Friday, June 23, 2017

Short notice of Clarel in the New York Observer

New York Observer - June 29, 1876
CLAREL: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. By Herman Melville. In Four Parts. 1, Journalism. 2, The Wilderness; 3, Mar Saba; 4, Bethlehem. G. P. Putnam's Sons.
This is a dreary pilgrimage of two volumes of miserable poetry (if such it can be called) which few readers will be able to complete. --New York Observer, June 29, 1876
So Melville was right when he described Clarel as "eminently adapted for unpopularity," in his letter to James Billson dated October 10, 1884. The first book is titled "Jerusalem," not "Journalism."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Philip Jenkins on Melville's Dualism in "Lost Gnostic Poem"

Philip Jenkins reads a Timoleon poem and locates Melville's poetical Fragments on the Albigensian part of the "Dualist/Gnostic continuum."
More curious is why it is allegedly “of the twelfth century.” All the Patristic sources concerning Gnosticism were focused on the first three or so centuries of the Christian era. Now, there were medieval Dualist movements in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries like the Bogomils and Albigensians, and many writers (including myself) have suggested possible continuities from ancient Gnosticism. I have even spoken of the Dualist/Gnostic continuum. In that sense, you could even imagine an Albigensian poem of the twelfth century, say, being described as Gnostic in a very broad sense.
Along the way, the Baylor historian raises interesting questions pertaining to the study of Melville's sources. Did Melville read Jules Michelet or Madame Blavatsky? Check out the enlightening blog post by Philip Jenkins for The Anxious Bench, on Patheos via the Evangelical Channel:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Clement C. Moore disclaimed authorship of the charity hymn, "Lord of life, all praise excelling"

In 1866, Reverend Samuel R. Johnson wrote a letter to the editor of the Utica, New York Gospel Messenger in which he reported a conversation with Clement C. Moore that had taken place around 1856-7, "six or seven years before his death." Johnson was curious about the authorship of Hymn 117, a charity hymn often attributed to Moore. When asked by his fellow churchman, Moore disclaimed authorship of the Episcopal hymn, "Lord of life, all praise excelling."
"Do you know who wrote that Hymn 117, for charitable occasions, beginning 'Lord of life, all praise excelling?'" He replied, "I do not know." Why, said I, Dr. Moore, do you know that I have repeatedly heard that hymn attributed to you, confidently, and by clergymen of reputation; more than that, I have seen the assertion several times in print. "No," said he, "it is a mistake; I did not write it, nor do I know who did write it." So his disclaimer settles that question forever. It was some six or seven years before his death, while his memory was evidently clear and firm.  --Gospel Messenger, January 25, 1866
As shown in a previous melvilliana post, the words to the hymn beginning "Lord of life, all praise excelling" were in fact written by Samuel Birch, the dramatist, pastrycook, and in 1814 Lord Mayor of London.

The published letter from Samuel R. Johnson provides additional testimony that Clement Clarke Moore did not compose the charity hymn commonly attributed to him. As also confirmed in Johnson's 1866 letter to the editor of the Gospel Messenger, Moore had no trouble denying authorship of widely beloved lyrics when he did not write them.
... Long years after, when the discussion concerning the authorship of the hymns was going on in the Church papers, especially in Philadelphia, this hymn was attributed by several to Prof. Moore. Some years after, endeavoring to verify the authors, at the request of a friend, I said to myself "Why was not this hymn, written so long ago, which was deemed good enough even for the Church's use, inserted in Dr. Moore's volume of poems, prepared by his own hand, published under his own eye? and as I met him weekly, why should I leave the matter at all in doubt, so easily determined by his very word? Accordingly, on visiting him, I turned the conversation to the authorship of these hymns, and put the question plainly, "Do you know who wrote that Hymn 117, for charitable occasions, beginning 'Lord of life, all praise excelling?'" He replied, "I do not know." Why, said I, Dr. Moore, do you know that I have repeatedly heard that hymn attributed to you, confidently, and by clergymen of reputation; more than that, I have seen the assertion several times in print. "No," said he, "it is a mistake; I did not write it, nor do I know who did write it." So his disclaimer settles that question forever. It was some six or seven years before his death, while his memory was evidently clear and firm.  --Gospel Messenger and Church Record of Western New York, January 25, 1866

Gospel Messenger and Church Record of Western New York
 January 25, 1866 (1 of 2)
Gospel Messenger and Church Record of Western New York
January 25, 1866 (2 of 2)
Related post:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Daniel Webster on the Bunker Hill Monument as orator

View of Bunker Hill & Monument, June 17: 1843
via Library of Congress
Speaking in 1852 at the annual Printers' Banquet, Melville's friend Dr. John W. Francis opened by recalling what Daniel Webster famously had said about the Bunker Hill Monument:
WHEN the great defender of the Constitution delivered the oration at Bunker Hill, he pointed to the just completed monument and exclaimed, “There stands the Orator of the Day.”  --Reminiscences of Printers, Authors, and Booksellers in New-York
Dr. Francis paraphrased and condensed, making one great line out of the well-known passage in which Webster personified the Bunker Hill Monument as "itself the orator of this occasion." As reported by Richard Frothingham and painted in oil by an unknown hand, Webster dramatically gestured to his superior when he said,
"The powerful speaker stands motionless before us."
Daniel Webster, 1843 Speech at Bunker Hill Monument
via Gallery 76 Americana & Folk Art
Herman Melville made a similarly humble move when he dedicated Israel Potter to the Bunker Hill Monument:

Your Highness will pardon me, if, with the warmest ascriptions on this auspicious occasion, I take the liberty to mingle my hearty congratulations on the recurrence of the anniversary day we celebrate, wishing your Highness (though indeed your Highness be somewhat prematurely gray) many returns of the same, and that each of its summer's suns may shine as brightly on your brow as each winter snow shall lightly rest on the grave of Israel Potter.

Your Highness'
Most devoted and obsequious,

JUNE 17th, 1854.  --Herman Melville - Israel Potter
For background and context, here is a fuller selection from Daniel Webster's 1843 Address, his second Bunker Hill oration. (The first of Webster's famous Bunker Hill Monument speeches was delivered on June 17, 1825 at laying of the corner-stone of the Bunker Hill Monument at Charlestown, Massachusetts.) The text of the 1843 speech would have been available to Melville in (for one example) the first volume of The Works of Daniel Webster (Boston, 1851).
The Bunker Hill Monument is finished. Here it stands. Fortunate in the high natural eminence on which it is placed, higher, infinitely higher in its objects and purpose, it rises over the land and over the sea; and, visible, at their homes, to three hundred thousand of the people of Massachusetts, it stands a memorial of the last, and a monitor to the present and to all succeeding generations. I have spoken of the loftiness of its purpose. If it had been without any other design than the creation of a work of art, the granite of which it is composed would have slept in its native bed. It has a purpose, and that purpose gives it its character. That purpose enrobes it with dignity and moral grandeur. That well-known purpose it is which causes us to look up to it with a feeling of awe. It is itself the orator of this occasion. It is not from my lips, it could not be from any human lips, that that strain of eloquence is this day to flow most competent to move and excite the vast multitudes around me. The powerful speaker stands motionless before us. It is a plain shaft. It bears no inscriptions, fronting to the rising sun, from which the future antiquary shall wipe the dust. Nor does the rising sun cause tones of music to issue from its summit. But at the rising of the sun, and at the setting of the sun; in the blaze of noonday, and beneath the milder effulgence of lunar light; it looks, it speaks, it acts, to the full comprehension of every American mind, and the awakening of glowing enthusiasm in every American heart. Its silent, but awful utterance; its deep pathos, as it brings to our contemplation the 17th of June, 1775, and the consequences which have resulted to us, to our country, and to the world, from the events of that day, and which we know must continue to rain influence on the destinies of mankind to the end of time; the elevation with which it raises us high above the ordinary feelings of life, surpass all that the study of the closet, or even the inspiration of genius, can produce. To-day it speaks to us. Its future auditories will be the successive generations of men, as they rise up before it and gather around it. Its speech will be of patriotism and courage; of civil and religious liberty; of free government; of the moral improvement and elevation of mankind; and of the immortal memory of those who, with heroic devotion, have sacrificed their lives for their country. 
--Daniel Webster on the Completion of the Bunker Hill Monument (June 17, 1843).
In Monumental Melville: The Formation of a Literary Career Edgar A. Dryden quotes extensively from the 1843 Address, including Daniel Webster's depiction of the monument as "orator" and "powerful speaker." In Dryden's view, Israel Potter gives Melville's "antithetical version of the national myth that not only destabilizes Webster's vision of the monument supporting the myth of the nation, but demystifies both public and literary monumentality." For the freshest discussion to date, check out John Hay's article in the June 2016 New England Quarterly, titled Broken Hearths: Melville's Israel Potter and the Bunker Hill Monument. Rightly estimating Dryden's reading as "persuasive," Hay nevertheless offers a welcome counterbalance to the constant and by now wearisome valorizing of irony in Melville criticism.

Friday, June 16, 2017

William Alfred Jones's dedication to Clement C. Moore

Literary critic William Alfred Jones dedicated his two-volume collection of Characters and Criticisms (New York, 1857) to Clement C. Moore, who had been a close friend of Jones's father, the lawyer David S. Jones (1777-1848). Moore's friend David S. Jones was
for nearly half a century one of the most active and influential members of the New York bar and was the first judge of Queens county and received the degree of LL.D. from Allegheny College. --The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography
In his published dedication, W. A. Jones thanked Moore for "many kindnesses." As shown in a previous melvilliana post, W. A. Jones had favorably reviewed Moore's 1844 volume of Poems in the July 17, 1847 issue of The Literary World. Jones reprinted the review in his 1849 anthology, Essays upon Authors and Books. The review of Moore's Poems appears yet again in volume 2 of the 1857 work that Jones dedicated to Moore. As Columbia Librarian, W. A. Jones also wrote admiringly of Moore in his published history, The First Century of Columbia College.










For some years W. A, Jones had been associated with his friends Evert A. Duyckinck and Cornelius Mathews as champions of Young America. Jones is generally credited (wrongly?) with authorship of the unusually positive review of Herman Melville's Mardi in the July 1849 issue of The United States Democratic Review.

