Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Clement C. Moore's published letter on his authorship of "Visit from St. Nicholas"

Good news at The New York Public Library! Yesterday on microfilm (*ZY 86-140 Reel 17 Mar 1-Dec 28, 1844) of the New York American (relocated now and accessible in the Milstein Microform Reading Room, First Floor Room 119--many thanks to the fine library staff there), I found the published letter from Clement C. Moore to editor Charles King in which Moore corrects a mistaken attribution of his poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Writing from New York on February 27, 1844, Moore responds to a December 25, 1843 item in the Washington National Intelligencer that falsely attributed the already well-known Christmas poem to the deceased artist Joseph Wood. Moore's chagrined friend Charles King published the letter on March 1, 1844 and requested the National Intelligencer to remedy the "plagiarism" by reprinting "Mr. Moore's note" of correction. The National Intelligencer reply on March 6, 1844 is what led me to look for Moore's published claim of authorship. In answer to Charles King's complaint, the editor of the Intelligencer pointed out that his newspaper had promptly published a correction, so there was no need to reprint Moore's letter.

From the New York American, March 1, 1844:

New York American - March 1, 1844
LINES TO ST. NICHOLAS.--The following note from our friend C. C. Moore, the author of those lines which every child among us delights to hear, about Christmas, and which parents with not less delight recite, brings to our notice, one of the boldest acts of plagiarism of which we have any recollection. We ask the National Intelligencer to have the goodness to insert Mr. Moore's note--and if possible to elucidate the mistake, if such it be, or fraud attempted in respect of such well known lines. 
New York, Feb. 27, 1844 
Dear Sir--My attention was, a few days ago, directed to the following communication, which appears in the National Intelligencer of the 25th of December last.
"Washington, Dec. 22d, 1843.

The enclosed lines were written by Joseph Wood, artist, for the National Intelligencer, and published in that paper in 1827 or 1828, as you may perceive from your files. By republishing them, as the composition of Mr. Wood you will gratify one who has now few sources of pleasure left. Perhaps you may comply with this request, if it be only for 'auld lang syne.'" 
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 to it.  
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,   
Chas. King, Esq.
The "New York Book" to which Moore refers is of course the 1837 New-York Book of Poetry, edited by Moore's friend (and some years later, Herman Melville's friend) Charles Fenno Hoffman. On microfilm the date of publication that Moore gives for the New York Book appears to read "1827," a typo for 1837.

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