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He sprung 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.


Chapter 15: Happy Christmas, Henry Livingston

The book was printed, the interviews were over and, finally, Don could sleep. Steve and I were too excited to try. Steve had a better reason not to sleep than I did. He had found the box containing Henry's original poetry manuscript, as well as the witness letters. We were thrilled. Working off transcripts had given us an unsettled feeling. Steve, with his characteristic generosity, handed me the box and pointed me at a copy center. Six hours of photocopying and two weeks of my sorting, transcribing and analyzing later, the story of those early descendants of Henry, who had kept the faith for so very long, finally took form. Now we could all sleep.

What Don had accomplished was what so many people had tried for so many years to do - he'd brought Henry's case to the public in a way that could not be ignored. To say we were grateful doesn't start to describe our feelings. When I first started this quest, I thought the recognition of his authorship was what Henry would have wanted, but the more I got to know the man, the more I wondered if he would have cared at all. About the fame? Maybe not. About the theft of his words, I think yes. For his analysis, Don created an image in our mind of "The Christmas Poet" as someone to be analyzed along with Henry and Clement Moore. It was that separation that made me realize that the support and love that people all over the world brought to Clement Moore was not because they loved Moore. It was because they loved the person who was the Christmas poet, they loved the spirit that was behind those beloved words. That's when I realized that Clement Moore had done far more than just take Henry's words. He'd taken Henry's personality. But now, with Don's book, and with this book, maybe we can give Henry his identity back. And we can enrich the love that children have had for over a century and a half by letting them learn more about this wonderful man who wrote that unforgettable verse.

Gertrude Thomas, Henry Livingston's granddaughter, remembers her mother, Jane Paterson Livingston Thomas, telling of a dream Henry had of finding a hoe in his garden. The hoe had been dropped from heaven, and on the hoe were words that said that if Henry would use the hoe diligently throughout his life, he would live to be 79 years old.(1)

On February 29th 1828, at the age of 79 years and 4 months, Henry Livingston died. His obituary appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal of March 5th.

DIED - At his residence in this town, on Friday the 29th ult. HENRY LIVINGSTON, ESQ. in the 80th year of his age. In him we have lost another soldier of the revolution, a patriot, and asserter of American Independence. In 1775, he accompanied the American force to Canada, as Major of a regiment commanded by Col. James Clinton. (Afterwards general) and father of his Excellency De Witt Clinton, late Governor of the state of New York. He subsequently sustained the office of a Judge in this county, and his social qualities were of a high order. He was a great lover of the fine arts, and particularly fond of poetry and painting. His best qualities, however, shone in the domestic circle, over which his tender feelings, his warm affections, and his sprightly and instructive conversation, shed uncommon interest and loveliness, till within a short period of his departure. This will cause his loss to be long felt and deeply deplored by his bereaved consort and children, although he was spared to a good old age, and died in the Christian's hope, without a struggle or a groan.(2)

Henry's hoe was well used. It tended twelve children with a loving daily care that was extended to his twenty-seven grandchildren in their turn. And even when his young plants were transplanted far away, he still managed to water them with his love and advice.

Poughkeepsie Nov: 22 1819

Excellent Youth!

Helen, Eliza & Edwin have twined a wreath of love for you & Charles & begged me to cast it in your laps. I throw in my own bouquet with theirs... Adieu my dear Sidney-- Tell Charles I love him. Henry Livingston(3)




January 13th 1822

Arthur Breese the younger is now with you. I wish to know how he is employed. At school? At law with you or at the pestle & mortar with Charles? Dear boy! I have never yet seen him & I think it highly probable I never shall: By the time he is in active life & manhood it is more than probable the sepuleral ? stone will simply say that his grandsire WAS.

You are very dear to me Sidney, & I beseech that neither you or my boys & girls will ever suffer the chain of amity that now binds you together to become rusty.(4)

Life within the "old stone mansion" stayed full as the years passed. At the age of seventy-seven, Henry was still actively engaged in farming:

Poughkeepsie August 25, 1826.

Dear, Dearest! Son! [Charles]

Our spring drought was severe. With difficulty our corn ground was plowed & we planted. The dryness continued & at length we abandoned all hope of a corn crop. At length, however, the rain descended in copious showers, and every green thing felt its genial influence. Indian corn, particularly, showed its influence. In two words, our corn is called one of the best in the vicinity & bids fair to shoot up above mediocrity.

The clover field (opposite Mr. Allen) was much parched; we mowed it early & had not more than 6 or 7 indifferent loads of hay. We immediately replaster'd it & in about a fortnight shall try it a second time. The 2d culling promises to be far superior to the first. ... The oats in the meadow will be, say, 40 bushels. Wheat, ab't 130 bushels. Low meadows rather better than usual. Potatoes everywhere promise well. Garden does well.(5)

Age never dulled his wit or rhyme. In his poems from 1827, written for his daughter Jane, the same humor and kindness still shine through.

A Fable.

