Monday, November 26, 2018

The Trial Before Christmas

In this 2014 mock trial, attorney Jack Casey opened for the Livingston side with splendid readings from Frost, Chaucer, and Bob Dylan.

Moore's lawyer E. Stewart Jones Jr. said many fine things as well, including this at 21:30:
"Mr Casey has spent so much time in his legal career, in Albany with the state legislature, that he's mastered the art of historical revision."
Elvis showed up, and Santas with saxes. Alas, the evidence of Moore's published letter to the editor of the New York American (March 1, 1844) was not available at the time of this trial. (Found in January 2017, in microfilm of the New-York American at NYPL: *ZY 86-140 Reel 17, Mar 1-Dec 28, 1844). In this 1844 letter Moore reveals that he personally gave "A Visit from St Nicholas" with several other poems to the publisher of The New-York Book of Poetry in 1837. Here it is again, for the record.

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

The enclosed lines were written by Joseph Wood, artist, for the National Intelligencer, and published in that paper in 1827 or 1828, as you may perceive from your files. By republishing them, as the composition of Mr. Wood you will gratify one who has now few sources of pleasure left. Perhaps you may comply with this request, if it be only for 'auld lang syne.'" 
The above is printed immediately over some lines, describing a visit from St. Nicholas, which I wrote many years ago, I think somewhere between 1823 and 1824, not for publication, but to amuse my children. They, however, found their way, to my great surprise, in the Troy Sentinel: nor did I know, until lately, how they got there. When "The New York Book" was about to be published, I was applied to for some contribution to the work. Accordingly, I gave the publisher several pieces, among which was the "Visit from St. Nicholas." It was printed under my name, and has frequently since been republished, in your paper among others, with my name attached to it.  
Under these circumstances, I feel it incumbent on me not to remain silent, while so bold a claim, as the above quoted, is laid to my literary property, however small the intrinsic value of that property may be. 
The New York Book was published in 1827 [1837]. 
Yours, truly and respectfully,   
Chas. King, Esq.
Related posts:

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Stephen Nissenbaum on The Battle For Christmas

Here's a holiday gem via Mt. Mansfield Community TV and the Internet Archive:
"A presentation by Stephen Nissenbaum sponsored by the Underhill Historical Society at the Deborah Rawson Memorial Library on 12-7-2016."

At 41:10:
Now if I can get back quickly to the poem "The Night Before Christmas": it is, in a very strange way, about a household invasion. I mean, because this guy comes in uninvited. He's doing in fact exactly what Wassailers would threaten to do. Coming uninvited into your house.

And if you think about the way the poem is structured, the whole first part of it is about the narrator—the narrator’s surprise at being awakened out of bed—lots of noise, lots of bright lights. In this reading of the poem the key line is that when St. Nicholas finally appears
A wink of his eye and a [twist] of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread….
That whole first part of the poem is about the fear, the anxiety the narrator seems to have. And what he learns, and this is the brilliance of the poem, and really of the new ritual, is that this household invader is coming to give rather than to take. Moore wrote this I think as part of this attempt to transform the whole set of cultural rituals in ways that both kept the poor out and retained most of the structure of the older rituals.
As well known in these parts Professor Nissenbaum is the distinguished author of
and online, the great essay at Common-Place

Friday, November 16, 2018

Ahab Beckons: Reserve your Bethel spot & Reader slot!

Ahab Beckons: Reserve your Bethel spot & Reader slot!: Registration is open for readers at the Moby-Dick Marathon, the Portuguese Marathon, and the Children's Marathon. You can also enter...

Monday, November 12, 2018

Omoo in Hudson, New York

This brief notice of Melville's Omoo appeared on May 6, 1847 in The Columbia Washingtonian, a weekly newspaper published in Hudson, New York by the local Temperance society and still edited by Warren Rockwell (1787-1866). "May 5" on the masthead is an error for May 6, a Thursday.

OMOO: a Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas. By Herman Melville, author of "Typee." Harper & Brothers, publishers.

