I'm pleased to find the solid detective work of Joe Nickell cited by Emily A. Kingery in her 2013 PhD Dissertation (Northern Illinois University) titled "A Christmas Canon: Literary Influence and the Anthological Motive." Early in her chapter on “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and the New American Christmas, Dr. Kingery accurately reported the scholarly consensus for Clement C. Moore's authorship, as follows:
14 Some scholars have questioned whether Moore is the author of the poem, usually making a case for its proper attribution to Henry Livingston. Overwhelmingly, though, Moore is accepted as the poem’s author. For a recent discussion of this question of authorship, see Joe Nickell, “The Case of the Christmas Poem,” Manuscripts 54.4 (Fall 2002): 293-308, and his “Part 2” follow-up, Manuscripts 55.1 (Winter 2003): 5-15.
As noted, Nickell's two-part study appeared in the Fall 2002 and Winter 2003 issues of Manuscripts, the quarterly journal of The Manuscript Society.
James Hughes observes in his 2010 article "Those Who Passed Through: Unusual Visits to Unlikely Places" that
Literary scholars, when they bother to notice it, will continue to
attribute "A Visit from St. Nicholas" to its rightful author Clement C.
Moore, despite the revival of claims for Henry Livingston, Jr. in
Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas?" by MacDonald P. Jackson. However, scholars in other fields evidently need the kind of helpful direction from specialists that Dr. Kingery has offered by citing Joe Nickell on Clement C. Moore's authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Leeman L. Perkins, for example, fulsomely cites Don Foster and the unique "analytical skills" that supposedly enabled him
to restore a correct attribution to the well known celebration of the Yuletide, The Night Before Christmas, removing credit for its authorship from Clement Clarke Moore—who seems to have dishonestly allowed a mistaken attribution to himself to be perpetuated—and restoring it to its rightful creator, the amiable descendent of New York Dutch progenitors, Major Henry Livingston. --Josquin's Qui habitat and the Psalm Motets via JSTOR
Publishing in 2009, the distinguished Columbia musicologist seems unaware of scholarship after Author Unknown that corrected the Vassar professor's errors and exposed serious flaws in his methodology. In 2008, Patrick Juola called Foster's attribution of the Elegy to Shakespeare a "noted failure" (Authorship Attribution, page 12). Before that, Foster's "Funeral Elegy Fiasco" received devastating critiques by Ron Rosenbaum, G. D. Monsarrat, and Brian Vickers.
The traditional attribution of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (aka "'The Night Before Christmas") to Clement C. Moore is further strengthened by the recent discovery of Moore's February 1844 letter to his friend Charles King, published in King's New York American on March 1, 1844.
New York American - March 1, 1844
In his letter to Charles King dated February 27, 1844, Moore expressly and unambiguously claims authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," adding that he wrote it "not for publication, but to amuse my children." Moore's plain statement of the facts makes it impossible to argue that he passively "allowed" Charles Fenno Hoffman to publish "A Visit from St. Nicholas" under his name in the 1837 New-York Book of Poetry.
Moore included "A Visit from St. Nicholas" with other poems in his 1844 collection, simply titled Poems. As Columbia and Princeton librarian Milton Halsey Thomas pointed out in a letter to the editor of the Chatham Courier (January 23, 1947):
"Moore was simply not the kind of man to claim authorship of something he had not written."--Milton Halsey Thomas
In the estimation of his friend and seminary colleague Samuel H. Turner,
Clement Clarke Moore's "thorough honesty of character has gained for
him the well earned and enviable reputation of an Israelite indeed, in
whom there is no guile." Future Livingston promoters will have to contradict Turner and call Moore a liar and thief, for a start. After that, they would need to explain why "one of the best of men," as Evert Duyckinck remembered him, famous in his lifetime for exemplary personal integrity, would embarrass his friends, hurt his family, and risk his reputation in the effort to own something so ephemeral and (in Moore's typically humble view) of so little "intrinsic value."
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
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
The New York Book was published in 1827 .
Yours, truly and respectfully,
CLEMENT C. MOORE
Chas. King, Esq.
On microfilm the date of publication that
Moore gives for the New-York Book of Poetry reads "1827," apparently a typographical error for
Moore was simply not the kind of man to claim authorship of something he had not written. --Milton Halsey Thomas
In January 1947 librarian Milton Halsey Thomas (1903-1977) wrote to the editor the Chatham Courier (Albert S. Callan, Jr.) in support of the traditional attribution of "The Night Before Christmas" poem to Clement C. Moore. He may have seen this item in the Chatam Courier on December 19, 1946:
Chatham Courier - December 19, 1946
Thomas appears to connect the Claverack legend to claims for Henry Livingston, Jr., although most versions of that dubious story have Clement C. Moore visiting the Webb home as a friend and regular visitor. Transcribed below, the letter from Milton Halsey Thomas was published in the Chatham Courier on January 23, 1947. Found in the online newspaper archives at Fulton History.
Chatham, N. Y.
I noted with interest your recent article that Clement Clark Moore's poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas" was written in Claverack, N. Y. I beg to differ and offer the following as evidence.
Some fifty or sixty years ago the claim was made in a magazine article that "A Visit from St. Nicholas" had been written by Major Henry Livingston of Locust Grove near Poughkeepsie. No evidence has ever been produced except family tradition, and a resemblance in style between the poetry known to have been written by Livingston and the Moore poem. Miss Gebhard is quite vague in her book, and does not even give the name of the supposed author.
The facts are all in favor of Moore. It is true that the poem was first published in the Troy Sentinel, and the explanation that the poem was copied by the daughter of the rector of St. Paul's church and sent to the paper fits in with the facts. The first time the poem was published with the author's name was in "The New York Book of Poetry" (1837); In 1844 Moore issued a collected volume of his own poems, and included this one. A number of years later, he wrote out a manuscript copy, signed his name to it and presented it to the New York Historical Society. Moore was simply not the kind of man to claim authorship of something he had not written. I wrote a long biographical introduction to a book of Moore's which was reprinted by the Columbia University Press in 1940 and became quite familiar with the facts of his life at that time. I ran across the Livingston claims, but felt certain that Moore was the real author and that the Livingston claimants did not have a leg to stand on.
It is rather interesting that one of Major Livingston's descendants was Dr. William Sturgis Thomas of New York (no direct relation of mine) who spent many years trying to support the Livingston claim of authorship of the poem. He was never able to turn up a manuscript of it, and although he claimed the poem was published in a Poughkeepsie paper before it appeared in the Troy Sentinel, he was never able to produce the Poughkeepsie newspaper; the files were said to be missing. I am no more interested in taking anything away from Columbia County than you would be, but I am thoroughly convinced that "The Night Before Christmas" was written at Chelsea house in Manhattan.
I almost never get to Chatham these days, nevertheless, I spent some of the pleasantest days of my life there, and always look back upon it with pleasure.
With kindest regards and best wishes for the New Year, I am
Yours very sincerely
Milton Halsey Thomas
Ed. Note: Mr. Thomas, a former resident of Chatham, is curator of the Columbiana Collection in Low Memorial Library, Columbia University, New York.
The book by "Miss Gebhard" must be The Parsonage Between Two Manors by Elizabeth Louise Gebhard, who credits the James Watson Webb house in Claverack as the place where "The Night Before Christmas" was composed.
Milton Halsey Thomas edited the facsimile edition of Clement C. Moore's 1825 address, published by the Columbia University Press as The Early History of Columbia College (New York, 1940). As mentioned in his 1947 letter, Thomas contributed the biographical introduction for that volume.
Now, in German, one of the few words known to uneducated Americans is blitzen, because it forms part of an oath supposed to be a favorite with Hollanders and the Germans. "Donder-and-blixen" used to stand as a popular and jocose synonym for a Dutchman, very much as in Mexico, at the present day, Englishmen and Americans are gravely called Los God-damés. --The Critic - April 23, 1881
immediate forebear in America came not from New Amsterdam or New York, but from
German settlements in Pennsylvania. --Phyllis Siefker, Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men
Dutch and German influences linger, too, in the names of the reindeer Donder and Blitzen (Thunder and Lightning).... As for his vision, it is nothing less than the casting of a secularized and dehistoricized icon of prosperity out of the American melting pot's assorted religious and folk traditions. --Janet Gray on Popular Poetry, Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, ed. Eric L. Haralson (Routledge, 1998).