WHEN time was young the story goes
The birds and beasts were mortal foes:
The Lion led the latter throng
The Eagle urg'd the birds along.
The Tyger flash'd his lightning eyes,
The Cocks loud clarion reach'd the skies:
Breathing defiance -- Grimly here
Growl'd the relentless savage bear.
Now Turkeys gobbled alarms
And Skunks and field mice rush'd to arms.
A regiment of Moles were brought
Where the heroic Linnets fought.
The ponderous Elephant was plac'd
Where the gigantic Ostrich pac'd;
The Zebra's rough resistance found
From Cassowary's battle ground,
And Wrens would flutter peck & scratch
Where the prim ground squirrel kept his watch.

Neutral, the Bat here stood alone
And arms or panoply had none
Averring o'er and o'er again
He was no beast - Twas very plain -
For he could fly - and stretch'd a wing
There could not be a simpler thing:
He could not be a bird was clear
By pointing to his ears and hair.

While still the rage of battle burn'd
Those subterfuges serv'd his turn;
But when at last the Eagle rose
Superior o'er his flying foes
The Bat was seiz'd to hear his doom
Unlucky culprit! Much too soon.

Sentence pronounced by Judge advocate Crow

Unworthy of meridian light,
Too base for even ebon night,
In twilight only dare to fly
To seize the bettle humming by;
Then hie thee to thy murky place
And muffle there thy recreant face.

H. L    Ap: 1827
  &nbs78 (6)

But the years were taking their toll on a body that failed, while the spirit still dreamed.

Scots Wha Hae Wie Wallace Bled.
Old Song.

In arts and arms Escotia stands
Foremost of European lands
Dear soil! from whence my fathers came
I bless and hail thy worth and fame.

Thy sturdy sons in martial pride
With their good broad-swords by their side
In tartain plaid and bonnets blue
A band of Heroes in review.

Scotland excels in peaceful arts:
-Her pulpits warm the coldest hearts;
In poetry her Thompson shines
And thrills us with his glowing lines.

Ramsay and Burns each in their day
Attune their lyres in sweetest lay,
While Scot ascends Parnassus heights
And all the listening world delights.

-But - useless grown my broken shell
I bid the land of cares farewell
Oppressed with the lapse of time
I faintly dream of Auld Lang-Syne.

H.L.
 78 (7)

Weakness and age never diminished his faith, nor his love for his God.

God is Love.

I LOVE my feeble voice to raise
In humble pray'r and ardent praise
Till my rapt soul attains that height
When all is glory and delight.

I LOVE to read the book of Heav'n
Which Grace to fall'n man has giv'n;
Where evr'y page and evr'y line
Proclaims its origin divine.

I LOVE that consecrated Fane
Where GOD has stamp'd his holy name:
United with my brethren there
We hear the word and join in pray'r.

I LOVE to join the pious few
And there the covenant renew,
Recount our joys, relate our grief
And jointly ask from GOD relief.

I LOVE on Pity's wing to fly
To sooth the deep expiring sigh,
To wipe the tear from wan distress
And light a smile on Sorrow's face.

I LOVE to view domestic bliss
Bound with the ligature of peace,
Where Parents - Children - All agree
To tune the lute of harmony.

I LOVE the morning's roseate ray,
I bless the glorious march of day,
And when the lulling ev'ning comes
I love the night amidst its glooms.

I LOVE to anticipate the day
When the freed spirit wings its way
To the Jerusalem above
Where reigns 'th eternal SOURCE of LOVE.

For my beloved daughter Jane.
H. L.
78 (8)


Two months before he died, Henry wrote to his son, his curiosity undimmed by age.

Poughkeepsie, December 21st, 1827.

Dear Son Charles! Dear daughter Eliza! our much respected friend, Mrs. Brewer!

The last dispatch we have had from Painesville was from your Eliza to our Eliza. This, be sure, was well, very well; but we long to hear again and again. Believe me, my very dear relatives, you are all very near our hearts. 500 miles shall never separate you from our warm affection.

I returned from NYork about 4 weeks ago from attending as a witness on the Astor trial with James Carver, one of his assorted tenants. I was there about 20 days. Mr. Astor succeeded in this suit. When this important question will be decided, no one yet knows. Perhaps our legislature may, the ensuing session, take the business up in earnest; pay Mr. A. his just demands & quiet the minds of 700 families in Putnam. I brought up a small cold I had caught in town, which increased since my return, but is now waning. The remainder of our family happily are quite well and so is our neighborhood generally...

