I'm fascinated by the way people think. Well, actually, I'm fascinated by everything, but
thinking about thinking is definitely one of my areas of interest. When I can sneak up on my own
mind and catch it unawares, it seems to be scanning something that I've recently learned against
older information. I make it a point to spread as wide a net as possible to gather in what might
seem to be unrelated facts, and then search for the correlations, or patterns, which make sense of
the information. The scanning process seems to work in the background of my mind, letting me
awaken in the morning with patterns fully formed from the evening's chaos of facts. It's a shame
I can't do this on the clock. I'd be able to charge doubletime!
Mother thought by chains of association. She just neglected to mention the steps she took
to get from one thought to another. I challenged her once when she pointed out a lady and told
me that the woman was the good fairy. This led to one of the only times she took me through her
chain of connections. We were on the north side of Chicago, an admittedly strange place to a
south sider, the lady was dressed in purple, and she had a wonderful smile. This had reminded
mother of Glinda, the Good Fairy of the North, in the Oz books. Glenda had, like the lady on
our bus, dressed in purple. I didn't worry about mother's leaps of logic after that.
Mother could jump so far because she was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. She
had an almost perfect recall of every class she had taken when she, too, had been a student at the
University of Chicago. But other than being able to give a policeman the license number of a
passing car used in a robbery, or being able to challenge a grocery clerk who said she'd given
him a ten instead of a twenty by reciting the serial number of the twenty, she did nothing with
that knowledge, though she never gave up learning. When she died at the age of 73, mother was
still working full time as a social worker while, as a concession to her age, taking only a single
MBA course. But something mother said in those last weeks before she died scratched its way
across my soul. She asked me how everything that she knew could just disappear. And I had no
So here I was filling my mind with information about Henry. Except that I was bound
and determined that my information was not going to disappear.
To keep track of what Don and I learned, I built a website of color-coded database pages
that I kept away from search engines so that Don and I could work in privacy. This site
eventually grew to over 1300 pages. Because pieces of the site were developed only until we had
satisfactorily answered some question we were studying, many parts of the site were inconsistent
and would, therefore, have been too confusing if I had turned the private site into a public site.
But what has made sense to extract from the research site has been made available on the Internet
and, over time, more will be transferred.
To help me examine how each piece of data fit into larger contexts, the research website
included multiple timelines so that I could follow politics, religion, or just the daily details of
May 25, 1772 - At noon Welles, an over the River, or Five Nation Man, began
Ditching at 4sh a day & 3 gills grain).(1)
For Don, we needed a different way of accessing
TV detectives solve their crimes by a combination of wearing out shoe-leather checking
out facts, and coming up with theories to investigate. Don used those same techniques. The
shoe-leather part involved, for example, checking out poetry or prose signed H or Henry from the
local papers (neither of whom turned out to be our Henry). But it was Don's armchair theories,
like investigating whether Moore "borrowed" his version of the Christmas poem from the work
of other editors, that made him the equal of any Perry Mason or Columbo. Investigating a theory
is pretty easy. Coming up with the idea of what to investigate, now that's hard. Because Don
approaches problems by asking questions, our site included searchable databases of Henry's
writing, his relatives, sources we were using, facts we had learned, etc.
But these databases weren't the most important way Don worked. What Don did was to
slog through the details of how words and phrases were used, relying on everything he had
learned from being in the field of literature. Taking separately the Christmas poem, the body of
work guaranteed to be by Henry, and the body guaranteed to be by Moore, Don would look for
usages that were, to his experience, unusual. For example, Don discovered that the use of the
word "all" as an adverb (all snug in their beds), rather than a pronoun (all of us) was a common
usage in Henry's writing, as well as in that of the Christmas poet's, but was rarely used by
Comparing three people - the Christmas poet, Henry Livingston and Clement Moore - with the works of
earlier authors gave Don an indication of what each writer read. This doesn't mean that the
earlier writers were plagerized, just that all writers show the influence of their reading in their
writing. In his book(2) Don lays out, in detail, the influences on Moore's writing of Robert
Southey, Bernard Barton, and Timothy Dwight(3). In the works of Henry Livingston, on the other
hand, Don found echoes of the bawdy anapestic poems of mid 18th century William King and
Christopher Anstey(4). The very type of rhyme Don found Moore railing against because of its
influence on young minds, and the very poets who had a major influence on the Christmas poet!
Don also found influences on both Henry and the Christmas poet, but not on Clement Moore, of
the writings of Allan Ramsay, Michael Drayton, John O'Keeffe, and Matthew Lewis(5).
Although Henry enjoyed humor and bone-chilling stories of suspense, his interests were
wide and his knowledge diverse - from religious theology to astronomy, natural history, Greek
mythology, agriculture, philosophy and the arts. Henry's daughter Jane described her father as "a
perfect Encyclopedia" "at home on any & every subject, and no question was too hard for him to
answer".(6) He learned not just by reading, but by asking questions, as in a letter to his grandson
Sidney Breese, then living on the frontier of Illinois with Henry's son Charles.
What houses do the middling class of settlers erect & of
what materials? Do small fountain brooks abound as in Dutchess
& Putnam counties? When wells are dug at what depth is water
found? When procured is it cold & pure, brackish or otherwise.
Are field enclosures of wood, hedge, stone, or earth. Is winter
wheat & rye grown-- if so, how many bushels to the acre. The
month & day of the month when Indian corn ought to be planted.
The number of bushels (shelled) to the acre? Can the stock swine
get their livings in Winter without being fed from the grainery?
Are cows & horses cheaply wintered? ... You are fatigued with the
endless string of interrogations & so am I -- I fear you or Charles
will not reply to half of them.(7)
But as much as he enjoyed learning, Henry enjoyed teaching. To son Charles, a doctor,
Henry sent word of a new treatment for rabies involving scull-cap.
