Henry Livingston, Jr.

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1806

It was finished at last, Henry noted with pride,
As he sanded the words, check'd to see if they'd dried.
Was it "jirk" with an "i" or perhaps with an "e?"
Never mind, he decided, 'twas only a flea.
So what if the reindeer names stumbled a bit?
Using names of the horses would make them a hit.
Which remind'd him Dancer's new bridle was loose.
It might better fit Cupid. That horse was a moose!
My, but Dunder and Blixem were beautifully match'd.
The gold of their tails glow'd like ducks newly hatch'd.
That was Charlie's hard work earning him Santa's best
It was up to his father to handle the rest.
And the boy would be pleas'd, Henry smil'd as he thought
Of the pup from his sister quite recently bought.
Stretching tall as the stairs o'er his head let him stand,
Henry pick'd up his parchment and brush'd off the sand.
Stooping low through the archway he left his snug den,
In delight to return to his family again.

They were just as he'd left them short hours ago,
Mama's laughter, like music, hung o'er the tableau.
With Eliza, the babe, speeding fast toward the door
Follow'd closely by six year old Jane with a roar.
Of course Sidney and Edwin were arguing loud
With their four year old sister, who wouldn't be cow'd.
There was Charlie now singing an old carol sweet,
Entertaining a neighbor though dead on his feet.
As the Christmas song made its way straight to his heart
Henry heard his lost angels lend voice to each part.
Through Cornelia's sweet descant, not long ago gone,
Came the baby notes warbled with Henry Welles' yawn.
While their mother, sweet Sally, her voice join'd in praise
Of the Christmas Eve infant whose star soon would blaze.
She would bless his new fam'ly, and watch o'er the fate
Of their still earth-bound babes, Henry Welles and dear Cate.
"For all of these children, for Caty's own eight,
"For these all," Henry mus'd, "Santa's poem I'll relate."

"Gather round me, dear children, and see in my hand
"Explanations aplenty of what Santa's planned."
In an instant the noise blew the chamber apart
As the welcome afforded touched Henry's warm heart.
"It's a poem, darling Papa! I know it's a poem,
"You've not writ us a new one since last you were home!"
Grabbing babe with one hand and a vase with the other,
Henry smil'd at the chaos and kiss'd her big brother.
Just as smoke thru the air will be briskly dispatch'd,
From his arms babe and pot were with deftness quick snatch'd.
With a shake to the paper now crinkled all round
Henry struck a fine posture like Genius renown'd.
From his eye gave a wink to his wife as she pass'd,
And a pat to the child who must still be held fast.
"'Twas the night before Christmas," he started to say,
As the shouts and the laughter began to give way
"And all through the house," he continued so low
That the children stay'd quiet as mice in a row.

1816


Stomping snow from his feet Charlie hung up his coat
Glancing into the room as a very high note
Told him 'Liza, a neighbor, had come for the fun.
She was singing to old Miss McDonald, the one
Now return'd to the home where she'd once tuck'd him in,
Meant to live out her life like a Livingston kin.
"Look who's here," cried Eliza, espying him there
"It's Matilda, the friend of your good cousin fair
"Who has made her way down from the snows of the north
"To revive in the sun and relax in the south."
"Think the life of a governess such a fine lark?"
"Think again, little lady," McDonald did bark.
"It's a tough life you'll have, if you'll listen to me,
"When it's gloms like my laddie here makin' you flee."
Waving off Charlie's kiss, with a sparsely tooth'd grin
Old McDonald proceeded to dribble her chin.
"It's a baby, I'm tending," Matilda explain'd,
"Judith Moore's newest grandchild, it's father ordain'd."