In his signed work, William Alfred Jones studiously ignores Herman Melville. No treatment of Melville appears in his anthologies of previously published literary criticism. The anonymous reviewer of Mardi in John O'Sullivan's U. S. Democratic Review exhibits a reform agenda that Jones once shared as a Liberal Democrat writing for Democrats. However, the reviewer seems oddly abstemious for one of Duyckinck's Rabelaisian Knights of the Round Table. He does not know, or pretends not to know, if Herman Melville smokes and drinks in real life the way his fictional characters do. He hopes not, but has to admit:
"there is a little murkiness in Mardi, that smells of the smoke of the vile weed."
--Review of Melville's Mardi in the U. S. Democratic Review, July 1849
The anonymous review of Mardi appeared in the year after Jones's dramatic split with Evert A. Duyckinck. As Perry Miller relates in The Raven and the Whale, Duyckinck broke with his loyal friend over the married Jones's scandalous flirtations with Catherine Clark Panton, then teenage sister of Duyckinck's wife Margaret. Miller's blockbuster ends poignantly with the image, not of Poe-Raven or Melville-Whale, but of William Alfred Jones as
"an amusing eccentric, with no concerns except his whimsies. The sole survivor of Young America, he endured until May 6, 1900." --The Raven and the Whale

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dylan's Melvillean intro

"We have small respect for authors who are wilful, and cannot be advised; but we reverence a man when God's must is upon him, and he does his work in his own and other's spite." --The United States Democratic Review - July 1849

Dylan cops Melville's best book best when he talks about internalizing songs:
You know what it's all about. Takin' the pistol out and puttin' it back in your pocket. Whippin' your way through traffic, talkin' in the dark. You know that Stagger Lee was a bad man and that Frankie was a good girl. You know that Washington is a bourgeois town and you've heard the deep-pitched voice of John the Revelator and you saw the Titanic sink in a boggy creek. And you're pals with the wild Irish rover and the wild colonial boy. You heard the muffled drums and the fifes that played lowly. You've seen the lusty Lord Donald stick a knife in his wife, and a lot of your comrades have been wrapped in white linen.  --Bob Dylan - Nobel Lecture
 By "Melville's best book" I mean Mardi, obviously:
Yet, again, I descend, and list to the concert. 
Like a grand, ground swell, Homer’s old organ rolls its vast volumes under the light frothy wave-crests of Anacreon and Hafiz; and high over my ocean, sweet Shakespeare soars, like all the larks of the spring. Throned on my sea-side, like Canute, bearded Ossian smites his hoar harp, wreathed with wild-flowers, in which warble my Wallers; blind Milton sings bass to my Petrarchs and Priors, and laureats crown me with bays.
In me many worthies recline and converse. I list to St. Paul, who argues the doubts of Montaigne; Julian the Apostate cross-questions Augustine; and Thomas-a-Kempis unrolls his old black letters for all to decipher. Zeno murmurs maxims beneath the hoarse shouts of Democritus; and though Democritus laugh loud and long, and the sneer of Pyrrho be seen, yet, divine Plato, and Proclus, and Verulam are of my counsel; and Zoroaster whispered me before I was born. I walk a world that is mine; and enter many nations, as Mungo Park rested in African cots. I am served like Bajazet: Bacchus my butler, Virgil my minstrel, Philip Sidney my page. My memory is a life beyond birth; my memory, my library of the Vatican, its alcoves all endless perspectives, eve-tinted by cross-lights from Middle-Age oriels.
--Herman Melville - Mardi

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Stockbridge correspondent "Jeannie Deans" on Berkshire in 1855

Glendale via RootsWeb -
A native "westerner," formerly of Galena, the poet and journalist who signed herself "Jeannie Deans" after the heroine of Scott's The Heart of Midlothian (but not Jane Grey Swisshelm, the better known "Jeannie Deans") was a regular correspondent of the St. Paul Minnesotian in the early to mid 1850's. In the summer of 1853, "Jeannie Deans" visited Baltimore and Norfolk, Virginia. In August of that year she wrote about socializing with G. P. R. James in Nags Head, North Carolina (Weekly Minnesotian, September 24, 1853). In 1854 the Minnesota editor politely declined to reveal the identity of his gifted correspondent:
We have been asked a thousand times, "who is Jeannie Deans?" That question we are not at liberty to answer as yet. We can only say, although now residing in Massachusetts, she is a lady identified with the West from infancy, and with the North-West since the first settlement of northern Illinois. Galena particularly should be proud to claim one who has it within her power to assume a position in literary circles alongside of "Grace Greenwood," Miss Cummings, or any other famous names among our younger lady authoresses. --St. Paul Weekly Minnesotian, June 17, 1854
By that time "Jeannie Deans" had moved to Stockbridge. In the summer of 1855 she would move again, to New Jersey. Transcribed below, her piece "For the Minnesotian" dated March 26, 1855 features the obligatory reference to Berkshire resident Herman Melville and his "charming Typee." However, this particular selection of "Village Sketches" by "Jeannie Deans" seems more interesting and important for her contemporary description of the Glendale Woolen Mills.

From the St Paul Daily Minnesotian, April 13, 1855; reprinted in the Weekly Minnesotian, April 14, 1855.

[For the Minnesotian]

Village Sketches.

Our village is like any other village. It has the same broad street, swept clean just now, by the old woman March, who has come down from the sky, and clashes the branches of old trees together into a rude timbrel music. Well, to retrace our steps, return to our street. On each side of it are ancient elms, turf and white fences, with here and there beautiful cottages nestling like birds, closing their wings around the house tree. Cottagesornee and gabled, in every variety of architectureporches, bay-windows and verandah "all around the house." We have one Doctor, ditto Shoemaker, the Store, a Blacksmith, Carpenters, Cows, Horses, fowl and flesh. A poor-house, crazy man, two superannuated colored people, a gossip and a bad boy. But it is unlike any other little place in its wealth of intellect, high orders of mindrefinement, cultivation and accomplishment. The air is filled with inspiration. Where congregates more genius than in Berkshire? Is not Monument Mountain a granite column to Bryant, that no time shall effect, but stand his soul-marks through eternity? Is not every tree, rock and stream, around her native place crowned with the ever living wreath of fame by the talented Authoress of Berkshire?
Near us are Dr. Griswold, Herman Melville, the author of charming Typee, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and in the summer, Henry Ward Beecher and others. We catch glimpses of these shining lights sometimes. Shakespeare must have had a prophetic one, when he said,
"How far that little candle throws his beams."
Now-a-days we see all the great minds face to face, thanks to Photography and Railroads.

Aproprosthe latter brings to mind a ride of last week. Seven ladies and one gentleman took the eleven o'clock train for Glendale, a beautiful place two miles distant; beautiful as its name; but doomed to bloom unseen, for utility had turned it into that destroyer of beauty, a manufacturing town. Its rippling stream was damned. Its finest rocks became a gas fixture, and its trees fell in its defence. We were going to the Glendale Mills, "Woolen Factory," (as the card expressed it,) to see all that was to be seen. And we didfrom the commencementthe great furnace, with its red jaws, glowing and flaming, setting all the machinery in motion, to the spinning room, next the roof. 
"Here are the dyeing rooms;" a general smell of bark, a huge vat of boiling indigo, two gloomy phantoms looming up in the mist, "true blues," rolling up cloth on windlasses from the tubs beneath. A peculiar, cloudy, damp feeling, a dyeing sensation prevailed.

"Oh! the ladies' bonnets, the ladies' bonnets," screamed the foreman. "Mr. G., they will all dye!"

A concert scream and a rush followed. I am sorry for the sake of mankind to add, that the one gentleman was just as much afraid of dyeing as the ladies, and his new hat gave him courage to precede us in the melee. We who wore black bonnets and hoods returned, those whose new felts and velvets vanity had prompted to wear, stood
"Like Tantalus without the pale."
The finishing room was filled with roll upon roll of shining cloths of every hue, "grey, black and brown." The carding was new to all of us; each machine keeps one man busy. One little boy, scarcely fourteen years of age, had the care of one.

The spinning room at the top of the building employed but five men. One of these attracted our attention and interested us. His years numbered more than fifty; his clothes were poor and threadbare, but scrupulously clean; his face wore a resigned, melancholy look. Mr. G. told us that he had been absent from that mill but three days in the last eighteen years. Regular as clock-work he entered the door and walked fourteen hours daily in the winter, behind that machine. Think of it. What a tread mill life. Day after day to stand in the same room, on the same boards, rolling that pile of springing machinery. What is winter, summer, year in, year out, to him? Is it any wonder that he has grown mechanical, subdued, with a vacant, thoughtful face, chained to a rock by poverty. I felt as though he must fly. I wondered he did not open the window and dash out, down four stories; "anywhere, anywhere, out of the world." 
The weaving room was airy and spacious, the floor white, for the girls "holy-stone" it. Pillars through the center of the room and many windows. The whirr and clash of the shuttles was deafening. Here we had more interest. This was the woman's department. One had the charge of the looms, and it was quite enough to keep them busytaking out empty bobbins and replacing them with filled ones; tying weaver's knots and heading pieces. One little girl of twelve years was commencing the web of her life. Her looms wove and wove and the little hands flew from one to another without cessation. Her cheeks had an unnatural glow; want of air and exercise were weaving the warp of disease through the woof of nature.

Each factory girl had her window, filled with green plants, prayer books, looking glasses, bits of colored papers, and treasures that looking at helped to cheer them. Here was a casement void of green, a little red shoe and a half made apron and sewing implements filled the seat. The owner of these looms was a tall, slender woman, transparently white, hollow-eyed and negligently dressed. She seemed exhausted and harrassed. She dropped into a chair after feeding, as though she could stand no longer. I imagined her thinking of a little one at home; perhaps it was sick, or would not receive attention. Her face haunted me all day.

In contrast to her, the next looms were under the care of a bright, rosy Irish girl, neat and tidysinging at her task, as pretty and healthy a specimen of the country girl as I have seen. Two roses were in full bloom in her window, and a vine with a small yellow blossom twining the pillar in the sunshine.

The shears and napping were inspected and then we went to the store while the gentlemen went to dinner; officiated and rummaged the drawers, dined on crackers, raisins, confections and cinnamon. Were obliged to wait two hours for the cars at the depot, some of the party took high seats on the desk for want of chairs, others played "Tee-to-tum." Several poetical discussions took place, with a general dissention of mind. Did any two ever agree entirely on Religion or Medicine, on Poetry or Philosophy? The boys who had been playing base around the station, called vociferously, "the cars; the cars." Imagine the sensation we created in the cars. I heard a gentleman whisper that we must have been to a woman's convention. I wonder if we looked strong-minded, or which he took for the Rev., the Dr. or the Lawyer.

Stockbridge, March 26, 1855
St. Paul Daily Minnesotian - April 13, 1855

Lines Written on Reading a Celebrated Infidel Book

The reprinting of this pseudonymous poem (taking "Melville" as a nom de plume) in the Boston Recorder enables me to improve my earlier transcription with the correct reading "stoic sage" in the third line of the first stanza. Whoever wrote it, the speaker's bout with unbelief presents the quintessential Melvillean quandary. The figure of the stoic as a model of cold philosophical comfort adds a favorite device of Melville's to the familiar theme. The stoic figure seems all the more Melvillean when contrasted, as here in these 1838 "Lines," with the consoling promise of heaven. In Melville's religious epic Clarel (1876), the Anglican priest Derwent will invoke "The Stoic" to argue the same point in dialogue with the divinity student Clarel:
What if some camp on crags austere
The Stoic held ere Gospel cheer ?
There may the common herd abide,
Having dreamed of heaven? Nay, and can you?
--Herman Melville, Clarel 3.21 - In Confidence
First published in the Christian Watchman on March 2, 1838, the poetic "Lines" signed "Melville" were reprinted in the Boston Recorder for March 9, 1838. "Melville" also contributed the six-part essay on Missions to the Western Indians that appeared in the Christian Watchman between November 10, 1837 and July 13, 1838.

For the Watchman. 

Well, be it thus;— renounce the page
   Which tells of brighter worlds on high;
Then rest content, as stoic sage,
   In gloomy doubt, to grope and die.
Shut out the light which shines from heaven;
   To boastful creed of reason keep;
Say brutish life to men is given,
   And death is but eternal sleep.

But leave thy neighbor’s spirit free,
   Nor, with rash hand, the hope destroy,—
Blest hope of immortality,
   Which all dilates the heart with joy;
Nor wake the peaceful dreamer thou,
   The bitter dregs of life to taste:
If vain the hopes which bind us now,
   O, let the sweet delusion last! 
If life a false speck can be shown,
   The ocean of eternity
Up from its heaving depth has thrown;
   If hapless man may never see
Aught when this anxious being dies,
   But sink to nothingness again,
As on the earth he shuts his eyes,
   O, let him wish and hope till then!

