When the author of one of the most popular poems in American history died in 1863, not only was his nation halfway through a devastating civil war, but his city was in turmoil due to the Draft Riots. There could be no greater contrast with the poem that already had embodied cosiness and peace for 40 years. Clement Clarke Moore possibly would have been chagrined that his intellectual achievements are mentioned in this obituary, but that his poetic efforts are represented by one of the least-serious poems he wrote. It is, however, still his best-known—and best-loved—poem.

“Obituary of Clement C. Moore” (from The New York Herald [New York, New York] 19 August 1863; p. 4.)
Death of Prof. Clement C. Moore, LL. D.

Died, July 13, [sic] at Newport, R. I., after a short illness, CLEMENT C. MOORE, of this city, aged 84 years.

Thus was announced a few weeks ago the death of one whose name will live long after him in the minds of the young through many generations, as the writer of the Christmas poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” and who will be long remembered among the learned of the land as a valuable translator and interpretor of Hebrew language, and a profound Biblical scholar.

Clement C. Moore, LL. D., was a son of the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Moore, Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York, and was born at Newtown, Long Island, about the year 1778. In 1799 he graduated as bachelor of arts at Columbia College, and, applying himself to the study of Hebrew, he published in 1809, in two volumes, a Hebrew and English lexicon, with notes, a grammar, and a complete vocabulary of the Psalms. This work stamped him as a Hebrew scholar of the first order, and entitled him to be considered the pioneer in America of Hebrew lexicography. The publication of this work led to a more general study and rendered more easy the cultivation of that ancient language and literature in our theological seminaries. But previous to devoting himself to the prosecution of these higher and profounder studies Mr. Moore had contributed largely to the lighter literature of his day, through the columns of the Port-Folio and other periodicals; and, as a critic, his abilities were shown in a pungent reviewal of contemporary American poetry. On the establishment of a diocesan seminary in New York, Dr. Moore was appointed professor of Biblical learning, the department of interpretation being added, and on the union of the institution with the general theological seminary at New Haven, in 1821, under the name of the “General Protestant Episcopal Seminary,” he was reappointed, with the title of Professor of Hebrew and Greek Literature, which was afterwards changed to “Oriental and Greek Literature.” Of this institution he was indeed himself one of the founders and principal benefactors. To it he made a gift from his family inheritance of the large plot of ground on which the building stands in the city of New York. A princely fortune had descended to him, consisting of land allotments in and about the Sixteenth ward, considerable portions of it lying from Nineteenth street to Twenty-third street, between Ninth and Tenth avenues, now covered with the mansions of some of our wealthiest merchants and capitalists. From the rentals thus accruing, and from his inherited fortune, with the accumulations of a long life, Dr. Moore might be properly considered one of our wealthiest citizens. He retired from the institution with the title of Emeritus Professor, in June, 1850. His published works, apart from those of a scholastic character, consist of a collection of poems and “George Castrol, surnamed Scanderberg, King of Albania.” Several of the poems are of a lively character, while others are of a grave and meditative cast. One of the former character—his well known poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”—will continue to be committed to memory by many successive generations of young Americans, and will live therein, still to conjure up in after years the bright charms that once were theirs, but destined to be enjoyed by the young ones who succeed them as the beneficiaries of benevolent old Santa Claus. It is subjoined:—


’Twas 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 my 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 midday to objects below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

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 housetop 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 looked 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 on 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, in spite 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 filled 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 flew like the down of a thistle;

But I heard them exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

In some lines written in 1823 to Mr. Southey, the English poet laureate, with whom he corresponded, Dr. Moore reveals a portion of his private history, which proves that the happiest condition is not exempt from the common ills of life. Throughout his long life, however, it appears that he passed his years very quietly in the cultivation of learning and in intercourse with a few congenial friends, ultimately passing away after a short and not painful illness.

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