"That's right, cousin Judith's young Lydia's wed
"To a minister down in Virginia she said."
With a shiver of memory, Charlie bent low
O'er the flames as they blaz'd and the embers that glow'd
"You will have quite a trip, if you plan to leave soon,
"Coming up from the city you'd think a monsoon."
"I can wait," said Matilda, "till Christmas is past,
"Then it's right to the city I'm going at last.
"Judith's husband, John Moore, made arrangements for me,
"To be taught by his brother's wife's nephew, you see,
"Clement just had a baby as young as dear Fran
"And their nursemaid will teach me as best as she can."
From behind them Eliza now wiggled her way
To the hearth where between she determin'd to stay.
He was hers, she'd decided, though half past eighteen,
And would wait with impatience until she was seen.
If you follow a fellow around when you're small
Can you really expect then his heart to enthrall?

Still unseeing, unknowing, her Charlie did slip
Around poor dear Eliza, Matilda to grip.
With a hand on her elbow, and lips close to ear
He suggested they haste to Pa's den in the rear.
Where she'd find, he was certain, some holiday joy
In the writings and drawings - an old but good ploy.
In the den 'neath the stairs Papa's desk was pil'd deep
With the parchments and papers spread out in a heap
'Till they spilled in abandon, in full disarray
To the chair, and the floor, and the door near half-way.
Pushing papers around Charlie search'd for the one
That his papa had written as last New Year's plum.
"Columbia's thunder roar'd their knell,
"Here squadrons fled, there columns fell;"
That was it! Blood and thunder! A boy's best delight.
"Can I copy this, Charlie? Oh please, say I might."
At his nod, the girl ran clutching close to her breast
Papa's Nicholas poem, leaving Charlie bereft.

1822


"Dear Benji, I'm sure you want Santa to know
"That you've been a good boy when his toys he'll bestow,
"But if you will take the new ball from your brother
"It seems that I'll have to tell Santa another
"Young boy would perhaps deserve his toys more
"While you should find only black coal in your drawer."
Putting down his neat pen, with its tip finely cut,
Clement grinded his teeth and compress'd his lips shut.
Boing, boing, bang! Boing, boing, bang! Down the hall came the sound
That was causing the pain in his head to hard pound.
"Nurse Burnett! It's past time that the children should be
"Up attending to afternoon toast and to tea."
A flurry of footsteps outside of his door
Indicated that soon the young man would be bore
With his ball to the heights of the mansion so tall
That the blessings of silence were sure soon to fall.
And soon stillness, how blessed the sound of the word,
Now descended till all that was heard was a bird.

With reluctance did Clement return to his task.
'Twas the night before Christmas and his time to bask
In the smiles of his children, well, all but for one,
His protagonist often seem'd out of the fun.
Taking up pen again Clement read what he'd writ.
He was sorely afraid mother wouldn't admit
That a child of her own would deserve such a fate.
In her eyes they were angels, there was no debate.
She was soft with the children. Yes, soft with him, too,
And he smiled at the thought soon to smell her shampoo.
For he loved her as much as the day they'd been wed
And his joy Christmas Eve was to hold her in bed.
He was sure she'd be pleased with her gift in the morn
They'd to Paris late summer, his love to adorn
In the silks and the fashions that ladies did love
And the perfumes annointing her breast and her glove.
It was thoughts such as these that enraptured his mind
Till the chimes of a clock his confusion did find.

Six o'clock! Where did time with its scepter so swift
Go when soon he'd be call'd, dinner jacket to lift;
And then children would riot with tummies replete
Of a nursery meal and excited to meet
And to hear their own father's new Santa Claus poem.
Why poor Benji - guilt bottled the words in their home.
After all, little Benjamin, namesake of pere,
Truly look'd like an angel when put to his prayer.
There was time, wasn't there, for the poem to be done?
For no man should be less in the eyes of his son.
Sending prayers of his own Clement paus'd as his hand
Moving randomly brought out a paper he scann'd.
What was this? 'Twas a poem. About Santa, in fact.
But from where and from who his poor memory lack'd.
Only doggeral, nary a moral in sight
But a poem, none-the-less, that could save him tonight.
Surely heaven-sent gifts t'were a sin to despise
And besides, who would know that he'd borrow'd the prize?

