For over 150 years, Clement Clarke Moore was the acknowledged author of “The Night Before Christmas” (aka “A Visit From St. Nicholas”); in effect, the primary creator of our modern-day Santa Claus. But Moore, unlike his creation, was far from being a fat and jolly” kind of guy; on the contrary, he was a rather lean, straight-laced and well-to-do professor of biblical studies. In addition to this, and most antithetical to our current notions of Santa Claus and of Christmashe was also a slaveholder.
But whereas most people viewed Moore as the unlikely author of The Night Before Christmas, some have claimed that he wasn’t the author of the beloved poem at all…the Livingston family in particular. For almost as long as children were hanging their stockings by the chimney with care, the Livingstons have maintained that Henry Livingston, Jr. was the poem’s actual author. Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College, is accusing Moore of literary fraud and has compiled a plethora of circumstantial evidence.
In a new book, “Author Unknown,” (Henry Holt & Company) Mr. Foster argues that “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” first published anonymously in Troy, N. Y. newspaper in 1823, closely matches the views and verse of Henry Livingston Jr., a gentleman-poet of Dutch descent. Livingston, who lived in Poughkeepsie, N. Y., died before Moore was ever named as the poem’s author.
Moore once called “The Night Before Christmas” a “mere trifle,” but his fame rests on this mere trifle alone. If Foster proves that the Livingstons claims were indeed justified, Moore will still be remembered…if infamously so.
Originally posted: 12/04/2010
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