Thursday, March 22, 2018

Alias Nasal Twistification: The News-Boy's Vision, 1812

Elisha Williams (1773-1833) via Historic Gravestones of Columbia County NY
The Northern Whig was a Federalist newspaper published in Hudson, New York, and edited by Francis Stebbins. A few chronicles have young William Leete Stone taking over for a few years in 1811, while the Cyclop√¶dia of American Literature and other literary histories put Stone's arrival in Hudson later, after his stint c. 1814 as editor of the Herkimer American. (Later and more famously, Stone edited the New York Commercial Advertiser.) On this point the reliable Duyckincks are vindicated by the following announcement dated October 25, 1814 and published in the Northern Whig on October 25, 1814. William L. Stone would become the new editor and proprietor of the Northern Whig, beginning on the first day of the new year 1815.

Northern Whig - November 1, 1814

Under Stebbins, as richly detailed in Columbia Rising by John L. Brooke (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), the Northern Whig replaced the old Balance, and Columbia Repository as chief antagonist of the Bee, the Democratic paper in Hudson edited until 1809 by Charles Holt, and after that by Samuel W. Clark. For many years in the Hudson Balance and Wasp, "Junior Editor" Harry Croswell (often over the pseudonym "Robert Rusticoat") waged war on Holt and Holt's Bee, and on Isaac Mitchell and Mitchell's Political Barometer down in Poughkeepsie. "The News-Boy's Vision of the Year 1812" appeared on the front page of the Northern Whig for January 6, 1812. By then Croswell had left town for Albany. There, before being baptized in the Episcopal Church, Croswell published a contrite and well-received farewell to the newspaper wars ("H. Croswell's Valedictory, Hudson Bee, January 21, 1812; reprinted from the Albany Balance, December 24, 1811). Croswell's former supporters Elisha Williams, Jacob R. Van Rensselaer, and William W. Van Ness ("the troika of the Columbia Junto" as Brooke calls them in Columbia Rising) carried on in Hudson, battling Demos until a banking scandal brought them down early in the next decade. Not surprisingly then, the verse "Vision" reflects the intensely partisan politics of the time and place.

At the Free Republic forum, mairdie wants to claim the 1812 "Vision" for Henry Livingston, Jr. It's not hard to see why. Advocates for Livingston's authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" sorely need a poem by Henry with some hint of the vocabulary and magic of Moore's Christmas classic. Unfortunately there is none, as demonstrated in earlier Melvilliana posts on Livingston's Deal-Breakers and Moore's Eight Great Favorite Expressions. If somehow appropriated as Henry's, the 1812 "Vision" would conveniently supply the key word vision (as of sugarplums in the Christmas poem) and five other Moore favorites: should, would, dread, ere, and best of all, six similes using like. The 1812 "Newsboy's Vision" contains six of Moore's great eight in one poem. Plus, "Vision" depicts an imaginary home invasion by an elvish "spright" that exemplifies the intersection of the mundane and marvelous--in other words, the essence of "The Night Before Christmas" storyline that Livingston never offers anywhere in any poem. (Not that Clement C. Moore had anything to do with the 1812 "Vision" either, although as expressed in A Sketch of our Political Condition, Moore's political views at the time were similarly opposed to Jeffersonian ideals, alert to the perceived moral evils of French influence on democratic politics, and hostile to American "worshippers" of Napoleon.)