1823


"You are right! This is marvelous, Margaret dear.
"Such a poem I have never been so bless'd to hear.
"Yes, I know that your father said keep it inside
"Of this album, but Marg'ret what's surely implied
"Is that no one should know that this poem about mice
"By your father was written, a scholar too nice
"To be known for a bright little poem of a saint
"'Stead of Hebrew, theology. Righteous complaint!
"But if nobody knows that the poem is his own,
"Why, the matter is simple, as surely I've shown."
Before eight year old Margaret could fairly object
To the argument, Harriet Butler had check'd
That the poet was nowhere in sight to be seen
And the album was whisk'd past the dressing room screen.
"Did I tell you I almost was your age when first
"I did meet your dear grandfather blessing the church
"of my father in Troy?" Butler said, scrib'bling fast,
"We've been friends, then, our fam'lies, these twenty years past."

"You must see this, dear Sarah, I really can't wait
"For I know to this poem you will quickly relate.
"Since we neither have children I thought we might next
"Read it just before Christmas as Sunday School text."
Skimming swiftly across the top lines of the poem
Sarah Sackett broke into a smile of her own.
"Let me borrow this, Harriet; copy it quick,
"And I'll show it to Daniel, who just loves St. Nick."
Toward her husband she glanced where he stood by the door
With the Reverend Butler in cheerful rapport.
Through stained glass fell the sun turning grey hairs to rose
In the rainbow of colors that blessings impose.
And her husband, much lov'd, in his joy simply glowed;
Surely Deacon one day, as he trod the Lord's road.
"'Twas the work of the Bishop's son," Harriet said
"My old friend Clement Moore," adding, shaking her head.
"Though I love him, who'd guess from his pen such words fall.
"Now remember, 'tis secret, so mum to them all."

"Mrs. Sackett, how good to behold you so fair."
"You are kindness, itself, Mr. Holley, I swear."
"Are you come to his store to join Daniel for tea?"
Holley asked as he clos'd up next door with a key.
Scramb'ling round in her reticule Sarah exclaim'd,
"It's to you, Mr. Holley, I come unashamed
"To partake of your goodness and ask you to read
"A small poem that I think you'll be forc'd to concede
"Will suit perfectly into your newspaper's taste
"And it's seasonal, too, so will not be misplaced."
Leaning comfortably back on the crock'ry store tile
Holley took out his spectacles, started to smile.
With a laugh, then a shout, then a deep-bellied roar
Absent-mindedly reading, reopened his door.
As he disappeared into the Sentinel's hall,
Sarah beam'd with affection and straighten'd her shawl.
Not a doubt did she have that before Christmas day,
She would read with her friend of the saint's tiny sleigh.

1824
Though he'd shovel'd the porch several times thru the day,
Still the snow would insist upon making its way
Past the green old Dutch door and then onto the floor
For which surely he'd hear from his mama once more.
"There's a treat for you, brother," his sister Jane said,
Rushing up with a towel on the snow quickly spread.
"'Tis a letter from Charles and maybe a note
From our dear brother Edwin, at least so I hope."
Sidney snatch'd up the letter, examin'd it close
Then replac'd it to lay 'mongst the rest of the post.
Taking pipe and newspaper the boy went to sit
To enjoy, from New York, Papa's Sentinel writ
With the news of the day, just the thing don't you know,
When outside roars the blizzard, the ice and the snow.
Scanning quick the front page, Sidney froze where he sat
Read again; then again; then stared blind as a bat
At the wall till the mischief arose in his eyes
And a grin, ear-to-ear, promised quite a surprise.

"Are you sure," question'd Henry, as round him he look'd
"That the paper's been lost, and not just overlook'd?"
Though small smiles all around made it clear as a bell
'Twas collusion at least and at best 'twas as well,
A small shake of Sid's head and all lips ceas'd to twitch.
"Oh, I'm sure that it's somewhere, not deep in some ditch.
"Tell me, Papa, the truth, for we all felt the same,
"Did you mind it so much not to be in the game
"Of the poet addressing the readers this year?
"For last year's "last endeavour" we all dropp'd a tear."
With a sigh Henry then did acknowledge that he
Sorely miss'd the excitement of getting to see
Words of his to appear in black print on a page -
Words of laughter and pathos and sentiments sage.
As a troop will join hands and will all take a bow,
So the family in unison nodded as now
Eldest son in the room, Sidney drew from his chair
And presented the paper with infinite care.