Run, run Rudolph: Randolph's way too far behind. --Chuck Berry, Run Rudolph Run
In Author Unknown, Don Foster charged that Clement C. Moore's late preference for "Donder and Blitzen" shows he "did not know the original names of his own Dutch reindeer."
Who could forget Dunder and Blixem? That "Dutch reindeer" line provided one of Foster's best sound bites during his golden years of media celebrity, back before his Funeral Elegy fiasco (Ron Rosenbaum's good word for it in The Shakespeare Wars) became a textbook example of high-profile failure. According to Foster, the perceived inability to write "Dunder and Blixem" (as two of Santa's eight reindeer were named in the 1823 first printing) exposed Moore's ignorance of Dutch and therefore his linguistic incapacity to have written "A Visit from St. Nicholas," aka "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
Foster went wrong from the jump by not recognizing Moore's handwritten change of "Blixem" to "Blitzen" on the printed Sentinel broadside (held by the Museum of the City of New York) as compelling physical evidence of authorial tinkering with at least one reindeer name.
As the documentary evidence of Clement C. Moore's revision or correction clearly shows, Moore could not possibly have been ignorant of "Blixem" as Foster claimed in Author Unknown and subsequently on network television.
Foster's catchy "Dutch reindeer" argument has been revived by MacDonald P. Jackson in Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas"?
Jackson pays even closer attention to contemporary variants than Foster did, but reaches the same conclusion. To his credit, Jackson recognizes as Foster did not that the Troy Sentinel broadside with Moore's revisions evidently served as a copy-text for "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in Moore's 1844 Poems. Nonetheless, Jackson like Foster before him interprets the revision
history of reindeer names as tangible evidence for Henry Livingston's
authorship of the beloved Christmas classic. How Jackson also went wrong is worth exploring, as a kind of public service to general readers who would never expect so much misinformation and specious reasoning in the published work of an accomplished Shakespeare scholar.
Jackson's first mistake is revealed in his idea that "Dunder and Blixem" in the 1823 Troy Sentinel printing must present an "especially awkward detail for Moore's champions" (Who Wrote, 15).
Using loaded terms like "champions" and "believers" is one way of projecting a false balance, verbally preserving the illusion of equivalency between Moore and Livingston as the two worthiest authorship candidates. They are not equally matched contenders, however, because only Moore claimed authorship, and only Moore published the poem over his name, and only Moore was credited with authorship by knowledgeable contemporaries, including (besides his daughters, the best witnesses of all) such eminent editors and literary critics as Charles King, Charles Fenno Hoffman, William Cullen Bryant, W. A. Jones, John Keese, Evert A. Duyckinck, and Edmund Clarence Stedman. Since numerous verifiable facts corroborate Moore's authorship, and none identifies Henry Livingston, Jr. (who never claimed it anyway) with "A Visit from St. Nicholas," there can be nothing "awkward" presented by any printed text of the poem. The burden of proof has always been on the Livingston side, despite this early attempt by Jackson to shake it off. His authorship controversy or "question" is purely hypothetical. The label "believer" more aptly describes the supporter of a different candidate than Moore. Without evidence, belief in Livingston's authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is indeed a matter of faith.
To evaluate Jackson's discussion of reindeer names properly, it helps to keep in mind the extent to which the hypothetical authorship question imposes its own agenda. Authorship issues can wait. All kinds of editorial and interpretive problems may be addressed and scrutinized and solved, or not solved, without reference to authorship. Authorship most of the time does not have to be on the table at all. It's only before us here, now, because I'm indulging my own authorship obsession.
We know exactly what happened: the reindeer names "Dunder and Blixem" eventually became "Donder and Blixen" (most notably in The New-York Book of Poetry) and then "Donder and Blitzen" in Moore's 1844 volume of collected Poems. How and why the different versions came to exist are largely matters of conjecture. Some conjectures will be more informed and persuasive than others. Conjectures that require a hypothetical author, someone other than Clement C. Moore, will merit the highest degree of skepticism.
Moore's later revisions of reindeer names supply real, not conjectural evidence of Moore's authorship. If anything, the documented 1837 and 1844 changes suggest that Moore's original preferences may have been altered by one of the copyists referenced in T. W. C. Moore's 1862 letter to the New-York Historical Society. No one disputes the fact that at least two stages of copying preceded the first publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823. Maybe "Dunder" and "Blixem" were in Moore's original manuscript, maybe not. Jackson needs it to be "not," and then some. His pro-Livingston argument requires, in addition to the hypothetical existence of a lost exemplar not by Clement C. Moore, authorial spellings Dunder and Blixem therein, as a prerequisite for arguing that the imperfect or near-rhyme of "Blixem" with "Vixen" resembles Livingston's practice and not Moore's, who only did it once. True enough, but in this case once ought to be more than enough, since (Ho ho ho!) the exception Jackson cites occurs in a poem Moore wrote for one of his children in the persona of St. Nicholas:
Good children I always give good things in plenty
How sad to have left your stocking quite empty.
It wasn't empty: St Nick left his lovely "Letter" and most likely will be back in a few days, on New Year's Eve. In happier times, Santa was not so organized and predictable as today. Kids might find their stockings full of presents on New Year's Day, since
Lacking comparable manuscript evidence for Livingston's authorship of "The Night Before Christmas," and without evidence that Livingston ever in his life wrote the words dunder or blixem (or vixen, for that matter), Jackson wants a bridge to reach the tempting near-rhymes that do occur in Livingston's extant poetry, in order to press for their relevance. Needing to introduce otherwise irrelevant near-rhymes by Henry Livingston, Jr. as style evidence, Jackson resorts to supposing the very thing to be argued:
"Dunder/Donder and Blixem/Blixum" were clearly the prevailing forms, so it is natural to suppose that the Sentinel in 1823 preserved the original authorial spellings. --Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas"? page 16.
By my count that makes four differently spelled forms (Dunder, Donder, Blixem, Blixum), only two of which can possibly be "authorial" in one verse of "Visit." Two at a time, please, only two at a time! Even if these were "prevailing forms" as Jackson claims, he never bothers to explain why the poet, any poet, should be restricted even hypothetically to the commonest variants. Of a cliche, as will be seen. Since Jackson wants to fashion reindeer names into an argument about authorship, his supposition that "Dunder" and "Blixem" are "authorial spellings" here amounts to begging the question. In view of the documented revision history of reindeer names in "The Night Before Christmas," and the poem's unquestioned transmission history involving two copyists, at least, and the undisputed fact that its first publication in a Troy newspaper was unauthorized by the person who composed it, we need more and better reasons for taking "Dunder" and "Blixem" as "original authorial spellings."
Besides the circular logic that aims to fix "Dunder" and Blixem" as "original authorial spellings," Jackson's treatment of reindeer names is ill-informed on three crucial points:
Contrary to the partial facts offered by Jackson, references to Dutch "thunder and lightning" in popular Anglo-American literature featured numerous variants of dunder/donder + blixum/blixem, throughout the period under examination, c. 1800-1844. Different forms were promiscuously employed and included the words blixen and blitzen along with blixum and blixem.
The terms Dutch and German themselves were unstable and for many Americans interchangeable. Our so-called Pennsylvania Dutch are Germans.
It must be remembered, however, that at that period [later 17th century, in colonial Maryland] there was not the same
distinction between the terms Dutch and German that
there is to-day. In fact, the term German was rarely used,
and the appellation Dutchman was indiscriminately applied
to the representatives of all the Teutonic races. --The Pennsylvania-German in the Settlement of Maryland (Lancaster, PA., 1914)
The Dutch language fundamentally is German, of course, as is English. "High Dutch" meant German. The German for "German" still is Deutsch. Jackson oversimplifies with unnecessarily rigid categories of Dutch and German that do not reflect their linguistic kinship and historical intermingling. In particular, Jackson's oversimplified view distorts the complicated settlement history of New York State:
"From first to last the two major elements, known in the old world as "Deutsch" but differentiated as "Hoch Deutsch" and "Nieder Deutsch," mingled here in colonial America most freely, not only on account of common religious sympathies, but also on account of close similarity of languages."