Go to the mother, as she gives
   Her first-born to the arms of death;—
How sinks her heart, which anguish rives
   Its chords to mark the final breath!
And wilt thou soothe her frenzied thought,
   With words of cold philosophy;
Or say the infant soul is nought,
   As her’s, anon, shall surely be?

Away, away, a voice within
   Gives thy vain sophistry the lie;
It pleads for that which is,—hath been,—
   And, all divine, can never die.
Hope, reason, Scripture,—all proclaim,
   To virtue’s ear, a nobler rest:
‘Tis writ, in characters of flame,
   On ev’ry heart, in ev’ry breast.

The holy light of day; the sun,
   Bright image of the Lord Supreme;
The clouds, the viewless wind; in one,
   All things which vast or lovely seem;
The hoary earth, the deep blue sea,
   Each with ecstatic life replete;
The thin, free air, o'er land and sea,
   Where nature’s subtler wonders meet;—
The sombre majesty of night,
   As o’er the pensive mind it steals;
The calm, bright moon, whose silver light
   In vain the fleecy cloud conceals;
The stars, so eloquent, which seem
   Of silent consciousness possest,
Which active fancy well might deem
   Kind heralds of the heavenly rest. 
Speak to the soul, and wake its glow,
   While the far-vault of heaven on high
Wide echoes to the deep below
   Its soft and sacred minstrelsy.
All mind, the universe, where’er
   A thought has ranged, or science trod,
With voice united, all declare
   A Spirit, and that Spirit’s God.     

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Moby-Dick in the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser

Found on

Much but not all of the Buffalo review is borrowed from the review of Moby-Dick in the New York Commercial Advertiser on November 28, 1851. The earlier review in the New York Commercial Advertiser is reprinted on page 388 in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, ed. Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

From the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, December 3, 1851:

New Publications.


This is an extraordinary book, neither good, nor wholly badas was said of Rob Roy, it is "o'er bad for blessing, and o'er good for banning." We have never partaken of the intense admiration excited in many quarters by the productions of MELVILLE. At the same time we cheerfully accord to him unusual merits of a certain kind. He has fine descriptive powers, when applied to natural scenery and stirring events; but in the delineation of character, he utterly fails. There is not a being of this earth in the book before us. If any such creatures exist, they are to be found on some other planet. But in the course of his wild, incoherent, and impossible story, we presume he has let us into all the realities of the whale-fishery, more minutely and with greater fidelity than has ever before been done by any author, living or dead. We think the moral effect of all his writings is decidedly pernicious. There is a vein of sneering sarcasm, directed against all things which we are taught to reverence, running through his work like the rogue's yarn through the rigging of the British navy. In Moby Dick, he makes his hero, "a good Christianborn and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church," unite with a Polynesian in worshipping and offering incense to an idol, and in this connection virtually questions the authenticity of the first commandment. The book is a strange jumble of "fact, fiction and philosophy, composed in a style which combines the peculiarities of CARLYLE, MARRYATT and LAMB. Moby Dick is an old white whale, of extraordinary magnitude and malignity, and he escapes with impunity from so many attacks, that the superstitious whalemen believe him to be a sort of supernatural creature. Capt. AHAB, in one of these attacks, is struck by the monster's tail, and loses a leg. Thus maimed, he devotes his life to revenge, and pursues Moby Dick through divers seas, making frequent assaults upon him, but always without success. In the last encounter, the infuriated whale rushes headlong against the Pequod, the ship in which Capt. AHAB sails, and all the crew perish, except one ISHMAEL, who survives to tell the story."

Sold by GEO. H. DERBY & CO.

Moby-Dick in Pittsburgh

Godey's Lady's Book, Graham's and Sartain's Magazines for December are all illustrated with an extra number of fine plates. They are for sale at Holmes' Literary Depot, Third street, opposite the Post Office. Also, Moby Dick, or the Whale, a sea tale by Herman Melville, Esq., author of "Typee," "Omoo," "Redburn," "White Jacket," etc. Persons who have read the author's former works should read Moby Dick, as it is equal to any of them.  --Pittsburgh Daily Post, November 18, 1851

Friday, June 9, 2017

Charles Rockwell on "that precocious chap Melville"

Navy chaplain and Congregational minister Charles Rockwell mentioned Herman Melville in the fourth and final installment of "Western Travel," a series of newspaper sketches published in the Boston Recorder in July and August 1846. Rockwell was the author of the two-volume work, Sketches of Foreign Travel, and Life at Sea (Boston, 1842). Volume 2 ends with two long chapters on the Navy of the United States, conveying a chaplain's perspective with a good deal of first-hand information about life on board a man-of-war. Charles Rockwell co-dedicated Sketches of Foreign Travel, and Life at Sea to Ralph Emerson and his cousin and Yale classmate Julius Rockwell (who was later a good friend to Herman Melville, in Pittsfield).

Charles Rockwell's "Western Travel" series ran in the Boston Recorder as follows:
  • No. I. - Boston Recorder, July 9, 1846
  • No. II - Boston Recorder, July 16, 1846
  • No. III - Boston Recorder, July 23, 1846
  • No. IV - Boston Recorder, August 6, 1846
From the Boston Recorder, August 6, 1846, under the heading "Western Travel.--No. IV":
In returning from Michigan, I left Detroit in the steamer Rochester. It was one of the old, slow class of high pressure boats, with its breathing pipe thorough which it was constantly wheezing and gasping as it went along, like a horse with the asthma, or an overstuffed alderman. The captain was a Nantucket man, who preferred a steamer on the Lakes, to a three masted Blubber Hunter around Cape Horn. Another of these Nantucket captains was with us when on our way to Michigan. He is now a farmer at Ann Arbor, in that State. His past life has been a very eventful one in the way of shipwrecks, imprisonment, &c., and he had twice amputated limbs of those who sailed with him with perfect success. After listening to the tale of his adventures at sea, and as a dweller in distant lands and a consular agent of our government at the Sandwich Islands, I said to him, "Captain, why don't you publish an account of your life?" "I would" said he, "if I could write as well as you can." "Well," I replied, "if you will furnish me the materials, I will write your life and we will divide the profits." "Agreed," said he, and so in due time the public may hope to be entertained with the life and adventures of Capt. T., by the author of Foreign Travel and Life at Sea, in which Robinson Crusoe will live again, and that precocious chap Melville, author of Typee, will receive his deserts, as Capt. T. was familiar with him, his movements and character when he was in the Pacific.
It would be nice to identify the ex-whaleman who according to Rockwell knew, or knew of Herman Melville in the Pacific--not so very long ago, as Rockwell is writing this in 1846. Let's see... some other native of Nantucket, not the captain of the steamer Rochester, but a different Nantucket whaleman. Formerly "a consular agent of our government at the Sandwich Islands," and "now a farmer at Ann Arbor." Who is "Capt. T."?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

MELVILLE on William Bebb's 1846 campaign rally in Akron, Ohio

First published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on June 15, 1846 and transcribed below, this juicy critique of a Whig rally for gubernatorial candidate William Bebb in Akron, Ohio takes the form of a letter to editor Joseph W. Gray signed "Melville." Bebb won the election and would serve one term as Ohio's 19th governor. The partisan report from "Melville" is dated June 13, 1846 and gives the place of writing as Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio. 

Herman Melville wrote his Uncle Peter Gansevoort from Lansingburgh the same day, June 13, 1846, on which the Ohio letter is dated. I don't know how he could have been in two places nearly five hundred miles apart at once, but this "Melville" who writes of deluded Millerites, Bob Acre's valor, a dancing elephant, Aesop's Ass, a notably "stretchy" conscience, and "grandiloquent presages" sounds, well, remarkably like Herman Melville.

For instance, Ohio Melville compares attempts at humor by Thomas Ewing to "an elephant essaying the dance of a harlequin." Herman Melville made a very similar comparison in an erased annotation to Book 6 of Milton's Paradise Lost. As reported in the June 2015 Leviathan by Peter Norberg and Steven Olsen-Smith in consultation with Dennis Marnon, Melville wrote:
"These two brigades [of] artillerymen, in their heavy maneuvers, suggest the idea of a couple of Siam elephants essaying to dance the Polka."  --Newly Recovered Erased Annotations in Melville's Marginalia to Milton's Poetical Works
Both Melvilles use the dancing elephant as an image of incongruity, and both use the word essaying. At Melville's Marginalia Online you can see Melville's recovered annotation (via the enhanced image feature), and all the other markings in Melville's two-volume set of The Poetical Works of John Milton.

Hudson, Ohio Melville writes of the dull Whig meeting that:
"A general indifference and coldness seemed to pervade all"
while Herman Melville had just written to Gansevoort (deceased) that
"A military arder pervades all ranks."  --Correspondence, ed. Lynn Horth - page 40
At the Akron rally Bebb "manfully stood his ground" in a downpour, while his auditors were rapidly "dispersing." In a scene yet to be written from Herman Melville's next book, Omoo, the drunken first mate Jermin "stood his ground manfully" against murderous sailors until "they dispersed."

In Lansingburgh, Herman Melville was dealing with the sudden loss of his older brother Gansevoort Melville, who had died on May 12, 1846 in London. On behalf of the grieving family, Herman had the duty of writing James Buchanan (Secretary of State), William L. Marcy (Secretary of War), and even President Polk himself for the necessary financial support to settle Gansevoort's affairs and bring home his body. Hershel Parker gives a full account of Gansevoort's death and the impact on Herman in the first volume of Herman Melville: A Biography (see especially pages 424-5).

The Whig rally for William Bebb that Ohio "Melville" describes took place in Akron on Friday, June 12, 1846. Did Herman Melville ever visit anybody at Western Reserve College, now Case Western Reserve University, in Hudson, Ohio? By any chance, could Herman Melville actually have been in Akron, Ohio with a "companion" on June 12, 1846? Or, how about Allan Melville? Where was he?

Update 6/10/2017: Paying more attention to the heading, the likeliest Melville might be found in the roll of students at Case Western College. Among 1847 graduates listed in A Register of the Graduates of Western Reserve College is one Luther Melville Oviatt.

At the 1846 graduation exercises, Luther Melville Oviatt spoke on "The Literature of the Day." At his own graduation ceremony the next summer (August 1847), Luther Melville Oviatt gave the Valedictory Address, with an oration titled "The Progress of Human Rights." Soon thereafter he was hired as a schoolteacher. By 1850 he was Principal of Prospect St. school in Cleveland. In 1869, Luther M. Oviatt would become the first librarian of the Public School Library, later the Cleveland Public Library.
Luther Melville Oviatt (1821-1889)
via Cleveland Metropolitan School District
The Hudson correspondent appears to have been in Ohio for some weeks, long enough to have seen "grandiloquent" advance notices of the Akron stop by William Bebb: 
"More than two weeks ago, huge placards, flaunting in all the magnificence of letters six inches long or less, announced, in grandiloquent language, preparations for a Mass Meeting, at Akron, of the citizens of Summit county...."
The letter from "Melville" (Luther Melville Oviatt, probably) on the Whig rally in Akron first appeared in the June 15, 1846 issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Democratic newspaper founded and edited by Joseph William Gray. Melville's letter to the editor "Mr. Gray" was reprinted in the Weekly Plain Dealer on June 17, 1846.

Cleveland Plain Dealer - June 15, 1846
found in the Archives of Historical Newspapers at

Whig "Mass Meeting" at Akron. 

