Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Sophia Hawthorne and St Nicolas to Una, 1852

This 1852 letter to Una Hawthorne is filed with outgoing correspondence in the Sophia Peabody Hawthorne collection of papers, Call number Berg Coll MSS Hawthorne, S, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. Digitized images are available online via NYPL Digital Collections. Among other things Sophia Hawthorne's letter to Una shows that even as late as 1852, children may rightfully expect presents from St Nick on New Year's Day, after his annual visit on New Year's Eve.

Conjecture: perhaps originally, or in some early draft version, Clement C. Moore's holiday classic began "'Twas the night before New Year...." and ended with St. Nick's wishing "Happy New Year to all...." (The New-York Mirror for January 2, 1841 printed "New Year" for Christmas in both places.)
Taking good advantage of the window for parental instruction, Sophia Hawthorne asks that Una be nice to Julian, even when he's being a brat. So then, let's cut Clement C. Moore some slack and not misread his earlier verses on St. Nick, the loving manuscript poem From Saint Nicholas, as the sorry production of a mean Grinch of a father. Back then good children got gifts from St. Nicholas on New Year's Day--not too far off in Moore's early "From Saint Nicholas" poem to his daughter, and only hours away in Sophia Hawthorne's 1852 letter.

Julian and Una Hawthorne, c. 1850.
Boston Athenaeum via streetsofsalem
My darling Una,

St Nicolas says he cannot put any of his presents into your funny long stocking, & so he asks me to write you a note & put it in, that you may not be disappointed; for he is a very kind old gentleman. So as it is the end of the old year, & in a few hours the new year will begin, I will say a few words of loving counsel.

I hope you will enter upon the new year with a resolution to be kind to Julian. You lose a great deal of happiness, & deprive Julian of a great deal of happiness by not being always patient & gentle & kind to him. He has a heart very large & full of rich love, & if you would not push it back with frowning looks & harsh words, it would flow towards you & be a river of life & joy for you. When he teases or troubles you, try to ask him not to do so with a sweet voice, & I think he will stop in a moment.

Perhaps he will not at first, because he is in the habit of hearing you speak roughly; but soon he will find you are different. In the bible it says "A soft answer turneth away wrath." I wish I could write you a longer note for I have a great deal to say to my darling first-born but I cannot think very well to night of any thing but dear suffering Grandmamma.

Good night. St Nicolas asked me if I could not tell him of a better place than these miserable stockings for his presents, & I told him to look about him & he took a fancy to the fisher-boy, & has run off with him. When you are bathed & dressed you must find him & see what the old gentleman has done. Your loving Mamma.
--Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library. "Hawthorne, Una, ALS to. [1852]" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1852.
Image Credit: MCNY Blog
From Saint Nicholas
What! My sweet little Sis, in bed all alone;
No light in your room! And your nursy too gone!
And you, like a good child, are quietly lying,
While some naughty ones would be fretting or crying?
Well, for this you must have something pretty, my dear;
And, I hope, will deserve a reward too next year.
But, speaking of crying, I'm sorry to say
Your screeches and screams, so loud ev'ry day,
Were near driving me and my goodies away.
Good children I always give good things in plenty;
How sad to have left your stocking quite empty:
But you are beginning so nicely to spell,
And, in going to bed, behave always so well,
That, although I too oft see the tear in your eye,
I cannot resolve to pass you quite by.
I hope, when I come here again the next year,
I shall not see even the sign of a tear.
And then, if you get back your sweet pleasant looks,
And do as you're bid, I will leave you some books,
Some toys, or perhaps what you still may like better,
And then too may write you a prettier letter.
At present, my dear, I must bid you good bye;
Now, do as you're bid; and, remember, don't cry.
--Clement C. Moore

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1 comment:

  1. This strange locution: "He has a heart very large & full of rich love, & if you would not push it back ... it would flow towards you..." immediately struck me as like this strange locution:

    "Tashtego's mast-head hammer remained suspended in his hand; and the red flag, half-wrapping him as with a plaid, then streamed itself straight out from him, as his own forward-flowing heart."

    Google identifies "forward-flowing heart" as one of Melville's many hapax legomena, occurring nowhere else in the language except in M-D.