Clement Clarke Moore

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Clement Clarke Moore
The Author of 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' - Clement C. Moore crop.png
Born (1779-07-15)July 15, 1779
New York City
Died July 10, 1863(1863-07-10) (aged 83)
Newport, Rhode Island

Clement Clarke Moore (July 15, 1779 – July 10, 1863) was an American Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature, as well as Divinity and Biblical Learning, at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in New York City. Located on land donated by the "Bard of Chelsea" himself, the seminary still stands today on Ninth Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets, in an area known as Chelsea Square. Moore's connection with that institution continued for over twenty-five years. He is the author of the yuletide poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas", which later became famous as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas".

Life and career[edit]

Moore was born on July 15, 1779, to Bishop Benjamin Moore – who headed the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and was twice the president of Columbia College[1] – and Charity Clarke, whose father, Major Thomas Clarke, owned the Manhattan estate "Chelsea" where Moore was born. This estate would later pass to Charity Clarke and then to Moore, but he grew up in the Moore family residence in Elmhurst, Queens.[2] He was a graduate of Columbia College (1798), where he earned both his B.A. and his M.A..

One of Moore's earliest known works was an anonymous pro-Federalist pamphlet published prior to the 1804 presidential election, attacking the religious views of Thomas Jefferson (the incumbent president and Democratic-Republican candidate).[3] His polemic, titled in full Observations upon Certain Passages in Mr. Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, which Appear to Have a Tendency to Subvert Religion, and Establish a False Philosophy, focused on Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (1785), which Moore concluded was an "instrument of infidelity".[4]

In 1820, Moore helped Trinity Church organize a new parish church, St. Lukes in the Fields, on Hudson Street,[5] He later gave 66 tracts of land – his apple orchard – to the Episcopal Diocese of New York to be the site of the General Theological Seminary. Moore had written a Hebrew lexicon,[1] and was made professor of Biblical learning at the Seminary, a post that he held until 1850.[6]

Despite his objections to the Commissioner's Plan of 1811, which ran the new Ninth Avenue through the middle of his estate, Moore began the development of Chelsea with the help of James N. Wells, dividing it up into lots along Ninth Avenue and selling them to well-heeled New Yorkers.[5] Covenants in the deeds of sale specified what could be built on the land – stables, manufacturing and commercial uses were forbidden – as well as architectural details of the buildings.[7]

From 1840 to 1850, he was a board member of the New York Institution for the Blind at 34th Street and Ninth Avenue, which is now the New York Institute for Special Education. He compiled a Hebrew and English Lexicon (1809), and published a collection of poems (1844). Upon his death in 1863 at his summer residence in Newport, Rhode Island, his funeral was held in Trinity Church, Newport, where he had owned a pew. Then his body was interred in the cemetery at St. Luke in the Fields. On November 29, 1899, his body was reinterred in Trinity Church Cemetery in New York.

Moore opposed the abolition of slavery, and owned several slaves during his lifetime.[8]

A rendering of the Mansion House of the Chelsea estate by Moore's daughter, Mary C. Ogden. made for the first color edition of A Visit from St. Nicholas (1855)

Chelsea[edit]

Moore's estate, Chelsea, was on the west side of Manhattan island above Houston Street, where the developed city ended at the time, and was mostly open countryside.[5] It was once the property of Maj. Thomas Clarke, Clement's maternal grandfather and a retired British veteran of the French and Indian War. Clarke named his house for a hospital in London that served war veterans. The estate was later inherited by Thomas Clarke's daughter, Charity Clarke Moore, and ultimately by grandson Clement and his family.

When New York City laid down the street grid called for in the Commissioner's Plan of 1811, the new Ninth Avenue went through the middle of the estate, causing Moore to write and publish a pamphlet which called on other "Proprietors of Real Estate" to fight the continued development of the city, which he saw as a conspiracy designed to increase political patronage and appease the city's working class. He also decried having to pay taxes for public works such as creating new streets, which he called "a tyranny no monarch in Europe would dare to exercise."[5]

Despite his protests against urban development, eventually Moore began to develop Chelsea, dividing it up into lots along Ninth Avenue and selling them to well-heeled New Yorkers. He also donated to the Episcopal diocese an apple orchard consisting of 66 tracts for use as a seminary, construction on which began in 1827. This became the General Theological Seminary, where Moore served as the first professor of Oriental Languages, and which still survives on the same site, taking up most of the block between 20th and 21st Streets and Ninth and Tenth Avenues. Ten years later, Moore also gave land on Ninth and 20th Street, east of the avenue, for St. Peter's Episcopal Church.[5]

Townhouses in Chelsea; much of this Manhattan neighborhood was originally part of Moore's country estate

Today, the Manhattan neighborhood which emerged from Moore's ancestral estate is still called Chelsea.