Jackson underestimates pervasive Dutch influence in the Capital Region of upstate New York including Albany and Troy, the county seat of Rensselaer County. The interchangeability of terms for "thunder" and "lightning," illustrated below with numerous examples, means that anybody might have indifferently or mistakenly written "dunder" for "donder," and/or "blixem" for "blixen." Mainly because of the imperfect rhyme with "Vixen," I think (but don't pretend to know) the 1823 reading "Blixem" was a copyist's or printer's error for Moore's first choice, "Blixen." If Clement C. Moore did not write "Dunder and Blixem" as originally printed in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823, any changes were probably accidental, mistakes of transcription or of printing. But if the change to "Dunder" and "Blixem" resulted from deliberate revision, then Troy (formerly Vanderheyden) was one place that a persnickety editor (or typesetter) might have felt extra-empowered to alter the names of Dutch reindeer in accordance with house style. In any case, it remains certain that in 1844 Moore settled on Donder and Blitzen.
Alongside misrepresentation in triplicate, Jackson neglects important evidence of Clement C. Moore's personal involvement in the first book publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Contrary to imaginary scenarios proposed over the last one hundred years by Livingston advocates, Moore himself authorized publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in the 1837 New-York Book of Poetry. As his published letter to Charles King explicitly confirms, Moore contributed the poems that appeared over his name in the 1837 anthology, including "A Visit from St. Nicholas."
New York American - March 1, 1844
Even without the benefit of seeing Moore's letter, published March 1, 1844 in the New York American, biographer Samuel W. Patterson realized in 1956 what the number and selection of poems by Clement C. Moore in the New-York Book of Poetry implied. (Same here, even before I located Moore's 1844 letter in microfilm archives of the New York American at The New York Public Library.) Publisher George Dearborn and editor Charles Fenno Hoffman would never have presumed to select and publish the texts of those particular poems in the 1837 New-York Book of Poetry without Moore's prior advice as well as consent.
One thing he continued to do, well into the forties: write poetry...
Moore contributed several of his pieces to The New-York Book of Poetry, which appeared in 1837. It was in this volume by native New Yorkers that he first acknowledged his authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Much of his verse had already been published in newspapers and periodicals. --The Poet of Christmas Eve, 112-113.
Patterson's active verbs (contributed, acknowledged) are evidence-based, and may be contrasted with the fantasy that has long circulated among believers in Livingston's authorship of "Visit," that Moore passively "allowed" Charles Fenno Hoffman to publish four poems over his name.
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 [Editor Charles King's New York American] among others, with my name attached to it. --Clement C. Moore
As he states in this February 27, 1844 letter to Charles King, in 1837 Moore "gave the publisher several pieces" including "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Moore's 1837 contribution might explain, by the way, why in 1844 he would have needed the 1830 broadsheet for a copy-text of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Perhaps Moore had to use the Sentinel broadsheet when making a copy for the printer of his 1844 Poems because he had previously forwarded a manuscript version of "Visit" for publication along with three other of his poems in the New-York Book of Poetry. Other advantages of using a previously printed version as copy-text: less work of actual, physical writing, since you don't have to copy the whole thing again by hand, and a correspondingly reduced chance of introducing new errors.
Since Moore "gave the publisher" his poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1837, the reading there of "Donder and Blixen" should be regarded as authorized and approved by Clement C. Moore himself.
Whatever Moore may have originally written, in 1837 he authorized the correction or revision to "Donder and Blixen." In 1844 he again changed "Blixem," this time to "Blitzen." As shown below, blixen and blitzen could be and were used interchangeably in popular literature. Poets and journalists treated blixen and blitzen as variants of the same Dutch word. Jackson's investigation goes bust, before it ever gets started, on the reindeer names Dunder and Blixem. Here and elsewhere, the manufactured authorship dispute obscures other problems that are worthier of attention by literary critics and scholars. How to twist blixem into an argument for Livingston's authorship is not the right question. Here's a better one posed by the revision history, more interesting and legitimately arguable: What if anything did Moore mean in 1844 by changing Blixen to Blitzen?
And now, welcome to the melting pot...
"Donder and blitzen!" (1835)
From "The Journal of a Student," signed "F." (for Sumner Lincoln Fairfield) North American Magazine - April 1835
Foster's original argument and Jackson's restatement both require a comically precise reading of Dunder and Blixem as proper Dutch (or properly Englished Dutch) for "Thunder" and "Lightning," consistent with what Jackson calls "the prevailing forms" Dunder/Donder and Blixem/Blixum. Jackson accepts Donder and Blixum as allowable variants. Blixen ("The bastard form 'Blixen'") he regards as inherently suspicious and probably unauthorized, something imposed by Charles Fenno Hoffman. German Blitzen is right out. Even granting the questionable assumption and strained reasoning, the phrase "Dunder and Blixem" never appears anywhere in Livingston's known writings, poetry or prose, and therefore offers just nothing in the way of textual support for his supposed authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Indeed, the "familiar expression" attributed to Henry Livingston, Jr. by Jeanne Hubbard Denig in 1918 is not dunder and blixem but "Donder & Blitzen." Or was it "Dunder"? On March 12, 1917, Jeanne Hubbard Denig had thought her mother said Henry said "Dunder and Blitzen":
"My mother said that her grandfather used the "Dunder & Blitzen" as familiarly as some other people say "Great Scott!" etc etc etc!"
Donder or Dunder? Either way it was Blitzen that Livingston descendants remembered, not Blixem.
Moreover, Jackson's facts are incomplete and therefore misleading. His examples in Table 3.1 purport to show early usage of blitzen in German contexts. According to Jackson's neat chronology, only later (1843 and after) does the word blitzen occur with Dutch rather than German associations. Well, to be fair Jackson does grant one exception (not counting Scott's Guy Mannering):
For the sake of tidiness, apparently, Jackson has omitted telling counter-examples from his published Table 3.1, including instances of blitzen in Guy Mannering (1815) by Sir Walter Scott. (Jackson's note indefensible disclaimer: "The table excludes the instances by Scott mentioned in the text.")
" 'Donder and blitzen! ...' " (1820)
And here's something else Jackson missed: in chapter 4 of the first volume, the 1820 Philadelphia edition of Guy Mannering gives "Donder and blitzen!" in early dialogue by the Dutch smuggler, Dirk Hatteraick.
"Donder and Blitzen" in Scott's Guy Mannering (Philadelphia, 1820)
In the first edition of Guy Mannering (Edinburgh, 1815), the same passage gave Dirk Hatteraick's expression as "Donner and blitzen!"
Here as in the case of Happy Christmas, Jackson's over-reliance on the LION database (and on Don Foster) gets him into trouble. "Happy Christmas" turns out to have been commonplace, particularly among devout Protestants for whom the "Happy" part implied "Sober"; and blixem was never the regular or "prevailing" English spelling for Dutch "lightning" in popular literature. Along with the fluid usage of variant spellings, what Foster and Jackson both missed is how commonplace the expression was (requiring zero specialized knowledge beyond the ability to read), and how humorous were its usual contexts when employed as a stereotype of the funny Dutchman. Journalists in the 1820's differed about what constitutes true Dutch. Aiming for realistic Dutch dialogue, a political anecdote in the Black Rock [New York] Gazette on November 9, 1826 made it "tunder un blixzen":
Reprinted with the reading "tunder un blizzen" in the Vergennes, Vermont Aurora on November 23, 1826; and "tunder and blizzen" in the Worcester, Massachusetts Eclipse of the Sun on November 29, 1826.
Vermont Aurora - November 23, 1826
In Fayetteville, North Carolina the Weekly Observer gave the same expression in the same story as "tunder un blitzen."
Carolina Observer (Fayetteville, NC - November 29, 1826
Same 1826 anecdote, same specifically and stereotypically Dutch referent ("a broad featured descendant of Wouter Van Twiller"), three different spellings
and none of them blixem.
Furthermore, usages of blixen rival blixem/blixum all through the first half of the nineteenth century.
... In a little time we shall hear what effect the Manifesto has had on the Dutch; for I imagine it came as unexpectedly upon them as us. Donder & Blexin, Fluuckter, &c. will be exclaimations heard every where amongst them. --Letter to the Editor signed "John Roastbeef" in Lloyd's Evening Post, January 5, 1781.
