It's fascinating to discover how one small snowball of action can trigger an enormous avalanche of reaction. The person throwing our snowball?
The chief translator of the State Department,
Henry Livingston Thomas (HLT) (27 Feb 1835 - 28 Dec 1903).
HLT was the grandson of Henry Livingston, Jr. and the son of Henry's daughter Jane.
A translator for the State Department
for thirty-four years, Thomas was fluent in
French, Spanish, Italian, German, Norwegian, Danish,
Dutch, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, besides having a general knowledge of other tongues.
And, according to HLT's son, William S. Thomas, HLT was also a firm believer in his grandfather's authorship of the Christmas poem, "Night Before Christmas."
William S. Thomas Notes About Henry Livingston Thomas - Undated|
Henry Livingston Thomas, Grandson of Major Henry Livingston, told me (William S. Thomas) that his grandfather Livingston wrote
"A Visit from St. Nicholas". I memorized the poem from his dictation when I was a little boy, in full assurance that it had been written
by a member of my family and well remember my indignant surprise on first seeing a printed copy with the name of the author given as
"Clement C. Moore".
In an 1851 letter to Abraham Lansing, his first cousin, sixteen year old HLT wrote: "
As I look from my window just now the sky looks rather lowering, as if the white masses of snow were preparing themselves for a sally
through their cloudy barriers. I trust they will act in accordance with present appearances, at least in order to allow an easy
passage to Santa Claus with his "eight tiny reindeer," for my sympathy is enlisted on the side of such juveniles as those
whom his visits gladden."
HLT joined the State Department in 1871, after the school at which he taught, Churchill's Academy at Sing Sing (now Ossining NY) closed
in 1869. While teaching there, he had an interesting experience which he told as an anecdote to his sister Gertrude.
Aunt Gertrude Thomas to William S. Thomas - 13 Oct 1920|
61 Sparks St
Oct 13th 1920
H.L.T. told me that little incident himself. He was teaching at Mr. Churchill's school Singsing. One day - The
Night Before Christmas was spoken of, and Henry said- "My Grandfather wrote that." "No said a boy- my Grandfather did."
"No my Grandfather did-" "No mine did-" And so it went back and forth - amounting to nothing - but each one
sure that he was right. This boy was a grandson of Clement C. Moore. I was the culprit who told you the little story.
The story intrigued Thomas and, when he learned from a friend whom that student might have been,
he decided to contact
Casimir de Rham Moore,
Clement Moore's son Benjamin's son, and ask if the story was, indeed true.
William S. Thomas to Casimir de Rham Moore - 12 Dec 1920|
December 12, 1920
Mr. Casimir de Rham Moore,
109 East 38th Street,
The recent article in the Bookman concerning the claim to authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" made on behalf of Henry Livingston,
which article you have probably read, has brought out the enclosed comment from The World's editor, Mr. Benchley. This clever notation
you may also have seen, and it may have given you as hearty a laugh as it did me.
I take the liberty of writing to you, although a stranger, on account of an interest in the above mentioned question of authorship,
which interest circumstances, not of my own making, have forced me to share with members of your family. During a recent conversation with
Mr. Stuyvesant Fish at his Garrison house, I learned that you, with him, attended school at Churchill's Academy at Sing Sing, and were taught
Latin by my father, Henry Livingston Thomas, who afterward was long Chief of the Translation Bureau of the State Department. Would it be
presuming upon your patience and good nature for me to ask you if you can recall the fact that either you or your elder brother at the
school (before he went to the Civil War) heard Mr. Thomas state that his grandfather, Henry Livingston, wrote
the "Night Before Christmas"?
Father once told his sister that he had discussed the matter with a grandson of Dr. Clement C. Moore, while at Churchill's Academy. Quite
aside from the merits of the case, I should be so glad to know if you can recall the matter, trifling as it is. The courtesy of a
reply will be gratefully received by
William S. Thomas
The letter didn't have far to go as they were both New Yorkers, but Moore's reply was amazingly fast. Luckily for the civility of their
interchange, Moore made the false assumption that this Livingston was not the Livingston who was challenging Moore's grandfather.
