EVERYONE WHO LOVES TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS WILL ENJOY THIS NEW CHRISTMAS BOOK
EVERYONE WHO LOVES TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS WILL ENJOY THIS NEW CHRISTMAS BOOK
What inspired Clement Clarke Moore to write the poem - Twas The Night Before Christmas ?
Moore was a father of five young children and legend has it that he wrote the poem to present to his children and other members of his family for Christmas Eve 1822. There have been fictionalized telling of how he drew inspiration for the character of St. Nick from a man who worked on his father's property. It has also been written that he wrote the poem as promised for a sickly daughter. Moore only kept a diary for the last five years of his life and makes no mention in his notes on the circumstances of how the poem came to be read aloud to his family home of Chelsea two hundred years ago this year - 2022. There are four hand-written and signed copies of the poem in Moore's own hand and on one of them he does mention the inspirational character of the associated with his father's estate. Moore did not take credit for the writing of the poem until years after it first appeared in the Troy Sentinel newspaper and he neither wrote the poem for fame or fortune, being both a humble man by nature, a scholar and serious academic and also very well off due to his family's significant land holdings in 18 and 19th. century New York.
Why has the poem - Twas The Night Before Christmas endured and become what is arguable the most famous poem in the library of English literature?
"First off it has endured because it is really quite splendid. It has been called a "masterpiece of juvenile fiction" a designation I agree with. It is also cheerful and endearing with no mention of the "naughty or nice" concept or threat of punishment for children who were found taxing on adult nerves. It was written for children and delights with tiny imaginative characters who serve to amuse. The poem is a breeze to remember and recite but as important is the fact that it is introduced in early childhood and associated with the "merriest time of the year". It is woven into the very fabric of Christmas Eve celebrations and has been for 200 years. It has been handed down from generation to generation. Many grandparents, who loved it themselves in childhood, thoroughly enjoy introducing it to grandchildren. The poem finds a new audience each and every year and is likely to do so for many generations to come. Although it was written 200 years ago the language, albeit for a few words or phrases, are relevant. Twas The Night Before Christmas is considered to be the most read, most recited, and most collected poem ever written in the English language because it is kind, benevolent and highly creative and speaks to the promise of faith if only we believe. There is no "if" or doubt that Santa Claus will visit - for surely he is on his way. The poem also reads well as written with only a few words dating the poem - which are easily altered.
There have been thousands of editions of the poem printed over the years. Which ones are your favorites and why ?
I am very partial to the edition by Everett Shinn (1942) as I think he captures spectacularly the movement inherent in the language of the poem. I also love the work of F.O.C. Darely and his edition of the poem is perhaps the closest to being the "quintessential" version. Darley was an immense talent and he is often referred to as the "father of American illustration". His edition of the poem was enjoyed by President Theodore Roosevelt as a young child, who in turn read this edition to his children and then his grandchildren. I also love the edition my father gave me when I was four which has a cutout design and flocking on the cover - illustrated by Florence Winship. The illustration I choose for the cover was from a relatively unknown artist - Helen Chamberlin. I loved the kindness displayed in her depiction of Santa Claus. Many women illustrators are represented in my new book Twas The Night - The Art and History of the Classic Christmas Poem. In researching the poem I found it fascinating that in the 19th. century illustration was one of the few acceptable career paths for women. Many started out hand coloring for newspapers or fashion plates and then moved into the field of illustration. The great artist Howard Pyle specified that half of the students accepted into his art classes were to be women. Jessie Willcox Smith became a highly acclaimed artist/illustrator in her life and illustrated the poem in 1912. She had been a publc of Howard Pyle. During the Golden Age of Illustration Gertrude Kaye also rose to great heights and illustrated Sarah Addington's The Boy Who Lived in Pudding Lane. This story about young Santa Claus has several illustrations by Kaye and are simply wonderful. She did not illustrate Twas The Night unfortunate.
Norman Rockwell, Joseph Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth, along with Andy Warhol and Maxfield Parrish are represented in your new book on the art and history of the poem. What role did they play in the poem ?