Between 1785 and 1799
Verse satire issued as a broadside, titled Donder & Blixin: "Attend to my ditty, ye Germans and Dutch...."
Now stalk'd like a Cyrus the lean dame Van Blixen
Whom Scandal has christen'd a paragon'd vixen....
--"Description of a Dutch Ball at the Cape of Good Hope" By Miss Emily Brittle [from The India Guide by Sir George Dallas]. The European Magazine, and London Review, for March 1786; reprinted in the Weekly Museum, August 18, 1792.
and Blixen, Dutchmens see!"
--Opening line of The
Sans Culottes, and the Grand Culottes, a musicalportraying "the principal Events during the Invasion of Holland." Reviewed in The Public Advertiser, April 16, 1793; quoted in Paul F. Rice, British Music and the French Revolution (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), page 220.
Oh Hell! and dunder and blixen! --"For the Centinel / An Acrostic" [DOCTOR IOHN VAN BLUSTER];Newark, New Jersey Centinel of Freedom, March 12, 1799.
As I find der ish no DONDER AND BLIKSUM in de English Dikshonere I hope youl put both in yours to oblige a Subscrybur
HANS BUBBLEBLOWER. --Philadelphia Gazette of the
United States, June 12, 1800
I endeavored to appease the enraged Dutchman in vain. He told me it was the same dueifels kint that had insulted his master, and clenching his fist swore with a tremendous dunder and blixen that he would have satisfaction….
--Francis Fungus "To Christopher Caustic, Esq. Apothecary, &c." Philadelphia Repertory, September 1, 1810
[blixum as "German"] ... while an old German,
who was sitting against the capstan with his pipe in his mouth, grumbled
out--"Dunder and blixum, you've broke mine pipe mit your nonsense!" --"Ten Days in the Country," New York Spectator, August 31, 1824
In Reading, Pennsylvania they call Santa's Dutch reindeer Dunder and Blixen.
Berks and Schuylkill Journal [Reading, PA] December 31, 1825
In Philadelphia, Santa's Dutch reindeer are re-named Dunter and Blixen...
The Casket - February 1826
In "The Barber of Gottingen," by Robert Macnish, widely reprinted from the October 1826 number of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine,
the barber's fiendish customer (short and "burly" like the stereotypical Dutchman, and dressed accordingly with broad-brimmed hat and trousers with buckles at the knees) shouts both "Donner and blitzen!" and
"Dunder and blixum!" Reprinted widely, for example in the New-York American, November 24, 1826, Macnish's "Barber" influenced Poe's The Devil in the Belfry with its "Donder and Blitzen" (listed and dated 1840 in Jackson's Table 3.1, although not identified there by story title).
… A Dutchman who stood by listening to the conversation, seemed much astonished at what he heard, and throwing his hat on the ground, and clenching his hair with both hands, exclaimed, "Donner and blitzen! If I go id that boat I hold my hair tight!"
--"New Steamboat" anecdote in The Ariel [Natchez, Mississippi] for March 9,
The Spirit of the Old Dominion (1827) by Stephen T. Mitchell
[Fourth of July toasts in Milledgeville, Georgia]
By James S. Calhoun…. The Dutchman's answer to the enquiry, what are the most attractively beautiful natural objects: "Donder unt blitzden mon, dem dare dings wat var de peddigoats and abrons." -- Southern Recorder, July 12, 1828; reprinted in the Georgia Journal, July 14, 1828
"Donner and blitzen" merely a prelude to "true Dutch wrath":
Indiana Palladiuim (Lawrenceburg, IN) - May 23, 1829
'Donner and blitzen,' or 'tousand deyvils,' were too mild words to act
as safety-valves to Martin's wrath, and after a vain attempt to give
utterance to his feelings, he fairly turned Andrew out of the house, and
that too in no very courteous style. After this explosion of true Dutch
wrath, (which is rather slow to be started, but always means something
when it does come,) Martin was unsociable, testy and uneasy....
--"A Legend of the Law / Martin Van Deinster," excerpted from The New England Galaxy (Boston, Massachusetts) in the Indiana Palladium on May 23, 1829.
"Dunder and blixen," roared one of the party--a Dutchman--dey pe noting put de fox grape! --"The Yankee and The Grape-Vines" from the New York Constellation; frequently reprinted, for example in the Haverhill [Massachusetts] Gazette, February 25, 1832; and Miller's Weekly Messenger [Pendleton, South Carolina], March 21, 1832.
... the story of the Dutchman, who had become tired of his earthly habitation, and wished to take an aerial flight. He accordingly mounted the ridge of his barn, bound a bundle of straw under each arm, and set sail. But gravity unfortunately, bringing him instantly in contact with a stump, he exclaimed in agony, "donner ant blitzen! I toes not fint it so tifficult to fly, but ter teufle of it is to light." --Burlington, Vermont Sentinel and Democrat, July 20, 1832.
The king of the Dutch, like a very great vixen,
Scolds & swears by the powers of 'donner & blitzen' --Carrier's Address, Canton, Ohio Repository, January 4, 1833
Hans Schlaffigkopf the hero of "The Astounded Dutchman" swears by "Donner and blitzen" and "Santa Claus":
Dedham Patriot (Dedham, Massachusetts) January 11, 1833
"Donner and blitzen! Yasu Chrst! Santa Claus! De Tyfel and all! vat ish dat for a shmoke comin de riffer up? Vrouw! Vrouw! come here aus! De riffer is all on a fire!" --as reprinted from the New York Constellation in the Dedham, Massachusetts Patriot on January 11, 1833.
"Dunder and blitzen! exclaimed Johannes [Puterbaugh, "Dutch" patriarch of Rock-Hollow]...." --Cincinnati Mirror, and Western Gazette of Literature - October 5, 1833
The 1833 Anecdote of Two Dutchmen,
widely reprinted in American newspapers and magazines from Chambers'
Edinburgh Journal, gives "Dunder and blitzen" (alternatively, blizen in the Schenectady, New York Cabinet, April 3, 1833) as typically Dutch.
Gloucester [Massachusetts] Telegraph - January 8, 1834
…where's Naso Tremaine, my plebe? Demme if he shan't taste of 4th July in the shape of a genteel swig of donder and blixen just from Amsterdam, and out of a brown Dutch jug. --"Arthur Tremaine" in the Military and Naval Magazine of the United States, July 1834
Weekly Standard [Raleigh, North Carolina] - July 3, 1839
Greensboro Patriot - May 11, 1841
As demonstrated by the examples above, "blixen" appears repeatedly in newspapers and magazines c. 1800-1844, usually with "dunder" but sometimes "donder." Below, a relevant and suggestive instance from the verse burlesque titled "A Yankee Pass," where "blixen" rhymes with "vixen":
Ere long the merchant on the 'Squire
Call'd about payment to inquire, Shows him the note--like any vixen, He cries out "dunder, blood and blixen;
I bees won foolish, cheated ass;
Dat be de Got tam Yankee pass."
--New England Galaxy via The Weekly Miners' Journal [Pottsville Pennsylvania], April 15, 1826
Weekly Miners' Journal (Pottsville, Pennsylvania) - April 15, 1826
Other versions print "A Yankee Pass" with the end-rhyme blixen changed to blitzen:
Shows him the note--like any vixen
He cries out, "Dunder, blood, and blitzen,
I am one fooolish cheated ass,
Dat is de cot tam yankee pass."
--Richmond Whig via Salem [Massachusetts] Gazette, June 17, 1828
As shown in the warm-up post on A Dutch Quarrel, British newspaper editors in 1835 likewise treated blixen and blitzen as variant spellings of the same Dutch word. The London story, originally titled "Much Ado about Nothing," circulated with alternative forms for the stereotypical Dutch oath, including "Donder on Blixen!" in the London Morning Post, June 4, 1835 and Liverpool Mercury, June 12, 1835; but "Donder and Blitzen!" in the London Examiner on June 7, 1835:
Several Dutchmen were laboring in the field below. A sand-bag bursting
to pieces as it struck the earth near them, caused them to raise their
eyes, and a shout of "Dunder and Blitzen!" as they saw the teefle, as they verily believed, making a stoop directly upon them. --"Clayton the Aeronaut," signed "P." in the Boston Transcript via The New York Commercial Advertiser, June 30, 1837
Martin Van Buren "like the little dogged Dutch boy at school at Kinderhook" says "Dunder and Blixen" to Clay and Webster (New York Herald, December 7, 1837).
