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

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