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A Visit From St. Nicholas

June 2024
3min read

Illustrated with late-nineteenth-century magic-lantern slides Together with a brief inquiry into a Christmas mystery

’T was the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; The children were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;


And Mamma in her “kerchief, and I in my cap, Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap; When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. Away to the window I flew like a flash, Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. The moon, on the breast of the new-fallen snow, Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below, When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer, With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick. More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name; “Now, Dasher !, now, Dancer ! now, Prancer and Vixen ! On, Comet ! on, Cupid ! on, Donder and Blitzen ! To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!” 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. And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof The prancing and pawing of each little hoof— As I drew in my head, and was turning around, Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back, And he look’d like a pedlar just opening his pack. His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow; The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath; He had a broad face and a little round belly That shook, when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed, when I saw him, inspite of myself; A wink of his eye and a twist of his head, Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread; He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And fill’d all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, And laying his finger aside of his nose, And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose; He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all Hew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


Asked to expatiate briefly on the controversy over whether “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was authored by Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) or by Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828), our associate editor and resident poet Richard F. Snow (1947— ) had an anapestic seizure and produced the following:

We would not vex our readers, in this genial season, With wearisome quibbles, except for this reason: The poem you’ve just read may not be by the dour Professor of languages, Clement Clarke Moore! Henry Livingston, Jr., a genial sort Enjoyed his religion, and children, and port, Madeira and Christmas, and writing light verse In the anapest meter. Moore could have been worse At this verse form, but Henry was rather more fluent; Wrote poem after poem in this meter, pursuant To the doings of children; while Moore usually chose Stately iambics and Johnsonian prose. Henry found that some rhymes seemed especially good, And put them to paper whenever he could, Such as “jelly” and “belly”—which appear in the poem That Moore was supposed to have written at home To delight his small children. The difficulty’s That the poem first surfaced anonymously— Moore chose not to claim it till Henry was dead; But later a Livingston granddaughter said Her grandpa had written it; and now who can say? No original copy is extant today. So let’s leave them both, Henry so jolly and facile In verse, Moore a sober and taciturn vassal To iambs and language. They both were good men, And we have no real quarrel with either of them; And now that our small controversy is through, The best of this excellent season to you!


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