New York Herald - December 7, 1837
Donner and blitzen! exclaimed the bewildered cobbler [Jacob Kats, Dutch "Cobbler of Dort"], as he took the pipe out of his mouth.... --Plattsburgh Republican, March 9, 1839
New York Evening Post - April 7, 1840
"Nothing more profane than donder en blixem should be heard. A Dutchman knows no more wicked oath...." --New York Evening Post, April 7, 1840
Columbia Democrat [Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania] - May 2, 1840
"Nothing more profane than donder and blixen should be heard. A Dutchman knows no more wicked oath...." --Columbia Democrat, May 2, 1840
Over the pseudonym "Verbum Sapienti," the writer of a letter to the editor of the Richmond Whig
alluded to the commonplace expression "dunder and blixen" by way of
correcting another writer's supposed error in using it. For the Richmond
linguist, the most proper "Dutch" forms of the familiar oath were not
dunder/donder and blixem/blixum but "donner and blitzen":
are] no such words in Dutch as "dunder and blixen," which he meant, I
presume, for the vulgar oath in that language of "donner and blitzen."
--Richmond Whig, April 20, 1841
As late as 1851, we find Herman Melville indiscriminately lumping Dutch and Germans together as one nation of sailors. In chapter 81 of Moby-Dick, the Pequod meets and then competes for sperm whales against the heretofore unsuccessful Jungfrau or "Virgin." In the heat of the chase, Stubb refers to the Jungfrau
captained by Derick De Deer as both a "Yarman" (German) and "unmannerly
Dutch dogger." As another such personified confusion of Dutch and German
stereotypes, Melville's Dr. Snodhead would relish the looseness and fluidity of Stubb's categories.
As I have urged the WHY of Blitzen as a more fruitful question than WHO (you know who), let me end with three very arguable answers. Why did Clement C. Moore in 1844 choose Blitzen over Blixem, and Blixen?
Moore the over-committed and classically absent-minded professor simply forgot about his previously approved change to "Blixen" and wrote "Blitzen" instead. With the 1830 Sentinel broadsheet before him, the important thing to Moore in 1844 was fixing the imperfect rhyme by revising "Blixem." Blixen and Blitzen were interchangeable rhymes for "Vixen," as the different versions of "A Yankee Pass" in 1826-8 demonstrate.
Moore the Super-Dad and Responsible Family Man was forever haunted by James Kirke Paulding's off-hand dismissal of "blixum" as "little better than swearing." Thinking of the children, Moore hoped against hope that Blitzen would vary the familiar curse just enough to hide it from his kids, and posterity.
Moore the myth-maker and linguist extraordinaire wanted to honor Old World Christmas traditions along with his specifically Dutch Saint. Dutch reindeer? Humbug! Moore's reindeer are who we thought they were, Finns. Dolf and Bärtyly don't jingle so well with Prancer and Vixen, but Blitzen inches closer to the hardy Nordic spirit we're always looking for around the holidays. Despite (rather than in keeping with) the popular notion of Blitzen as Dutch, Moore finally and expertly linked his Nordic reindeer with Christmas trees and other more broadly Germanic rites of December. In so doing, Moore honored the German heritage of his intimate friend Dr. Francis:
—to whom the New Year's festival, as characteristic of his father's Nuremberg home as of Dutch hospitality, and his old friend Clement Moore's household rhymes of Santa Claus, with the annual schnapps and pipes of this local saint, brought such genial inspiration.... --Henry T. Tuckerman, biographical introduction to Old New York by John Wakefield Francis.
To continue with the automobile analogy advanced in the post on recommended fixes, I'm here with the tow truck for that broken-down Ford. Again. Three wheels are off and MacDonald P. Jackson wants more gas. What's that about "a follow-up study"? In the can, apparently:
... a follow-up study that finds high-frequency words and phoneme pairs that combine to distinguish Livingston’s verse from a similarly-sized corpus of verse by contributors to the newspapers and journals in which he published, and that places “The Night Before Christmas” with the Livingston poems. It remains true, however, that when capitalized and uncapitalized words are differentiated, the “Livingston-favored words” results show “The Night Before Christmas,” along with the majority of Livingston’s poems, falling beyond Moore’s range (Who Wrote, 133). --Jackson on Norsworthy
Mister, no disrespect but you might ought to think about trading it in.
Jackson justifies his withholding of "Charles Elphinstone" and other manuscript poems by Clement C. Moore in order "to test the efficacy of the tests" as "best practice." Best practice of what? Answer: authorship attribution studies in Jackson's field of globally acknowledged expertise which is Shakespeare and early modern English theater. Good, except in that game scholars play with bigger balls. Not literally, of course. I mean bigger data sets. In Shakespeare-World, it's all about Big Data.
How big? For quick and easy reference I checked Open Source Shakespeare for numbers of words in Shakespeare's plays. Zounds! Hamlet has 30,557 words; Midsummer Night's Dream 16,511. Average number of words per play for Shakespeare is 22,595. Your average Shakespeare play contains more words than all of Clement C. Moore's published poems combined (20,585 according to the Words in Moore page at Mary S. Van Deusen's marvelous Henry Livingston site). Hamlet at over 30,000 words plus half of MND is roughly the size of the entire Moore corpus including unpublished pieces, for example Moore's ambitious Charles Elphinstone and the revealing Biography of the heart.
The number of words in poetry by Henry Livingston, Jr. is difficult, maybe impossible to nail down. A few enthusiastic family members have sought to credit Livingston with poems he did not write. Where's a licensed English Professor when you really need one? We could use one now, preferably from the old school of Samuel Schoenbaum. Going old-school, the first order of scholarly business would be to determine if possible which pieces in Henry Livingston's manuscript book are actually his own compositions. Some of them might have been copied from the magazines and newspapers in which Livingston evidently published. (I do not claim that any were. I'm pointing out the undone dirty work of scholarship. Livingston submitted prose work by other writers without giving them credit, as the published essay on Eskimos demonstrates. Today we call that plagiarism, but when Livingston did it American literature was mostly just recycled British literature anyway, thoroughly and unavoidably derivative.)
Published in two different places, A Frontier Song in Livingston's manuscript book deserves particularly close attention for evidence of transmission. "The Frontier Song" appeared February 1791 in The New-York magazine; or, Literary repository, unsigned, with the refrain "My wife, my dog, and gun" closing each of the Song's four stanzas. The "Song" is sandwiched between two poems that also appear in Henry Livingston's manuscript book, The vine and oak and Epithalamium. Neither is signed. "Vine and Oak" is dated "Banks of the Hudson, Feb. 8, 1791," although its manuscript context implies an earlier date of c. 1786. Then on March 5, 1791, "A Frontier Song" appears over the signature "R—" in Henry Livingston's local newspaper the Poughkeepsie Journal. The Journal printing follows Livingston's manuscript reading "My puppy, squaw, and gun," as also reprinted in the American Museum - July 1792. Again, I'm not arguing that Livingston did not write these pieces. I do mean to point out how the authorship "controversy" about "The Night Before Christmas" too easily leapfrogs necessary grunt work of scholarship. On the other hand, I appreciate how questions of authorship draw attention to overlooked or neglected writings, and along the way create interesting and fun opportunities for learning. Hence my obsession with authorship questions.
Second job, weeding out newspaper and magazine contributions by other writers who also signed their contributions "R." If you think all "R's" for the period are Livingston, you might feel bound to add the following piece, published January 30, 1790 in the New-York Weekly Museum:
A TRUE DREAM.
I Dreamt,--my dear; (quoth Ralph to Joan,
One morning as they lay alone)
I can't help laughing, faith!--I dreamt,
Our Neighbour Charles was impotent,--
There is no truth in dreams (says Joan;)
And whilst I live I'll credit none.--
But afterwards, (quoth Ralph) I dreamt,
For all that he was impotent,
He got in bed my dear to thee!
And made a shift to cuckold me--
Good lack! (cry'd Joan) I never knew
A dream before that happen'd true. R.