Despite his assurances that it was impossible that Clement Moore could have been caught in a lie, Moore did mention that he'd been looking for
the notorious Bookman article.
Casimir de R. Moore to William S. Thomas - 13 Dec 1920|
December 13, 1290
109 East 38th Street
December 13: 1920
Dr. William S. Thomas,
240 West 71st St: City,
Your's of the 12th received. I remember your Father at Mr. Churchill's school very well, and have often reproached myself for
some of the boyish annoyances I must have caused him. I trust, however, he looked upon them in this light and forgave my thoughtlessness.
I do not recall his ever speaking to me about my grandfather's poem "The Night before Christmas", nor have I ever heard my brother say he did so with him.
You will understand any such conversation must have taken place more than fifty years ago, and might very easily be forgotten: still I think I would recall it.
By your letter I see you are a cousin of the Mr. Livingston who lays claim, on behalf of his grand father, to the authorship of the little poem. I will not therefore go into the question of the true authorship with you further than to say it would be an impossibility for Clement C. Moore to have assumed the authorship wrongly. His whole past and future life would have been a lie: and Mr Benchley says he never was caught in one. I fear Mr Livingston will have to try again before he can persuade people to accept his claim.
I am obliged to you for the clipping from the World which I had not seen, and which certainly is amusing. I have been unable to see the article in The Bookman as none of my clubs take it. I have tried the Public Library without success, as the last numbers were out. I remain
Your very truly
Casimir de R. Moore
Regardless of the confident tone of his letter, Moore was disturbed by this literary challenge and the same day that he wrote to WST, Moore
visited the New York Historical Society to reassure himself that the Moore proof was in place. The librarian called WST the next day with
the juicy details about the "perturbed" visitor.
Mr. Wall, Librarian, New York Historical Society,|
to William S. Thomas 14 Dec 1920
On Dec. 13, 1920 Mr. Casimir de Rham Moore called at the N.Y. Historical Society and requested to see the manuscript copy of
"'Twas the Night Before Christmas." This he saw and told Mr. Wall (Librarian) "Yes that's my grandfather's handwriting, all right."
He mentioned the comment on Mr. West's article by Benchley of the World which I enclosed him in my letter of Dec. 11. He appeared
perturbed about the matter, says Mr. Wall, and said something about "These Livingstons are making a claim, but there is no foundation
for it." He said his grandfather had written better things than the Christmas poem, but the only reason that "took" was because it
had a "jingle" to it.
The "Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement C. Moore," appears in "The New York Book of Poetry, N.Y. George Dearborn, Publisher, 1834. (p.217).
In this book appears also by C.C. Moore "From a Husband to His Wife."
Apparently Moore did finally get his hands on the Bookman article because he wrote its author
on the 18th, a Friday, giving details of the publication of the poem that he felt would settle the issue for good.
But, clearly, Moore was getting nervous. He decided to bring out the big guns. His second cousin Maria O'Conor came over.
William Taylor (1745-1806)
George Elliot Taylor (abt 1800-1833)
Maria Farquahar Taylor + Colonel Henry A. Post (1836-1914)
Maria Jephson Post (1855-1948) + John Christopher O'Conor
Catharine Elizabeth Taylor (Abt. 1793-1830) + Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)
Benjamin Moore (1818-1886)
Casimir de Rham Moore (1851-1925)
Maria had been told a family story by her father, a friend of Clement Moore, about the writing of the famous poem.
That story, along with a document which he had inherited, made Casimir Moore think that
he could have the smoking gun to settle the issue, for now and for always, that Clement Clarke Moore was the rightful author.
Moore, being a lawyer, had O'Conor make a deposition of her story.
