This Day In Literary History
On July 15th, 1779, the famous American poet Clement Moore was born in New York City. His father, Benjamin Moore, was an Episcopal bishop and also served as the president of Columbia College.
Clement Moore later graduated from Columbia College, earning his Bachelor's and Master's degrees there. In 1821, he was made a professor of biblical studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City - a position he would hold for almost 30 years.
For ten years, he served as a board member of the New York Institute for the Blind, now known as the New York Institute for Special Education. He was also a prominent abolitionist.
Moore's writing career was modest. He only published two books during his lifetime. One of them was a nonfiction work - a Hebrew and English lexicon published in 1809. The other was a poetry collection, published in 1844.
One of Moore's poems would become a cherished holiday classic that continues to be read every year during the Christmas season. Its original title was A Visit From St. Nicholas, but it's best known as Twas The Night Before Christmas, which is also the first line of the poem.
Twas The Night Before Christmas was first published anonymously in the Sentinel, a newspaper based in Troy, New York, on December 23rd, 1823. Moore originally took no credit for writing the poem because he wanted to be known for his serious and scholarly works, not for authoring a whimsical Christmas poem.
The poem tells the story of a man awakened by strange noises late one Christmas Eve. While his wife and children sleep, he investigates the noises and witnesses the arrival of St. Nicholas - Santa Claus - who has come to deliver presents, riding a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer.
The poem defined the character of Santa Claus as we know him today - his physical description, the names of his reindeer, his tradition of delivering presents on Christmas Eve, and other characteristics.
One thing I always found interesting was Moore's description of Santa Claus as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" with a long white beard. This may have come from ancient Egyptian mythology, as the ancient Egyptian god Bes was a Santa-like character.
It was believed that on December 25th, the mother goddess Isis gave birth to Horus, the savior of Egypt. Bes, the Elf King, depicted as a jolly, fat, naked little elf with a long white beard, was a favorite of Isis, and much loved by the goddess.
He was the guardian of children and women in childbirth. Every year on December 25th, Bes would honor the birth of Horus by bringing toys and trinkets to all good children.
Twas The Night Before Christmas continues to be read every year during the Christmas season. The poem has become a cultural icon, influencing music, movies, and television, where it has been both parodied and paid tribute.
In 1974, the legendary animators Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, producers of classic, beloved animated TV Christmas specials such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, produced an animated Christmas special loosely based on Clement Moore's classic poem.
Featuring the voices of Joel Grey, Tammy Grimes, and George Gobel, Twas The Night Before Christmas is still shown on TV at Christmastime and is available on DVD.
Clement Moore died in 1863 at the age of 83.
Quote Of The Day
"True poetry is itself a magic spell which is a key to the ineffable." - Aleister Crowley
Today's video features a rare performance of Twas The Night Before Christmas, read by Perry Como. Enjoy!