"CCM didn't have an original thought in his head," Don emailed to tell me one day.(1) This
issue of originality was important since we could then argue that Moore was unlikely to have
made a literary leap into a poetry style he had never used, in a tone unlike his earlier work, if he
was more apt to rework other people's ideas than to come up with ideas of his own. Samuel
Patterson, Moore's biographer, noted that, though Clement Moore had written his name on a
presentation copy of a book on the raising of Merino sheep, the appendix of that book clearly
identified Francis Durand as "Proprietor and Translator." Patterson speculated that Moore "may
have felt that he had so thoroughly revised Durand's work as to make it his own."(2)
Too late to get into his book, Don did find another example when he compared the
original translation of a biography of Scanderbeg with the translation redone by Moore. "In his
Scanderberg prologue, Moore dismisses Zachary Jones's 1596 translation as inaccurate, uncouth,
barbarous and antiquated - then steals his entire text almost verbatim, with few changes, only a
lot of cuts."(3) "The Reader's Digest version," as Don cheerfully explained. Besides showing that
Moore made extensive use of other people's work, Don also noted that Moore's claims for his
own accomplishments were a trifle overblown.
Henry Noble MacCracken argued in Blithe Dutchess that stylistic considerations of
Moore's poetry style alone militated against Moore being the author. "Without quoting the entire
volume, I cannot prove to my readers that no other poem than the Visit could possibly arouse
anything so ungenteel as a good hearty laugh. On the contrary, that still more vulgar exhibition,
the protracted yawn, is the only physical exercise produced by a further perusal....(4)
"There runs through all Professor Moore's verse a kind of frustration. He feels he should
be a greater man than he is, a greater poet. The public did not agree with him, even about his
poetry. ... He was a self-torturing Midas; all around him was a rich harvest of poetry, which he
turned to lead."(5)
"Thus A Visit from Saint Nicholas is absolutely in the Dutch tradition of Henry
Livingston, and just as absolutely not in that of C.C. Moore. To have written the Visit would
have required a complete break with a culture to which Moore was devoted all his life."(6)
In Author Unknown(7), Don Foster argues against Moore's authorship by analyzing the
Christmas poem author, Clement Moore and Henry Livingston as three separate authors. When
Don looked at their literary influences, he found that both the Christmas poet and Livingston
shared a heritage of the popular satires of Christopher Anstey and of William King in the rhyme
scheme of the Christmas poem, while Moore did not. "Moore condemned the 'depraved taste in
poetry' of those who read anapestic satire, together with every 'bawd of licentious-influence
which nonsensical and immodest verses may have upon the community.' And when it came to
writing style, Don found that Henry Livingston shared with the Christmas poet a fascination for
the use of the word all as an adverb rather than as a pronoun (all snug rather than all the
stockings). Again, Moore was the odd poet out.
But the strongest argument that anyone could have made against Moore's authorship
would have been to simply let the 38 poems and 200 pages of Clement Moore's 1844 book,
Poems(8), speak for themselves. Since you're unlikely to
find a copy of his book, you'll have to
make do with some typical examples. Except for three poems, Moore's poetry alternates
emphasized and non-emphasized syllables on each line.
A-las! the brigh -test charms but yield
da-dah da-dah da-dah da-dah
One exception, Old Dobbin, you'll see below. The other two are A Visit from St.
Nicholas and The Pig and the Rooster. These are in a poetry style called anapestic. That just
means that instead of emphasizing every other syllable, you have two unemphasized syllables
followed by a single emphasized one.
Twas the night be-fore Christ -mas, when all thro' the house,
da-da-dah da-da-dah da-da-dah da-da-dah
First, though, let's look at Moore's favorite form, the alternating emphasis.
Moore's To a Young Lady on her Birth-day
To hail thy natal day, fair maid,
Once more I wake the lyre;
Once more invoke each favoring muse
My accents to inspire.
But frown not if my humble strain
No soothing homage pay
To all the charms that grace thy mind,
Or round thy features play.
Alas! the brightest charms but yield
A taper's trembling light;
When fann'd by praise, awhile they glare,
Then vanish from the sight;
Or, like the soft unsullied snows
That fall in graceful play,
They shrink beneath the gentlest touch,
And, silent, melt away.