Bending low o'er the paper, soon Henry observ'd
On the Sentinel's page some familiar old words.
"'Tis my very own poem! The front page! Who'd believe!"
"Why I never - an honor - oh, can you conceive?"
With fond hugs and with kisses the family drew round
And with congratulations the room did resound.
"I should think that it's time, I would hope you'd agree,
"That your name with this poem we should finally see."
"Surely not, Susan dear, for you know that I write
"For the joy of you all, not the world to excite.
"True there once was a time when ambition took hold,
"When I dream'd of renown, but such dreams are fool's gold."
With a wave of the paper he gestur'd and said,
"Perhaps to the Franklin this poem should be fed."
From the girls and from Sidney arose now a shout
"Let me have it." "Oh, Papa!" "Please don't throw it out."
"That's enough if you please, now please, children, no more!
When I'm gone you will find it stor'd safe in my drawer.

1828 - 1830 - 1830


"'Twas the night before Christmas,' except that it's not!"
Henry cough'd in intention to loosen the knot
In his chest, then sat further erect in his bed.
"You don't think three weeks late a bit much?" Henry said.
"Tell me true, was it you, Helen, got them to run
"In the Journal a poem whose day, too, is near done?"
"Neither you, nor the poem, is at all near the end,
"And you both will live long, for all you may pretend."
Grumbled Henry, "Red deer? You'd think Potter could spell.
Santa's reindeer will prance on his roof I foretell."
"The poem couldn't be found," Sidney started to say,
Then stopped as he saw all was given away.
To the sickroom's delight Sid explain'd that they'd yet
Had to count on the text of the Nat'nal Gazette.
Only Jane had some trouble with keeping concern
From her face as she worried to see his cheeks burn.
He was old, though a cold seem'd so small she'd agree,
But she fear'd this had been the last Christmas he'd see.

"I had thought the old man to have gone on forever,"
Charles said, looking down at his father's stone header.
His eyes wet, he held tight to the wife in his arms
Reading words on the stone from the comfort of Psalms.
"I will never forgive myself not coming back."
"Just remember Eliza's first illness attack.
"And in winter, my darling, you never could go
"With canals and with roads all fast frozen with snow."
Walking next to the grave of his dear sister Cate,
They both stopp'd in accord and gave grief its fair weight.
For the rose the stone spoke of now bloom'd in the place
Where their own small Eliza slept in the Lord's grace.
Wiping tears from their eyes they turn'd 'round thus to see
The majestic old Hudson still flowing so free.
"I recall now his words 'sacred home, ever dear'
"And it comforts me, 'Liza, that throughout the years
"He will never be gone and he'll never more roam,
"And for Papa, at last, he will always be home."

"It was beautiful high up on grandfather's hill,"
Charles said, piling poetry, papers and will.
"I will miss this old place," Susan said with a sigh.
"Mama loves Pleasant Valley, Sis, give it a try."
"I'll come back to this river, and live somewhere snug."
"Oh, Eliza!" Jane cried and gave sister a hug.
"I have found it!" stopped everyone dead in their track
And they turn'd to see Sidney stare fix'd at his stack.
"Is it..?" "Yes! This is it! The original poem,
"With all of Pa's cross-outs. It WAS safe at home!"
"Let me have it for mine," Edwin begg'd his big brother.
"No, it stays Charlie's choice. We will find you another."
At the look in Sid's eyes, Charlie drew his hand back.
"Take the poem, little brother. Mine's still in the pack."
With a whoop now of joy, Sid dug quick thru the pile.
Till the Sentinel he could wave high with a smile.
Then to Edwin Sid turn'd as he promis'd it true,
"If it's me should go first, Ed, I'll leave it to you."

