December 20, 2006

Clement Moore, Nevermore!

It is becoming more and more clear to a growing number of poets and scholars that Clement Moore did NOT pen "A Visit From St. Nicholas."

I believe that the true author was one Henry Livingston, Jr., and several papers are going to post the 2006 ASLAN Christmas Commentary, which includes the aside that Clement Moore plagiarized the famous poem. To read the case for Livingsont you can read an excerpt from Chapter 6 ( Yes, Virginia, there was a Santa Claus) of Don Foster's book, which caused quite a stir in the literary world.

The highlight of my St. Nicholas Eve this year (Western calendar...) was an email conversation with Mrs. Mary S. Van Deusen a descendant of Mr. Livingston's. In one of her e-mails she wrote, speaking of why Moore, a Hebrew and Greek scholar at an Episicopalian Seminary, would take credit for something not his own:

As for the point about Moore and his children, my impression is that he loved them deeply. He clearly had a Christmas poem for them every year. I think it's just that one Christmas he slipped up and took credit for something the governess brought along. Then, when it went too public, he didn't know how to get out of the embarrassing situation.

I have no children, so I have no good expertise to bring to this. Apparently Moore's heavy hand didn't result in model children. His sons had reputations for chasing the maids. His daughter adored him, but that's the norm I think for fathers and daughters. And girls tend more to try to be good little girls and meet father's expectations. Clearly when the poem started becoming famous, his children were extremely proud of him. I often think how frightened he must have been of being caught by these loved children. It's actually very sad.
As Frost said (paraphrase/from memory) "Knowing how way leads on to way...."

How easy to continue a little white lie -- except that in this case it has turned into one of history's BIGGEST LIES.

That is the lie of the 20th Century Santa Claus, as he has been portrayed for a least the last 50 years in popular culture and now, due to the adverts and merchandizers of US companies, all over the world.

I wrote in the 2006 essay that Livingston might have destroyed the unknown little poem if he could have seen how the Santa cult has replaced Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the center of Christmas expectations for so many people. If Mrs. Van Duesen, herself a writer, responds to this, I shall let ASLaN fans know.

No comments: