Friday, December 24, 2010

Twas the Night Before Christmas

In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore penned the lines of the classic Christmas poem, "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," which begins with the immortal lines:
"Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, 
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."
Publication History

The poem was first published anonymously in The Troy Sentinel on December 23, 1823. Many of the features that we now associate with Santa Claus, including his appearance, the night of his visit, and his eight reindeer, originate with the lines of this well-loved poem. It was frequently republished in succeeding years, although it was not until 1837 that The New-York Book of Poetry first published the poem with Moore identified as the author.

The New-York Book of Poetry (1837), edited by Charles Fenno Hoffman. Moore's Christmas poem appears on p. 217.
Reindeer Names

The 1837 edition, edited by Charles Fenno Hoffman, is also notable for changing the spelling of two of the reindeer names from "Dunder and Blixem" to "Donder and Blixen." When Clement Moore issued his own book of poems in 1844, he further altered "Blixen" to "Blitzen," the spelling which is usually seen today.

The First Independent Publication

The Clements Library is fortunate to possess one of the few known copies of the first independent publication of the poem: A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore, with original cuts designed and engraved by Boyd (New York, Henry M. Onderdonck, 1848). Two other copies are described in the 1964 "The Night Before Christmas": An Exhibition Catalogue, one of which is now in the New York University Fales Library and Special Collections.

Theodore C. Boyd did the woodcuts that illustrate the volume, and his model for St. Nicholas is reported to have been a local Dutch handyman. Although somewhat different from our modern concept of Santa Claus, the illustrations are clearly a recognizable precursor.

The poem closes with: "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night." The first known appearance of "Merry Christmas" in the poem was in an 1862 edition published by James G. Gregory.

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night"
Other Editions

The Clements book collection includes several other 19th century printings of the poem, which vary greatly in size and style. One version printed in the 1860s, only four inches tall, is an accordion-style book:
Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night, by Clement C. Moore (1860s).
Another late 19th century version is lavishly illustrated with chromolithographs:
Visit of St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore (late 19th century).
The multiple editions of this poem provide evidence of its enduring popularity in American culture. Even today, it continues to be reprinted, adapted and parodied in many forms, from literature to music to film. Spoof versions have included James Thurber's "A Visit from St. Nicholas in the Ernest Hemingway Manner," which originally appeared in The New Yorker, December 24, 1927.

Further reading:
  1. "The Night Before Christmas": An Exhibition Catalogue. Compiled by George H.M. Lawrence; foreword by Anne Lyon Haight. Pittsburgh: The Pittsburgh Bibliophiles, 1964.
  2., a large collection of scans of historical editions of the poem.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From the Stacks: Jefferson's Library

"I cannot live without books." ~ Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson's Libraries is a project based at Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia, to compile information about Jefferson's libraries and his books. Jefferson read extensively and collected many books over his lifetime. In 1815, he sold a collection of books to Congress to replace the library burned by the British during the War of 1812.

Books once owned by Jefferson are now held in many different institutions across the country. This project reunites them in the virtual world. Researchers can search Thomas Jefferson's Library, part of the Libraries of Early America project in Librarything. This catalog contains entries for "the books Thomas Jefferson owned, desired to own, read, recommended or presented to others throughout his lifetime." It currently includes over 5,000 entries, drawn from sources such as Jefferson's book lists, auction catalogs, and correspondence.

Included are 29 titles from Jefferson's library now owned by the William L. Clements Library. These may be found in LibraryThing with notes added by the Jefferson Libraries project about each book's provenance and history. Below, links to the catalog entries in the Clements Library catalog:

Vertot, abbé de. The history of the revolutions that happened in the government of the Roman Republic (London, 1721). Clements Library has vol. 1 only.

Jefferson, Thomas, A manual of parliamentary practice (Washington, D.C., 1801)

Sampson, William, Memoirs of William Sampson (New York, 1807)

Dufief, N.G., Dictionnaire nouveau et universel (Philadelphia, 1810)

