Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Settle your brains, Clement C. Moore wrote "The Night Before Christmas"

via Library of Congress
And Mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap....  --A Visit from St Nicholas
Clement C. Moore liked the word brain so much he used it twenty times in his poetry, not counting "settled our brains" in A Visit from St. Nicholas, aka "The Night Before Christmas." Henry Livingston maybe speaks of "brains" one time only, in one poem that he might or might not have written: Filly and Wolf, where the wolf got its brains kicked out by the clever and spirited filly.


  1. Confounds my brain, and nearly splits my head. --A Trip to Saratoga 
  2. And raise a tumult in the coolest brains. --A Trip to Saratoga
  3. Her brain, of borrow'd thoughts a mingled mass --A Trip to Saratoga
  4. As dreams which haunt the feverish brain --Translation - Chorus from Prometheus
  5.  Some thoughts, the ravelings of my brain --Lines for a Fragment Fair
  6. Of countless joys, rush wildly through my brain -- Lines to the Fashionable, From a Veteran Belle
  7. Like many which puzzle deep reasoners' brains --The Pig and the Rooster
  8.  E'er rack your joints or cloud your brain;  --The Water Drinker
  9. No vertigos your brain perplex --The Water Drinker
  10. Oh! child of frolic, in whose giddy brain --The Sisters of Charity  
  11. This faithless prospect of a dreaming brain --To Southey
  12. But oh! these spectres that infest my brain! --To Southey
  13. “But, sure, thro' my brain how your image kept jaunting!”  --Irish Valentine
  14.  And glaring lights, the sight and brain confound.  --Newport Beach
  15.  "Of late, good aunt, I have perplexed my brain"  --Charles Elphinstone
  16.  And cool'd the fever that had touch'd his brain.   --Charles Elphinstone
  17.  That swell'd his brain and flutter'd in his breast.  --Charles Elphinstone
  18.  Produced such wild delirium in his brain, --Charles Elphinstone
  19.  Engender'd in a loving maiden's brain;  --Charles Elphinstone
  20.  Nor was this wish mere fancy of the brain;  --Charles Elphinstone
MacDonald P. Jackson's recent study of function words and phonemes makes a virtue of ignoring   words that actually mean something. My wish this Christmas is that Professor Jackson would run the nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives through his computer as well. Every time I look into it via Mac Jackson's Databases at the great Henry Livingston website, the vocabulary of "The Night Before Christmas" is overwhelmingly Moore's, not Livingston's. The Melvilliana review of Professor Jackson's monograph cites additional parallels of diction that also feature, as in the case of brain, similar ideas and poetical contexts. Striking correspondences of diction and thought include multiple references to visions and dread, one "wond'ring ear" in To The Nymphs of Mount Harmony, and the transcendent cluster of words, images and ideas in these famous lines:
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below...  --A Visit from St. Nicholas
If you want to try this at home, here are links to searchable texts that Mary S. Van Deusen provides on the aforementioned Livingston site:
The noun merry-make occurs once, perhaps adjectivally, in the 1819 Carrier's Address published over the signature of young Frederick T. Parsons (1803-1842) and ascribed by family members to Henry Livingston. Otherwise, in verse Livingston never employs merry, the adjective that describes Santa's dimples. Moore does, at least six times. And only Moore calls anything "lively." In the jesting vein of The Pig and the Rooster, the two talking animals are (like St. Nick) "so lively." Only Moore says "lustre." Two times (not counting "the lustre of mid-day" in "Visit") if you include "The constant lustre of the day" in the manuscript poem "Biography of the Heart of Clement C. Moore." By contrast, words and rhymes in "The Night Before Christmas" that Henry Livingston uses but that do not appear in other poems by Clement C. Moore are either coincidental and fairly isolated, like forms of the word hurricane; or strictly commonplace, like the house/mouse and jelly/belly rhymes.

Even the much stronger verbal parallels like brains, visions and dread don't prove authorship, necessarily, but in this case Moore's authorship is already established by strong historical and biographical evidence. Editor Orville L. Holley learned who wrote "A Visit from St Nicholas" only months after it first appeared in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823. The New-York Book of Poetry in 1837 confirmed what the literati already knew. Any lingering doubt was settled when Clement C. Moore included A Visit from St Nicholas without fanfare in his 1844 Poems, where any contribution by another person was identified as such and duly credited, clearly and unambiguously. Extant manuscripts in Moore's handwriting likewise confirm his modest claim.

Links to more facts and reasons in support of Moore's authorship:
Then there's this, the published letter from Clement C. Moore to his friend Charles King, editor of the New York American. In this letter Moore plainly and directly claims authorship of the Christmas poem, although he doubts its "intrinsic value." In other words, Moore does not think the poem we know today as "The Night Before Christmas" is all that good, but he owns up to it, anyhow. Moore wrote the letter on February 27, 1844 after a false claim for authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" had appeared in the Washington National Intelligencer
... The above is printed immediately over some lines, describing a visit from St. Nicholas, which I wrote many years ago, I think somewhere between 1823 and 1824, not for publication, but to amuse my children. They, however, found their way, to my great surprise, in the Troy Sentinel: nor did I know, until lately, how they got there. When "The New York Book" was about to be published, I was applied to for some contribution to the work. Accordingly, I gave the publisher several pieces, among which was the "Visit from St. Nicholas." It was printed under my name, and has frequently since been republished, in your paper among others, with my name attached.

Under these circumstances, I feel it incumbent on me not to remain silent, while so bold a claim, as the above quoted, is laid to my literary property, however small the intrinsic value of that property may be.
The New York Book was published in 1827 [1837].
Yours, truly and respectfully, 
New York American - March 1, 1844
Related posts:
  • Recommended fixes

No comments:

Post a Comment