Troy's Community Newsletter

A Visit From St. Nicholas - About the Poem & Poet

"Not until St. Nicholas passed through the crucible of Dr. Clement Clark Moore's mind did the patron saint of childhood ever ride in a sleigh or have eight tiny reindeer or dress in furs or..." [Hoskins "Life" in Moore, Clement Clarke. The Night Before Christmas: The True Story of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" with a Life of the Author Clement C. Moore." Encyclopedia Britannica, 1933.]. Tradition holds that a family friend, Miss Harriet Butler, sent it anonymously to the Troy Sentinel a year later. This caused Moore much chagrin and regret, such that he delayed admitting authorship for fifteen years.

Dr. Moore was himself a dour, straitlaced academician. As a professor of classics at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, Clement C. Moore's most notable work prior to "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was a two-volume tome entitled A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language.

Legend has it that Moore composed "A Visit from St. Nicholas" for his family on Christmas Eve of 1822, during a sleigh-ride home from Greenwich Village. He supposedly drew inspiration for the elfin, pot-bellied St. Nick in his poem from the roly-poly Dutchman who drove his sleigh that day. But from what we know of Clement Moore, it's much more likely to suppose that he drew his imagery from literary sources, most notably Washington Irving's Knickerbocker History (1809) and a Christmas poem published in 1821 called "The Children's Friend."

"The Children's Friend," a poem for young people, harkened from the same tradition but also added some new elements to the "Santeclaus" myth: the first known references to a sleigh and reindeer. The poem begins:

Old Santeclaus with much delight
His reindeer drives this frosty night.
O'er chimney tops, and tracks of snow,
To bring his yearly gifts to you...

Moore, stodgy creature of academe that he was, refused to have the poem published despite its enthusiastic reception by everyone who read it. Evidently his argument that it was beneath his dignity fell on deaf ears, because the following Christmas "A Visit from St. Nicholas" found its way into the mass media after all when a family member cunningly submitted it to an out-of-town newspaper (The Troy Sentinel). The poem was an "overnight sensation," as we would say today, but Moore was not to acknowledge authorship of it until fifteen years later, when he reluctantly included it in a volume of collected works. He called the poem "a mere trifle." The Record (today's Troy Sentinel) reprints the poem every year with a brief bio of the author and the poem's origins.

Information obtained from various Web sources

In cooperation with Troy United Ink Corp., a not-for-profit corporation
Items published herein do not necessarily represent the opinions of Troy United Ink Corp., its officers or it's Board of Directors.

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