Monday, April 8, 2019

First printing of A Visit from St Nicholas

Now accessible online courtesy of Troy Public Library and New York State Historic Newspapers, the first printing of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," anonymously published in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823:
Troy Sentinel - December 23, 1823
Troy Public Library via NYS Historic Newspapers
We know not to whom we are indebted for the following description of that unwearied patron of children—that homely, but delightful personification of parental kindness—SANTE CLAUS, his costume and his equipage, as he goes about visiting the fire-sides of this happy land, laden with Christmas bounties; but, from whomsoever it may have come, we give thanks for it. There is, to our apprehension, a spirit of cordial goodness in it, a playfulness of fancy, and a benevolent alacrity to enter into the feelings and promote the simple pleasures of children, which are altogether charming. We hope our little patrons, both lads and lasses, will accept it as proof of our unfeigned good will toward them—as a token of our warmest wish that they may have many a merry Christmas; that they may long retain their beautiful relish for those unbought, homebred joys, which derive their flavor from filial piety and fraternal love, and which they may be assured are the least alloyed that time can furnish them; and that they may never part with that simplicity of character, which is their own fairest ornament, and for the sake of which they have been pronounced, by authority which none can gainsay, the types of such as shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. 
For the Sentinel.

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,
And Mama in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap—
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprung from the bed to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys—and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jirk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
When the Sentinel reprinted the Christmas piece in 1829, editor Orville L. Holley knew who wrote it. Holley described its previously unidentified author as a modest "scholar" and "writer" who was a native and resident of New York City. Holley's 1829 remarks, also accessible now via NYS Historic Newspapers, allude to the poet and seminary professor Clement C. Moore. Playfully emphasizing the word more, Holley puns on the surname of the unnamed but not unknown author:

Troy Sentinel - January 20, 1829
Troy Public Library via NYS Historic Newspapers
Santa Claus.--A few days since, the Editors of the N. Y. Courier, at the request of a lady, inserted some lines descriptive of one of the Christmas visits of that good old Dutch saint, St. Nicholas, and at the same time applied to our Albany neighbors for information as to the author. That information, we apprehend, the Albany editors cannot give. The lines were first published in this paper. They came to us from a manuscript copy in possession of a lady in this city. We have been given to understand that the author of them belongs, by birth and residence, to the city of New York, and that he is a gentleman of more merit as a scholar and a writer than many of more noisy pretensions. We republish the lines in a preceding column, just as they originally appeared, because we still think of them as at first, and for the satisfaction of our brethren of the Courier, one of whom, at least, is an Arcadian.

In the Troy Library copy, the printed text of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" on page 2 is gone; somebody carefully clipped the poem from this issue (January 20, 1829) of the Troy Sentinel.

As Holley later revealed in print, he actually learned who wrote "The Night Before Christmas" only a few months (not years) after its first publication in the Troy Sentinel. Holley's 1836 comments are transcribed below from the Ontario Repository and Freeman which he then edited in Canandaigua, New York:


The following lines appeared in print for the first time—though very often copied since—in the Troy Sentinel of December 23, 1823, which paper we then conducted. They were introduced, on that occasion, with the following remarks; which, as they continue to be a true expression of our opinion of the charming simplicity and cordiality of the lines, as well as of our unchanged feelings toward the little people to whom they are addressed, we repeat them, only observing that although when we first published them, we did not know who wrote them, yet, not many months afterwards we learnt that they came from the pen of a most accomplished scholar and and estimable man, a professor in one of our colleges.... 
--found at NYS Historic Newspapers. This item was reprinted the following week in the Auburn Journal and Advertiser on Wednesday, January 4, 1837.
In 1837, Moore submitted four poems for publication in The New-York Book of Poetry, including "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Two 1840 anthologies of American poetry also credit Moore as the author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas":
  • The Poets of America, edited by John Keese, credits "C. C. Moore" with authorship of "A Visit form St. Nicholas."
After a mistaken attribution to Joseph Wood was printed in the Washington National Intelligencer, Moore contacted Norman Tuttle, former publisher of the defunct Troy Sentinel. Only Tuttle's reply is extant (because Moore and his family saved it). As Seth Kaller notes,
Tuttle's letter is written on the reverse of a broadside version of the poem containing Moore’s autograph corrections. --The Authorship of The Night Before Christmas
Moore, evidently prompted by the false attribution recently published in the influential National Intelligencer, must have asked Tuttle about the circumstances of the poem's first publication in Troy. Presumably Moore wondered if Wood or anyone else had ever claimed authorship. Norman Tuttle's reply to Clement Clarke Moore is dated February 26, 1844 (Museum of the City of New York. 54.331.17b). Tuttle states he eventually learned of Moore's authorship and does not mention any other claim. Possibly without waiting to hear back from Tuttle, Moore then directly and unambiguously asserted his claim to authorship in a published letter to the editor of The New York American. Re-asserted, rather, considering Moore's prior submission of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" aka The Night Before Christmas with three other poems for publication in the 1837 New-York Book of Poetry. Dated February 27, 1844, Moore's letter to Charles King appeared in the American on March 1, 1844.

Clement C. Moore on the authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas"
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.
"A Visit from St. Nicholas" appears on pages 124-127 in Clement C. Moore's 1844 volume, Poems. Digitized versions of these books are accessible online courtesy of HathiTrust Digital Library:
and the Internet Archive:
Moore graciously made handwritten copies of the poem for admirers. Four "unquestionably authentic" copies of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in Moore's distinctive hand are known to exist still, according to Seth Kaller. One surviving manuscript copy at The New-York Historical Society is accompanied by a key witness letter (from a cousin of Henry Livingston, Jr.) dated March 15, 1862, strongly affirming Clement C. Moore's authorship, and providing a brief explanation of how his poem got to Troy in the first place. Addressed to the Librarian of the Historical Society, the letter from T. W. C. Moore was first published in The New York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin 2.4 (January 1919) pages 111-115. Digitized volumes, accessible online:

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