Museum January 30, 1790.
But that dont sound like Henry Livingston, Jr. and indeed can't be his original composition, since it formerly appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine for January 1733. True, Livingston could have submitted "Dream" over his cryptic initial. Still, not all "R's" represent Livingston in disguise. Does "R." in 18th century periodical literature ever signify merely "Reader"? Should we distinguish "R"; "R." with a period after it; and "R—." followed by a dash or dash and end punctuation? What else besides the signature "R." identifies the Song - Shrew'd remarkers (for example) as an original piece by Henry Livingston, Jr.? Another candidate for banishment from the official, approved Livingston collection would be Adventures of an American Eagle. Published over the signature "R." in 1822, "American Eagle" exhibits a curiously un-Livingston-like vocabulary (Capac, Canton Crape, quaff, chemic fire) and ends in a clunky moral about the "golden calf" as "Israel's sin and Israel's shame." Before "American Eagle," when was Livingston's last confirmed publication over the signature "R"? So far as I can tell, nothing else had been published over the signature of "R." in the Poughkeepsie Journal for twenty years and more before the appearance of "American Eagle" in 1822, making it doubtful that Livingston was actively writing and submitting poetry then.
Reality Check, and Double-Standard Alert
Imagine the worldwide delight (not to mention the raucous academic dinner parties) that would follow the finding of a published letter from Stratford upon Avon in which William Shakespeare exclaimed, "Kyd be hanged! I writ Arden of Faversham to amuse my kin." Or think of the joy in Poughkeepsie over the discovery of a published claim for "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Henry Livingston, Jr. News flash! Clement C. Moore openly and vigorously claimed authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in his letter to Charles King, published in the New York American on March 1, 1844. Smart people like Samuel H. Turner and Evert A. Duyckinck who really knew Moore praised his integrity, decency, and humility. Nobody in Moore's lifetime ever called him a scoundrel, but Jackson now has to. Unless he changes his mind and stops driving that ragged Ford.
Subtracting the 1803 and 1819 Carrier Addresses (735 + 677 = 1412), for a start, would (as Jackson has reminded me) bring down the gradually shrinking corpus of known poems by Henry Livingston from 12,599 to 11,187 words--and that's still too many for Livingston, probably. And we would need far larger data sets for Jackson's common single words to have any chance of identifying distinctive patterns of usage, even in combination with other common, single words. The earlier post on recommended fixes attempted to fine-tune Jackson's methodology for the purpose of correctly discriminating between Livingston and Moore. Seems now I underestimated the difficulty of insufficient data. Regardless, I'm continually fascinated by results and potential results of Jackson's approach for purposes of literary criticism and scholarship. One very fine finding by Jackson is the revelatory presence of the noun heart in the list of "Moore-favored" high-frequency words, pulsating there amidst the usual run of essential but uninspiring function words. What a brilliant discovery! and most suggestive for the appreciation of the thing that distinguishes Moore's poetry from that of dabblers and recyclers like Livingston. It's heart.
And let's not neglect the medium-high frequency words for Moore that also jump out of Jackson's footnotes: joy, joys, life and light.
For identifying authorship, however, the data sets may be too small for Jackson's method to work its magic. Best practice requires big data. Shakespeare brainiacs prefer testing with blocks of multiple thousands of words, though for practical reasons they will settle for 1500. Considering the tiny and tinier bodies of work involved here, best practice when evaluating the poetry of Moore and Livingston would be to Use Extreme Caution. Primum non nocere, as my old friend Galen used to say. Without big data we should not bother overmuch about common pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions and such. Well, of course we can count them and play around with the numbers, but our concern for "best practice" will prohibit us from trying to use partial data of dubious value in the attempt to, say, deprive a fellow scholar and gentleman of his good reputation.
If we have to fool with common words, let's at least count them properly, all of them, before deciding which ones are "Livingston-favored" and which ones are "Moore-favored." Jackson points out that he deals with "Charles Elphinstone" and other withheld manuscript poems on page 92 of Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas"? But look how his numbers replace and eventually displace words, and consider the cumulative effect of that numerical displacement. Moreover, in accordance with Jackson's method, his numbers often do not stand for words but combinations of words, and the percentages those seemingly magical word-combinations generate. That can't be best practice when dealing with such small collections of total words. Sorry, we're sold out of Big Data. Have you tried the Searchable Database of Longfellow Poems?
Ironically, Jackson's successive tables of stats do a great job of hiding the actual words behind the numbers. The presentation of table after table serves to flatten essential differences which occasionally scream at you when you read and compare poems by Moore and Livingston. Besides masking the literary insignificance of much raw data, this process of flattening also works to preserve the false equivalency of Moore and Livingston as equally worthy contestants for the grand prize of The Night Before Christmas. That kind of hypothetical construction might pass for best practice in Early Modern studies where in some cases little to nothing has survived in the way of external documentary evidence. Sometimes there's no water in their swimming pool. When they give lessons over there they have to imagine how real swimmers look and act in real water. Over here it's Laguna Beach, baby. Nothing but surfing and splashing all day, an ocean of biographical and historical evidence before us. Best practice in 19th century studies will be to integrate external and internal evidence of authorship. As Harold Love advises,
Internal evidence like shared trigrams and near trigrams may not establish authorship, but in this particular case the numerous parallels confirm qualitatively, in aesthetically satisfying terms, what has already been firmly established by the biographical and historical evidence. With so much physical evidence on his side already, numerical ties go to Moore.
Thanks to the generosity and bravery of Mary S. Van Deusen, the word-frequency
counts on her fantastic Henry Livingston website permit independent
verification of Jackson's statistical tests.
At their best, Jackson's tables of stats establish that one poet's verses can look like those of another poet when examined
for usages of common words in isolation from their grammatical and
literary contexts. His statistics "prove" just nothing in connection with the authorship of Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas." I checked the Manual, it's still best practice to acknowledge the limits of your model:
The results of computational stylistics are always a matter of probability, not of certainty. Writers are free agents, and language is an endlessly flexible instrument. Writers tend to remain within a defined band of style, but this is a propensity, not an iron law. In the past, quantitative work in literary studies has sometimes suffered from exaggerating the reliability of its findings.... Hugh Craig and Arthur F. Kinney
The good news is, best practice evolves. Around the same time that Jackson began moonlighting in the new-fallen snow, tracking the footsteps of Don Foster, their peers were formalizing the received opinion of Foster's
methodology as bad practice. In Shakespeare, Computers, and the Mystery of Authorship, Hugh Craig and Arthur F. Kinney cite Foster as their
prime example of how not to go about the tricky business of authorship attribution. Paradoxically, Foster's work is so bad that it's good. Foster's celebrated Funeral Elegy fiasco is now regarded as instructively bad--which makes it good for something, after all. To the same effect, Patrick Juola summarizes Foster's unusually public record as an exemplary "failure":
As Joe Nickell and Seth Kaller have shown already, Foster's distorted treatment of Clement C. Moore and "'Twas The Night Before Christmas" offers no improvement over his notoriously flawed work on Shakespeare and Ford's Funeral Elegy. Best practice nowadays is to acknowledge Foster's mistakes, and avoid repeating them. Jackson in his book Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas"? only gets halfway there.
Before determining "high frequency" and "medium-high frequency" words,
Jackson excluded Moore's verse translations and numerous unpublished
poems including the allegorical "Biography of the heart" and epic verse
narrative "Charles Elphinstone." Besides being inappropriate for the small data sets involved, Jackson's exclusions pre-judged and mis-judged Moore's ability to creatively manipulate the "endlessly flexible instrument" of language. As "Charles
Elphinstone" will reveal to the patient and attentive reader, our old boy had a wild imagination and was surprisingly ambitious for an amateur writer of light
domestic verse. Hurrah!!! once more for Mary S. Van Deusen who heroically transcribed Charles Elphinstone, and made it available online with the rest of Moore's manuscript poems.
In future, best practice should make it easier for engaged readers to see words behind the screen of numbers. More transparency next time, please. Transparency seems especially desirable when presenting crucial numbers that relate to words in "The Night Before Christmas." That may sound obvious, but in chapters 16 and 17 of his book, Jackson makes us work to determine the precise distribution of supposedly Livingston-favored and Moore-favored words. He sticks the inventory of high frequency and medium-high frequency words in the footnotes, and in the main body only gives numbers and percentages, not the distribution of actual words. Let's peep behind the curtain.