Contentedly farming and surveying in Poughkeepsie, Major Livingston had no motive to write the 1812 "Vision," and no documented opportunity. Besides the void of any historical evidence linking him to the Northern Whig and the decade of contentious party politics in Hudson from 1802 to 1812, the concentration of words in "Vision" that Livingston rarely used elsewhere, effectively excludes him as a plausible candidate for its authorship. As a Revolutionary War veteran and ally of the Clinton family, Major Livingston was not the man to blast poor Holt as the "tool of De Witt." Or spit in the face of a little person, especially a countryman of Lafayette. On the other hand, the impressively high percentages of shared rhymes, common words and phonemes that mairdie also cites at Free Republic ironically expose one huge flaw in the recently published study by MacDonald P. Jackson:
Style and Authorship in a Classic of Popular Culture: Henry Livingston and The Night Before Christmas; Style 51.4 (2017): 482-50.
By way of explaining his methods for selecting non-Livingston poems to compare with known Livingston poems, Jackson offers vague criteria for inclusion and no criteria for exclusion. Clear and objective principles of exclusion here are essential: otherwise, a biased researcher might (consciously or unconsciously) reject texts that seem difficult to discriminate from Livingston's and that therefore, if included, might yield dramatically different test results from those presented by Jackson. Regarding the main prize, rejection of Rebuses and other poems that share high-frequency words with A Visit from St Nicholas aka The Night Before Christmas, especially top-ten words like a, and, I, and all, could statistically force assignment of the commonest, highest frequency words to the category of Livingston-favored words, unfairly skewing the test results. An Appendix lists the Non-Livingston poems selected (by Mary Van Deusen, as Jackson acknowledges) for comparison, leaving readers to guess what poems were excluded from consideration, how many, and why. As indicated in "Appendix 1: Non-Livingston Corpus" on page 493, Jackson's test sample included two 1819 poems from the Northern Whig: "Sylph" by "Florio" and "To Florio." Why those two? And why not others, for instance the 1812 "Vision"? Or the 1819 Address of the Carrier of the Weekly Visiter, with Santa and sugar plums? And "Florio" alias James Gordon Brooks (not identified by Jackson) had many original poems published in the Northern Whig that could have been selected for testing. Claverack native and Union College grad James Gordon Brooks aka Florio also wrote the 1820 Carrier Address for the Northern Whig, published on New Year's Day--another appealing work, not selected for testing. According to George and Evert Duyckinck Brooks began writing and publishing poetry over the pseudonym "Florio" in Poughkeepsie--before 1823, when he was supposed by be studying law. Like the Hudson Whig, Livingston's local paper the Poughkeepsie Journal printed many more poems to choose from. Which extant poems in Livingston's hometown newspapers did Jackson exclude from consideration, and why?

Look, here's the thing: whether considered as politics or poetry, the "News-Boy's Vision" is more than a collection of words and sounds. It ain't exactly Shakespeare, but the poem means something, or at least tries to. Its rhetoric has particular motives and targets. The objects of abuse in "Vision" are very specific and, more often than not, identifiable--especially with the help of the "explanatory notes" that accompanied it in the same issue of the Northern Whig, courtesy of editor Francis Stebbins. To be at all credible, any investigation into authorship of the poem will require due consideration of the literal meaning of the text, and the most obvious political and cultural contexts.

Taking the form of a conventional New Year's address (presented by the local newspaper carrier in hopes of generous holiday tips), the 1812 "Vision" in the Northern Whig looked back as well as forward. Indeed, this one fixates on old fights with rival editors, rather than news of the world during the previous year. The polemic burden of the Northern Whig has not changed much since 1809 when it happily printed the harangue of "An American" against corrupting "foreign," specifically "French" influence, roasting "democratic editors" in particular as "servile tools" of France under Napoléon Bonaparte.
French Influence--French Tories.--
There never was a country so cursed by foreign influence, as is this unfortunate republic. The great body of democratic editors are as completely the servile tools of France, as the wretches who set types in France. --Northern Whig, July 18, 1809.
The preoccupation with French influence on Democrats explains why the elf or sprite in the news-boy's vision turns out to be an imposter: not NEW-YEAR, traditionally personified as a little child, but a devilish French dwarf instead. Those "nine empty purses" brandished by the French dwarf signify foreign payments allegedly accepted by corrupt Demos--just what the Northern Whig was always railing about. The last object of scorn in the 1812 "Vision" is Charles Holt, derided as "Captain Stargazer." Old news again, since Holt had left Hudson years before to start up a new Democratic newspaper (The Columbian) in New York City. Holt was being lampooned in verse as Captain Stargazer way back in 1804, at the instigation of Harry Croswell in the old Hudson Balance ("To Captain Stargazer" by "Robert Rusticoat," June 5, 1804).