Nor shall the Muse thy foibles mark
With keen relentless eye,
That seem like clouds of lightest wing
That speck the vernal sky.
May young life's empurpled morn,
Still mantling round thy head,
Its balmly airs of youthful hope,
with kindest influence, shed.
May every cloud of darker hue,
Ere evening shades advance,
Dissolve away, or just be seen
To skirt the blue expanse.
And may soft tints of rosy light,
With gold of purest ray,
Their mild effulgence widely throw
Around thy closing day.
One can't quite see this inside a Hallmark card. "Happy Birthday, Hortense, dear. May
you always remember that the charms for which you're praised will disappear with each
succeeding birthday, and may the day of your death be the most beautiful day of your life."
Maybe we should just send flowers.
Moore's To My Children, after having|
my portrait taken for them
The semblance of your parent's time-worn face
Is but a sad bequest, my children dear!
Its youth and freshness gone, and in their place
The lines of care, the track of many a tear!
Amid life's wreck, we struggle to secure
Some floating fragment from oblivion's wave
We pant for somewhat that may still endure,
And snatch at least a shadow from the grave.
Poor, weak, and transient mortals! why so vain
Of manly vigor or of beauty's bloom?
An empty shade for ages may remain
When we have moulder'd in the silent tomb.
But no! it is not we who moulder there;
We, of essential light that ever burns,
We take our way through untried fields of air,
When to the earth this earth-born frame returns.
And 'tis the glory of the master's art
Some radiance of this inward light to find;
Some touch that to his canvass may impart
A breath, a sparkle of the immortal mind.
Alas! the pencil's noblest power can show
But some faint shadow of a transient thought,
Some waken'd feeling's momentary glow,
Some swift impression in its passage caught.
Oh! that the artist's pencil could portray
A father's inward bosom to your eyes;
What hopes, and fears, and doubts perplex his way,
What aspirations for your welfare rise.
Then might this unsubstantial image prove,
When I am gone, a guardian of your youth,
A friend for ever urging you to move
In paths of honor, holiness, and truth.
Let fond imagination's power supply
The void that baffles all the painter's art;
And when those mimic features meet your eye,
Then fancy that they speak a parent's heart.
Think that you still can trace within those eyes
The kindling of affection's fervid beam,
The searching glance that every fault espies,
The fond anticipation's pleasing dream.
Fancy those lips still utter sounds of praise,
Or kind reproof that checks each wayward will,
The warning voice, or precepts that may raise
Your thoughts above this treach'rous world of ill.
And thus shall Art attain her loftiest power;
To noblest purpose shall her efforts tend
Not the companion of an idle hour,
But Virtue's handmaid and Religion's friend.
This is a little better. "Dear Children, Take this image of your father after he's broken
down by worrying about you. And someday when you look at it, remember that he may just be a
mass of squirming worms, but his spirit is still hovering at your shoulder to remind you to be
good and that, someday, you'll be dead, too." Now where is a good place to put this picture? I
know! How about under the mattress!
Moore's As an Apology for not accepting|
her invitation to a ball
Full well I know what direful wrath impends,
From Fashion's gay and numerous host of friends,
O'er all who blindly list not in her cause,
Nor swear eternal fealty to her laws.
I know with what despotic sway she rules
O'er old and young, o'er wise as well as fools;
In what imperious tones she bids the throng
Obey her word, though Heav'n pronounce it wrong.
Yet, though my crimes against this power so high
Be numberless, and oft of deepest dye,
Leave I entreat to extenuate my blame:
A right which guiltiest criminals may claim;
E'en they who fly not at a Lady's call,
And dare withstand the attraction of a ball.
Of magic zones and rings you oft have heard,
By fairies on their favorites conferred,
Which pinch'd the wearers sore, or made them bleed,
Whene'er they went astray in thought or deed.
Nor think these stories false because they're old,
But true as this which soon I will unfold.
Sweet sleep had shed its mists around my eyes,
And fancy's motley forms began to rise,
When, 'mid these fleeting phantoms of the night,
A vision stood distinct before my sight.
Though far below the human size it seem'd
A dazzling brightness from its visage beam'd.
My airy dreams it seem'd to chase away,
And thus in sweetest accents deign'd to say:
"Hail, Youth! In me behold a friendly power,
Thy guard in every place, at every hour,
Who thus appear expos'd to mortal view,
Clearly to mark the course you should pursue.
