UNBEKNOWNST perhaps to most people, two families of this town have been arguing for years about whose
great-grandfather wrote "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." The fly-leaf of your copy will reveal
the name of Dr. Clement Clarke Moore. At the turn of the eighteenth century he lived in a big house
with many chimney places, near Chelsea Square. More than eighty when he died - during the Civil War -
he was buried in the cemetery behind the Chapel of the Intercession on upper Broadway. This Christmas Eve children
will gather about his tomb, carrying lighted candles and singing the verses of his poem. Meanwhile, in a home
on West Seventy-first Street, the household of Dr. William S. Thomas will await the coming of St. Nicholas
as one of their own family. It is their contention that Dr. Thomas' great grandfather, Henry Livingston,
Jr., wrote the poem in a big house near Poughkeepsie more than a hundred years ago and read it to the
family one morning at breakfast.
The story of the literary feud is interesting. Dr. Moore was a notable scholar. His father, Protestant
Episcopal Bishop of New York, assisted at the inauguration of Washington and administered last rites to the
dying Alexander Hamilton. 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 [Corr: 1844; "New-York Book of Poetry", Hoffman, identified
the poem as his in 1837]
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.
It was long before the Civil War that the descendants of Livingston announced their claim. The story of his writing the
poem has been a family tradition for a century. One tale is that a friend of the Moores in the house at the time he read it
asked for a copy of the poem and introduced it later into the household in Chelsea Square. The original of the poem has never
been found by either family.
[Corr: Multiple sources say that the Livingston
manuscript was found, treasured in the family for many years, and destroyed in a house fire. There is no explanation for
the lack of a Moore manuscript.]
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. No writing of
his has been found claiming the authorship of the poem. He had been dead eight years when the poem appeared under Dr. Moore's name.
An interesting quirk to the mystery is that the poem first appeared in print in the Troy Sentinel in 1823, prefaced with a note by
the editor saying that he didn't know who had sent it in.
Dr. Thomas has spent years collecting documents on the subject. A literary researcher who examined his papers some years ago wrote a piece for a
magazine seeming to cast the laurel on Livingston. Immediately, an aged New York lady, who up to this time had taken no part in the
controversy, arose with the news that an ancestor of hers had had from Dr. Moore himself the story of how the poem was written. The moonlight
on the snow of Chelsea Square gave him the idea, she said.
[This is the deposition of Maria Jephson [Post] O'Conor,
written at the request of Casimir de Rham Moore. It was created in response to the 1920 articles
inspired by William Sturges Thomas, to tamp down the authorship dispute flames. In fact, it ended up more as a possible
smoking gun for the Livingston side.]