Family[edit]

Clement Clarke Moore penned his famous poem on a visit from Santa while visiting his cousin, Mary McVicker at Constable Hall in what is now Constableville, NY.

As a girl, Moore's mother, Charity Clarke, wrote letters to her English cousins that are preserved at Columbia University and show her disdain for the policies of the English Monarchy and her growing sense of patriotism in pre-revolutionary days.

Clement Clarke Moore's wife, Catharine Elizabeth Taylor, was of English and Dutch descent being a direct descendant of the Van Cortlandt family, once the major landholders in the lower Hudson Valley of New York.

The Moore children have several living descendants including members of the Ogden family. In 1855, one of Clement's daughters, Mary C. Moore Ogden, painted "illuminations" to go with her father's celebrated verse.

A Visit from St. Nicholas[edit]

The poem, "arguably the best-known verses ever written by an American",[9] was first published anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823, having been sent there by a friend of Moore,[10] and was reprinted frequently thereafter. The poem was first attributed in print to Moore in 1837. Moore himself acknowledged authorship when he included it in the 1844 anthology of his works Poems, [11] at the insistence of his children, for whom he had originally written the piece. Moore had not wished at first to be connected with the unscholarly verse, given his public reputation as an erudite professor. By then, the original publisher and at least seven others had already acknowledged his authorship. The poem was penned earlier at Constable Hall while visiting his cousin, Mary McVicker, in what is now known as Constableville, NY.

A Visit from St. Nicholas is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and the tradition that he brings toys to children. Prior to the poem, American ideas about St. Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors varied considerably. The poem has influenced ideas about St. Nicholas and Santa Claus beyond the United States to the rest of the English-speaking world and beyond. Remarkably, the folk image of Santa Claus derived from Moore's famous poem bears little resemblance to the figure pictured therein: clad entirely in fur, covered with ashes and soot from his passage through innumerable chimneys, sporting a cherry nose, puffing intently on his "stump of a pipe", his head encircled by pipe smoke.

Most remarkably, the scale of St. Nicholas and company envisioned by Moore has been completely overlooked in the popular mind. The sleigh in the poem is "miniature", the eight reindeer "tiny" with "each little hoof", and St. Nicholas himself a jolly old elf, described as "little" three times (little old driver, little mouth, little round belly). Thus to Moore the mystery that has perplexed children and parents alike for generations—how does Santa slide down and rise back up the narrow openings of sooty chimneys—was no mystery at all. How little? "The influence of Shakespeare and Michael Drayton influenced the [image] of Elf and Fairy [as] very small beings to become the norm. In Victorian literature elves usually appeared in illustrations as tiny men with pointed ears and stocking caps." The only remaining mystery is how St. Nicholas (never Santa Claus in the poem) was metamorphosed from a human-size being into a tiny elf, and how he acquired the sleigh and reindeer team to match. In another radical departure of Christmas folklore from Moore's vision, his poem makes no mention that the sleigh can fly over the rooftops. That leaves the mystery of how he visits every child's home on Christmas Eve even greater than in the popular version.