To me 'tis giv'n your virtue to secure
From custom's force and pleasure's dangerous lure.
I watch the motions of your youthful mind,
Rejoicing when to virtue 'tis inclin'd;
But when a growing folly is descried,
To root it out, no art I leave untried.
Those drugs I mix in pleasure's luscious bowl
Which pain the body to preserve the soul.
That listlessness, those qualms, those aches I send
Which dissipation's giddy round attend.
Nor let these warnings, by your Guardian giv'n,
By winning pleasure from your thoughts be driv'n.
For if, regardless of my friendly voice,
In Fashion's gaudy scenes your heart rejoice,
Dire punishments shall fall upon your head:
Disgust, and fretfulness, and secret dread.
Unmeaning forms shall swim before your eyes,
Wild as the clouds which float in vernal skies.
But if true wisdom all your thoughts employ,
I promise lasting peace and health and joy.
A mind untouch'd by malice or by spleen
Shall make your slumbers light, your thoughts serene;
And through the ills which mortals must betide
I still will be your counsellor and guide."
So spoke the friendly power; then, waving light
His azure pinions, vanish'd from my sight.
Such is the guardian Genius, ever near,
Whose love I strive to gain, whose wrath I fear.
But, when his favoring smiles I would secure,
Complaining friendship's frown I oft endure;
And now, for open breach of Fashion's laws,
A criminal, am forc'd to plead my cause.
Such is my lot; and though I guilty prove,
Compassion sure my Judge's breast will move.
Not pardon for my fault I hope to find;
But humbly pray, you'll change to one more kind
The threaten'd sentence, cruel as 'tis hard,
To lose forever your benign regard.(11)
"Dear Hortense, I know you think I'm just that nerdy kid across the street, and that you
only sent the invitation because your mother made you, but boy are you wrong! I'm protected by
superheroes, and my superhero tells me that you're going to be very sorry, someday, for all the
times you went sledding with the gang while I had to stay home and read my Bible out loud to
father. You might think you're having fun now, but just let me tell you what's going to happen
when your sled falls through the ice and into hell!"
Lines Written After a Snow-storm
Come children dear, and look around;
Behold how soft and light
The silent snow had glad the ground
In robes of purest white.
The trees seem deck'd by fairy hand,
Nor need their native green;
And every breeze appears to stand,
All hush'd, to view the scene.
You wonder how the snows were made
That dance upon the air,
As if from purer worlds they stray'd,
So lightly and so fair.
Perhaps they are the summer flowers
In northern stars that bloom,
Wafted away from icy bowers
To cheer our winter's gloom.
Perhaps they're feathers of a race
Of birds that live away,
In some cold dreary wintry place,
Far from the sun's warm ray.
And clouds, perhaps, are downy beds
On which the winds repose;
Who, when they rouse their slumb'ring heads,
Shake down the feath'ry snows.
But see, my darlings, while we stay
And gaze with fond delight,
The fairy scene soon fades away,
And mocks our raptur'd sight.
And let this fleeting vision teach
A truth you soon must know --
That all the joys we here can reach
Are transient as the snow.
"Dear Children, What an absolutely wonderful day to go outside for our little morality
lesson. Now doesn't this cheer you up, kiddies? All those depressing winter blahs all covered up
with such a pretty white blanket. You'd think that the world could always be this beautiful,
wouldn't you? Aha! But then you'd be wrong! Because see there. The snow is already melting
and you can see the garbage in the gutters. Now remember, children dear, that everything
beautiful is just like this. It may look pretty at first, but underneath it's all just garbage. Now go
out and play, and don't forget to have a nice day."
The Pig and the Rooster was written years after the date Moore gives for A Visit from St.
Nicholas, so it may have been included to show he could write in that style, or it may be that he
grew to like the style. But the fable's rhythm still doesn't bring to mind the light, bright verses of
Christmas because of its use of a nasty, sarcastic humor to make its moral point.
The Pig and the Rooster
On a warm sunny day, in the midst of July,
A lazy young pig lay stretched out in his sty,
Like some of his betters, most solemnly thinking
That the best things on earth are good eating and drinking.