1830 - 1830 - 1844


"Will this terrible poem never give me a rest,"
Clement thought as he crumbled one more to his chest.
With a flick of his wrist, a skill starting to tire,
Still another he toss'd meant to land in the fire.
They were everywhere, taunting him, making him fear
That his certain exposure was coming too near.
It had been a small lapse when he call'd it his own,
But the real error made was his children's alone.
When he said that the poem should remain here at home
It was their misbehavior that turn'd the damn'd poem
Into such a bad nightmare that sometimes he woke
Thinking reindeer hooves right thru his ceiling had broke.
Somewhere out there was someone who knew the whole truth
And just why they were waiting to bring out the proof
Clement couldn't imagine, could picture the grief
Of his family if ever they thought him a thief.
For the moment, at least, there was nothing to do
But stay hunker'd down and just see the thing through.

"I insist, my dear Clement - your children agree -
"There's a place for that poem in New-York Poetry."
"That's absurd, you must know I would look like a loon -
"It is naught but a trifle - a sleigh 'neath a moon."
It's not trifling at all, it's the best you have penn'd,
"If you'll take your opinion from me, your best friend."
Not yet trusting himself to reply with restraint
Moore prepared first a drink then began to acquaint
His friend Hoffman with why such a poem was not worth
E'en the lift of his finger or flick of his shirt.
"I remember those Eves mother tuck'd us in beds
"Reading proudly your poem e're you both kiss'd our heads."
As deep silence descended on all in the room
Clement found himself aching for what lay entomb'd.
"She would like it, you're right," saying then to his friend
"Just don't think that I'll publicly claim what I've penn'd."
While the others exulted, Moore saw the bright side.
If the real poet show'd, he could say Hoffman lied.

For the last seven years, Moore had waited in fear
That the actual poet would choose to reveal
Himself now that Moore's name was acknowledg'd as fact
But somehow he'd emerg'd, reputation intact.
The decision was now if he should or should not
Put that poem in the book he was just getting out.
On one hand it was not worth the paper to print;
On the other his children would not take the hint.
They were bound and determin'd, well then let it be.
He had done all he could, preparation was key.
Mr Tuttle of Troy had return'd a response
To his letter inquiring, with cool nonchalance,
If the poet were known. He was, happily, not.
And the poem on the back was conveniently got.
There were just a few changes - Dutch names had to go,
And words, too, such as 'coursers' to scatter and throw
Among poems. As for 'belly' he'd best do without.
And if kept passive tense, he just might have an out.

1859 - 1869 - 1879


"Mama hurry, please do, come and see what I've found."
Throwing off her wet coat and her hat, still snow crowned,
Jane removed from her muff what was clearly a book.
"What's the matter, my darling? How cold you do look,"
Rushing breathless Eliza ran quick to Jane's side,
And accepted the book she examined with pride.
"It's your grandpapa's poem! What a treat to procure."
"Not by grandfather, mama, this says it's by Moore."
"Surely not! A mistake. How can ever this be?
"'Tis your grandfather's work; you have my guarantee.
Both dear Charles, your papa, and I heard him say
"Just those words on the night just before Christmas day."
Running into Jane's arms, daughter Jeannie, then three,
Covered mother with kisses of welcome and glee.
"Tonight, darling, you'll listen to my mama's tale
"That I've heard from my youth and that never grows stale."
"Yes, you will, dear, and both of you, please, never fear.
"Doctor Moore will, I'm sure, have this fixed by next year."

'South Side Signal' at work, Henry smiled at his press
Undisturb'd by cacaphony, ink blots and mess.
"Papa would have been pleased," Mary said, thru her tears,
While her brother loud laughed at her fingers in ears.
"Will you print Grandpa's poem of the Christmas Eve night?"
As the printing run finished her words rang out bright.
All eyes turn'd to observe them so Henry explained
That from earliest years his dad Sidney maintained
That he'd heard his own father, a Henry as well,
To his family those famous words joyously tell.
Showing only mild interest and mild disbelief
Henry's workers turned back to print out the next leaf.
"There's no proof anymore since the manuscript burned,
"And Aunt Jane says she's worried if charges inform'd
"Against Moore, who was high in Episcopal spheres,
"That such talk could resound on her family's careers."
"But the governess story..." "No, Mary, we'll wait"
"Till an early made printing will end this debate."