SUMMIT CO., June 13, 1846.
MR. GRAY:— Perhaps some random notes from this benighted region of Whiggery may not be wholly devoid of interest, amid the more exciting topic of Mexican campaigning. This seems a sore subject for the Whigs to meddle with, since, with the experience of the Past before them, they feel assured that, should they openly condemn the prosecution of a war forced upon us by Mexican bravado and arrogance, the indignation of the people would descend with crushing weight upon their heads, and annihilate their hopes of prospective power.

More than two weeks ago, huge placards, flaunting in all the magnificence of letters six inches long or less, announced, in grandiloquent language, preparations for a Mass Meeting, at Akron, of the citizens of Summit county, at which individuals of no less importance that "Solitude" EWING, of scrip memory, WILLIAM BEBB, Coon candidate for Governor, and other "distinguished speakers," not of sufficient importance to merit naming beside Ewing and Bebb, were expected to be present. Strenuous efforts were made by leading Whigs in the various townships in the county to induce a general attendance, in order, I imagine, that the imposing array, the "pomp and circumstance," might infuse foreboding terror into the hearts of the "Locos." Well, the day arrived; the air was kind and genial; and there was naught, save lack of inclination, to prevent a general attendance of the "mass" of Whigs of Summit. Ewing was programmed to appear in the performance at 10 o'clock A. M.; but, at that time, none of the Stumpers had appeared, and a number of zealous Coons set out to usher them en route from Massillon. Their advent seemed an object of as much anxiety to some, who feared lest the projected fandango should result in a failure, as did that of a mightier personage to the Millerites of the same place but a short time since. However, to their great relief, the cavalcade at last appeared. I did not see it when it arrived, or I should give you a description of its appearance. I, credulous "Loco," had imagined there would be at least some slight demonstrationa roar from a 6 pounder, or at least a shout to hail the advent of men whom I had supposed they "delighted to honor," as erst in the days of '40. But no! their enthusiasm had, like Bob Acre's valor, oozed out of their fingers' ends; and if there was any token of exultation at their arrival, it never reached my ears. It was far more like a funeral procession, I must imagine, than anything else, for I came into the main street of Akron, and seeing it full of men intent upon their several occupations, I supposed that Ewing, Bebb, & Co., had not yet arrived; but seeing certain stragglers wending their lonely way to the east, myself and my companion followed, and after a walk of half a mile came upon the "stumping" ground. I first caught sight of Seabury Ford elevated upon a stand four feet high, making strange gestures and stranger remarks and explanations upon the Tax Law. It was a hard subject for him; he endeavored to deal in sophisms in illustrating the manner in which Farmers and Bankers were taxed, but not being skillful in metaphysical reasoning, involved himself in absurdities; and finally, with an expression of face that might be interpreted into "this is a nut that the Devil may crack," vacated the stand, when the meeting was adjourned till half past one, when it was announced that Thos. Ewing would hold forth. There were not on the ground more than three hundred, all told. A general indifference and coldness seemed to pervade all. 
At the appointed time, "Solitude" took the stand. He is rather unprepossessing in appearance, owing to his small, half closed eyes, bald on the top of his head, with a face somewhat full. His subject was "The Tariff." Worn out and frittered into rags by the spouting of magniloquent Whig orators and the labored essays of Greely and the mimic tribe who howl in unison when their master gives the token, it receives no new light from the dull, prosy speech of Ewing. He endeavored to raise a laugh from the crowd at some of his miserable witticisms, but his efforts were a burlesque on the ludicrous—about as easy as an elephant essaying the dance of a harlequin, or as the Ass, in Aesop, imitating the sportive antics of the kitten. His mind dwells on the past. He is emphatically one of the "Old Hunkers" of the Whig party—one who has fed at the public crib when Whiggery was in the ascendant, till he fancies that he has a right, like the daughters of the Horse Leech, to cry continually, "give, give." He flatters himself that the country cannot dispense with his services—that he shall yet be invested with power. Yet, while the voice of the Revolutionary patriots, of the widows and orphans who suffered by his unholy chicanery in the scrip speculations cry out against him, I trust that we shall never see him elevated to dignities he is unworthy to obtain. He spoke two hours or more, and to my mind performed marvelously in the form of the "disappointed politician." 
Bebb next took the stand, and to my utter amazement at his versatility, in five minutes launched headlong into a dozen different themes, hitting at random, both in remark and gesture, upon every thing,Texas, Mexico, Presidential measures, alleged duplicity in the Administration, defeat of the people's will in the Baltimore Convention, coalition between Polk and Southern members, Ohio Tax Law, etc etc. His manner struck me as that of a fawning politician, who will "crook the pliant hinges of the knee, that thrift may follow fawning." I saw him at a private house, subsequent to the "speechifying," bowing, scraping and curvetting to those introduced in rather an undignified manner. He had not spoken more than ten minutes, when a shower came up and instantly there was hurry, confusion, and dispersing. Bebb, however, manfully stood his ground, resolved to "say his say" though waterspouts descended.

The rain, however, was not very severe, and a portion remained for about three-quarters of an hour, when they adjourned, most of them "pretty considerably soaked." Auditor Wood was on the platform, but if he had desired it, had no opportunity to evince his talent for "stumping." The whole number of auditors could not, I think, by any stretch of the imagination, exceed 800. My own opinion is that it was less than that number. Whigs, with consciences like india rubber, actually declare there were two thousand on the ground! But no man, without a particle of prejudice, could estimate the number, including all who lounged about the cake and beer stands, 250 higher than I have done. About 150 ladies were present, a part of whom, with a perseverance worthy of all credit had it been otherwise directed, remained till the close and with dripping bonnets and soiled dresses wended their cheerless route homewards. I myself did not hear Bebb through, as to me the rain was at variance with comfort, but went to the village and noted the comers-in, whose doleful countenances attested the penance they had undergone in endeavoring by their presence to prop a sinking cause.

Thus ended this day ushered in with such grandiloquent presages, whose result was mortification and disappointment to Summit County Whiggery. As for the Democrats, they merely laughed in their sleeves at the paltry subterfuges to which the Whigs resort to "keep up appearances." The Democracy of Summit are firm, and though outnumbered by the deluded votaries of Alfred Kelley humbuggery, will present an unyielding front to the enemy; and, though defeated, shrink not, but "push on the column," till, like the gallant Perry, they can shout—"We have met the enemy, and they are ours!" Fear not for the Democracy of Summit.
Sincerely yours, MELVILLE.

Re-printings of 1853 Pittsfield news that "Herman Melville has gone to New York to superintend the issue of a new work."

As Gary Scharnhorst reported in Melville Society Extracts 75 (November 1988), news of Melville's working trip to New York in June 1853 originally appeared in the Springfield Republican on June 11, 1853. Melville's "new work" sounds like a book, probably the one his mother had said (in a letter to her brother Peter Gansevoort on April 20, 1853) was nearly ready for the press. Later the same year, in November 1853, Herman alluded to his having been "prevented from printing" it in New York. The only work in progress we know about for sure is the Agatha project, which Hershel Parker logically relates to the working title "Isle of the Cross," mentioned twice in family letters from Herman Melville's cousin Priscilla to his sister Augusta.

I have a different view, admittedly conjectural and based on just nothing in the way of satisfying documentary evidence. Inspired by what strikes me as unusually strong internal evidence, I've long been holding out for a project of re-writing by Melville called "Fragments of Military Life," the working title of the book that Philip St. George Cooke eventually published as Scenes and Adventures in the Army. Both parts of Scenes and Adventures were previously published in the Southern Literary Messenger, and the 1851-3 series Scenes Beyond the Western Border which became Part II would be concluded in the August 1853 issue. Hypothetically, the job of "superintending" that project would have meant providing Harper & Brothers with printed copies of the magazine installments, much in the same way that, a few years later, Melville did publish the book version of Israel Potter. Either the Harpers' lawyers or then Lt. Colonel Cooke himself might have "prevented" Melville from publishing a ghost-written or ghost-edited narrative of western travel that did not properly credit the well-known, highly regarded cavalry officer whose journals supplied most of the raw material.

Well, that Christmas business chastened me all over again. It's always been hard to voyage chartless, with no external evidence anywhere in the historical record linking Melville and the wandering dragoon, Philip St George Cooke. The revived claim for Henry Livingston's authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" perfectly exemplifies how wrong one can go without reliable facts.

For the record, here is the original notice that Scharnhorst found in the Springfield Republican, June 11, 1853. Images of this and the following items are available in the online archives of Historical Newspapers at Genealogy Bank.
Springfield Republican / June 11, 1853
"Herman Melville has gone to New York to superintend the issue of a new work."
Four days later the Pittsfield news was reprinted verbatim in the Boston Weekly Messenger (June 15, 1853):

Boston Weekly Messenger / June 15, 1853
The Franklin Democrat [Greenfield, Massachusetts], June 20, 1853 reprinted the same Melville item under the head of "LOCAL INTELLIGENCE. / BERKSHIRE COUNTY.":
"Herman Melville has gone to New York to superintend the issue of a new work."
In early July the news from Pittsfield about Melville's trip to New York showed up in the Boston Flag of our Union (July 2, 1853) under the heading, "Editorial Inkdrops":

Boston Flag of our Union / July 2, 1853

First installment of Scenes Beyond the Western Border
Southern Literary Messenger - June 1851

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review of Mardi in the Louisville Morning Courier

In last year's post on favorable Melville notices in Walter N. Haldeman's Louisville Courier, I identified and transcribed glowing reviews there of Redburn, White-Jacket, and Israel Potter. One item that I could not locate back then turned up today, Haldeman's ecstatic review of Mardi. I suppose it was Haldeman who praised Melville as
"a limner of unequalled power.— He is a Tenniers, a Salvator Rosa, a Claude Lorraine, and a Raphael according to the scene before him."
Transcribed below from the May 1, 1849 issue of the Louisville Morning Courier. (Although filed by with online archives of The Louisville Daily Courier, the masthead of this May 1, 1849 issue reads "Morning Courier.")

Found on

New Books.

We are indebted to the courtesy of Morton & Griswold for a copy of 
Mardi; and a voyage thither. By Herman Melville. In two volumes. New York: Harper & Brothers.

The wonderful popularity of this author, and its continuance, shows how substantial the merits are upon which it rests. He has no rival in his sketches of sea life. Nothing seems to come amiss to his expanded genius; his soul drinks in the full inspiration of every scene that crosses his vision, and for the time being he becomes part and parcel of it. The majesty of the Ocean in storm or tempest, its magnificent repose, the clustering islands that breathe in beauty upon its face, the mountains looming far in the distance, all the enchantments of land, of ocean, and sky, find in Melville a limner of unequalled power.— He is a Tenniers, a Salvator Rosa, a Claude Lorraine, and a Raphael according to the scene before him. There is an ample store of vitality in all the weavings of his brain. The tissue is always of the finest material, but is nevertheless very substantial. He always carries his readers with him in spite of themselves, he infuses the spirit of his scenes into all their feelings, and moves them as with the wand of an enchanter.

In the work before us we have the same graphic power that has given celebrity to his name, both in Europe and America, but it is more matured, more elevated, more careful than in his other volumes. What higher compliment could be given to his authorship than is found in the fact that the English Reviewers refused to believe that his former works were written by a sailor? They were equally incredulous about the book of Ross Browne on the Whale Fisheries, but in the superior education of our navy compared to that of England, "the flag that has braved the battle and the breeze, for a thousand years" may find a hint that its supremacy cannot live forever.

We shall make some extracts from this work soon, in order to give our readers a taste of its quality, but we beg leave to commend the work to their regard.  --Louisville Morning Courier, May 1, 1849
On April 25, 1849 Haldeman promised, "we shall notice the work tomorrow," but the review of Mardi would not appear until May 1, 1849.