At length, to get rid of the gnats and the flies,
He resolv'd, from his sweet meditations to rise;
And, to keep is skin pleasant, and pliant, and cool,
He plung'd him, forthwith, in the next muddy pool.
When, at last, he thought fit to arouse from his bath,
A conceited young rooster came just in his path:
A precious smart prig, full in vanity drest,
Who thought, of all creatures, himself far the best.
"Hey day! little grunter, why where in the world
Are you going so perfum'd, pomatum'd, and curl'd?
Such delicate odors my senses assail,
And I see such a sly looking twist in your tail,
That you, sure are intent on some elegant sporting;
Hurra! I believe, on my life, you are courting;
And that figure which moves with such exquisite grace,
Combin'd with the charms of that soft-smiling face,
In one who's so neat and adorn'd with such art,
Cannot fail to secure the most obdurate heart.
And much joy do I wish you, both you and your wife,
For the prospect you have of a nice pleasant life."
"Well, said, master Dunghill," cried Pig in a rage,
"You're doubtless, the prettiest beau of the age,
With those sweet modest eyes staring out of your head,
And those lumps of raw flesh, all so bloody and red.
Mighty graceful you look with those beautiful legs,
Like a squash or a pumpkin on two wooden pegs.
And you've special good reason your own life to vaunt,
And the pleasures of others with insult to taunt;
Among crackling fools, always clucking or crowing,
And looking up this way and that way, so knowing,
And strutting and swelling, or stretching a wing,
To make you admired by each silly thing;
and so full of your own precious self, all the time,
That you think common courtesy almost a crime;
As if all the world was on the look out
To see a young rooster go scratching about."
Hereupon, a debate, like a whirlwind arose,
Which seem'd fast approaching to bitings and blows;
'Mid squeaking and grunting, Pig's arguments flowing;
And Chick venting fury 'twixt screaming and crowing.
At length, to decide the affair, 'twas agreed
That to counsellor Owl they should straightway proceed;
While each, in his conscience, no motive could show,
But the laudable wish to exult o'er his foe.
Other birds, of all feather, their vigils were keeping,
While Owl, in his nook, was most learnedly sleeping:
For, like a true sage, he preferred the dark night,
When engaged in his work, to the sun's blessed light.
Each stated his plea, and the owl was required
To say whose condition should most be desired.
It seem'd to the judge a strange cause to be put on,
To tell which was better, a fop or a glutton;
Yet, like a good lawyer, he kept a calm face,
And proceeded, by rule, to examine the case;
With both his round eyes gave a deep-meaning wink,
And, extending one talon, he set him to think.
In fine, with a face much inclin'd for a joke,
And a mock solemn accent, the counsellor spoke --
"'Twixt Rooster and Roaster, this cause to decide,
Would afford me, my friends, much profesional pride.
Were each on the table serv'd up, and well dress'd,
I could easily tell which I fancied the best;
But while both here before me, so lively I see,
This cause is, in truth, too important for me;
Without trouble, however, among human kind,
Many dealers in questions like this you may find.
Yet, one sober truth, ere we part, I would teach --
That the life you each lead is best fitted for each.
'Tis the joy of a cockerel to strut and look big,
And, to wallow in mire, is the bliss of a pig.
But, whose life is more pleasant, when viewed in itself,
Is a question had better be laid on the sheld,
Like many which puzzle deep reasoners' brains,
And reward them with nothing but words for their pains.
So now, my good clients, I have been long awake,
And I pray you, in peace, your departure to take.
let each one enjoy, with content, his own pleasure,
Nor attempt, by himself, other people to measure."
Thus ended the strife, as does many a fight;
Each thought his foe wrong, and his own notions right.
Pig turn'd, with a grunt, to his mire anew,
And He-biddy, laughing, cried -- cock-a-doodle-doo.
Henry MacCracken compared the internal structure of the work of Henry Livingston with
that of Clement Moore and the Christmas poem. "The childhood level of miniature, the motion
of flying, the adjectives of joy, and the speed of action, are characteristic of Major Henry's verse,
and woefully lacking in Moore's.
"The anapests of the Visit carry out these principles. The accented syllable is stressed,
the lighter syllables either unaccented parts of words, or else minor parts of speech, prepositions,
articles, copulatives, conjunctions, pronouns. It is literally impossible to read the poem slowly.
