Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Clement C. Moore's "Visit from St Nicholas," 1824 reprinting in the Geneva Palladium


Reprinted from the Troy Sentinel where Moore's world-beloved "Visit" aka "The Night Before Christmas" was first published anonymously on December 23, 1823. On the image below from NYS Historic Newspapers, you can see that somebody later on has identified the author in three different places.

From the Geneva Palladium, January 21, 1824

(In case you're wondering, out here the Christmas season officially begins October 1st. As usual I'm behind already.) With so many early and numerous newspaper printings of "Visit," the New York native Herman Melville could easily have known Moore's poem by time it appeared in Charles Fenno Hoffman's 1837 anthology The New-York Book of Poetry. On Christmas Eve 1832, the Albany Evening Journal reprinted "Visit" under the heading CHRISTMAS EVE—ST NICHOLAS, in response to the following request by "Many Dutchmen":
"MR. EDITOR— The following lines were published many years ago, but most of your readers have probably forgotten them, and by republishing them, you will greatly oblige Many Dutchmen."
The Troy Daily Whig reprinted "Visit" without any editorial introduction on Christmas Eve, 1838. The 1838 printing resembles the version in Parley's Magazine for that year, italicizing the Irvingesque lines about St. Nick's "laying a finger aside of his nose" and ascending the chimney, and footnoting the 1838 painting by Robert Walter Weir.

Digressing a bit further, I suppose in Albany Herman Melville's maternal uncle Peter Gansevoort must have belonged to the St. Nicholas Society. Yes? Yes. At the anniversary banquet on December 6, 1831 we find PG raising his glass and making this admirably democratic toast to
"The Mechanics and Tradesmen of the city of Albany; a sound, intelligent, moral and patriotic portion of our fellow citizens. Their prosperity illustrates the truth, that industry is the real wealth of a community." --Albany Argus, December 13, 1831
Over the years, St. Nicholas Society members and guests regularly drank to the memory of Melville's grandfather General Peter Gansevoort: "A brave soldier and esteemed citizen" (Albany Argus, December 13, 1831); "soldier and patriot" (Argus, December 18, 1832); and "the hero of Fort Stanwix" (December 14, 1830 and December 16, 1834).  At the 1836 affair, Melville's old principal T. R. Beck toasted "Robert Southey, one of the few Englishmen that have done justice to Holland." In 1832 Beck had offered another literary toast to "James K. Paulding, the author of the Dutchman's Fireside" (Albany Argus, December 18, 1832).

But getting back to Moore's now classic poem: The illustrated 1862 book A Night Before Christmas features engravings by Nathaniel Orr which are made from drawings by Melville's friend Felix Octavius Carr Darley.

A Visit from St Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore
via Project Gutenberg
 One of the best Melville anecdotes ever is the story Maunsell Bradhurst Field tells in Memories of Many Men and of Some Women, about the time when he and "Darley, the artist" visited Melville in Pittsfield. At dinner with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Field and Darley ended up bedazzled by the brilliant conversation of Melville and Holmes on "East India religions and mythologies." Field also tells of Melville's showing off his fine trees and talking about how much he likes "patting them upon the back."

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