Since dear Anne, great granddaughter of half-sister Cate,
Had requested she ponder, had asked her to state
If the poem had been written by Papa not Moore,
'Liza found herself musing on stories obscure.
'Twas her eldest three siblings heard Papa that night
While the others, like her, were too young for this fight.
It was clear that the poem brother Sidney had found
Was, with cross-outs, the same as the one so renowned.
Brother Charles had cherished his own copy, too,
And intended to publish, if memory true.
Brother Edwin regaled them, had loved to describe
Papa leaving the Arch to recite to his tribe.
So the question to answer was could Moore have writ
Just those very same lines with that very same wit.
It was obvious, sure, that the answer was no,
Though it had been reputed that monkeys let go
Could transcribe works of Shakespeare, their readers to stun.
"So it seems, Anne, conclusive that Papa's the one."

1886 - 1886 - 1900

December 29, 1899


Nellie Griswold was sitting in granny's old chair
Letting mem'ries of wrinkles and soft snow-white hair
Descend deep in her heart to keep sorrow at bay
At the loss of such love on this cold winter's day.
Grandma Kate blessed the world 'til near eighty and eight
And 'twas joy when young Nell heard her grandma relate
All the stories Kate heard when herself still so young -
Of the poem writ by Henry, his glory unsung.
Of Kate's grandpapa Nellie knew much she'd admit
For his home lay not far from where now she did sit.
From the stone of the "mansion" to green painted door,
She saw all as she dreamwalk'd to childhood once more.
Between creaks of the stairs and the notes of mute flutes
She was nestled again in the place of her roots.
There was Henry, transparent, now starting to read
To long gone aunts and uncles of Santa's good deeds.
Speeding back to the present Nell gave a great sigh
As she vow'd she would fight for the man till she died.

Seven years before grandma Kate's death Sister Anne
Had excitedly written for thoughts of the man.
In her turn Nellie wrote to historian rare -
Benson Lossing, the man, Dutchess County, his care.
She had told of the poems Henry wrote by the score
And sent copies of ones that were safe in her drawer.
Would he cry to the housetop to let the world know
Of the man who had really seen moonlight on snow?
He replied what she'd sent, circumstantial at best,
Was as good as the evidence lawyers expressed
That sent innocent men to the gallows to hang,
But what stop'd all her hopes with a positive bang
Was the positive proof Lossing needed to hold
Before Henry's old tale to the world could be told.
Depositions from those who heard Henry recite?
They were dead and departed, unable to write.
Thirty years ago handwritten words stood as proof;
Now their ashes flew wild 'neath a reindeer's swift hoof.

What excitement! What rapture! Nell hugged to her breast
The reply she'd received in her ongoing quest
To reveal to the public the author unknown,
Of a poem that the public perceived Moore's alone.
Son of Sidney, no less, and a cousin to boot
With good luck he'd be partner and happy recruit.
For he knew of the manuscript Edwin once owned
And, like her, it's destruction he sadly bemoaned.
Sidney's son, a new Henry, explained that his dad
was the source for Ed's manuscript. How very sad.
If it stayed with her cousin, it ne'er would have burned
And the authorship would have been put where 'twas earned.
But his thoughts mirrored hers in the fact that old Moore
was the innocent victim of hap'nings unsure.
Mister Moore, she was sure, would have not lent his hand
To such deeds as to plagerize Henry offhand.
But if left on his desk by the governess then
'Twas just fated his fam'ly assumed it his pen.




Margaret Evans Porter






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Fun Activities for Christmas
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  CBS Good Morning America, 2000
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  The Poem's Story in Anapest
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   Antique Santa Postcards
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