If this plant is to be found in
your vicinity, lay up a store of it next summer, gather it when in bloom & dry it in the shade."(8)
Henry's 22 year old daughter Jane shows her own good mind in her letter to Sidney, her
21 year old nephew.
Our young Lawyers have opened a public [debate] which is very [well]
attended, they discuss miscellaneous as well as Law questions. I was present at the last one, and
was never more gratified in my life. The Orators were James Brooks, young Van Rensselaer,
John Davis and Theodore Allen, all excepting Davis, students. The subject was, "Whether
Climate has an effect on genius? It was decided in the affirmative, by the President, but in the
negative by the society. The speakers acquitted themselves admirably. J Brooks was in the
affirmative; his speech showed a great deal of learning as well as original sentiment."(9)
Henry's friend, Rev. Dr. Timothy Dwight, shared Henry's belief in the value of women's
education, putting that theory into practice at his school in Greenfield Hill, when he opened the
school for women to be educated in "belle letters, Geography, Philosophy and Astronomy."(10)
Henry came from a family that valued learning. His great great grandfather, Rev. John
Livingston, was sent to a Latin school at the age of ten and, after that, John attended his father's
Alma Mater, the University of Glasgow, where John, in his turn, received a master of arts
degree.(11) When John was forced by religious differences to flee Scotland for Holland, his son
Robert came along. The boy was raised in an environment as famous for its belief in education
as for its religious tolerance. The straitened circumstances and early demise of John caused
Robert to take employment in the Dutch counting houses, an education in its own right.
Soon after coming to America, Robert Livingston married a wealthy widow, Alida
Schuyler Van Rensselaer. With the financial wherewithall to give his sons a formal education,
Robert's son Philip read law for the bar. Son Robert Jr. was sent to Scotland. The youngest of
the surviving boys of the family, Henry's grandfather Gilbert, stayed closer to home, studying
with Rev. Solomon Stoddard, a well-known Congregational minister in Northampton MA.(12)
Gilbert, however, wasn't as careful with his own children's education.
Hanrered Father an Mother this is to let you no that we are al in
good healt as I hope it will find you in the same I am perswaded by
my unkel an aunt to stay till the next yege and hope you will not
teck it a mis the snuf I am to have at cozen byerds ples to send the
paper which you lick best and the tae by unkeel Livingston 14 lb
wich I have seant up ples to let mr. La meetre have the tae for they
wont giuef shick small quantyte my duty to you and my
granmother and love to my sister and brothers and let me no if you
ples if my cousins have the small pox no more at pressent I remane
your Dutefull daughter Alida Livingston(13)
Alida's snuff taking and spelling seems not to have hurt her marital prospects, since she
married first Colonel Jacob Rutsen and, secondly, Henry Van Rensselaer. Samuel, Alida's
brother, had only slightly more education, but he didn't mind telling his brother Henry, our
Henry's father, that he was finding the life of a sailor to be a bit too educational.
Launciston June ye 1st 1745
LOVING BROTHER this is to let you know that I am in
good health and I hope this will find you in the Same dear brother I
am very Sorry that I did not stay at home with you for I do repent
very much my coming in a man of war for here is nothing Else but
Cursing and Swaring Every day. Now we ar Cruising of Capertuny
18th of may last we took a french man of war of 64 Guns Brother I
wish I was with you at home out of this miserable place I hope you
and Sister and Cousen Gilbert are in good health, no more at
present but am your loving brother Samuel Livingston(14)
But Samuel's wish to come home was in vain. He died at sea.
The scholar of Gilbert's family was Henry Sr. In his memoirs, Rev. John Henry
Livingston remembered his father with love and affection as a man of dignity and pleasant
disposition, who was liberally educated, elegant in manners and irreproachable in the morals by
which he lived his life.(15) Henry Sr. wanted his sons to be well educated, and chose
Yale-educated, Rev. Chauncey Graham to teach his sons "Reading, Writing and Speaking
correctly, the Learned Languages, with every branch of the Mathematicks, and polite Literature,"
with the reverend's promise that a special regard would be paid to morals, as well.(16)
But for his son John Henry, Henry Sr. realized that more personal attention was needed.
At ten years old, John Henry was brought home and put with a private tutor. At eleven, he was
sent to the New Milford CT grammar school. And, at the age of twelve, John Henry was accepted
at Yale College. Despite the handicaps of his age relative to the other students, the young man
graduated with honors in 1762. He was sixteen years old!
John Henry went on to get his master's degree, and then a Doctor of Divinity in religion
from the University of Utrecht in Holland. A pastor and a scholar, John Henry spent the last
years of his life as president of Rutgers College.
Henry Jr., Henry and Susannah Conklin's third son, was seven years old and ready for
school when John Henry came home to study. It's possible that Henry Jr. attended Graham's
Dutchess Academy, though it's also possible that Henry shared his brother's tutor. But wherever
Henry Jr. might have gone to school, he took from his education a lifelong love of learning. And
when it came time to choose a wife, Henry chose Sarah Welles, whose father had been seriously
considered for the presidency of Yale in 1766.(17) But where Rev. Welles enjoyed publishing
papers such as The Divine right of Presbyterian ordination asserted, and the ministerial
authority, claimed and exercised in the established churches of New-England, vindicated and
proved(18), Henry was more apt to turn his hand to a rebus, a poem composed of questions, the
answers to which would spell out a name.
Though used as a game, solving a rebus required a wide knowledge of mythology and
classical history, at least they did the way Henry wrote them. The following rebus spells out the
name of Nancy Crooke, a Poughkeepsie belle whose brother was married to Henry's first cousin.