Related post:

Monday, May 29, 2017

Israel Potter in Portland, Maine

The Christian Mirror was a Congregational weekly newspaper, edited and published in Portland, Maine by Asa Cummings. From the Christian Mirror, April 17, 1855; found in the online archives of Historical Newspapers at Genealogy Bank:

Christian Mirror - April 17, 1855


Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile. 
This new work of Melville contains much to excite and gratify curiosity. Its hero had his birth on the mountains of Berkshire, and was inured to hardness by labor and deprivations incident to new settlers. At 18, deeming himself harshly treated by his father, he ran away, became a trapper, and at length with the avails of his furs purchased a lot of land, which with improvements he sold in a year or two; and soon after we find him in the battle of Bunker Hill, and afterwards at sea, and then a captive in England--escaping from his captors, and using such means as he could to retain his liberty working out for such light compensation as he could get, at one time in the garden of George III, who discovered his Yankee lineage, but did not betray him--was found out by some men of distinction, who were opposed to the war on the colonies, and sent by them on a confidential message to Dr. Franklin, then at Paris: afterwards with Paul Jones in sundry expeditions around the coast of England and Scotland. What portion of this book is true history, and what were embellishments, we know not; but there is little danger that it will not be read.
Two weeks before (April 3, 1855), the Christian Mirror had described Melville's Israel Potter as "Beautifully executed." This brief but favorable mention of Melville's new book appeared with similar notices of volumes just received.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Cape music season starts to heat up

Cape music season starts to heat up
The following week, Friday, May 26, it will be “Thar She Blows” a concert by the string quartet, Aurea Ensemble. The performance will be a tribute Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” with sea shanties as well as music by Beethoven and Webern. There will also be readings from “Moby-Dick” and Melville’s letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne, the man to whom he dedicated his classic novel. --Joe Burns via Wicked Local Wellfleet

Sounds like Melville: Nile Notes by George William Curtis

Curtis's chapter on "Dead Kings" reminds me of the "After Dinner" chapter in the first volume of Mardi. The one on "Memnon" naturally makes me think of Pierre, although Curtis never displays this much depth, pathos, or eloquence:
But Memnon's sculptured woes did once melodiously resound; now all is mute. Fit emblem that of old, poetry was a consecration and an obsequy to all hapless modes of human life; but in a bantering, barren, and prosaic, heartless age, Aurora's music-moan is lost among our drifting sands, which whelm alike the monument and the dirge.  --Herman Melville in Pierre; or, The Ambiguities
Then again, who does?

From the Christian Register, March 22, 1851; found in the online archives of Historical Newspapers at Genealogy Bank.
... Some of the descriptions are exquisitely beautiful, and a dreamy languor pervades the volume, which has something of the charm of a tropical climate. From the style and way of thinking, we at first thought that it might have been written by the author of Typee; but though it appears that this is not the case, we doubt if it would have been written, unless Melville had given a previous specimen of this kind of style. We are glad to see this book, but we should be very sorry if this method of writing were to prevail, or if American young men were to imagine that there was not some higher purpose in foreign travel, than the mere gratification of a taste for artistic effects. 
Published in Boston by David Reed, the Christian Register was regarded as "the leading Unitarian weekly" according to information about Unitarian Christian Journals provided on the website of the American Unitarian Conference. The 1851 masthead of the Christian Register lists five editors: J. H. Morison, E. Peabody, A. P. Peabody, J. Parkman, and F. D. Huntington.

Christian Register [Boston] - March 22, 1851

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How we know that Clement C. Moore wrote "The Night Before Christmas" (and Henry Livingston, Jr. did not)

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh wee,
Henry, you ain't movin' me;
You better feel that boogie beat,
And get the lead out of your feet. 
--Zola Taylor and The Platters; also Etta James
"The Night Before Christmas" will ever be a Shakespeare-Bacon sort of affair.  -- Commodore Robert Gracey Denig (1851-1924), as quoted or paraphrased by his wife Jeannie Livingston Hubbard Denig.
Herman Melville gave his next book after Moby-Dick the richly suggestive alternative title, "The Ambiguities." True Melville fans must delight in uncertainty and mystery, and find pleasure in endlessly debating insoluble problems of belief and doubt. Fortunately for us, lots of things in life and literature are unknowable. Who wrote "The Night Before Christmas" is not one of them, however.

Colleagues and friends knew Clement C. Moore as an amiable seminary professor and, in the words of Philip Hone, a multi-talented "scholar, musician, florist, bard." Moore definitely wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas," aka "The Night Before Christmas.” Henry Livingston, Jr. of Poughkeepsie by all accounts was a hardy patriot, genial family man, respectable farmer and surveyor, capable painter, and in his way, a clever wordsmith. In short, a model American citizen...although in our time, Livingston's pig-headed insistence that "No" means "Yes" in affairs of the heart could get him in big trouble on, say, a visit to Vassar College.
The dame with whom Phoebus sups nightly below:
And what the girls mean when they cry out no, no.  --Apollo Rebus
With the word ladies use, tho their bosoms cry Yes
When the man of their choice for their hands fondly press.  --Monarchs Rebus
The word ladies use tho their bosoms cry yes,
When the lads, saucy fellows! their suits fondly press:  --Alcmena Rebus
The flow'r whose tints in your cheeks sweetly glow
And the word maidens mean when they faintly cry no!  --Sages Rebus
But Livingston could not have penned "The Night Before Christmas." The length of the Christmas poem, the narrative mode and father-with-children perspective and content, the strong element of fantasy, the penchant for similes with the word like, and skillful use of epic simile were all beyond Livingston's range of interest and ability as demonstrated in his extant poetry. Here's why it's Moore, no contest.

To start with, Moore claimed "A Visit from St. Nicholas" and Livingston didn't. As Moore stated in his published 1844 letter to Charles King, editor of the New York American, he wrote the Christmas poem "not for publication, but to amuse my children."

Clement C. Moore on the authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas"
New York American, March 1, 1844
In January 1829, newspaper editor Orville Holley alluded to Moore as the author of "Visit." Holley's puns on Moore's name gave away the author's identity to alert readers:
"We have been given to understand that the author of them [lines on St. Nicholas] belongs by birth and residence to the city of New York, and that he is a gentleman of more merit as a scholar and a writer than many of more noisy pretensions."  --quoted in Troy's One Hundred Years.

Later Holley revealed in the Ontario Repository and Freeman [Canandaigua, New York] that he had known of Moore's authorship within a few months (not years) of the poem's first anonymous publication in the Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823:
The following lines appeared in print for the first time—though very often copied since—in the Troy Sentinel of December 23, 1823, which paper we then conducted. They were introduced, on that occasion, with the following remarks; which, as they continue to be a true expression of our opinion of the charming simplicity and cordiality of the lines, as well as of our unchanged feelings toward the little people to whom they are addressed, we repeat them, only observing that although when we first published them, we did not know who wrote them, yet, not many months afterwards we learnt that they came from the pen of a most accomplished scholar and and estimable man, a professor in one of our colleges....--Ontario Repository and Freeman, December 28, 1836; reprinted in the Auburn Journal and Advertiser on Wednesday, January 4, 1837.
On February 20, 1824, the Troy Sentinel had also published, anonymously, an untitled poem by Moore that eventually would appear with corrections and revisions in Moore's 1844 Poems, under the title Lines Written after a Snow-Storm. Moore's "Snow-Storm" never went viral like "Visit," but the lovely lines found admiring readers, as shown when the Providence, Rhode Island American reprinted them "From the Troy Sentinel" on March 2, 1824. Published only two months after "Visit," Moore's snow poem is explicitly addressed to the speaker's children. It seems likely that the two poems were composed around the same time. Significant verbal parallels with "Visit" include the shared beds/heads rhyme, the simile "as the snow," and the words dance and vision. As in the case of "Visit," the first printing of Moore's "Snow-Storm" poem was unauthorized and contained errors that would be corrected in the later book version. For example, "ivy bowers" in the original 1824 printing was corrected to "icy bowers" in the 1844 book version. The Providence American reprinted "ivy bowers" from the Troy Sentinel. Evidently the Rhode Island editor did not perceive the error, or did not think it worth correcting.

When requested by the publisher of The New-York Book of Poetry, Moore submitted "Visit" and three additional poems for inclusion in the 1837 anthology.

The whole point of the anthology was to credit native New Yorkers for their worthy contributions to American literature, many of which (like Moore's "Visit") had been published anonymously in newspapers and magazines. From 1837 on, Moore claimed "Visit" as his work, openly and repeatedly. Livingston did not claim it, ever. None of Henry Livingston's numerous children ever made any public claim their father wrote "Visit."

Moore’s authorship of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was acknowledged frequently by the most knowledgeable and eminent editors and literary critics of Moore's time including Charles King, William Cullen Bryant, Charles Fenno Hoffman, W. A. Jones, Evert A. Duyckinck, and Edmund Clarence Stedman. Physical evidence of Moore's claim to authorship has survived in the form of numerous inscribed copies of Moore's 1844 Poems with "A Visit from St. Nicholas" printed on pages 124-127.

The printed broadside with corrections in Moore's hand supplies additional physical evidence of Moore's authorship, materially linking Moore directly to the poem that only he published under his name.
N. Tuttle. Account of a visit from St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus.
Museum of the City of New York. 54.331.17
Four extant manuscripts of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" display Moore's consistent and distinctive manner of handwriting, precise and yet oddly medieval or even elvish-looking in appearance.
Four manuscripts penned by Moore, a biblical scholar, philanthropist and father of nine, survive: in The Strong Museum, The Huntington Library, The New-York Historical Society, and one in private hands.  --Seth Kaller
Each of these surviving copies serves to corroborate the fact of Moore's claim to authorship of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Moore was claiming the poem every time he wrote it out for admirers.

For all that, the circumstances of anonymous publication and rapid, widespread circulation in  newspapers practically guaranteed an authorship controversy somewhere down the road. Quite understandably, some Livingston descendants came to believe the most accomplished poet of their own family wrote "The Night Before Christmas." Early on, key claims by family members for Major Livingston's authorship depended on evidence that was non-existent and therefore could never be produced: of a lost or destroyed manuscript (non-existent); of prior publication (before 1823) in a Poughkeepsie newspaper (non-existent); of a simple mistake in attribution, caused or compounded by Clement C. Moore's apparent failure to claim authorship (false supposition). Furthermore, the first deceased artist to receive credit for Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was not Henry Livingston, Jr., anyhow, but somebody named Joseph Wood. When notified of the false claim for Wood in the Washington National Intelligencer, Clement C. Moore dutifully, promptly, and very publicly asserted his own claim to the poem as his own "literary property, however small the intrinsic value of that property may be." Moore's friend Charles King printed Moore's letter of protest in the New York American, and demanded a formal correction from the National Intelligencer.

Sad to say, Livingston descendants have been badly served by English professors, in particular the ex-Vassar president Henry Noble MacCracken, and authorship specialists Don Foster and MacDonald P. Jackson. When they want to, English profs with formal training in 18th and 19th century literature, poetry and poetics, prosody, source study, and/or children's literature can enlighten misguided claimants for Henry Livingston, Jr., and help all of us to a better understanding of what's going on in and with "The Night Before Christmas." To date, the most illuminating and praiseworthy studies with a specifically literary perspective are those by Ruth K. MacDonald in her 1983 article on Santa Claus in America; and Pat Pflieger, in her 2001 exhibition catalog essay on "Clement Clarke Moore and 'A Visit from St. Nicholas'" (available online at For the most part, however, literary scholars have been content to leave Clement C. Moore's "The Night Before Christmas" to the care of popular culture and the public domain. The most thorough and satisfying academic reading of "The Night Before Christmas" in print is by a historian, Stephen Nissenbaum, in The Battle for Christmas. In 2002, Oak Knoll Press published the now indispensable Descriptive Bibliography of "The Night Before Christmas" by Nancy H. Marshall, retired Dean of University Libraries at The College of William and Mary.

