Henry Livingston, Jr.
Witness Letters


Mary [Goodrich] Montgomery, Letter to the Editor, 1 Jan 1914


Jan 1st 1914

The Editor of the Sun

Dear Sir

An article in your paper of Dec 26th in which reference is made to the world wide popularity of the poem entitled A Visit from St. Nicholas, but better known as the Night Before Xmas leads me to ask you whether it is not a fact, as I have heard stated, that the Rev. C. C. Moore never himself made claim to the authorship of this poem which has been attributed to him. I ask this, because the testimony which points to Major Henry Livingston as the author appears to be so strong, that it might be interesting to sift the evidence.

Major L lived at Poky in a house built by his grandfather Gilbert L. where, it is claimed by his children, the poem was written on a Christmas eve, and read to them the following morning. I have heard both a daughter and a granddaughter of Major Livingston say that they were present on the occasion in the house [xx and that] The xx xx success of the poem xx Major Livingston to allow it to be anonymously published in a Pokeepsie paper. The name of the newspaper and the date of the publication was not remembered by them, but it xx dated by several years the publication of the poem in the Troy Sentinel. The original manuscript and the Poughkeepsie newspaper containing the print publication of the poem were for many years in the possession of Major L's eldest son who moved to Ohio but were lost in a fire that consumed his house. A letter in my possession written in 1879 by another daughter of Major L says, "I well remember our astonishment when we saw it (the poem) claimed as Clement C. Moore's many years after my father's decease, which took place more than 50 years ago. We have often said: "The style was so exactly his is it possible that another could express the same originality of thought, and use the same phrases so familiar to us as Father's!!"

I have heard it stated by the ladies I have already referred to, daughter and granddaughter respectively of Major L. and their statement is xx in a letter written by his younger son, that there was present as a guest in the house, on the Christmas morning when the poem was first read, a young lady, who derived so much pleasure from it that she requested Major L to give her a copy - which he did. This lady on leaving Major L's house went to the house of Mr. Moore, where she had been engaged as governess to his children. Her testimony which I have outlined is given in perfect good faith by people of the highest character. How is one to sift the evidence? The only possible proof seems to hinge upon the publication of the poem in a Pokeepsie newspaper some years before it was published in the Troy Sentinel. Believing that the paper in question will have been the Pok Eagle, I called, some years ago, at the office of that newspaper for access to their back files, but was told they had all been destroyed some years previous in a fire that burnt out the Eagle office.

I have heard many of Major L's poems, all written with a light touch & usually in a humorous vein. The following is not by any means of his best but being written in the same meter as the Visit of St. Nicholas, it may be of interest. It is on the name of Nancy Crooke, a belle of the day.

                         A Rebus.
Take the name of the swain a forlorn witless elf
Who was chang'd to a flow'r for admiring himself.
A part deem'd essential in each lady's dress:
With what maidens cry, when they wish to say yes.
A lullabye carriage soft cozy & light:
With the name of the poet who sang on the night.
The queen of Cairo, all lovely and winning
Whose blandishments ever kept Antony grinning.
The flow'r whose odours unremittingly please:
With the glory of forests, the king of the trees.
To the prince of the fairies, a jealous old knave,
Put the name of the tree that undid mother Eve.
To finish the whole add that period of day,
When the linnet & thrush to repose hie away.
The initials of these, if adjusted with care,
Will show you the fairest where thousands are fair.
The sweet, pretty graces still hover about her,
And Cupid would die with vexation without her.
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.
Henry Livingston

Written at Locust Grove PoKeepsie 1786.


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