109 East 38th Street
My grandfather, Elliot Taylor was a brother-in-law of Clement C. Moore; his
daughter Maria Farquahar Taylor married my late father Colonel Henry C. Post. Under these circumstances
my father became well acquainted with the above Clement C. Moore. He related to me the manner
in which Dr Moore told him the little poem entitled "A visit from St Nicholas" came to be written.
On Christmas Eve Mrs Clement C. Moore was preparing baskets to be sent to the poor of the neighbourhood.
She found one turkey was lacking and so told her husband. He said he would immediately get one from the market.
On his return with the turkey he was struck with the beauty of the moonlight on the snow and the brightness of the starlit
sky. This, with the holiday season, suggested to him the idea of writing a few lines appropriate to St. Nicholas.
He also told my father when the same was published, without his knowledge, that there were only two errors in
the printed copy.
Maria Jephson O'Conor (nee Post)
Original in The Museum of the City of New York
But Moore saw problems with this document. It didn't quite do what he wanted, so he had her try again.
109 East 38th Street|
Clement C. Moore married Catherine Eliza Taylor, sister of my grandfather Elliot Taylor.
My late father, Colonel Henry V.A. Post, married Maria Farquahar Taylor, daughter of my said grandfather.
Under these circumstances my father became very well acquainted with Mr Moore. My father told me Mr Moore himself
related to him the following circumstances under which he came to write the poem entitled "A Visit from St. Nicholas."
It was Christmas Eve and Mrs. Moore was packing baskets of provisions to be sent to various people in the neighborhood,
as was her custom. She found one turkey was lacking and so told her husband.
Though late, he said he would try to get one from the market.
On his return from the market he was struck by the beauty of the moonlight on the snow and the brightness of the star lit
sky. This, together with the thoughts of the holiday season, suggested to him the idea of writing a few lines in honor of
St Nicholas. He told my father he immediately went to his study and wrote the poem.
Mr Moore also told my father when he came to publish the same, with some of his other poems, he only made two slight changes
in the lines as originally written by him.
Maria Jephson O'Conor
The above Mrs. John C. O'Conor (nee Post) read and signed the above statement in my presence the 23rd day of
December 19020 [sic]
Casimir de R. Moore
[Original in The Museum of the City of New York]
This Casimir Moore found to be satisfactory.
It had the detail that Clement Moore had gone directly from his ride to his study to write down the poem.
And it got rid of the idea that Moore hadn't known it would be published. What stayed the same was the important point
that the poem Moore wrote down had only two differences from the one published in the Troy Sentinel, those changes now indicated as "slight".
While Casimir Moore and his cousin Maria O'Conor were working on her deposition, Henry Litchfield West had arrived at his
office on Monday to find Moore's letter. West immediately replied.
Henry Litchfield West, The Bookman,|
to Mr. Casimir deR. Moore, 20 Dec 1920
December 20, 1920
Mr. Casimir deR. Moore,
109 East 38th street,
New York City.
I greatly appreciate your letter of the 18th with the information therein contained. I am sorry that I said that there were three children when
the number should have been four.
What you say about Mrs. Daniel Sackett is particularly interesting. I had not heard of her name in connection with the poem.
As I said in my article, the Livingston people cannot produce any direct evidence to prove their claim and I doubt if
Dr. Moore's authorship, while it may be disputed by them, will ever be disproved.
Very truly yours,
Henry L. West
Document 50.331.21 - Museum of the City of New York
Moore didn't find West's reply definitive enough, though West had been expeditious, the missive arriving the same day West wrote it.
West's doubt that the Moore claim was in any danger wasn't good enough for Casimir Moore.
He wanted it certain that the Livingstons couldn't endanger the Moore family claim. He immediately replied to West with what
he felt to be conclusive evidence.
Casimir de R. Moore to West - 28 Dec 1920|
Copy of letter
109 East 38th Street
Triy Feb'y 26-1844 [??? 26 Feb 1844 was a Tuesday]
Prof C. C. Moore
Sir: Yours of 23rd inst making enquiries concerning the publication of "A Visit from St Nicholas" is just received.
