Perhaps no single work has had a greater impact on the American experience of Christmas than the poem "The Night Before Christmas." For 160 years, it had been thought that the author of this classic was Clement Moore, a religion professor from New York City, who claimed to have written the poem in 1822. Recently, however, the literary sleuth Don Foster has argued that "The Night Before Christmas" was, in fact, stolen by Professor Moore and that the real author was Major Henry Livingston, a Revolutionary War veteran from Poughkeepsie, New York, who, Foster claims, authored the poem in 1808. Foster is also the discoverer of a long-lost Shakespeare elegy, and more recently he helped identify the anonymous authors of the novel, Primary Colors, and of the Unibomber Manifesto. In his "Night Before Christmas" essay, Foster looks at the backgrounds and personalities of Livingston and Moore, and performs a meticulous search for their respective literary inspirations. For example, in the oldest existing copies of "The Night Before Christmas," published anonymously in an up-state New York newspaper, two of the reindeer are named "Dunder" and "Blixum." In Dutch, a language that Livingston was familiar with, "Dunder" and "Blixum" means "Thunder" and "Lightening." Clement Moore, who did not know Dutch, apparently copied his version, "Donder" and "Blitzen" from a later version of the poem that was printed with these typographical errors. Further, in his poetry, Livingston has the peculiar tendency to use "all" as an adverb -- as in "all through the house," "all snug," and "dressed all in fur" -- while Clement Moore never used "all" in this way, keeping it ever and always a pronoun in his verse. These are only two of the packages in the sleigh-load of convincing proof that Foster offers in order to introduce us, after all these years, to the author of "the Night Before Christmas." Henry Livingston was said to be the jolliest man in Duchess County. He was well known for his revelling with family and friends, his enjoyment of wild sleighrides, and his delightful recitations of funny poems for his children. His concerns were all about family and home. In fact, he once wrote: "My future ambition will never soar higher, than the clean-brushed hearth and convivial fire."
Copyright 2002 © John Cech
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Tuesday, 12-Jul-2005 15:08:36 EDT