While we're waiting for an unbiased English professor to show up, one or more of the following excellent resources may prove useful:
  • Joe Nickell upholds the Moore claim in his important two-part study for Manuscripts, the quarterly journal of The Manuscript Society. Nickell's published articles are "The Case of the Christmas Poem” in Manuscripts 54 (Fall 2002): 293-308; and “The Case of the Christmas Poem: Part 2” in Manuscripts 55 (Winter 2003): 5-15. Cited by Emily Kingery.

Livingston Deal-Breakers

Deal-Breaker #1: Insufficient Total Words. "A Visit from St. Nicholas" contains 542 words. That job would have seriously overworked Henry Livingston, Jr., who almost never wrote poems that long. Table 13.1 on pages 65-67 of Who Wrote The Night Before Christmas? by MacDonald P. Jackson gives counts of "Total Words" in poems attributed to Henry Livingston, Jr. Jackson's table already excludes eleven poems of less than 100 lines. Only ten of fifty-four listed exceed 300 lines. Only six poems attributed to Henry Livingston, Jr. exceed 400 lines. Two of these longer poems, the 1803 and 1819 Carrier Addresses, are probably not Henry Livingston, Jr. anyway. Isaac Mitchell of the Political Barometer most likely wrote the 1803 Carrier Address for the newspaper that he edited and co-founded. The 1819 Carrier Address features words that Livingston never understood how to use properly, including two instances of the conventionally poetic word "ere." Drop the two Carrier Addresses of doubtful authorship and we're left with two bland fables, one talking gold coin ("American Eagle"), and the playful verse-letter to his brother Beekman, about as good as Livingston ever gets in verse.
Crane and Fox = 460
Vine and Oak = 428
Beekman = 408
American Eagle = 530
At 530 words, "American Eagle," if it really is by Henry Livingston, Jr., seems the closest of Livingston's four longer pieces to "A Visit from St. Nicholas," both in terms of total words and date of publication. With its labored premise and clunky moral, "American Eagle" is no steal of a deal. You wouldn't bother toting it to Antiques Roadshow.

At most, the average length of the 54 poems evaluated by Jackson after excluding very short poems of less than 100 words is 228 words (12,303/54). Moore's average, even without adding in "Charles Elphinstone," is 20,556/32 = 642 words. Adding "Sand" back in plus the manuscript poems would bring up the average to 38,714/47 = 824 words.

Deal-Breaker # 2: Narrative Mode of Discourse. Length alone practically disqualifies Livingston, before we read one word of his poetry. When we do get around to reading actual poems by Henry Livingston, Jr. (available online, thanks to Mary S. Van Deusen and her enormously valuable Henry Livingston site), we may be surprised to learn, after 100 years of authorship hoopla, that he hardly ever writes narrative fiction in verse (the story-telling mode of "A Night Before Christmas"), and never narrates for children except possibly in morally instructive fables. In narrative, something happens. The Christmas poem, as its original title promises, narrates the visit of St. Nicholas. The story has an identifiable speaker, the husband of "Mamma" and father of sweetly slumbering children. This confessedly paternal speaker tells a story that unfolds over time. The action of "Visit" has a beginning, middle, and end. Beginning: in bed. Middle: tomfoolery on the lawn, followed by a magical home invasion. End: they all got away. The domestic narrative is embellished with comical details about the appearance of Santa and his reindeer, and some choice descriptive elements drawn from nature--moon and snow, leaves and wind.

Joe Nickell calls the Christmas poem "a magical children's ballad" The "ballad" classification seems appealing but also arguable, too, considering how sophisticated the language and poetical devices are in places. Ballads typically employ simpler language and more frequent use of repetition than we find in "Visit." Nonetheless, in Part II of "The Case of the Christmas Poem" (pages 9-10), Dr. Nickell makes essentially the same point I am urging here, that Livingston nowhere approximates either the narrative form or magical content of "A Visit from St. Nicholas."

Nineteenth-century critics had no difficulty placing "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in the genre of nursery rhyme. "Visit" features the anapestic meter and narrative mode of discourse typically found in poems for children. Also on display in "Visit" is a lively blend of fantasy with the narration of ordinary domestic routines. All of these qualities coalesce in the new wave of British "toy books," illustrated books for children that were published in London during the first decade of the 19th century and available for sale no later than 1813 in American book shops. The most popular and influential of these early children's books were The Butterfly's Ball, and the Grasshopper's Feast by William Roscoe (2nd ed. London, 1808); and The Peacock at Home (London, 1807). At the close of the dinner party for birds in the Peacock story, both the action and words resemble the end of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." In the Christmas poem, Santa shouts his parting benediction ("Happy Christmas" etc.) and "away they all flew." The 1807 story does not tell us how, exactly; but the Peacock's house-guests left in the same fashion:
So they chirp'd, in full chorus, a friendly adieu;
And, with hearts quite as light as the plumage that grew
On their merry-thought bosoms, away they all flew…..  --The Peacock at Home

Prospective gifts of "some books" (on New Year's Day, probably) and "toys" are mentioned in Clement C. Moore's verse letter to his daughter Charity Elizabeth, titled From Saint Nicholas. Blessed with a rich and loving father, little Charity had her own "nursy" and would have been overjoyed to get such books as these English imports in her stocking, if she or her big sister did not already have them. That unfairly maligned letter FROM SAINT NICHOLAS, by the way, testifies to, besides paternal love, Moore's facility with anapestic meter and magic in a narrative clearly written to amuse and edify one of his own children.

To see how Major Livingston handles narrative, we need to visit Mary S. Van Deusen's page with All Henry Livingston Poetry. The very first piece there, Easter, does offer a kind of narrative, the familiar Christian narrative of redemption. This 1784 poem is developed in large-scale archetypes, with no individualizing details, and is delivered remotely in the third person. Similar poems with similarly religious themes and relatively distant, impersonal narration are Livingston's versified translations from specific biblical texts in 
The setting, theme, and subjects of An Invitation to the Country are conventionally pastoral. The poem evinces Livingston's fondness for allegorical personification (Avarice, Ambition), and a weakness for preaching that he shares with Clement C. Moore. The action is static, presenting situations and types, but no real story. Other poems that exhibit Livingston's distinctive blend of pastoral themes and personified abstractions are
In the elegiac mode, Livingston wrote memorials in verse for Montgomery Tappen, his first wife Sarah Livingston, their child Henry Welles Livingston, Gilbert Cortlandt, Catharine Livingston, and Catharine Breese.

Other poems attributed to Livingston may be classified as amorous verse. Several (for example "To Spadille" and "The Fly") have witty lines by a lover to or about his mistress, somewhat after the manner of the seventeenth-century Cavalier poets. Poems in the humorous vein of "The Acknowledgement" feature a more polished and elegant style, more typical of eighteenth-century verses by, for example, Dryden and Pope.
Twelve, at least, of the sixty-five poems attributed to Henry Livingston, Jr. are Rebuses or Acrostics.  Conventional features of eighteenth-century periodicals, Rebuses are puzzle poems "that provided clues to letters or syllables that spell out words" (as helpfully defined in The Citizen Poets of Boston, ed. Paul Lewis, page 178). These word puzzles are characteristic devices for Livingston, whose preferred mode involves some formally controlled display of wit.

Besides translations from biblical texts, narrative verse by Livingston is mostly confined to a particular and distinctive literary genre, the fable (defined at Literary Devices as "a concise and brief story intended to provide a moral lesson at the end"). In fables, animals or other non-human characters behave like humans. Livingston carefully copied several verse fables into the manuscript book of his grown daughter Jane. Along with "Crane & Fox" Jane's manuscript book contains Livingston's grim Fable of the Bats and the cautionary tale of Midas. (Livingston's neat script and closing flourishes there make one think he would have been glad to write out "A Visit from St. Nicholas," too, had he really written it.) The Crane & Fox, dated 1827 in manuscript, retells old Aesop's story of The Fox and The Stork. All the fables attributed to Livingston are in iambic tetrameter. A few bits of dialogue and added descriptive details make "Crane & Fox" more engaging than most of Livingston's fables. Other pieces by Livingston in the genre of fable are The vine & oak, published in the New-York Magazine for February 1791, and (maybe) Adventures of an American Eagle, published over the signature of "R" on March 20, 1822 in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

In all of Livingston's fables the closing moral governs the action. All but one are told objectively, in the third person. Only "American Eagle" is narrated in the first person, reporting a series of mercantile exchanges from the point of view of a well-traveled coin made of gold. The meter is always iambic tetrameter, more or less. By contrast, Clement C. Moore's The Pig and the Rooster is a fun exercise in anapestic tetrameter, the meter of "The Night Before Christmas" and the usual meter of nursery-rhymes. Despite energetic hating by advocates for Livingston's authorship of "The Night Before Christmas," this one animal fable by Moore is longer and appreciably lighter in tone and style than Livingston's comparatively heavy-handed productions. Moore's moral in "The Pig and the Rooster" boils down to something like, "to each his own," which sounds about as lighthearted as anyone could want or expect in an animal fable. Stretching out in 783 words, Moore takes more care to individualize his animal characters through dialogue and descriptive details. Plus, unlike any of Livingston's much shorter animal fables, "The Pig and the Rooster" shares the distinctive vocabulary of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Thirteen instances from my list of eight great favorite expressions of Clement C. Moore occur in "The Pig and the Rooster." The Christmas poem has fifteen from the same list.

Outside of fables, the few examples of quasi-narrative verse by Henry Livingston, Jr. occur in the form of letters. Frequently cited for supposed parallels to "The Night Before Christmas" are Livingston's anapestic Letter to my brother Beekman and Translation of a letter from a tenant of Mrs. Van Kleeck--as also discussed by Joe Nickell in Part II of "The Case of the Christmas Poem." Dr. Nickell does not cite the likely model for Livingston's verse letters, The New Bath Guide by Christopher Anstey. For many decades, anapestic satire in the manner of Anstey was all the rage. In Anstey and Anapestic Satire in the Late Eighteenth Century, Martin S. Day provides helpful literary and historical background for understanding this important influence on Henry Livingston's experiments with epistolary verse. Apart from the fun of it, reading Anstey along with some of his many imitators and successors confronts you with the ordinariness of words and rhymes that verse letters by Henry Livingston, Jr. share with "The Night Before Christmas."

Yes, I'm talking about clatter and matter; and belly and jelly; and even elf and self.

The annually recycled claim for Livingston leans hard on the casual impression of uncanny correspondences between jingling anapests and select rhymes in a few pieces by Major Livingston and the meter and rhymes of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." As the example of Anstey demonstrates, however, what Livingston's work shares with "Visit" is a common poetical heritage.
For in TABITHA's chamber I heard such a clatter,
I could not conceive what the deuce was the matter.... --The New Bath Guide
The company made a most brilliant appearance,
And ate Bread and Butter with great perseverance. --The New Bath Guide

According to Day, the best known of Anstey's epistles by "Simkin" were Letter 11, satirizing "a fashionable ball" and Letter 13, "celebrating an uproarious public breakfast given by Lord Ragamuffin" with a parody of 'Alexander's Feast' by Dryden.

