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'Twas the night before Christmas
Russell Kirk
Kokomo Morning Times
23 Dec 1966, p4.

'Twas the night before Christmas
By Russell Kirk

That charming poem generally known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" was written in what is now the Chelsea district of New York City - though one wouldn't guess it, for Chelsea today has no sleighs jiongling through rural snow.

Its author was Dr. Clement Clark Moore, an Episcopal clergyman, and its proper title is "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas."

You can read all about Dr. Moore and his poem in an amusing and well-illustrated recent book by Robert Baral, "Turn West on 23rd: a Toast to New York's Old Chelsea" (Fleet).

Chelsea's two principal remaining landmarks are the Chelsea Hotel (long beloved by men of letters, artists, and bohemians) and a very different sort of institution, the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Church in the United States.

Dr. Moore, the St. Nicholas man, came of a most eminent New York family, and inherited the whole of Chelsea. He gave land for the site of General Theological Seminary, and later became professor of Oriental and Greek literature there.

(The seminary's West Building, erected in 1835, still stands.) He was the author of a life of the King of Albania, the translator of Juvenal, and the editor of a two-volume lexicon of Hebrew.

"A Visit from St. Nicholas" first was published in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823, anonymously. It did not appear in a book until 1884 [Corr: 1844], when Dr. Moore's collected poems were published. The descendants of Major Henry Livingston, Jr., claim that there ancestor was the real author of the poem, about 1805; but most authorities seem to favor the Moore claim.

Baral suggests that Dr. Moore did not publicly assert his authorship during his life because the poem might be thought beneath his dignity as clergyman and scholar; and here is Baral's summary of the background:

"Dr. Moore later claimed that the original Santa Claus was a little Dutchman who worked at odd jobs around the Moore estate in Chelsea Square. He got the idea for writing the poem as he was coming home from the Washington Market in lower Manhattan, where he had purchased his Christmas turkey for his family. As his sleigh jingled along the road, he became inspired with the little gem and planned to present it to his children around the Christmas tree."

Dr. Moore's manse vanished long ago; but this Christmas Eve the students of General Theological Seminary will go 'round Chelsea Square, singing Christmas carols by candlelight and pausing at addresses where actors and poets used to live.

Perhaps not many Chelsea stockings are hung by the chimney with care nowadays, but a great many creatures will be stirring there.

On, Donder and Blitzen!
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.

Kokomo Morning Times - 23 Dec 1966 - Russell Kirk


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