The anonymous versifier's nightmare "vision" thus rehearses nearly a decade of partisan battles between Federalists and Democrats (aka Anti-Federalists aka Republicans) in Hudson. The "Vision" appeared on the front page of the Northern Whig for Monday, January 6, 1812, alongside explanatory notes "by the editor." Evidently the reigning editor regarded some of the hits as obscure enough to require explication. The "Vision" was dated January 1st and attributed only to the "Northern Whig Office." So whoever wrote it, the poem emanates from the editorial office of the Northern Whig. I can't quite decide at the moment if these explanatory notes reveal the editor and author of the poem to be one person, or if the notes rather imply two or more hands, that of Francis Stebbins as editor and the anonymous composer or composers whose verses needed explicating.

In any case. Sixty-four years old in 1812, Henry Livingston, Jr. of Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County was too genial a soul, and too detached from the brawling among Columbia county editors and politicos to have conspired with them on "The News-Boy's Vision." Along with Stebbins, the likeliest perps belonged to the rising generation: Elisha Williams and his brother-in-law Thomas P. Grosvenor, William W. Van Ness, and James Van Derpoel. The one Carrier Address definitely attributable to Henry Livingston, Jr. had been published 25 years before in the Poughkeepsie Journal. That 1787 holiday address sounds far far far removed in tone from the Whig Newsboy's bitter "Vision," published a quarter-century later. Friends of Livingston should be glad to cherish the genuinely blithe spirit of the one 1787 Carrier Address in Livingston's manuscript book, and leave the mean 1812 "Vision" to Francis Stebbins and/or the Columbia Junto who conceived it.