So, doctor, you have lately been to Cleveland! Is the Ohio canal progressing? Is any part finished? When will the whole be completed? NYorkers feel interested in this work. A person at this place wishing to visit NOrleans will take the route via Buffalo & your artificial river. Our Hudson and Delaware canal is nearly finished thro. It commences near Esopus Landing, where the Walkil meets the tidewater, & runs thence to Carpenter's Point on the Delaware (65 miles). Then up the east bank of the Delaware (20 miles) to opposite the mouth of the Lackawaxen abt 18 or 20 miles to the anthracite coal mines, said to be inexhaustible. Some 20 or 30 boats have within a fortnight reached the Hudson from say, 40 miles interior, laden with lumber, leather, &c. This canal is 35 feet wide & 4 feet deep. Locks only 9 feet wide but 75 in length. Our autumn has been unusually cold and wet. November was truly a winter month. December to this date has been milder; our navigation of the Hudson quite open. There is a coat, at present, of 1 1/2 inches of hail & snow, which has put a few sleighs in requisition.(9)

The Astor trial finally settled the matter of ownership of the disputed property. Astor received $500,00 for the land he had purchased for $100,000.(10)

Henry Livingston's hoe served him well. For 79 years he cultivated the rows of his garden with enthusiasm and joy. Within those rows he planted his seeds, and heaped about them those values which had enriched his own life - concern for the well-being of others, cheerful acceptance of duty to God, to family, and to country, and a determination to leave each task well-done. He stood in his fields and rejoiced in the beauty of what he saw. And he sang that beauty in words and images. The seeds sprouted and grew and, when the time came for him to put down his hoe, he did it knowing he had done his best. And, really, that's all any of us can do.

Henry's will was written on December 1, 1817, eleven years before his death. At the end of the legal document, he left a last piece of advice for his family.

To my children -- receive your parents' blessing. May the God of the Universe take you all, my beloved descendants, into His most holy keeping. In all your various walks, never forget that Christ died for you, and demands your whole heart. And, in all cases, do unto your fellow men, as you would wish your fellow men should do unto you.(11)

His death was noted in the family bible.

His mind was serene and tranquil throughout, and death seemed disarmed of its terrors in the dissolution of our father. Thus, after a pious, useful and happy life, we may truly say, he fell asleep in Jesus.(12)

Henry was buried in the Livingston family cemetery, on what had once been his father's property. He had come full circle to lay beneath a tombstone set near where he had first entered the world. And on that tombstone he left one last poem.

Blest Saviour now my soul receive
Transported from this world to live
And reign with thee above.
Where truth is sweetly lost in sight                        
And hope in full supreme delight
And everlasting love. (13)

So, finally, Henry is where he had always wanted to be. At home. Forever.

[From 1819 Carriers Address]

Believe me, dear patrons, I have wand'red too far,
Without any compass, or planet or star;
So I'll hie to my hive like the tempest-tost bee.
Hail home! sacred home! to my soul ever dear;
Abroad may be wonders but rapture is here.
My future ambition will never soar higher
Than the clean brushed hearth and convivial fire;
Here I lounge at my pleasure, and bask at my ease,
Full readily sooth'd, and desirous to please,
As happy myself as I happy can be,
I wish all the circle as happy as me. (14)

From all of us who have made this good man part of our lives, a wish for him in return.

Happy Christmas to you, Henry, and to you a good night.




Epilog
Continue





Chapter 15 Notes:


1. Dr. William Sturges Thomas, Papers, Henry Livingston box, New York Historical Society.

2. [Died. Henry Livingston] Poughkeepsie Journal, March 5, 1828.

3. Henry Livingston letter to Sidney Breese, Nov: 22 1819, Illinois State Historical Library.

4. Henry Livingston letter to Sidney Breese, January 13, 1822, Illinois State Historical Library.

5. Helen Wilkinson Reynolds, [Henry Livingston letter to Dr. Charles Paterson Livingston], Aug 25, 1826, Year Book Dutchess County Historical Society, Vol. 27, 1942, p.102.

6. Livingston, Henry Jr., "A Fable" 1827, Thomas Collection.

7. Livingston, Henry Jr., "Scots Wha Hae Wie Wallace Bled. --Old Song," 1827, Thomas Collection.

8. Livingston, Henry Jr., "I love my feeble voice to raise," 1827, Thomas Collection.

9. Livingston, Henry Jr. letter to Charles Paterson Livingston, Dec 21, 1827, Year Book Dutchess County Historical Society, Vol. 27, 1942, p103.

10. Elizabeth L. Gebhard, The Life and Ventures of the Original John Jacob Astor, Bryan Printing Co, Hudson NY, 1915.

11. Will of Henry Livingston, Dec 1, 1817, Thomas Collection.

12. Bible entry. "1828. Feby 29th at half-past four in the afternoon, died our beloved Father, Henry Livingston, aged 79 years 4 months and 16 days. His disease was an affection of the lungs, commencing in the early part of the Winter, and never yielding to any medicine, gradually wasted him away, and finally terminated his existence on the last day of that Season. His mind was serene and tranquil throughout his whole sickness, and death seemed disarmed of its terrors, in the dissolation of our dear Father. Thus after a pious, useful and happy life, we may truly say, he fell asleep in Jesus.

"Virtue and peace in all his actions shone.

And God, who gave the Spirit, claims his own."

13. Henry Livingston tombstone, Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery, Livingston Section, Poughkeepsie NY.

14. Livingston, Henry Jr., "1819 Carrier's Address," Poughkeepsie Journal, Jan. 1, 1819.








        
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