When one looks at the credit for ‘the Night Before Christmas’ one almost always sees the name Clement Clark Moore, but wait! It’s not as cut and dried as you may think. There is a school of thought that holds that Moore had nothing to do with authoring this classic Christmas poem, that the actual author was Henry Livingston. Let’s look closer.
According to the Christmas-tree.com website, TNBC first appeared in a newspaper in Troy, NY in1823. It was published anonymously and as it became more popular, people wanted to know who wrote it. In 1837,Clement Clarke Moore, a biblical scholar from New York City allowed his name to be attached as author and he included it in a book of poems that he published in 1844. Moore explained that he wrote the piece on Christmas Eve, 1823.
One would think this would definitively settle the authorship issue. Think again.
The problem was that for at least 15 years prior to the 1823 publication, in 1808, a group of children had been listening to Henry Livingston read them the poem. And all four of them Charles, the oldest, his next-door-neighbor bride, Eliza, and sons Sidney and Edwin, all remember the event.
Whether Livingston, dead by the time Moore took credit for the poem, would have cared is doubtful. Whether he would have appreciated someone taking credit for his work, is a different matter altogether.
For over 150 years, those who remembered passed on the story to succeeding generations. Descendants collected memories in hopes that some stray thread may be found that could be pulled on and maybe unravel the curtain preventing the story from emerging.
But for all their time and effort, the Livingstons failed to make a strong enough case to put up against the word of the son of the Rector of Trinity Church in New York City.
There was no smoking gun. The Livingston original burned in a fire in Wisconsin. What it took was someone who could look at the problem from a completely new point of view, a literary detective named Don Foster.
If you would like to receive email updates when new articles are posted, please click the "subscribe" button at the top of the page.
If you enjoyed this article, please check my Examiner page here.