Monday, December 23, 2013

"A mere trifle"

Chester Pike at Gardner Ave. looking east toward Darby about 1906.

  Through out his life, Clement Clark Moore never really understood what all the commotion was all about. After all the poem had taken just an hour to write. A graduate of Columbia University, at the head of his class, he got a job as professor of Oriental and Greek Literature at what is now, New York University. He got the job after the publication of his book, Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language. Moore also spoke German, Italian, French, Greek and Latin.     
    Married to Catherine Taylor in 1813, by December of 1822 they had 5 children and Moore, a well respected scholar at school, liked to compose poetry for his wife and children on special occasions. He promised his six year old daughter, Charity a "special" poem for Christmas Eve of 1822. Going thru several books, including  Knickerbockers, History of New York and  an anonymous book, The Children's Friend, Moore using his own ideas too, wrote, "Twas the night before Christmas" which was read to the family after dinner.
      It was Moore's poem that had Santa coming down the chimney, having stockings hung and naming all the reindeer etc. Charity loved her poem, of course, so much she shared it with a family friend, Harriet Butler of Troy, New York. Harriet loved the story and Charity swore her to secrecy to never tell anyone that her father, Clement Clark Moore, had written it. As a respected professor he would be laughed at, if people knew he wrote children's poetry. Harriet sent the poem anonymously to the editor of the Troy Sentinel newspaper who published the poem in their Christmas edition in 1823. From there the poem took off like wildfire, published in 100's of papers across the country for the next 15 years.
    Moore was horrified and swore his family to secrecy, afraid he would become the laughing stock among his "scholarly friends". When other people began to claim they had written the poem, Moore finally allowed his name to be used as the author in 1837. But "Twas the Night before Christmas " did capture, the innocence, wonder and simple belief of childhood  perfectly over 195 years ago as it does today. He was asked to write the poem out in his own hand 100's of times and almost always refused. Only two copies are known to exist in his own writing.  Moore would never understand what all the fuss was about and considered his scholarly works much more important. As Moore himself once wrote to a friend, the poem was " just a mere trifle, one that had been found to afford far greater pleasure than what was by myself, esteemed of more worth".
    May all my readers have a wonder and safe Holiday Season !!

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