January 1, 1812
   GOOD Morning dear patrons—I've come do ye see,
With bowing and singing to levy a fee,
I'll give you good verse—and believe me sincere,
When I wish you long life—and a happy New-Year.
News-Boys just like Lawyers, will promise you fair,
They'll give, for your money, their lingo so rare—
And I, (lawyer like) though the best of the throng,
"Full costs" mean to "charge" for my excellent song.
    Three days had I labour'd—and in verbage sublime,
    I'd scribbled nine sheets—but the Devil a rhyme
Would appear in the whole—so all in a huff,
I sent to the flames a whole volume of stuff,
As smooth, at the least, as that lullaby trash,
Which Osander has publish'd—"to compass the cash."
    Having burnt myself out—last night much oppress'd,
I went to my garret and soon was at rest;
Not thinking, at all, that Hobgoblins or Elves
'Bout poor little NEWS-BOYS would trouble themselves;
Or dreaming that fate had a vision design'd
To enliven my muse and enlighten my mind.
The clock sounded twelve—And awaked by the chime,
I raised up my head—and beheld FATHER TIME
Approaching my bed through the dusk of the night;
In one hand his scythe—in the other a SPRIGHT!!!
Whom leading right to me—He spoke with a leer:
"My Lads be you friends—this is little NEW-YEAR!
"And this is YOUNG WHIG!! Now walk hand in hand
"Stick close to each other—in unity stand—
"And then, though from Clermont again shall appear,
"A Juror like Capron, you've nothing to fear:
"For when he beholds this young Spright at your side,
"Like Peter the honest from court you shall glide—
"Your pocket unpick'd—nor two hundred expose,
"To purchase some salve for an editor's nose—
"And then, though brave Matty his bristles should rear,
"And the honest old Sheriff in rage should appear—
"Though all the fell tribe who compose the wise club
"Where Dayton presides and holds forth to his mob,
"Should like savages yell—yet feel no alarm,
"This honest young spright will protect you from harm.
"These Gentry all worship little NEW-YEAR'S gold wand
"And its sight will unnerve every Democrats hand;
"And thus LITTLE WHIG it shall no more be said
"That you print sacred truth at the risk of your head."
    He ended—And spreading his pinions for flight,
Left little NEW-YEAR and MYSELF for the night.
And now raking open the embers, the light
A Goblin most horrible shew'd to my sight,
In stature a Dwarf —but in visage so fell
He seem'd a dark spirit —just issued from Hell.
He glittered in diamonds—of gold was his wand,
And a purse of "Napoleons" was held in each hand.
He ey'd me askant—and threw open his robe,
Displaying embroider'd a Map of the Globe.
I saw there old Germany struck from her seat,
And Russia bow'd down at an Usurper's feet,
And places where states in old Europe had stood,
We're buried, deep buried, in oceans of blood:
And o'er them I read on a label enrolled,
"The CONQUESTS of France and her Tyrant behold."—
I look'd to the south—a new scene struck my eye—
A kingdom "in armour"—And "freedom" the cry—
From her snow cover'd Mountains, her brave sons again,
As, erst with Pelagius, rush down to the plain;
 And there fixed as fate—with dread purpose they stand,
To die, or deliver, their dear native land.
    And there I beheld from the Isles of the west,
A band all heroic—at Freedom's behest
Rush forth to the battle—with banners unfurl'd,
And snatch from the Tyrant a tottering world—
"And O" I exclaimed "if the councils above,
"Are guided by Justice, sweet Mercy and Love,
"Sure, sure, here the Tyrants proud arm shall be stay'd,
"His armies shall fly, and his laurels shall fade;
"The blood of such Patriots shall not flow in vain,
"And the world be preserved by the Heroes of Spain!!"
    As I spoke, the fell Spright, with a grin further drew
His mantle aside—and the West met my view—
There drawn at full length, young Columbia I spied,
But ah! how disordered, how humbled her pride—
She seemed like a young man, in vigour and bloom,
By the nostrums of quackery swept to the tomb—
She seem'd a young Giant, unnerved by strong wine,
At her length all extended, inactive, supine—
Her Ports and her Cities how desolate all,
MEMENTOS alike of her rise and her fall.
    Indignant I turn'd from this view, to my guest
And "THE LEGION OF HONOR," appear'd on his breast.
Hah! a Frenchman! I cried—and not the New-Year!
And I shrunk from the wretch with disgust and with fear
With eyes flashing vengeance—with shrugs and with sneers
He shrieked forth his "foutres" his "pests" and "Monsieurs."
Of Orders and Edicts his gibberish ran
Of Rambouillet, and Berlin and also Milan
He pointed to Canada—chattered of Blood!
And shew'd on the map where free Switzerland stood!
He talk'd of embargos and other such stuff,
And "foutred" them all to the shades with a puff.
Our "restrictions" and threat'nings, he sent to "Diable,"
And Damn'd all our Gun-Boats—as tubs for the rabble.
Of the "love of Napoleon" he gabbled an hour,
Of his kindness, and justice, his friendship and power—
Of La Franchise, La Vengeance and other such trash—
And closed by an offer to lend me some cash.
    I shrunk from his offer—I spit in his face—
And told him, indignant, his conduct was base --
That though a poor NEWS-BOY, I scorned to do evil,
And him and his master consign'd to the Devil.
Enrag'd, the foul dwarf, wildly flourish'd his wand --
And nine empty purses appear'd in each hand --
Then full in my view, with triumph he rear'd,
On each, at full length, an inscription appear'd.
On the first, "Baptiste Irvine," was written alone;
The second, "To Dunn," shew'd its Contents had gone—
On the rest, lofty names, in plain characters glare,
Of statesmen, who rule, and who clamour for war:
    The fire flash'd new light—and as nearer I drew;
A purse of small size—was develop'd to view—
It seem'd that some Cents had once lodged therein,
And shillings and sixpences there had been seen,
And on it was written, in characters meet,
"For Captain Stargazer—the tool of De Witt."
With a scowl he, exclaimed— "You see my young friend,
"We ne'er want borrowers, while we've money to lend,
"And mark me, YOUNG WHIG—ere long you shall rue,
"This saucy refusal to join the French crew."
    Indignant I view'd him and swore to his head,
I'd publish this day ev'ry word he had said:
Nor would I one word from his gib'rish retrench;
But the shy little Devil spoke wholly in French.
At which growing angry—I bade him Adieu,
And wrote just at day light, this VISION for YOU.
As Francis Stebbins explains in his editorial notes to "The News-Boy's Vision," the line about "salve for an editor's nose" alludes to his assault on rival editor Samuel W. Clark of the Hudson Bee.