This is an interesting and valuable work, in two volumes. It is a narrative of the adventures of the author among the Islands of the South Seas, during a whaling voyage and a residence of three months on the Islands of Tahiti and Imeo. For Sale at Wynkoop's.  --Columbia Washingtonian - May 6, 1847 via NYS Historic Newspapers.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Santa Claus poem by A. Oakey Hall

A Oakey Hall, Cabinet Photo, c1870

A la Poe in The Raven with a fine closing tribute to Clement C. Moore, author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," as 
"the Bard for joying children."
Herman Melville's old friend Abraham Oakey Hall delivered this now forgotten Santa Claus poem before The Saint Nicholas Society at their annual dinner, held on December 7, 1874 at Delmonico's (Fifth Avenue and Fourteenth Street). Monday evening, since the proper Feast of Saint Nicholas day, December 6th, fell on a Sunday that year.
"The dinner, which was served in excellent style, was enlivened by the usual Dutch peculiarities, by the burgomaster-appearance of the President [Augustus R. Macdonough], the orange neckties of many of the guests, and the almost universal smoking of tobacco in long clay pipes." --New York Herald, December 8, 1874
A partial transcription of Hall's poem was included in the account of the dinner published in the New York Herald on December 8, 1874; accessible via Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, The Library of Congress.
With minor variations the verse text appeared also in the Rock Island Daily Argus (Rock Island, Illinois) on December 16, 1874; and Providence Evening Express (Providence, Rhode Island) on December 21, 1874.

Not transcribed and so presumably lost are the "few introductory stanzas" read before the one that begins "Deep into the hall-way peering...." The New York Herald gives the title of Hall's poem as "A St. Nicholas Dinner Raving." In the fifth stanza all known versions print "widest mirth" where one might expect "wildest mirth." In the last line, the Herald gives "joying children" which must be right, rather than "joyous children" in the Rock Island Argus version.

New York Herald - December 8, 1874


After the above regular toasts were disposed of ex-Mayor Hall was called upon for a speech. In lieu of a speech he read a poem, which, after a few introductory stanzas, concluded as follows:--


Deep into the hallway peering, rousing from my lager-beering,
(Incident to a defence of unlicensed wine offence),
Sought I for the pristine cause--when there came a sudden pause,
Yet I knew that somewhere jaws must be nigh me whence that roar
Came so jolly through the door--roar so jolly, ne'er before
Had mortal heard such mirthful roar.  
Open then I flung the panels, looked intently (like in Daniel's
Den, those wicked Medes in flannels-shirts perhaps, or maybe drawers--
Peered to see the lions eat him, lions with an Afric roar).
Did I feel the silence keenly like to them? No, quite serenely!
When a sudden from the jaws came that roar devoid of flaws,
And a jolly voice exclaim-ed, in accents with High Dutch maim-ed,
Don't you know old Santa Claus?

No more marvelling: I hailed him; went at once and fully bailed him,
Next with oysters I regaled him--oysters from the Blue Point shore;
Opened Schnapps that quickly griped him, and, like the police, I piped him,
As he roared once more so jolly, "Have we never met before?"
Quoth I (stunned like), "Ne'er before!"
 All at once the air seemed brighter, all at once my heart beat lighter,
Light as treads on theatre floor the kingly ghost of Elsinore!
"Saint," I cried, "whatever sent thee thus materialized anent me,
"Glad am I--as nears, once more, evening, when libations pour,
To thy memory--that thy Saintship seeks my door."
Quoth St. Nicholas, "shut the door."
 "I've a message, said his Saintship," grasping me with not a faint grip,
As he rose upon the floor, pointing me to shut the door;
"Message not for chimney hearthstone, rather more for widest mirth tone!
Gotham message! for, mine's the right hence evermore
In December to remember all the Knickerbocker lore."
"Yes," I added, "evermore."
 "Tell my children when a tonic, seek they in the halls Delmonic,
With an appetite that's chronic, I'll be with them evermore;
Tell them, on my Christmas honor, I believe that Gus McDonough,
Like the worthies gone before--predecessors I adore--
With his compeers just selected, are with my own soul affected;
This I say but nothing more."
Then while whispering "hunky-dory," in a radiance of glory,
Like Apocalyptic story, fast did space his shade consume.
Then though came again the gloom, settling down throughout my room,
Yet there lingered a perfume that I ne'er inhaled before;
As I felt at once no fable was the poem from Christmas Table,
Of the Bard for joying children, our immortal Clement Moore.
Wed, Dec 16, 1874 – 2 · The Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, Illinois, United States of America) ·
As Mayor of New York City Oakey Hall had often been mocked in cartoon caricatures by Thomas Nast. Today, of course, Nast is still celebrated for his iconic drawings of Santa Claus, particularly Merry Old Santa Claus in Harper's Weekly on January 1, 1881.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Digital Library has images of A. Oakey Hall's prose tale The Santa Claus Ice Palace, in manuscript.
Maybe I will get inspired and transcribe that too before Christmas.