Since 1911 the Church of the Intercession in Manhattan has held a service that includes the reading of the poem followed by a procession to the tomb of Clement Clarke Moore at Trinity Cemetery the Sunday before Christmas.[12][13]

Moore's connection with the poem has been questioned by Professor Donald Foster, who used textual content analysis and external evidence to argue that Moore could not have been the author.[14] Foster believes that Major Henry Livingston, Jr., a New Yorker with Dutch and Scottish roots, should be considered the chief candidate for authorship, a view long espoused by the Livingston family. Livingston was distantly related to Moore's wife.[14] Foster's claim, however, has been countered by document dealer and historian Seth Kaller, who once owned one of Moore's original manuscripts of the poem. Kaller has offered a point-by-point rebuttal of both Foster's linguistic analysis and external findings, buttressed by the work of autograph expert James Lowe and Dr. Joe Nickell, author of Pen, Ink and Evidence.[15][16][17] There is no proof that Livingston himself ever claimed authorship, nor has any record ever been found of any printing of the poem with Livingston’s name attached to it.

Clement Clarke Moore Park[edit]

Clement Clarke Moore Park

Clement Clarke Moore Park, located at 10th Avenue and 22nd Street, is named after Moore. The playground there opened November 22, 1968, and it was named in memory of Clement Clarke Moore by local law the following year. The 1995 renovations to Clement Clarke Moore Park included a new perimeter fence, modular play equipment, safety surfacing, pavements and transplanted trees. This park is a well-liked and in-demand playground area used daily by local residents, who also gather there on the last Sunday of Advent for a reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas.[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ a b Nevius, Michelle and Nevius, James. Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City. New York: Free Press, 2009. ISBN 141658997X, pp.51-52
  2. ^ A Woman Ready to Fight, New York Newsday, by George DeWan
  3. ^ Collins, Paul (2006)."Jefferson's Lump of Coal"The New York Times, 24 December 2006. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  4. ^ Dickinson W. Adams (ed.), Jefferson's Extracts from the Gospels: "The Philosophy of Jesus" and "The Life and Morals of Jesus" (Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 12, citing Clement C. Moore, Observations upon Certain Passages in Mr. Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, which Appear to Have a Tendency to Subvert Religion, and Establish a False Philosophy (New York, 1804), p. 29.
  5. ^ a b c d e Burrows and Wallace, p.447
  6. ^ New International Encyclopedia
  7. ^ Regier, Hilda. "Chelsea" in Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. (1995). The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300055366. , p.209
  8. ^ Samuel W. Patterson, The Poet of Christmas Eve: A Life of Clement Clarke Moore, 1779-1863, (New York: Morehouse-Gorman Co, 1956)
  9. ^ Burrows & Wallace, pp.462-463
  10. ^ Burrows, Edwin G. & Wallace, Mike. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. pp. 462-463 ISBN 0-19-511634-8
  11. ^ Siefker, Phyllis (1997). Santa Claus,. McFarland & Company. p. 4. ISBN 0-7864-0246-6. 
  12. ^ The New York Times December 25, 1930
  13. ^ New York Times December 22, 1917
  14. ^ a b Foster believes "Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748–1828) Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas", Representative Poetry Online
  15. ^ Kaller, Seth. "The Authorship of The Night Before Christmas," http://www.sethkaller.com/about/educational/tnbc/#ch1
  16. ^ Lowe, James. “A Christmas to Remember: A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Autograph Collector. January 2000. 26-29.
  17. ^ Nickell, Joe. “The Case of the Christmas Poem.” Manuscripts, Fall 2002, 54;4:293-308; Nickell, Joe. “The Case of the Christmas Poem: Part 2.” Manuscripts, Winter 2003, 55;1:5-15.
  18. ^ New York City Department of Parks & Recreation: Clement Clarke Moore Park
Bibliography
General
"A Visit from St. Nicholas"
  • Stedman, Edmund Clarence, An American Anthology (Boston, 1900)
  • Observations upon Certain Passages in Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson's Notes on Virginia which Appear to have a Tendency to Subvert Religion, and Establish A False Philosophy (New York, 1804).
  • "The Night Before Christmas", New York Sentinel on December 23. The original publisher hinted at Moore’s authorship in 1829. Moore was first credited as author by Charles Fenno Hoffman, ed., The New-York Book of Poetry (New York: George Dearborn, 1837)
  • Nickell, Joe. "The Case of the Christmas Poem." Manuscripts, Fall 2002, 54;4:293-308, and Manuscripts, Winter 2003, 55;1:5-15
  • Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday (New York: Vintage, 1996)
  • Kaller, Seth T. “The Moore Things Change…,” The New-York Journal of American History, Fall 2004

External links[edit]