Hudson, New York Northern Whig - January 6, 1812
Local allusions abound--to Hudson, not Poughkeepsie. Thus the critique of Osander's "lullaby trash" refers to a Hudson production, Miscellaneous poems, on moral and religious subjects by "Osander" aka young Benjamin Allen (born in Hudson on December 9, 1787). As also explained in the notes, "Brave Matty" refers to Martin Van Buren--a Hudson resident since 1809, and lately challenged to a duel that never happened by Federalist lawyer John Sudam.

Stebbins claimed to have humiliated Clark by twisting his nose. (In print a few months later, Stebbins mocked the criminal charge of assault and battery, calling it "Nasal Twistification.") And check this out. In his published reply to Stebbins, Clark locates the motive of the Northern Whig editor in the New Year's address for 1811, published in the Hudson Bee.
His pretended cause of justification therefore fails him. I was at the time fully convinced that he had taken exceptions to some expression in the Bee New-Year's Ode, at the commencement of 1811, but being ashamed publicly to acknowledge the real cause of his fury, he sought a pretext where none existed.  --Hudson Bee, January 14, 1812
Clark's response to Stebbins indicates that he regarded the editor and Vision-poet as different writers:
"All the talents."--It has constantly been the boast of the federalists that they possessed all the talents. I have heretofore been against yielding to them the palm--but can no longer withhold the rich boon. They have given such evidence of "ripening talents" in a late "Vision" which adorns the federal paper of this city, that it would be madness to deny their superiority, in poetical talents at least. Such a flood of talents I presume never before issued from any law-office in this city at one time, and for the benefit of posterity the author's name ought not to be withheld from the public; but having formerly had occasion to take some slight notice of him, I will for the present only make a long mark for him in my note book.  Samuel W. Clark in the Hudson Bee, January 14, 1812
Samuel W. Clark thus ascribes the 1812 "News-Boy's Vision" to some unnamed person in a "law-office in this city." According to Clark, the author is a practicing Hudson lawyer. In reply, Stebbins makes a game of the authorship mystery, encouraging his democratic rival to keep "guessing."
We have not room this week to bestow much notice upon the editorial articles in the last Bee. Our "News-Boy's VISION," seems to have sorely disturbed the tenants and visitors of the democratic wigwam in this city; each savage, and each savage's poppoose, is guessing to whom the public is indebted for this "Vision," which they acknowledge could have been the product only of "a flood of talents." They must guess better, if they hope to guess right. --Northern Whig, January 20, 1812
The cryptic italics employed by our dueling editors possibly convey some clue to the author or authors of the 1812 "News-Boy's Vision" in the Northern Whig. I'm not sure the real perpetrator(s) will ever be established definitely, beyond doubt.

