Friday, December 23, 2005

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas

On this date (December 23) in the year 1823, the Troy (N.Y.) Record published under the newspaper editor’s title, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas. It became a quite popular item and was titled by an adoring public, The Night Before Christmas or A Visit from St. Nicholas. Its anonymous author also became known and appreciated, Clement Clarke Moore.

However, neither circumstance pleased the author who considered the poem a "mere trifle." Indeed, Moore had not countenanced the publication of the verse in the first place (it had been sent to the paper by a family friend) and, though he could have enjoyed remuneration by publishing and performing the poem later, he absolutely refused to do so.

Moore (1778-1863) was the son of the Anglican Bishop of New York who had presided at the inauguration of President George Washington. Clement became an outstanding scholar himself and served for many years as the classics professor of NYC's General Theological Seminary where his most important work as a writer came with the publication of the two-volumes of A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language.

As the story is usually told, Moore had penned the poem for his 6 children at Christmastime 1822 and the children were so delighted that they shared the poem with a family friend, Harriet Butler, who was visiting from Troy. Moore allowed Miss Butler to copy the poem into her keepsake album.

But Miss Butler was so taken with the delightful work that she decided to present it to a wider audience. Therefore, without contacting Moore, she sent it in to the Troy newspaper shortly before the 1823 Christmas where the editor published it in his own column. He loved the poem and so do his "descendants" at the paper (now The Sentinel) for they have printed it every single Christmas up to the present time.

So, for your enjoyment, if at the slight embarrassment of Professor Moore, here's...

Twas the Night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through 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 danced in their heads.
And mamma 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 sprang 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 tinny reindeer.

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 called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that 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 dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked 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 laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed 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 filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang 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!"