The piece was first published in the Troy Sentinel December 23rd 1823,
with an introductory notice by the Editor, Orville L. Halley Esq: and again two or three years after that.
At the time of its first publication I did not know who the author was, but have since been informed that you were the author.
I understand from Mr. Halley that he received it from Mrs Sackett, the wife of Mr Daniel Sackett who was then a merchant of this City.
It was twice published in the Troy Sentinel, and being much admired and sought after by the younger class, I procured the engraving which you
will find on the other side of this sheet and have published several editions of it.
The Sentinel has for several years been numbered with the things that were: and Mr Halley, I understand, is now in Albany
editing the Albany Daily Advertiser. I was myself the proprietor of the Sentinel.
Very Respectfully* * *
(signed) N. Tuttle
As requested, I send you a copy of the letter from Mr Tuttle to my grand father (not father, as you say)
Curiously Mrs John C. O'Conor a few days ago gave me a circumstantial account of the way my grand father came to write the Night before
Christmas as told by him to Mrs O'Conor's father, Colonel Post.
I have Mrs O'Conors statement in writing signed by her. I wished to show it to you but have been unable to find you in your office.
I am mostly at home until after 10 o'clock and should be glad to have you call here any time you may desire. My phone is M Hill 3747.
Yours very truly
Casimir de R. Moore
New York Historical Society
At the top of his reply to West, Casimir Moore made a copy of a letter he had inherited, which N. Tuttle had
written to Clement Moore on February 26th 1844. And he referred to the depositions which "curiously" Mrs. O'Conor had given him, though Moore
gave the depositions a date of several days back rather than the actual date of the depositions, which were that same day. And he invited West to come to
his home to discuss the matter.
The transcribed letter was from the owner of the Troy Sentinel and explained that he had not known who the author of the poem was
when he first published it, but had later learned the author was Clement Moore. It was directly after receiving this letter that
Moore had included the poem in his 1844 book, "Poems." For author Don Foster, this was what he considered to be "the coast is clear" letter.
If no author had come forward in twenty-one years, and the original publisher had not, in fact, known the identity of the anonymous contributor, then the coast
was indeed clear.
But Casimir Moore's enthusiasm to tamp down the upstart Livingstons may well have provided a smoking gun
for the authorship debate. It's just that the smoking gun was pointed at Moore and not at Livingston. The letter transcribed for West was written,
according to the letter itself, on the reverse of a broadsheet copy of the poem which
has been dated to about 1830. By the marks on the copy, put there by either Moore or someone else, it is true that there were few changes between that
1830 version and Moore's own 1844 version.
The problem was that the 1830 Troy Sentinel version had already been extensively edited from the originally published 1823 Troy Sentinel one.
So if Moore, himself, had told Colonel Post that there were minimal changes between the poem as written and the poem as published, Moore had no
idea what the earlier version of the poem looked like. A sloppy author who didn't keep a copy of a poem that excited everyone who heard it?
Maybe. Or maybe an author who felt no attachment to a poem which he hadn't actually written.
Why would he have lied about the authorship? Any answer is gross speculation. So we'll speculate.
Clement Moore was the only child of an Episcopalian minister
and likely felt a great deal of parental pressure to be a role model to the other children in the parish and a pride to his own parents. It's
guaranteed that Clement Moore wrote at least one Christmas poem for his children,
but it's of a very different, moralistic slant from the joyous tale of St. Nicholas. One wonders just how much "little Sis" enjoyed hearing that
Santa was leaving her stocking quite empty that year.
Perhaps having received a copy of those fifty-six lines, Moore felt too
much temptation to just let the little ones think that the poem was his. After all, no one would know. He'd told them not to let their friends
copy it. But the poem was just too good to not share. No wonder Moore was angry when he learned the poem was loose in the world.
Then, when the poem became popular, he must have constantly feared that the
real author would suddenly appear and he would be embarrassed before those little faces that he loved so much.
No wonder he couched his description of the poem years later in the passive tense: "The poem was written many years ago."