One of Anstey's busiest disciples in the genre of satirical epistle was John Williams. Writing as "Anthony Pasquin," Williams wrote The Children of Thespis; The New Brighton Guide; and A Postscript to the New Bath Guide. As shown above, The Children of Thespis rhymes "elf" with "himself." And clatter with matter. Williams's Postscript rhymes "jelly" with "belly":
The meter and rhymes that Livingston family members naturally associated with Henry Livingston, Jr. in fact were thoroughly conventional by the time he used them in the 1780's and 1790's. Anstey influenced everybody--including Clement C. Moore, as evidenced by the rhymes and style of "The Pig and the Rooster." The New York Society Library has a 1768 copy of Anstey's The New Bath Guide, signed for in 1805 by Gulian Verplanck, according to early circulation records which end in that year, accessible via the City Readers project.

In good eighteenth-century fashion, Livingston gravitates to satire and the cold comfort of material facts, away from overly sentimental displays of emotion. His prose fictions, too, are nearly always satirical, and exhibit the typical eighteenth-century bias for reason over feelings, head over heart. By contrast, "heart" turns out to be one of Moore's all-time favorite words--as MacDonald P. Jackson accurately reports in the back of Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas"? in a footnote to chapter 16.

So Livingston avoids narrative except in fables, and rarely adopts the first-person point of view unless he's writing a letter. When Livingston does narrate events in the first person, he borrows the tone, meter, epistolary form, and a good deal diction from anapestic satire in the manner of the inescapable Christopher Anstey. Livingston addresses his unpublished satirical letters to adults only, whereas Moore wrote and published lightly satirical narrative verse ("A Trip to Saratoga" and "The Pig and the Rooster") with his children in mind.

Deal-Breaker #3: Fantasy. Another deal-breaker is the glaring absence of fantasy in the modest body of poetic work attributed to Henry Livingston, Jr. No extant poem by Livingston features anything like the intersection of the mundane and the marvelous in "A Visit from St. Nicholas." The mix of fantasy and reality is what makes "The Night Before Christmas" so charming. A regular Joe jumped out of bed and actually saw Santa Claus! In the flesh! Nothing magical or fantastical appears in Livingston's fables beyond conventions of the genre, like talking animals and trees. Anthropomorphized characters interact with each other in the service of a controlling moral lesson, as they always do in fables. And Livingston generally adds the word "fable" in his titles, as if to emphasize their unreality and unbelievability. Talking animals, plants, and 10-dollar gold coins never once invade Poughkeepsie or inhabit any other natural setting.

The "jolly old elf" of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" with his "miniature sleigh" and "eight tiny reindeer" is a kind of fairy. As Ruth K. MacDonald has explained, the enumeration of reindeer names imitates the naming of Queen Mab's fairy attendants in Nimphidia by Michael Drayton. The author of "Visit" must be steeped in fairy lore. Livingston knows one fairy, Oberon. Shakespeare's famous king of the fairies appeals to Livingston when he needs the letter "O" as the correct answer to a verbal riddle in one of his Rebus poems, and when he wants a handy figure for the freedom and happiness of childhood.
Master Timmy brisk and airy
Blythe as Oberon the fairy  --Letter sent to Master Timmy Dwight
In the poem to Timmy Dwight, nothing of fairyland graces the youngster's active life as portrayed by Livingston's speaker. Timmy (Tommy in the printed version) plays ball, flies kites, shoots marbles, plays hide-and-seek, and eats like a vulture. The kid's mundane fun and games are sympathetically rendered, but nothing very amazing happens. There's no magic to brighten Timmy's completely earthbound life. No fairies, either. Timmy's imagined playmates are real children, not imaginary friends.

In some poems Livingston introduces gods, goddesses and other elements from classical mythology. However, such creatures as the fluttering Cupids in The Fly function as adornment of a highly artificial setting, one with no pretensions of realism. Livingston's earliest angels, the ones who guard his infant daughter in the 1775 poem On my little Catherine sleeping are by far his best creative inventions. At the age of 27 the soldier and new father still believed in them, and so do we. By contrast, the seraphs of An Invitation to the Country who bless the innocent rural pleasures commended by the speaker are cardboard cut-outs of angels, part of the fabricated set. Here Livingston's angels are no more real than his personified abstractions of Avarice, Ambition, and Dissipation.

Even when dealing with real people and events, Livingston has a hard time keeping personified abstractions out of his writing. In the poem To my little niece Sally Livingston, the merry tune of Sally's favorite songbird (now dead and buried) is said to have charmed an imposing quintuplet of allegorical figures: Labour, Study, Dissipation, Grief, and Ambition.

Excluding very short pieces, Livingston's average word total still is less than half of the 542 total words in "The Night Before Christmas." Livingston saves the narrative mode for fables and satire.  He rarely employs the first person in poetry outside of one or two verse letters, written in the reigning comedic style of Christopher Anstey. From the evidence of available poems on Mary S. Van Deusen's Henry Livingston website, Livingston's range of imagination extends only so far as required by the genre at hand. Livingston's animals, birds, flowers, angels, insects, Cupids, mythical nymphs and graces never spring to life. Rather, they decorate his generic exercises in religious hymns, Rebuses, various pastoral settings, Cavalier love poetry, elegy, epistolary satire, and fable, hanging there like Styrofoam ornaments on a fake Christmas tree.

What about Moore then? In the first place, Clement C. Moore relishes the narrative mode and loves to stretch out. The first offering in Moore's 1844 volume Poems is a long narrative poem by Moore titled "A Trip to Saratoga." In Part II of his superb article There Arose Such a Clatter (published in Common-Place in January 2001, and still accessible online) Stephen Nissenbaum helpfully reads "Saratoga" as light and family-friendly social satire. "Saratoga" exhibits Moore's considerable skill with narrative, while also sharing the father-with-children theme (never developed anywhere in Livingston's poetry) and much of the vocabulary of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." In "Visit" the nameless father (the only one awake on Christmas Eve) flies to the window for a closer look at some trouble out on the lawn. In "Saratoga" the widowed "Henry Mildmay" makes his children run to the open window and close it, to shut out the rapidly approaching thunderstorm:

A Visit from St. Nicholas:
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
A Trip to Saratoga:
"Down with the windows, run, here comes the gust,
Quick, quick, the wind has veer'd—See! what a flash!"
The repeated word "flew" in the Christmas poem occurs twice in Moore's "Saratoga," both times in constructions with parallel syntax as well as diction: 
away they all flew --A Visit from St Nicholas
away they      flew --A Trip to Saratoga
But swift, away, away, the hours they flew --A Trip to Saratoga
So up to the house top the coursers they flew --A Visit from St. Nicholas
Moore wrote more lines of narrative verse in one poem than Livingston wrote lines of poetry. In manuscript, Moore's looooong narrative poem Charles Elphinstone presents an ambitious cosmic allegory of temptation, sin, and redemption: 13,670 total words by Jackson's count, surpassing the count of 12,599 total words in all poems by Henry Livingston combined. The first word is "I" for the Poet, Moore as the Miltonic or Dantean Bard who will narrate the story. The Poet's opening invocation to his Muse acknowledges the awesome power of human imagination to shape "dreams" into something with "real semblance":
And thou, my Guardian Angel, deign to guide
My wand'ring fancy by thy heav'nly power;
And to its dreams such real semblance give
As Truth herself and Reason may approve.
Livingston never aims so high. Reason rules in Livingston's eighteenth century world-view. For Livingston, "fancy" exists to be curbed. Fancy should never wander, never get too real. But Moore's "wand'ring fancy" is the very attribute that allowed him to witness Santa and his reindeer in the snow that moonlit Christmas Eve. The main premise of "Elphinstone," spiritual warfare on earth between the invisible powers of heaven and hell, involves the kind of interaction we find in "The Night Before Christmas" between supposedly real and utterly fantastical elements. Certainly Moore, too, has his limits. He won't mess with Satan in Hell, so he invents a subordinate devil named Cosmocrator. Moore imagines Cosmocrator as "the arch-fiend" on earth to whom Satan sends hordes of "hell-train'd imps" for further orders in the battle for human souls. Cosmocrator is not the anti-Christ, but he might be the anti-Santa Claus.

"Charles Elphinstone" is not the only place where Moore reveals his apprehension of the fantastic in narrative verse. Two pieces in Moore's 1844 anthology Poems describe encounters between a perceptive human and a visitant from the world of fairyland, an elf or sprite. In To the Nymphs of Mount Harmony, an allegory of the Greek struggle for independence, a shepherd meets with a woodland elf who narrates a woeful tale of captivity and oppression by a fiend from hell. In "Nymphs" Moore employs the usual mythology of pastoral poetry more familiarly and adeptly than Livingston ever did. The "wond'ring ear" of Moore's Arcadian shepherd nicely harmonizes with the speaker's famously "wondering eyes" in "The Night Before Christmas." As I said in my first blog-review of Jackson's Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas"?:
It takes a wondering ear to hear talking elves and fairies in the woods, just like it takes wondering eyes to see Santa Claus on the lawn, under the moonlight.  --Computer Error, please try again
In his Apology for Not Accepting an Invitation to a Ball Moore himself narrates the elaborate story of a visitation from fairyland by a diminutive guardian spirit, described as a kind of elf, "far below the human size." Fantastic as the whole story seems, Moore claims to believe it:
Of magic zones and rings you oft have heard,
By faries 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.
Whoever he is, the author of "The Night Before Christmas" needs to believe in magic. And fairies like Santa Claus. Moore does, and how! Including his manuscript Biography of the heart, the word magic occurs at least ten times in Moore's extant poetry. Forms of fairy/fairies occur seven times. The body of poems attributed to Henry Livingston, Jr. on Mary S. Van Deusen's amazing website contains only one instance of "magical," and that occurs in the 1803 Carrier Address which Livingston probably did not write. Of doubtful authorship, the 1803 News-boy's Address to the Patrons of the Political Barometer was more likely written by Isaac Mitchell, editor of the Political Barometer. All five of Livingston's five usages of fairy/fairies refer to Oberon. The most elaborate treatment of Oberon by Livingston takes up four lines of his War Rebus on Cornelia Tappen:
With the King of the fairies that sly jealous sprite
Who sleeps all the day but who gambols all night
Green Caty-dids draw him—a nutshell contains him,
His kingdom a meadow & a dew-drop sustains him.
Although described here with admirable precision and detail, Livingston's Oberon remains, nonetheless, a puzzle-piece who exists for the sake of the Rebus in which he is stuck. On Oberon's orders, Shakespeare's faeries memorably interact with the human characters of A Midsummer Night's Dream (Titania with Bottom; Puck with Lysander and Demetrius) but Livingston's Oberon shows no sign of jumping out of his nutshell carriage to greet the poet or gambol with any human being.

In American literature c. 1823, the preeminent verse fairy tale was Drake's The Culprit Fay, only composed in 1819 and not yet dissected and disparaged by Edgar Allan Poe in the Southern Literary Messenger.