One of the most fascinating aspects of the research I did on the poem was discovering how many of the great American fine or commercial artists were inspired by the poem. Some of these artists painted the character for advertisements from socks to furnaces and added to the popularity of the poem and its central character. Sundblom's Santa for Coca Cola are perhaps the most well known but there were many others who contributed to the development of the character who came much earlier than he. Norman Rockwell did not illustrate the poem but created a painting named after the poem - the poem recently sold in excess of half a million USD/.
Which editions are the most sought after in terms of valuation ?
The hand-written manuscripts, of which there are four, are the most valuable by a long shot. Selling for hundreds of thousands with one offered in a Christmas catalogue for $750,000USD.
The early edition by Darley is exceedingly rare and highly sought after. The original drawings and illustrations by Jessie Willcox, by Nast, and others are also prize items in collections. Several museums and libraries have serious collections of the poem and there are also a handful of major private collections. Constable Hall Museum in Constableville has a connection with the poem and is currently building a collection and accepting donations or vintage editions with a specific interest in the second half of the 19th. century. Mary Constable was Moore's first cousin and the family has long held to the view that at one time Moore visited the home of his cousin and that a signed manuscript of the poem had been in their posession. This copy has never been found.
What is known about Clement Clarke Moore ?
As a historian I really enjoyed researching the life and times of Clement Clarke Moore and his ancestors. The notorious Lady Affleck turned out to be his first cousin on his mother's side of the family. I also found his connection through working with geneology charts with the puritan Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallett. Clement Clarke Moore was a graduate of Columbia, a professor at the General Theological Seminary, a wealthy land-owner and philanthropist. His wife died in her 30s and he was left to raise their eight children with the help of his mother Charity Moore until her own passing. He was very well educated and a man interested in Opera, in music, in literature and devoted to his faith. He by accounts was a generous, kind and humble man and abit of an eccentric. There are numerous portraits of him painted throughout his life and one known photograph which is printed in my new book. It was a thrilling day when I discovered the image as I do not think it has been published to any other book on Moore. There has never before been a biography written on the man that goes into the depth that I have and more still remains to be written on his life. The Moore family continues to hold in their position and personal collections portraits of Moore, his wife and other family members. Someday they may find their way into public collections for all to see and appreciate.
Washington Irving and Charles Dickens were also instrumental in developing Christmas literature and Clement Clarke Moore would have been aware of these authors. What influence did these other works have on the development of Christmas ? It has been said that Dickens invented Christmas what are your thoughts ?
It can be said that Washington Irving was the first to introduce the concept of St. Nicholas flying over the rooftops of American homes in his Knickerbocker - A History of New York which was published before Dicken's Christmas stories or Moore's Christmas poem. Dickens Christmas Carol comes twenty years after the first publication of Twas The Night and although very influential on Christmas traditions it can not rightfully be given credit for inventing Christams per se. In fact all of these works were centuries in the making and some credit must be laid at the feet of the crafters of the legend of St. Nicholas himself. Washington Irving was incredibly humourous and rightly earned the title of being the first American author to earn an international readership ( Benjamin Franklin man of letters aside) . All of these writes contributed to the development of Christmas customs. All three popularized the holiday more so than anyone else.
In researching the book were there any surprises?
As I afforded myself ten years to work on this book I was able to follow many paths of inquiry of which some were surprisingly rewarding. Discovering Constable Hall and the connection to the poem and the life of the William Constable family was fascinating. Discoverying that family geneology and the connection Moore had to the early American settlers was also of great interest. One of the most interesting pursuits was the issue of the Moore's and their connection to the ownership of slaves on their property and other financial interests. In reviewing the evidence it was clear that Clement Clarke Moore's father and paternal grandparents did own slaves Clement Clarke Moore did not. The benefit of modern research enabled this to be confirmed.
Toronto Christmas Show 2012. My book made it on the amazon #1 bestseller list in the category of American Poetry for December and I was al smiles.