In chapter 16, Jackson's Table 16.2 counts 53
"Livingston-favored" words in The Night Before Christmas, vs. 34
"Moore-favored" words. Here as in most of Jackson's tables, the numbers
look more impressive as numbers than as the common words they are. Breaking down the 53 so-called
"Livingston-favored" words in The Night Before Christmas:
I = 10
his - 18
my = 3
her = 1
on = 6
as = 2
was = 8
When = 3
me = 1
GRAND TOTAL = 53
By Jackson's method, Livingston gets credit for eighteen occurrences of the pronoun his,
all with reference to (who else?) Santa Claus. 18 hits for one word represents a
huge chunk, practically one third, of the total 53. To see why Jackson
deems the common pronoun his a "Livingston-favored" word, we can to go to Mary S. Van Deusen's online charts of the word frequencies.
Henry has 109 instances of his = 0.865% of his 12,599 words.
Moore has 112 instances of his = 0.544% of his 20,585 words, excluding his unpublished poems.
(Here and below, I am using word counts in Jackson's book and the Livingston website whenever possible.) For
the sake of argument I will pretend to accept small differences as
meaningful when Jackson says they are. Poetry is more than data, however, and percentages may have
statistical "significance" without having any real poetical or literary
Playing the numbers game for fun (no judgment now), let's see what happens when we incorporate more of the
manuscript poetry including "Charles Elphinstone" and "Biography of the
heart." True, the number of total words for Moore might swell to the size of two Julius Caesars after adding everything Jackson kept out. I and my humble calculator app will try to adjust
First we need to add occurrences of "his" in light blue on Mary Van Deusen's color-coded page of All Words, to capture the excluded poems. Then we can add instances from Moore's "Biography of the heart."
237 in Charles Elphinstone plus 5 in other manuscript poems = 242 + 16 in Biography of the Heart of Clement C. Moore = 258. (Not counting instances of "His," with "H" capitalized,
considered a separate category). And I'm keeping translations out as requested, only adding "Biography of the heart," bringing the tally of Moore
words to 38,714. I got that total number by adding 12 manuscript notebook poems with 3,479 words by Jackson's count + 13,670 words in "Charles
Elphinstone" by Jackson's count + 980 in "Biography of the Heart" according to my ordinary Microsoft Word software = 18,129 + 20,585 from Mary
Van Deusen's Words in Moore page = 38,714 total words in Moore. Not counting the translations from Aeschylus, Metastasio, and (in manuscript) Petrarch.
So then, add 258 to Moore's old total of
112 = 370 in 38,714 words = 0.956%. Now Moore's percentage turns out to
be greater than Livingston's percentage, though not 1.2 times greater,
which is what Jackson's method would require for "his" to count as a
Moore-favored word. The main thing is, the word his can no longer be counted with "Henry-favored" words. Subtract 18 from Livingston's total of 53.
Henry = 47 instances of was = 0.373%
Moore = 62 instances of was = 0.301%
Moore's total for the word "was" we need to add 89 hits in the
unpublished manuscript poems, plus 6 in "Biography of the heart" = 95 +
62 = 157 which is 0.4055% of 38,714.
Thus, was must not be considered a "Livingston-favored" word, so we have to subtract 8 additional hits. 53-18 = 35; 35-8 = 27
Livingston has 68 = 0.540%
Moore has 81 = 0.393%
+ 1 = 63 + 81 = 144 which makes 0.372% of 38,714. With the larger corpus, Moore's percentage
for "on" actually drops a bit: "on" stays a "Livingston-favored" word.
Livingston likewise keeps "I" and "my," with "her" and the rest of them.
GRAND TOTAL for the key stat in Jackson's Table 16.2 of "High-frequency
words" should be 34 Moore-favored vs. 27 Livingston-favored.
The corrected percentage of Jackson's figure L/L + M on page 83 would be 27/34+27 = 44.26.
In chapter 17 Jackson examines "Medium-high frequency" words and counts 26 Moore-Favored words; vs. 29 Livingston-Favored words in "The Night Before Christmas."
Let's break down Livingston's 29:
an = 1
around = 1
good = 1
He = 5
him = 2
His = 3
little = 4
long = 1
up = 4
rose = 1
what = 2
name = 1
meet = 1
Here, too, observe the
predominating cluster of masculine pronouns He/him/His. These collectively are responsible for
10 of the 29 hits for Livingston--again a big chunk, roughly one
third of them.
Moore has 15 = 0.073%
Livingston has 18 = 0.143%
Moore's usages of "He" add 45 in "Elphinstone" + 2 in "Biography of the
heart" = 47 + 15 = 62 of 38,714 = 0.160% beating out Livingston. No longer Livingston-favored, subtract 5.
Moore 13 = 0.63 %
Livingston 13 = 0.103%
Add 24 + 5 = 29 + 13 = 42 which is 0.108% of 38,714. Dead heat now, so we have to subtract 3 more from the total of Livingston-favored words.
For "him" we need to add 57 from "Charles Elphinstone" plus 14 in "Biography" = 71 + the measly 16 in Moore 's original count 87 is 0.225% of 38,714 which doubles Livingston's 14 = 0.111 %
The word "him" turns out to be insanely Moore-favored. I think we're legally obligated to
subtract 2 from Livingston's total, and also to add 2 to Moore's.
The rest of them can stand for now.
Corrected GRAND TOTAL for Table 17.2 of "Medium-High-frequency words in "The Night Before Christmas" 29 - 10 (5+3+2) = 19 for Livingston; vs. 25 + 2 = 27 for Moore, after correcting Jackson's partial stats. And the percentage of 19/19 + 27 = 41.30%
To be clear, I do understand that enlarging Moore's database to its right and proper size, and appropriately reducing Livingston's as well, means that all figures, everything in every category would need to be recounted and all percentages re-calculated. Further scrutiny seems desirable and potentially enlightening. I may try to do more of that down the road. Hopefully Jackson, too, will re-count and re-calculate along the lines I am recommending. I will be interested to learn exactly how the expansion of Moore's corpus would affect the words now categorized as Moore-favored; and how the reductions to Livingston's will affect the frequency rates of words currently treated as Livingston-favored. I guess that "heart" would remain a high-frequency word, distinctive to Moore. [Sigh.] Oh alright, let me check that one, starting with Words in Moore: Moore's heart rate now holding steady at 52 = 0.253% To which, add 55 occurrences in "Elphinstone" and other manuscript poems plus 6 in "Biography of the heart." 52 + 61 = 113 which means that Moore's heart rate remains stronger than ever at 0.290% Woo-hoo!!!!
Randomly, let me try another one from "The Night Before Christmas." What happens to "not"?
Current total for Moore, 73 = 0.355%. Adding 90 from the manuscript poems gets us to 163 which is 0.421%. The word not, like heart, remains distinctive of Moore even with the greatly expanded count of total words.
With my calculator still humming, I might as well check to see what how elimination of two Carrier Addresses would affect one or two Livingston-favored words. Having triumphantly dropped the all-important "his" from Jackson's tally of Livingston-favored words, I'd better take a minute to see how "his" would fare with Livingston's smaller corpus.
his in Livingston according to Words in Henry currently stands at 109 = 0.865%
Well then, 109 - 12 = 97 which, after subtracting 735 + 677 = 1412 lines from Livingston's previous number of total words (12,599 - 1412 = 11,187) would be 0.867% About the same, still short of Moore's 0.956%
How about the word was?
was in Livingston poems currently stands at 47 = 0.373%
OK, still 47 which with the reduced corpus of 11,187 words increases the percentage to 0.420% , beating Moore's 0.403% by a nose. Nevertheless, by Jackson's rule the usage must be 1.2 times greater to count as Livingston-favored. To keep was, Livingston needed to reach 0.484%. Since it's basically a tie now, Jackson still must remove was from his list of Livingston-favored high frequency words in "The Night Before Christmas." Ho ho ho.
One more before I go: him, from the list of medium-high frequency words. I'd better check that, too, having reassigned it from Livingston to Moore.