It races to its end, like the reindeer.
"All the devices for giving speed and emphasis to those swift anapaests are simple and
obvious. They consist of exclamations, but chiefly of repetitions, in which, as in music, force
and speed accumulate without the useless obstruction of new thought. On, on, on; away, away,
away; this is nursery bouncing, which every child loves."(14)
Oh Muse! I feel my genius rise
On soaring pinions to the skies.
Whom shall I sing? The Muse replies---
Come then, sweet Goddess, come, I pray,
Assist me with responsive lay,
To all I sing you need but say
Who, in this world of varying ill,
Keeps on his even tenor still,
Nor fails his duty to fulfil?
Who, while with passions men are blind,
Ne'er lets impatience stir his mind,
But jogs on steady, slow and kind?
Who, ne'er for taunt nor scoff will budge,
But goes along with easy trudge,
As grave and solemn as a judge?
Who like a Stoick, scorns disgrace,
Nor e'er exults in pride of place,
But does each task with equal grace?
Who then, celestial Muse, may claim
The high reward of spotless fame,
The glory of a deathless name?
Though charming, the poem is an example of a style we don't see anymore, but one that
was popular decades before Moore wrote his own, not very original, version.
Who wash'd my face and comb'd my hair,|
And put my little shirt to air,
To make me clean to go to fair?
Who took me from my mother's arms,|
And, smiling at her soft alarm,
Showed me the world and nature's charms?
Who fed me from her gentle breast, |
And hush'd me in her arms to rest,
And on my cheek sweet kisses prest
Who is it stands in yonder shop,|
Enticing rough faced rogues to stop,
And trimming yon gay gallant fop?
What covers up an ugly face,|
And hides each want of Female grace,
When bordered with a veil of lace?
For the Boston Magazine.
Many elegantly, pathetic poems have lately appeared in the papers,
addressed to My father, My mother, My sister, My brother, My
uncle, My aunt, My grandmother, &c. &c. In humble imitation,
permit me to address My Boot.
PROP of my limbs, and body too,|
To thee, what praises are not due.
I owe thee blessings not a few,
And just one more poem of Moore's, this one for his daughter Charity Elizabeth Moore,
born in 1816, and known in the Moore family as "little Sis."
From Saint Nicholas.
What! My sweet little Sis, in bed all alone;
No light in your room! And your nursy too gone!
And you, like a good child, are quietly lying,
While some naughty ones would be fretting or crying?
Well, for this you must have something pretty, my dear;
And, I hope, will deserve a reward too next year.
But, speaking of crying, I'm sorry to say
Your screeches and screams, so loud ev'ry day,
Were near driving me and my goodies away.
Good children I always give good things in plenty;
How sad to have left your stocking quite empty:
But you are beginning so nicely to spell,
And, in going to bed, behave always so well,
That, although I too oft see the tear in your eye,
I cannot resolve to pass you quite by.
I hope, when I come here again the next year,
I shall not see even the sign of a tear.
And then, if you get back your sweet pleasant looks,
And do as you're bid, I will leave you some books,
Some toys, or perhaps what you still may like better,
And then too may write you a prettier letter.
At present, my dear, I must bid you good bye;
Now, do as you're bid; and, remember, don't cry.
Since this poem would have reasonably been written for a six year old child, it's a
confirmation of the fact that The Night Before Christmas did come out of the Moore household,
and that it was known in the Moore household at approximately the time the Moore children
remember it being read to them. But, like the anapest poem of the Rooster and the Pig, it shows
Moore's unpleasant twist to the character of Santa Claus and the season. Just as a parent is a
source of praise and criticism, this poem emphasizes the judgmental side of Santa. The threat of
him not bringing good things can be held over a child to coerce their behavior. There isn't an
ounce of joy or mystery or magic to this poem. In many ways, it's just so very sad.
But before we let ourselves get too depressed, let's go back and read those wonderful
words of the legendary Christmas poem again, with all of its happiness and brightness just
waiting to delight us.
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.
And neither has Henry any reason to dread a comparison with Clement Clarke Moore.
Magic and joy don't arise from stagnant puddles, they spring from dancing fountains, such as
those bubbling love and faith out of a Dutch Poughkeepsie farmer.
Chapter 15: Happy Christmas, Henry Livingston