Placing Clement C. Moore where he belongs, in the company of Drake and Halleck as a writer of "familiar verse," Brander Matthews favors Moore's "Visit" over anything of theirs, including "Culprit Fay":
In fact, nothing of Halleck's or Drake's, whether written by either singly or by both in collaboration, has revealed so vigorous a vitality as the charming and fanciful 'Visit from St. Nicholas' of another New Yorker, their contemporary, Clement C. Moore. --Brander Matthews
Deal-Breaker #4: Similes with "like." As shown in a previous post on Eight Great Favorite Expressions of Clement C. Moore, the word like makes a truly great Moore-marker that occurs eight (count 'em) times in "A Visit from St. Nicholas."
One of the best Moore-markers in the world is the word "like" which Moore uses 132 times, at least, to Livingston's 15. Moore employs like most often to construct similes using "like," which Livingston does rarely, as the numbers demonstrate like ringing a bell. [MacDonald P.] Jackson would excuse his neglect of would and should and like in chapter 15 by pointing out that would is treated with high frequency words in chapter 16, should and like with medium-high frequency words in chapter 17. But would and should and like are too useful for differentiating Moore from Livingston to bury in a statistical table where numbers replace words and effectively mask their real identity, meaning, and literary value. In fact, these three words scream, "C.C.M. was here!"
Deal-Breaker # 5: Epic or Homeric similes. All by itself, Deal-Breaker Number Five clinches the authorship of "The Night Before Christmas" for Clement C. Moore. Here's a textbook example of Homeric simile from "A Visit from St. Nicholas" aka "The Night Before Christmas."
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. --Poems by Clement C. Moore


An extended simile elaborated in such detail or at such length as to eclipse temporarily the main action of a narrative work, forming a decorative digression. Usually it compares one complex action (rather than a simple quality or thing) with another: for example, the approach of an army with the onset of storm-clouds. Sometimes called a Homeric simile after its frequent use in Homer 's epic poems, it was also used by Virgil, Milton, and others in their literary epics. --The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
The epic or Homeric simile perceptibly interrupts the excitement and fast flow of "The Night Before Christmas." To keep things fast and light, some newer editions of the Christmas poem actually delete the whole passage, according to "Neal" in a 2006 post on the Literal-Minded blog. (Neal also notes the frequent revision of the distinctive expression "settled our brains" to the more familiar "settled down.") Singular or plural, the word brain, as pointed out in the melvilliana post Settle your brains, is another strong Moore marker. For some a stumbling block, the epic simile likewise supplies "A Visit from St. Nicholas" with one of its most unusual and distinctive features. So, like it or not, the adept use of epic simile distinguishes the Christmas poem from ordinary doggerel.

According to all the available evidence, Henry Livingston, Jr. could not have composed an epic simile to save his soul. As shown above, Livingston did not do narrative verse except in fables and a couple of satirical verse-letters, none of which contains any extended simile of any kind.

Clement C. Moore, on the other hand, regularly employed epic similes. Below are two great examples of epic simile from poems collected in Moore's 1844 volume, Poems. The first occurs in Moore's Verses Addressed to a Lady, originally published over the signature of "L." in The Port Folio for June 1, 1805:
The trickling tears which flow'd at night,
Oft hast thou stay'd, till morning light
Dispell'd my little woes.
So fly before the sunbeam's power
The remnants of the evening shower
Which wet the early rose.  --Moore's To A Lady
Moore's epic simile in "To a Lady" compares the speaker's childhood tears, dried overnight by innocent and restorative sleep, to raindrops on a rose, dried by the morning sun. In "To a Lady" raindrops "fly" like the dry leaves "fly" in "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Raindrops and leaves both fly "before" some overmastering force of nature: the sunbeam, the hurricane.

In the second example, from "Mr. Chilton's Lectures," the structure of the epic simile closely parallels the As this.../So that... form of the same poetic device in "A Visit from St. Nicholas."
For, as a fluid vainly strives to save
A heavier mass from sinking in its wave,
So, in the mind made up of trifles light,
All weighty truths, o'erwhelm'd sink out of sight!  --Mr. Chilton's Lectures
Given this early evidence of Moore's facility in the use of epic simile, his long narrative poem "A Trip to Saratoga" should be chock full them--and so it is. Here are five, by no means all of them:

1. The mental and emotional excitement generated by travel in a fast-moving carriage is compared to the "foam and bubbles" produced in a goblet by the rapid pouring of wine:
While rapid motion, as the carriage flies
Stirs up new life and spirit in the soul,
Just as the mantling foam and bubbles rise
In generous wine that's dash'd into the bowl;—   --A Trip to Saratoga - Part 4
 2. More compares lovely young women with a strong moral center to a weighted, self-balancing toy:
They're like the plaything children call a Witch;
Made of a weight attach'd to somewhat light.
Howe'er you twist or twirl it, toss or twitch,
It has a saving power that brings it right. --A Trip to Saratoga - Part 4
3. Underneath cool exteriors, Latin aristocrats burn with angry passion, like volcanoes covered in snow and ice.
Italian counts and Spanish dons, all cold,
Sedate and grave; but let them rouse with ire,
Like snow-clad mountains, they'll be found to hold
The elements that feed volcanic fire. --A Trip to Saratoga - Part 5
4. Varying the smouldering volcano simile, Moore likens the righteous anger of normally calm intellectual types (like himself, no doubt) to sparks produced by flint and steel. Flint in this figure represents the quiet scholars, steel the idiotic arguments that set them off.
Some tranquil minds were made to shine by dint
Of fools' attacks, that waken'd gen'rous ire ;
As steel elicits from the stricken flint
The sudden brilliance of its secret fire. --A Trip to Saratoga - Part 5
5. Again in "Saratoga," the traveling Mildmays are so happy to be homeward bound they almost want to delay the return trip--like children who would prolong their enjoyment of an appetizing treat by only looking at it.
With such delight our party's minds were fraught,
To think that homeward they were hurl'd again;
Such pleasure 'twas to dwell upon the thought,
They almost wish'd the motion to restrain.
Just as we see a child delay to taste
Some ripe and tempting fruit 'tis wont to prize;
Nor will it to the dainty pleasure haste;
But still puts off the feast, and fondly eyes.   --A Trip to Saratoga - Part 6
In To the Sisters of Charity Moore compares souls of saintly nuns to migrating birds "that seek a better clime":
When death draws near, they gladly hail his power.
And then, like birds that seek a better clime,
On swift untiring wing their spirits rise,
And gladly leave this turbid stream of time.
To take their homeward progress through the skies. --The Sisters of Charity
Another and more complicated bird figure appears in Charles Elphinstone. Here, in what strikes me now as the most exhilarating of his many extended similes, Moore imagines the gravely imperiled soul of George Cadwallader as a bird on the Niagara River, being relentlessly swept toward destruction.
But, from the host of heaven a spirit came,
And snatch'd it from his grasp - and George was sav'd!
A bird, thus, floating on a rapid stream,
Whose violence forbids it to take wing,
Just as it rushes o'er the cataract's brow
To meet destruction in the roaring gulph,
Is caught and borne upon the viewless air,
And, circling, wings its joyous flight aloft.*
* This is said to happen with water fowl on the rapids of Niagara [Moore's note].
--Charles Elphinstone (as transcribed by Mary S. Van Deusen and presented on Henry
Moore's last and best epic simile thus compares the surprising arrival of an angel from heaven to the experience of floating ducks when all of a sudden they find themselves up-borne by air instead of water. Though invisible, "viewless air" is not nothing. It looked like Cosmocrator was going to have poor George in Hell, for sure, but at the last possible moment the angel takes him somewhere better.

Herman Melville himself had to admit, in the Epilogue to Clarel, that even seemingly unreclaimable "stoics" might one day "be astounded into heaven."

Now a century old, the Moore vs. Livingston question seems very like the so-called Shakespeare Authorship Question, where the real experts well know that Will Shakespeare the actor and playwright from Stratford upon Avon wrote those great plays and poems attributed to him, not Francis Bacon or Edward De Vere. With due allowance for Shakespeare's undoubted collaboration(s) with other professional playwrights, knowing academics know for a certainty that Shakespeare was Shakespeare, but they generally don't like arguing with authorship nuts. Working scholars understandably regard authorship discussions, interminable and acrimonious, as a depressing waste of time. On the other hand, authorship debates often provide excellent opportunities for learning, as well as comic relief. From the traditional Stratford end of the SAQ, the Oxfraud website and Oxfraud Public Group on Facebook lovingly invite and make the most of opportunities for fun and enlightenment.


According to his wife, Robert Gracey Denig foretold that
"The Night Before Christmas" will ever be a Shakespeare-Bacon sort of affair. 
Commodore Denig's prophecy represents the best hope Livingston advocates have left, for perpetuating the lie that Henry Livingston, Jr. wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Maybe the distinguished naval officer, engineer, and husband of Livingston descendant Jeannie Livingston Hubbard Denig was right, although possibly he overestimated the durability of once alluring arguments for Francis Bacon as the real author of Shakespeare's works. For a century now, it's been more of a Shakespeare-Oxford sort of affair. Two 1920 articles favored the false claim for Henry Livingston with unduly generous treatments:
  • Winthrop P. Tryon, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Christian Science Monitor, August 4, 1920; and
Coincidentally, the revival of the Livingston claim around 1920 coincides with the publication of J. Thomas Looney's Shakespeare Identified (London, 1920). Every December since then, stories promoting or at least highlighting the case for Livingston's authorship of "The Night Before Christmas" have circulated in popular media. Hereafter, or soon enough, the 100-year-old Oxfordian crusade having played itself out (with a good bit of help from the knowledgeable and gifted authorship obsessives at Oxfraud), Commodore Denig's analogy to the SAQ will have to be revamped by designating a different challenger. We'll need another name in place of Bacon or Oxford. Fill in the blank:
 "The Night Before Christmas" will ever be a Shakespeare-Bacon Shakespeare-Oxford Shakespeare-__________ sort of affair.
Maybe the best alternative claimant for the next hundred years will be Christopher Marlowe. Or, if Sabrina Feldman has her way:
 "The Night Before Christmas" will ever be a Shakespeare-Sackville sort of affair.

Seasonal Help Wanted. Applications now being accepted.

In any event Major Livingston's time is up, like Edward De Vere's, and Bacon's before him. If the SCAQ (Santa Claus Authorship Question) must be always with us, like the poor, then 21st century contrarians will need a new and better rival candidate for the authorship of "The Night Before Christmas." Jonathan Odell, Clement C. Moore's loyalist godfather, ought to be worth a good long look. Rev. Odell was the first Provincial Secretary of New Brunswick, and no mean poet. 
Perhaps Odell’s most powerful satire was “The American times,” which once was attributed to Dr Myles Cooper and which appeared over the pseudonym Camillo Querno. Here the poet calls before him those he holds responsible for the crime of the revolution, namely the fallen angels, who, able temporarily to leave Pandemonium, take on human form and wreak havoc in earthly society. For this device Odell may have been indebted to John Milton. --Dictionary of Canadian Biography
The New Brunswick Museum has a copy of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in the handwriting of Jonathan Odell's daughter, Mary Odell. Problem there is, Mary also copied out other early poems by Clement C. Moore. Wait, could Mary be THE ONE? Move over, Henry! And don't you fret about the 1824 watermark. That can be explained away later.

Obviously I've been holed up all month trying to map out a case for Herman Melville. Can we add "A Visit from St. Nicholas" to the short list of Santa Claus poems by Herman Melville? Bad news: the hard fact of Melville's August 1, 1819 birthday makes him just four years old when "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was first published in Troy. Written at age 3? Far-fetched, I know, even for a brother of Gansevoort Melville. Come to think of it, the most generous and most truly Melvillean angle here would be, after all this fa-la-la, to ascribe the authorship of "The Night Before Christmas" to "S. B." You know, the "Spirit of all Beauty," since
the names of all fine authors are fictitious ones, far more so than that of Junius,—simply standing, as they do, for the mystical, ever-eluding Spirit of all Beauty, which ubiquitously possesses men of genius.--Hawthorne and His Mosses
Ever-eluding? Did he just say, "ever-eluding"? Now that reminds me of something I read in...
Oh, never mind. How many shopping days do we have left?

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