Monday, February 1, 2016

More testimony from Orville L. Holley for Clement C. Moore's authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," aka "The Night Before Christmas"

Ontario Repository and Freeman - December 28, 1836
With only 327 shopping days left, of course I had to pre-order Who Wrote "the Night before Christmas"? by MacDonald P. Jackson. As I learned from a post by Julio Gianni Toro SanMartin to the Oxfraud facebook page, Professor Jackson's book is due out in Spring/Summer 2016.
"Published anonymously in 1823, "The Night Before Christmas" has traditionally been attributed to Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), who included it in his Poems (1844). But descendants of Henry Livingston (1748-1828) claim that he read it to his children as his own creation long before Moore is alleged to have composed it. This book evaluates the opposing arguments and for the first time uses the author-attribution techniques of modern computational stylistics to settle the long-standing controversy. Both writers left substantial bodies of verse, which are analyzed for distinguishing characteristics. Employing a range of tests and introducing a new one-statistical analysis of phonemes-this study identifies the true author and makes a significant contribution to the growing field of attribution studies." --Publisher's Blurb
Notwithstanding Don Foster's entertaining take in the Christmassy chapter 6 of Author Unknown, all the documentary and historical evidence remains on the side of Clement Clarke Moore. Well there's no glory left in taking down Professor Foster's practice of authorship attribution, not after Brian Vickers (and before Vickers, Richard J. Kennedy on Shaksper) heroically slammed it to the Devil in Counterfeiting Shakespeare.

About the renowned Christmas poem, excellent rebuttals of old and revived claims for Henry Livingston, Jr. may still be found online:
Poems / by Clement C. Moore, courtesy of the HathiTrust Digital Library:

Livingston advocates have their own authorship site devoted to Livingston and Moore, also a valuable resource with texts by both men. But as Andrea Koczela rightly concluded in her December 2013 blog post,
Unless more evidence emerges, Moore will remain the acknowledged and celebrated author of “The Night before Christmas.”
Stylometry results are always fun to look at. Hard style numbers are especially satisfying to have in conjunction with other kinds of evidence. In this case, if advanced stylometry or "computational stylistics" were to yield evidence for Livingston's authorship, an interesting problem might confront us in the imbalance between documentary evidence and style data.What happens when they don't agree? Can stylistics alone trump recorded history? Prove authorship? Not that I would expect such a dramatic turnaround here. The diction of "The Night Before Christmas" clearly belongs to Moore, as the online comparison of phraseology by Joe Nickell indicates. While we're eagerly waiting for Macdonald P. Jackson to tell us about function words and phonemes, here's another piece of historical evidence for Clement C. Moore. As long known, veteran newspaper editor Orville L. Holley tipped readers to the author's identity in 1829 when he introduced a holiday reprinting of the instant classic as follows:
Five years after the first publication of the legend in the Troy Sentinel, the name of the author was disclosed to the editor of that journal. With considerable delicacy of manner, he disguisedly confessed his knowledge of it on January 20th, 1829, by saying:

"A few days since the editors of the New York Courier, at the request of a lady, inserted some lines descriptive of one of the Christmas visits of that good old Dutch saint, St. Nicholas, and at the same time applied to our Albany neighbors for information as to the author. That information, we apprehend, the Albany editors cannot give. The lines were first published in this paper. They came to us from a manuscript in possession of a lady in this city. We have been given to understand that the author of them belongs by birth and residence to the city of New York, and that he is a gentleman of more merit as a scholar and a writer than many of more noisy pretensions. We republish the lines in a preceding column just as they originally appeared, because we still think of them as at first, and for the satisfaction of our brethren of the Courier, one of whom, at least, is an Arcadian." --Troy's One Hundred Years
In the 1836 item below, transcribed from the Ontario Repository and Freeman (Canandaigua, New York), the same editor Orville L. Holley states that he learned of the author's true identity only months, not years, after printing the poem in the Troy Sentinel.


The following lines appeared in print for the first time—though very often copied since—in the Troy Sentinel of December 23, 1823, which paper we then conducted. They were introduced, on that occasion, with the following remarks; which, as they continue to be a true expression of our opinion of the charming simplicity and cordiality of the lines, as well as of our unchanged feelings toward the little people to whom they are addressed, we repeat them, only observing that although when we first published them, we did not know who wrote them, yet, not many months afterwards we learnt that they came from the pen of a most accomplished scholar and and estimable man, a professor in one of our colleges.... 
--found at NYS Historic Newspapers. This item was reprinted the following week in the Auburn Journal and Advertiser on Wednesday, January 4, 1837. 
Herman Melville's future friend Charles Fenno Hoffman identified Clement C. Moore by name as the author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," when the poem appeared in the collection that Hoffman edited titled The New-York Book of Poetry. Hershel Parker has a good bit on Hoffman's later dealings with Gansevoort Melville and the author of Typee in Herman Melville: A Biography V1.471. The review of Hoffman's edition in the January 1837 American Monthly Magazine described the The New-York Book of Poetry as "a collection of fugitive poetry, selected from the annuals and periodicals, and other sources, intermingled with extracts from the poems of Drake, Sands, Paulding, Leggett, Nack, and others, whose poetical writings have been heretofore published in other forms; all the writers being native New-Yorkers." This review reprinted "A Visit from St. Nicholas" with a few words of introduction:
The lines which follow have been much admired, and have appeared in a variety of publications, but never, we believe, before under the name of the real author—CLEMENT C. MOORE.  --American Monthly Magazine, January 1837
For anyone craving more Melville, here you go--two fine Santa Claus poems for dessert:
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    1. This is sensible blog. But readers will find all pro-Moore points duly considered in my book, Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas": Analyzing the Clement Clarke Moore vs. Henry Livingston Question?(Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016, by MacDonald P. Jackson. It is true that stylistic evidence for Henry Livingston's authorship of the poem must be weighed against the documentary evidence for Moore's. This is what I attempt to do. The case for Livingston is by no means based solely on stylo-statistical data. My conclusion is that Livingston must have been the true author of the poem, as his descendants claim. -- MacDonald P. Jackson

      1. Thanks for commenting! Did you notice the link in my original post to your book on Amazon? Now that I've read it, I'm hoping to review your case in some detail in another post--in time for Christmas, hopefully.