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Clement Moore and the Night before Christmas

Clement Moore was born into a wealthy New York Patrician family, 15 July 1779, in the midst of the American Revolution. His family had Tory sympathies (were opposed to the revolution), but this did not seem to hurt their standing as the new United States emerged.

Independently wealthy, Moore was able to endow colleges. He had an academic bent and procured a part-time professorship of Greek and Oriental Languages at the General Theological Seminary. There he wrote 4 volumes on the "Lexicon of the Hebrew Language". He married in 1813 to Catharine Elizabeth Taylor . She gave him several children. Husband and wife were both intimately involved in charitable works. It had been the practice of Mrs. Moore to cook turkeys for Christmas dinner for surrounding poor families. On a particular Christmas in 1822 she found herself one turkey short. Clement Moore offered to go to the butcher to pick up the missing turkey. It was a bit of a ride from his estate, so while in the hired carriage he indulged his poetic muse and quickly wrote out "Twas the Night before Christmas" or as it is also known "A Visit from St. Nicholas".

He had written many poems before, and would write more later, but none would come to be as famous as this whimsical poem that caught the imagination of Christmas revelers throughout the English-speaking world. "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is written in anapestic tetrameter (two short and one emphasized syllables repeated four times per line), which gives it a lively and rhythmical tone, perfect for describing the snug and cozy, yet anticipatory feel of the holiday. He read the poem to his children that evening at dinner and found it to be a great success.

A family member who was visiting copied the poem into her journal and brought it with her to Troy, and it ended up getting printed in the 23 December 1824 issue of the Troy Sentinel. But the poem was published anonymously. Other newspapers throughout the East picked up the work and reprinted it. It soon found its way into any number of anthologies and almanacs. It's popularity as a Christmas staple became so pervasive that people were soon searching out the author. Clement Moore soon acknowledged his work and even had it printed in a collection of his own poetry.

Clement Moore was honored for his work for the remainder of his life as a scholar, philanthropist and poet. He died in 1863 during the throws of the American Civil War. Although he was not a controversial figure during his lifetime his character has been assailed since. A few historical revisionists have disputed Moore's authorship. Nevertheless, Don Foster's arguments for placing the actual authorship of the poem at the feet of Henry Livingston Jr. are effectively demolished in Stephen Nissenbaum's book, "The Battle for Christmas".

For most people today, Clement Moore and "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is a staple of the holiday season. The poem has withstood age and societal change. Books and reprints of the poem, parodies, mimics and more come out every year. Artists create whole portfolios based on the fanciful images first put to paper in vivid words by Clement Moore. -----

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