Jeannie (Paterson) Livingston Hubbard (1856-1945) + Robert Gracey Denig
   Sidney Montgomery Livingston (1796-1856) + Joannah Maria Holthuysen
       Henry Livingston (1837-1906) + Nancy Augusta Carrl
   Elizabeth D. Livingston (1805-1886) + Smith Thompson + Richard R. Lansing
Here it is:
Eliza [Davenport Livingston] Thompson Lansing
to Anne Livingston Goodrich, 4 Mar 1879
Anne was sister to Mary and Cornelia
Dear Annie:

Your letter has just been received and I hasten to tell you all I know about the poem "Night before Christmas."

It was supposed and believed in our family to be Father's and I well remember our astonishment when we saw it claimed as Clement C. Moore's many years after my Father's decease, which took place more than forty years ago.

At that time my brothers in looking over his papers found the original in his own handwriting with his many fugitive pieces which he had preserved. And then too the style was so exactly his, when he felt in a humorous mood, and we have often said could it be possible that another could express the same originality of thought and use the same phrases so familiar to us as Father!

I remember my brother Charles took the poem home with him. He was then living in Ohio and I have an indistinct idea that he intended to have it published, but I am not at all sure on this point, so don't like to assert it as fact.

My Father had a fine poetical taste, and wrote a great deal, both prose and poetry, not for publication but for his own amusement. He also had a great taste for drawing and painting. When we were children, he used to entertain us on winter evenings by getting down his paint box, we seated around the table. First he would portray something very pathetic which would melt us to tears, the next thing would be so comic that we would be almost wild with laughter; and this dear good man was your great greatgrandfather, Henry Livingston.

Now my dear, give Mama and Grandmama my warmest love. Yours very truly,

E. L. Thompson.
Elvie Cottage, 8 Court Street,

March 4, 1879.

Still another letter from Henry Livingston, of Babylon, L. I., tells what became of the original draft:

Henry Livingston of Babylon LI
to Cornelia Griswold Goodrich, 10 Jan 1900
My father, as long ago as I can remember, claimed that his father (Henry, Jr.), was the author; that it was first read to the children at the old homestead near 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 it was given to his brother Edwin, and Edwin's personal effects were destroyed when his sister Susan's house was burned at Waukesha, Wisconsin, about 1847 or 1848.

Still another bit of evidence is supplied by Mrs. Rudolph Denig, the wife of a retired commodore of the navy. Her grandmother was Eliza Clement Brewer, who married Charles Livingston, son of Henry Livingston, in 1826. The Brewers and the Livingstons were neighbors, and Mrs. Denig states that her grandmother told her that in 1808, while visiting at the Livingston home, she heard Mr. Livingston read the poem as his own.

But the greatest emphasis in the Livingston argument is laid on the internal evidence of the poem itself, on its resemblance to the acknowledged poems of Henry Livingston, and the contrast between it and anything else Dr. Moore ever wrote. Of the forty-four poems in Mr. Livingston's book, one third are in the same anapaestic meter as "A Visit from St. Nicholas," and they abound in the same tricks of rhyme and phrase. The most significant of them, so far as the present controversy is concerned, was written in 1786 and is here given in full:


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.

The resemblance to "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is very marked. To be sure, all anapaestic verse sounds much alike,

[Livingston's poem 'Nancy Crooke Rebus']
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.

[Moore's poem 'The Pig and the Rooster']
"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."

but here there are the same tricks of expression, the same fondness for detail in a word, the same style.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

[Livingston's poem 'Catherine Sleeping']
Thy little bosom knows no care,
For guilt neer lay & wrankled there;

[Livingston's poem 'Wren']
Soothe the heavy heart of care
Or dispel the darkness there.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprung from the bed to see what was the matter.

[Livingston's poem '1787 Carriers Address']
And now the end of all this clatter
Is but a small and trifling matter;

[Livingston's poem 'Letter from a Tenant of Mrs. Van Kleeck']
Well Madam, the long and the short of the clatter
For mumbling & mincing will not better the matter;

[Moore also uses rhymes from 'Night Before Christmas,' but he does so in poems written after the publication of the Christmas poem. All of Livingston's rhymes were written before.]

wink of his eye
    twist of his head

[Livingston's poem 'Queen of Love Rebus']
FAIRER than the queen of love
    Sweeter than the smiling May
    Calmer than the close of day

[Livingston's poem 'Gentleman Leaving Pakepsy']
join'd in our circles
    mixt in our play

[Livingston's poem 'Sages Rebus']
Joy laughs in his breast
    health lives in his eye

[Livingston's poem 'To Miss']
pride of each lass
    wish of each swain

[Livingston's poem 'To Miss (Roses)']
Blithsome as the breathing day
    Smiling as the smiling May

[Livingston's poem 'Monarchs Rebus']
pride of the world
    delight of the stag

[Livingston's poem 'Bats']
There could not be a simpler thing:
    He could not be a bird was clear

[Livingston's poem '1803 Carriers Address']
source of our wealth:
    support of our trade

[Livingston's poem '1819 Carriers Address']
lounge at my pleasure
    bask at my ease ease

[Moore uses this type of repetition far less often.]

No doubt Mr. Livingston kept on writing such lively verse to the end of his life, since it seems to have been his favorite amusement, but none survives which is known to have been written later than 1789.

In his daughter Jane's manuscript book, Livingston wrote poetry up until 1827, the year before his death.
         God is Love
                I LOVE my feeble voice to raise
                In humble pray'r and ardent praise
                Till my rapt soul attains that height
                When all is glory and delight. ...

                ...Affrighted now, the bell he found;
                'Twas turned to gold, and could not sound.
                His guards attended to his call
                And rush'd en-masse into the hall
                A well appointed martial band -
                - He seized their leader by the hand
                And beg'd assistance - But behold
                The galant captain turn'd to gold. ...

         Without Distinction
                Without distinction, fame, or note
                Upon the tide of life I float,
                A bubble almost lost to sight
                As cobweb frail, as vapor light;
                And yet within that bubble lies
                A spark of life which never dies.

         The Crane & Fox
                In long gone years a fox and crane
                Were bound in friendship's golden chain;
                Whene'er they met, the fox would bow
                And madame Crane would curtsie low:
                -My lovely Crane how do you do?
                -I'm very well - pray how are you? ...

         Scots Wha Hae Wie Wallace Bled
                ... 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.

In 1822 Livingston had published the Adventures of an American Eagle gold coin.
                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.

And in his 1823 Carriers Address Livingston wrote:
                 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. ...

As to the internal evidence of the poem, it is pointed out that its setting fits admirably the old stone house at "Locust Grove," with its broad lawn and wide fireplaces, that Mr. Livingston always addressed his wife as "mama," and that she was in the habit of wearing a 'kerchief on her head at night; that he was born, reared and lived among villagers of Dutch descent, who retained many of the customs and traditions of their fathers, and that it "is manifestly more probable that the poem was composed by a country gentleman reared among Dutch surroundings, than by a Biblical scholar and linguist of the city."

On the other hand, Dr. Moore's poems are as different as possible from this light-hearted, airy and dashing rhyme. He frequently essays to be airy, it is true, and perhaps a third of the poems in his volume might fairly be called vers de societe, but it is written laboriously with a heavy hand. For instance, with a pair of gloves to a young lady he sends some lines beginning:

Go envied glove, with anxious care,
From scorching suns and withering air,
   Belinda's hand to guard.
And let no folds offend the sight;
Nor let thy seams, perversely tight,
   With hasty rents be marred.

He invokes the Muses,

[Moore's poem 'Old Dobbin']
Oh Muse! I feel my genius rise
On soaring pinions to the skies.
      [The poem seems much less clever when you realize that this framework
      was being satirized outrageously at the time Moore wrote it.]

celebrates various nymphs, apostrophizes Hebe, Apollo, Terpsichore, Pallas and numerous other gods and goddesses,

[Moore's poem 'Mischievous Muse']
Bright God of harmony, whose voice
Inspires the tuneful Nine,
Oh, grant me now thy golden lyre;
And teach a strain like thine!
And come, sweet Heliconian Maids,
With mine your notes to blend:
The gay Terpsichore
To her I've sworn eternal hate;
My soul indignant views
The wrongs by her to Pallas done,
And every sister Muse.
Deep shrouded in her gloomy clouds,
Black Night of her complains,
That many a dream within its grot
An idler now remains.
Enamour'd of the airy skill
This frolic Muse displays
When call'd by fashion's friendly voice
To guide the sportive maze,
A thousand nymphs of loveliest bloom,
Fair Hebe's joy and pride,
Reject me from their blithsome hearts,
And all my pangs deride.
What aspirations from this breast
Their charms have caus'd to rise!
But, ah! the winds dispers'd each pray'r
Before it reach'd the skies.
The lyre Apollo kindly gave
I find avail me naught;

and capitalizes Fancy, Hope and so on, all in the good old way.

[Moore's poem 'From a Husband to His Wife']
The dreams of Hope that round us play,
And lead along our early youth,
How soon, alas! they fade away
Before the sober rays of Truth.
And yet there are some joys in life
That Fancy's pencil never drew;

He castigates the follies of the times,

[Moore's poem 'Invitation to a Ball']
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.

especially the freedom with which young ladies display their charms;

[Moore's poem 'Fashion']
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!

decries the wine-bibber and exalts the drinker of water; [Actually, Moore imbibes with moderation and is more making fun of the extremists.] writes at length (fifty [ENDLESS!!] pages) of a family excursion to Saratoga;

[Moore's poem 'Saratoga']
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.

tells of his sorrow at the death of his wife, and includes a few translations from classic poets.