Along with editors Stebbins and Stone, Joel Munsell in his chapter on "The Newspaper Press in Hudson" names four additional contributors to the Hudson Northern Whig:
  • Elisha Williams
  • James Vanderpool [also spelled Vanderpoel or Van Derpoel]
  • William W. Van Ness
  • Thomas P. Grosvenor --Typographical Miscellany
Bee editor Samuel W. Clark suspected that a local lawyer wrote "The News-Boy's Vision."  If Clark was right, Elisha Williams seems like a great candidate. The outdated reference to Charles Holt as "Captain Stargazer" evokes the glory days of Harry Croswell, whom Williams had defended when Crosswell got sued for libel as noted in the chapter on Freedom of the Press: People v. Croswell in The Law Practice of Alexander Hamilton Volume 1, edited Julius Goebel Jr. (Columbia University Press, 1964). Williams even physically assaulted Croswell's rival at the Bee, Charles Holt. As the late Thomas Fleming told it in Verdict of History:
It never seemed to occur to Croswell that he was a David taking on a number of political Goliaths. One reason may have been the illusion created by the preponderance of Federalists in Hudson. Among his prominent contributors was a young attorney, Thomas Grosvenor, who was the brother-in-law of Elisha Williams. Williams did more than merely threaten Charlie Holt when the Bee turned some of its venom in his direction. He caught the small, thin Holt, described as a “cripple” by a Columbia County antiquarian, and with several supporters nearby, thrashed him thoroughly. --Thomas Fleming, Verdicts of History IV via American Heritage.
In and out of court Elisha Williams tangled with another target of the newsboy's Federalist "Vision," Martin Van Buren.

Mr. Williams had a great aversion to “Little Matty.” Mr. Bristed relates that on a certain trial Mr. Van Buren was opposed to him, and said that he was delighted with his eloquence and satirical remarks. “Sometimes,” he said, referring to Mr. Van Buren, “he would raise the little trembler to colossal size, and at other times he would depress him into such utter insignificance as scarcely to be perceptible to the human eye.”  --Ancient American Politics
Williams was celebrated for "imagination" and "magnificent invective," as recalled by Van Buren's close friend Benjamin Franklin Butler:
"Never were two men more dissimilar. Both were eloquent; but the eloquence of Williams was declamatory and exciting; that of Van Buren, insinuating and delightful. Williams had the livelier imagination; Van Buren the sounder judgment. The former presented the strong points of his case in bolder relief; invested them in a more brilliant coloring; indulged a more unlicensed and magnificent invective; and gave more life and variety to his arguments by his peculiar wit and inimitable humor...."  --quoted by William M. Holland in The life and political opinions of Martin Van Buren 2nd edition (Hartford, Connecticut, 1836); also by Adrian Hoffman Joline in The Autograph Hunter; more recently by Daniel B. Cole in Martin Van Buren and the American Political System (Princeton University Press, 1984); and Ted Widmer, Martin Van Buren: The American Presidents Series (Henry Holt and Company, 2005).
Strikingly corroborated in Biographical Sketches of the Distinguished Men of Columbia County:
"... he [Elisha Williams] was a man of rapid and quick perceptions, and was remarkable for his imitative and descriptive power, for his brilliant wit, and his surpassing eloquence." ... 
With an imagination as brilliant as that of Shakespeare....
Like Elisha Williams (1773-1833), all the other plausible authorship candidates were Hudson lawyers: Jacob Rutsen Van Rensselaer (1767-1835); William W. Van Ness (1776-1823); and Elisha Williams's brother-in-law Thomas P. Grosvenor (1778-1817). Same goes for identified Northern Whig contributor James Vanderpoel (1787-1843), too. But I'm guessing Elisha Williams. If that's wrong, if the Hudson Shakespeare did not write the 1812 "Newsboy's Vision" for the Northern Whig, I don't want to be right.

From the Northern Whig, March 9, 1812:
Saml. W. Clark vs. Francis Stebbins}
Fi. fa. Supreme Court. Assault and Battery. [alias, NASAL TWISTIFICATION.]
Levy $216.31
Sheriff's fees, 6.00
Northern Whig [Hudson, New York] March 9, 1812
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