And this, also in the HSP collection of  Abraham Oakey Hall manuscripts 1860-1890: Hall's prose history of The Evolution of Olden Manhattan Christmas.
For now, I see that Oakey Hall's undated "Manhattan Christmas" narrative makes several interesting references to Clement Moore as author of "The Night Before Christmas":
... When [Peter] Minuit departed to pass the remaining Xmasses of his days at home over which St. Nicholas was presiding as Holland's National Spirit, Master Van Twiller came with yet more emigrants to celebrate additional Christmas times. Himself was in aspect no mean double of a Santa Claus: for he was good natured: & a corpulent wine bibbing Dutchman: although of looser life than St Nicholas would have tolerated. The description of Santa Claus given in Clement Moore's Manhattan rhyme would seem to fit the descriptions & pictures extant of that Merry Xmas Wouter Van Twiller. He had a chaplain in a Lutheran Dominie Bogardus: a man of mark & high character whose usual hot temper never came to the surface on Xmas day. But Santa Claus Van Twiller came to grief in 1637, being removed for diverting the monies of the Netherlands corporation to his own private use--Manhattan's original boodler--& his Christmas of that year was not for him a merry one.  --A. Oakey Hall, "Evolution of Olden Manhattan Christmas" manuscript pages 6-7.
From 1775 to 1783 under him a Merry Christmas seems to have quit New York. Then came another welcome 25th day of a month--the Evacuation day of November 25th. With Peace Santa Claus regained his Christmas throne & never thereafter has he quitted it as monarch over juvenility. For did not a Columbia College professor commemorate Santa Claus in the lyric entitled "The night before Christmas" that every New York child learns by the time he or she is seven years old? --A. Oakey Hall, "Evolution of Olden Manhattan Christmas" manuscript pages 23-24.

via Library of Congress

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Monday, November 5, 2018

Battle-Pieces in Portland, Maine

From the Portland Daily Press, August 30, 1866; found at GenealogyBank among items added "within 1 month." The masthead lists "N. A. Foster" as sole proprietor.

Portland [Maine] Daily Press - August 30, 1866
via GenealogyBank

Recent Publications.

BATTLE-PIECES and Aspects of the War. By Herman Melville. New York: Harper & Brothers.

We are not aware that the author of "Typee" and "Omoo," has until now been before the public in the character of a poet; but the essentially poetic character of much that he has written forbids us to feel any surprise at the fact of his so doing. The beautifully printed volume bearing the above title we have not had time to read to the end, but we have seen enough of it to learn that it is vastly superior to the larger portion of the war poetry with which we have thus far been favored. The author tells us in his preface that he has yielded to feelings not inspired from any one source exclusively, and, unmindful of consistency, seems "to have but placed a harp in a window and noted the contrasted airs which wayward winds have played upon its strings." The reader will find it a harp capable of very sweet music.

Received of A. Williams & Co. For sale by Davis Brothers, 200 Fore street.