February 1, 2015
Santa AnapestsOn this day in 1823 the Christmas classic, "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (commonly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") was published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel. Twenty years and much popularity later, Clement C. Moore claimed and was accorded authorship, but recent scholarship by forensic literary critic Don Foster -- he's the one who established the author of Primary Colors -- has cast this very much in doubt. Moore was a dour and strait-laced biblical scholar, a man decidedly un-jolly, and in Author Unknown, his 2000 collection of literary whodunits, Foster provides much circumstantial evidence against him.
If all is as Foster claims, much of the credit must go to Mary Van Deusen; she not only put him on the case but gave him the true author, her ancestor Henry Livingston Jr. Apart from her stories of little Livingstons enjoying fireside readings of the poem at least fifteen years before the first newspaper publication, she provided Foster with other Livingston lines which, when set beside typical lines from Moore, seem to furnish the smoking pen:
Typical lines from Moore:
From custom's force and pleasure's dangerous lure.
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....
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 will dine!
Then bounce all hands to Fishkill must go in a clutter
To guzzle bohea, and destroy bread and butter....
And various beds and stockings seen;
Some, white as snow, and neatly mended,
Others, that seemed for pigs intended.
Where e'er I found good girls or boys,
That hated quarrels, strife and noise,
I left an apple, or a tart,
Or wooden gun, or painted cart.
To some I gave a pretty doll,
To some a peg-top, or a ball;
No crackers, cannons, squibs, or rockets,
To blow their eyes up, or their pockets.
No drums to stun their Mother's ear,
Nor swords to make their sisters fear;
But pretty books to store their mind
With knowledge of each various kind.
But where I found the children naughty,
In manners rude, in temper haughty,
Thankless to parents, liars, swearers,
Boxers, or cheats, or base tale-bearers,
I left a long, black, birchen rod,
Such as the dread command of God
Directs a Parent's hand to use
When virtue's path his sons refuse.
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