In a word, the volume is entirely characteristic of the times, when writing verses was a sort of courtly accomplishment with which the gravest men were supposed to amuse their leisure hours. That it was often a painful amusement is witnessed by Dr. Moore himself, for he explains that his poems were not heedlessly thrown off, but cost him much time and thought, and were, carefully and correctly composed. It is there that they differ so radically from "A Visit from St. Nicholas," which, very evidently, was not composed carefully and correctly at all, but bubbled up in high spirits from the inspiration of the moment.

Only one other poem in the book bears any discoverable resemblance to "A Visit from St. Nicholas." That is an effusion called "The Pig and the Rooster," and a sub-title states that "the following piece of fun was occasioned by a subject for composition given to the boys of a grammar school attended by one of my sons viz.: 'Which are to be preferred, the pleasures of a pig or a chicken?'" It starts off as follows:

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.

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. But it at least proves that Dr. Moore could, when he wished, write very passable anapaests

[Moore's poem 'The Pig and the Rooster']
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."

a meter which he would naturally not employ for the didactic poems to which he was generally addicted.

It will be remembered that it is admitted that the poem was taken from Dr. Moore's house to Troy by Miss Butler; that she might have supposed him to be the author without any specific claim on his part; and that it was probably she who gave his name to Editor Holley; consequently that the first connection of his name with the poem might have been wholly without his connivance. It is argued by Dr. Thomas that in the end Dr. Moore very possibly came to believe he really wrote it. "Having at last permitted his name to become connected with the poem, perhaps after denials which became successively fainter, before actual acquiescence took their place, it was possibly natural to find detailed evidence in support of a claim which at last may well have been really sincere. It is not difficult to believe that Dr. Moore actually came to think, as time went on, that the poem was really his own." That his claim was not at once disputed was due, it is alleged, to an entirely natural reluctance on the part of the Livingstons to call into question the veracity of the son of a Bishop and a professor of Biblical Learning.

There is a certain plausibility about all this, though it should be pointed out that there is no single written document extant to show that Henry Livingston ever claimed the authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," even after its appearance in the Troy Sentinel; and it seems strange that, if he really wrote it and found every one to whom he read it so delighted with it, he did not himself, in the years following 1805, send it to some paper for publication. If we are to believe the Livingston chronology it remained unpublished for eighteen years. As to the surroundings of the two men, no doubt "Chelsea Farm" had a lawn and wide fireplaces as well as "Locust Grove," and Mrs. Moore was just as likely to be called "Mama"

[Museum of the City of New York - Moore letters to his mother]
Baltimore       Thursday 28th 1892       My dear Mother,
Lebanon Springs     Augt 29th 1802       Dear Mother,
Boston July 1st 1807       My dear Mother,
Concord July 12th 1807       My dear Mother,
Northampton July 18th 1807       My dear Mother,
Washington May 30th 1812       My dear Mother,
Washington June 4th 1812       I suppose, my dear mother,

and to wear a 'kerchief over her head at night as was Mrs. Livingston!

Familiarity with the Saint Nicholas legend was also, of course, common to both men, and one is inclined to think that the solution of the riddle may be that Henry Livingston really did write a Christmas jingle to read to his children in 1805 and so did Clement Clarke Moore seventeen years later. These may very easily have been enough alike both in theme and treatment to create confusion in the memories of the Livingston family, and to cause them honestly to believe that the poem which subsequently became so famous and which was attributed to the New York theologian was the same one they had first heard in childhood from their father's lips. Charges of plagiarism have very often originated in just this way.

However, if no one else had ever 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 though, as another writer has pointed out, it must be remembered that Alice in Wonderland was written by a professor of mathematics, and that the Nonsense Novels and The Elements of Political Science are by one and the same hand. But in the face of Dr. Moore's explicit claim, something more than indirect evidence of this sort is required. In 1844, when he included it among his published works, he was only sixty-three years of age, in full possession of all his faculties, and if the poem was not his, he was committing a theft of the basest and meanest sort, of whose nature he must have been fully conscious. To suppose that he would stoop so low for so paltry a purpose is to imply that he was really only a whited sepulcher. There is absolutely nothing else in his life to warrant such a supposition. He was a man of unblemished reputation, of high repute for integrity, of wide beneficence, of upright and kindly life, and rich in honors.

Conclusive indeed must be the proof to convince any one that he would soil himself by the theft of another man's poem in order to add one more leaf to his wreath of laurel. The only final and absolute proof would be the discovery of the poem in some published form prior to 1822. Until such proof is forthcoming, Dr. Moore's claim to its authorship cannot be justly denied, and the children whom it has delighted need not hesitate to gather around his grave, as heretofore, on Christmas eve, to do him honor.


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