Over at Words in Henry, him in Livingston poems currently stands at 14 = 0.111 %
Now 14 - 2 = 12 in 11,187 words, which reduces Livingston's percentage to 0.107% vs. Moore's
0.225% Ha! Jackson still has to give him to Moore.
The evident swing from Livingston to Moore in "The Night Before Christmas" seems mainly though not exclusively a matter of pronouns. In our relatively small data sets, some numbers and percentages may be volatile and change with every addition or subtraction to the data set. But numbers for "heart" and "not" remained pretty stable, which looks encouraging for the explanatory potential of even a smaller database. And percentages for the very small Livingston corpus will probably be more volatile and therefore unreliable than Moore's. Especially with respect to the modest number of mostly short poems by Livingston, it seems unwise for now to rely on the commonest words for anything but fun and games with respect to Clement C. Moore's authorship of "The Night Before Christmas."
You can't escape from subjectivity, and best practice requires qualitative as well as quantitative analysis.
Best practice is integrative. The Cadillac model integrates qualitative with quantitative, external with internal evidence. Being integrative, best practice would never discount, as Jackson persistently does, excellent documentary evidence of authorship, especially with zero documentary evidence for any other claimant. (Sorry, the Livingston "witness letters" count as rich and fascinating family history, not evidence of authorship, as I will have to review in a separate post. And since Jackson opened the door, I'll walk him through the reindeer names so he won't keep tripping on Blixem.) In his Appendix III, Jackson demonstrates convincingly that the 1830 Sentinel broadsheet served as the printer's copy text for Moore's 1844 Poems. Good! Therefore, what Jackson has in front of him is solid physical evidence of Clement C. Moore's authorship of "The Night Before Christmas." For Christmas' sake, hang on to that "doctored copy of the 1830 Sentinel broadsheet," as Jackson describes it in a footnote to Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas"? (page 184, note 4).
Doctored? I guess that means, "doctored" with revisions to the printed text in Dr. Moore's handwriting. In other words, physical evidence of authorship. Double-standard alert!
Moore's use of the Sentinel broadsheet reminds me of Melville's practice when he submitted his more substantially revised version of "The Admiral of the White" for re-publication as "The Haglets" in John Marr and Other Sailors. Like Moore's "Visit" (though never so sensationally popular, of course), Melville's poem had already been printed in more than one newspaper. Melville gave the printer a marked-up and cut-up clipping from the New York Tribune.
The printer's copy for John Marr, in fact, consists of the Tribune clipping cut apart and fitted in with the manuscript pages.
--Hennig Cohen, Selected Poems of Herman Melville
Relevant images showing how Melville marked and scissored a printed newspaper text of his own poem may be found in Douglas Robillard's facsimile edition of John Marr and Other Sailors, published in 2006 by The Kent State University Press.
As Moore plainly states in his letter of February 27, 1844 to Charles King, in 1837 he "gave the publisher several pieces" including "A Visit from St.
Nicholas." Moore's 1837 contribution might explain, by the way, why in
1844 he would have needed the 1830 broadside for a copy-text of "A
Visit from St. Nicholas." Perhaps Moore had to use the Sentinel reprint when making a copy for the printer of his 1844 Poems because he had previously forwarded a manuscript version of "Visit" for publication along with three other of his poems in the New-York Book of Poetry.
Other advantages of using a previously printed version as copy-text:
less work of actual, physical writing, since you don't have to copy the
whole thing again by hand, and a correspondingly reduced chance of
introducing new errors.
Did I mention the poem Clement C. Moore wrote for one of his daughters titled "From Saint Nicholas"? The manuscript is owned by the Museum of the City of New York. You can see a fine image of the manuscript poem online via Emily Chapin's beautifully illustrated article on Clement Clarke Moore and Santa in the City. Smoking-Gun Alert! Double-standard alert!
Aside from hypothetical and largely counter-factual (which is to say, imaginary) constructions, no real problem exists with respect to the authorship of "The Night Before Christmas." There exists no counter-claim by Henry Livingston, Jr., and there is no troubling conflict between internal and external evidence. Granted, many of us would benefit from remedial classes in prosody and source-study. Our old-school English professor could favor us with a guest lecture on how anapests work in limericks and verses for kids, and why every poem in anapestic tetrameter kind of sounds the same. Any present-day disciple of Andrew B. Myers could guide us to Moore's poem by the easy and direct route from Washington Irving's house. Jackson's detour through Tristram Shandy is entertaining for sure, but far out of our way.
Possibly I have mentioned this once or twice already, but Jackson unreasonably slights good internal evidence for Moore. Here's my latest favorite example, not cited in the Melvilliana blog-review of his book. Jackson necessarily admits the word like as a Moore-favored word, but his method of combining multiple common words effectively masks how strong of a Moore-marker "like" really is. Introducing very persuasive evidence of similes, Joe Nickell has Jackson in a pickle. Like after like after like after like after like after like after like after like. What to do with so many Moore-markers? Jackson has to count them, of course, but he wishes they would behave and go away:
"Without those eight instances of "like"--six of them crowded into a mere nine lines, in a manner unique within either poet's work--the percentage of Livingston-favored test words in Table 17.1 would be 64.043, even further outside Moore's range."
If all those Moore-words weren't there, the test results for Livingston would be stunning. I've heard that doing computational statistics is basically like sorting jellybeans. Hmm. Here I guess we've got jellybeans of two different colors: green for Livingston's high and medium-high frequency words, blue for Moore's. They're mixed up in the jellybean jar labelled "NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS." Our task: sort by color and count them up. Earlier, the trouble was that some jellybeans are green AND blue. Problem now is, somebody keeps eating the blue ones.
Directly confronting the inadequate sizes of the data sets, Livingston's in particular, leads me to make a suggestion in closing. For a truly helpful follow-up study, MacDonald P. Jackson might test-drive the Cadillac model of best practice by investigating or re-investigating the "Total words"
column in his Table 13.1. In all seriousness, the number of Total Words could turn out to be the easiest and most economical discriminator of all between Livingston and Moore.
In presenting "Definite and indefinite articles
in Livingston and Moore," Jackson gives us potentially significant counts of the "Total words" in most (not all) poems by Moore and Livingston. "A Visit from St Nicholas" aka The Night
Before Christmas contains 542 words. No stretch for Moore, but clearly beyond Livingston's comfort zone. Livingston liked to work in smaller fields, fenced in by clever puzzles and sturdy governing conceits.
Only a handful of his pieces exceed 300 lines. Three poems over 400 lines are probably not by
Livingston anyway (namely those 1803 and 1819 Carrier Addresses, and that strangely late, curiously worded
1822 parable, "Adventures of an American Eagle." Drop poems of doubtful authorship and we're left with a couple of plain fables and Livingston's playful verse-letter to his brother Beekman. None of which is as long as Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas."
Livingston almost never attempted longer poems. The average length of the 54 poems evaluated by Jackson after
excluding very short poems of less than 100 words is 228 words
(12,303/54). Delete the 1803 Carrier Address in Isaac Mitchell's Political Barometer, and the 1819 Address of doubtful authorship, and Livingston's average drops to 215 (11,187/52). The 100-word minimum
requirement excluded eleven poems by Livingston, but only one of Moore's published poems (Lines / On Seeing My Name Written By a Young Lady in the Sand of the Sea-Shore). Moore's average here, even without adding in "Charles Elphinstone," is 20,556/32 = 642 words. Adding "Sand" back in plus the manuscript poems brings the average to 38,714/47 = 824.
This here is just where I need Jackson's expert help, since averages won't properly convey what the Total Words category demonstrates about the essential difference between Livingston's poems and Moore's. Besides the jet off-take, railroad air horns and military spot, I want this Cadillac equipped with arithmetical means and all the standard deviations. And t-tests. It's a yellow convertible, so we definitely want good t-tests. Factory built. While we're rolling on down the road, tell me again... What's a t-test?
"I want four carburetors
And two straight exhausts
I'm burnin' aviation fuel
No matter what the cost
I want railroad air horns
And a military spot
And I want a five-year guarantee
On everything I got
I want ten-dollar deductible
I want twenty dollar notes
I want thirty thousand liability
That's all she wrote
I got me a car
And I'm headed on down the road
(No money down)
I don't have to worry
About that broken-down, ragged Ford."