Tracts Physic (bound volume of pamphlets):
  1. Pope, Joseph, [Manuscript letter and nine manuscript essays on scientific subjects] [181-?]
  2. Cuvier, Georges, Analyse des travaux de la classe des sciences mathématiques et physiques de l'Institut Imperial, pendant l'année 1812 (Paris, 1813)
  3. Clinton, DeWitt, An introductory discourse, delivered before the Literary and Philosophical Society of New-York (New York, 1815)
  4. Journal de physique, de chimie et d'histoire naturelle, v.LXIX, October, 1809
  5. Journal de physique, de chimie et d'histoire naturelle, v.LXIX, November, 1809
  6. Bowditch, Nathaniel, On the eclipse of the sun of Sept. 17, 1811 [Boston, 1811?]
  7. Bowditch, Nathaniel, Elements of the orbit of the comet of 1811 [Boston, 1812?]
  8. Bowditch, Nathaniel, Estimate of the height of the White Hills in New Hampshire [Boston, 1812?]
  9. Bowditch, Nathaniel, On the variation of the magnetical needle [Boston, 1812?]
  10. Bowditch, Nathaniel, On the motion of a pendulum suspended from two points [Boston, 1812?]
  11. Hosack, David, Observations on the laws governing the communication of contagious diseases (New York, 1815)
Natural History (bound volume of pamphlets):
  1. Peyroux de la Coudrenière, Mémoire sur les sept espèces d'hommes, et sur les causes des altérations de ces espèces (Paris, 1814)
  2. Hosack, David, Syllabus of the course of lectures on botany, delivered in Columbia college (New York, 1814)
  3. Cels, Francois, Catalogue des arbres, arbustes, et autres plantes de serre chaude, d'orangerie et de pleine terre (Paris, 1817)
  4. Rafinesque, C.S., Circular address on botany and zoology (Philadelphia, 1816)
  5. Clinton, DeWitt, Remarks on the fishes of the western waters of the state of New-York [18--]
  6. Linnaean Society of New England, Boston, Report of a committee of the Linnæn society of New England, relative to a large marine animal, supposed to be a serpent ( Boston, 1817)
  7. Humboldt, Alexander von, Ideas sobre el límite inferior de la nieve perpétua, y sobre la geografía de las plantas [Havana, 1804]
  8. Bigelow, Joseph, Some account of the White mountains of New Hampshire [Boston, 1816]
  9. Clinton, DeWitt, A memoir on the antiquities of the western parts of the state of New-York (Albany, 1818)
  10. McCulloh, J.H., Researches on America: Being some attempt to settle some points relative to the aborigines of America (Baltimore, 1817)
  11. Cooper, Thomas, Introductory lecture on mineralogy [1817]
  12. Meason, Gilbert Laing, De la plantation du melèze (Pinus larix) [Paris, 1821?]
  13. Maclure, William, Observations on the geology of the United States of America (Philadelphia, 1817)
  14. Fischer von Waldheim, Gotthelf, Essai sur la turquoise et sur la calaite par Gotthelf Fischer (Moscow, 1816)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Staff Favorite: Helen Ledyard Drawing Book

Helen Ledyard Drawing Book, 1881-1891.

Barbara DeWolfe, Curator of Manuscripts, has worked at the Clements Library since 1999. One of her favorite items from the Manuscripts Division is the drawing book of Helen Ledyard, a young woman who lived in New York in the late nineteenth century. This volume is filled with watercolor, pencil, and ink drawings, depicting many scenes of everyday life. Viewed through one girl's eyes, these ordinary activities take on an air of liveliness and fun. The lively images and witty captions are a wonderful source for understanding the experience of a young woman growing up at the end of the nineteenth century.
"'Hoe Mow and Co' go to church in their good clothes."

Excerpts from the finding aid for this manuscript collection:

"Helen Lincklaen Seymour Ledyard, daughter of George Strawbridge Ledyard, was born on May 2, 1869 in Cazenovia, Madison County, New York. She came from a large family; Helen had five siblings and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.  Her main residence was a large house in Cazenovia called "The Meadows" which was built in 1826.  Helen spent also a good deal of time in Philadelphia where her Strawbridge relations lived.  Helen was married on November 7, 1901 at St Peter's Church in Cazenovia.  She died in 1945."

"The drawing book contains 85 pieces, most of which are done in bright watercolors. Others are of ink, pencil and colored pencil. The art in this book depicts Helen, her family, friends and surroundings from 1888-1891. There are paintings of Helen and others making ice cream, picnicking, riding horses, camping, hiking, swimming and playing games like backgammon, tiddly winks and tilting. Other pieces capture social events like dinner parties, teas and "the Barclays' Ball," which is a beautiful depiction of a large group of people in fancy dress entering a hall for a ball."

"We are very late for the Barclay's Ball."