The first American magazine for children began with the nation. The Children’s Magazine wouldn’t impress us today. No cover illustration—in fact, no illustrations at all. Just 48 pages of cheap-to-produce text: stories, essays, poems, a series on geography, and four rather dense sermons. The magazine apparently lasted only four issues (January through April 1789), but it established a number of traditions for the almost-400 American periodicals proposed or published for children before 1873.

Like every children’s periodical published after it, The Children’s Magazine was intended to be educational: “It is a general complaint among the teachers of schools,” the editor asserts, “that children want some lessons, written in a familiar style and on entertaining subjects, to conduct them in their progress from a Spelling-Book to such reading as is found in the American Selection, Scotts Lessons and the Art of Speaking. It is also a complaint that children are obliged to read too long in the same book; by which means the subjects become familiar and cease to command the attention. To remove these complaints, is the design of this publication.” (“Preface.” Jan 1789: iii)

Here, “educational” means geography lessons without expensive-to-produce maps, a series on arithmetic, and advice on morality. A lot of advice on morality, from “rules for the life of business” and essays on the “pernicious effects of dram drinking” to proper behavior of children. Boys are admonished not to become drunkards, to keep good company, to do “every thing for some good end” (“Rules to be observed by those who remove from their Native Places.” Feb 1789: 92), and to “summon fortitude to bear pain like a man.” (“The Little Boy Who Behaved Like a Man.” Jan 1789: 21) Girls are— Well, there seem to be a lot of rules here for girls. Be sweet, be submissive, be Christian, be gentle: this is the advice woven into many of the poems. The stories get more complicated. Yes, Emma learns to control herself after accidentally killing her puppy in a fit of temper (“The Passionate Child Reclaimed.” Feb 1789). And, yes, the “Female Adviser” asks, “Can there be any thing more disgusting in a young female than an unbecoming forwardness of behaviour, which we must always attribute to the high opinion she entertains of herself?” and proves that, no, there isn’t. (“To the Editors of the Children’s Magazine.” March 1789) But the women in a series of moral tales walk a treacherous path: they can drive their husbands to drink both by keeping their houses too clean (“The Over-neat Wife.” Feb 1789) and by not cleaning house enough. (“The Notable Daughter.” March 1789)

While a number of later periodicals for children were founded by individuals, others were the products of publishing houses who saw an opportunity to expand the consumer base: Our Young Folks (Jan 1865-Dec 1873) was Ticknor and Fields’ magazine for children; Cincinnati, Ohio, printer Howard Durham founded two papers for children in the 1850s. Hudson and Goodwin, of Hartford, Connecticut, probably saw The Children’s Magazine as a sure money-maker. After all, the company published and distributed textbooks, captivity narratives, poetry, religious works, and works for children—all of which could have fed into the magazine.

Because, like every periodical of its time and every periodical after it, The Children’s Magazine reprinted material that had already appeared elsewhere. “[T]he Editors are already furnished with a variety of materials for this work,” the January 1789 “Preface” points out, and, yes, they very much were. Except for that preface, every piece appearing in the magazine’s four issues had been published the year before in one of two magazines printed in England by John Marshall: The Juvenile Magazine or The Family Magazine; or, A Repository of Religious Instruction, and Rational Amusement, edited by Sarah Trimmer. While the Juvenile Magazine included works appropriate for its young audience, the Family Magazine was very definitely for adults. The Family Magazine accounts for the sermons, the essays on temperance, the business advice; it also accounts for a reading level well above the seven- to 12-year-olds for which The Children’s Magazine was intended.

The original sources explain the very “British” tone of The Children’s Magazine, where class distinctions are clearly defined and all schoolboys live at a boarding-school. Poor cottagers are humble and grateful for the charity of their upperclass betters, who condescendingly educate them on arithmetic and morality. While the pieces reprinted from The Family Magazine appear to have been printed exactly as they appeared in England, those reprinted from The Juvenile Magazine are more “localized”: a teacher lays down a “crown piece” in the English version of a schoolboy’s letter (The Juvenile Magazine Jan 1788: 12) and a “crown piece or dollar” in the American. (The Children’s Magazine Jan 1789: 14) A man walking in the Strand in 1788 walks through Boston in 1789. Miss Harriot Truelove has never before seen London in 1788, but has never before seen New York in 1789, though even here she stays with Lady Racket, enjoys evenings at “cards, balls, or the play-house,” and mentors the daughter of a “poor cottager.” (“Familiar Letters on Various Subjects.” Jan 1789)

When The Children’s Magazine apparently ended its run in April 1789, that may accidentally have solved a problem for the editor. “The Schoolboy” as published in England (April 1788) includes a page-and-a-half description of the glories of the British system of government which fell out of the version published in Connecticut (April 1789). And the next installment of the serial as published in England extolls the British legal system through the mock trial of a schoolboy. So, the death of the magazine meant the editor didn’t have to cut, rewrite, or simply ignore a rather entertaining piece that American audiences might not appreciate.

And when the magazine ended so abruptly, it was in keeping with another tradition for American children’s periodicals: many later periodicals didn’t last beyond a year. Some found few subscribers after producing a sample issue; some didn’t get to the sample issue stage. Subscribers didn’t always pay; profit margins were too slim to keep the enterprise going.

Why did The Children’s Magazine fail? Distribution may have been a major factor: the magazine was advertised in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but the early postal system made distributing a magazine difficult. There may not have been enough citizens willing to take a magazine just for their children. And it’s tempting to think that some who were willing to subscribe also had received John Marshall’s English magazines and were noticing an … overlap.

The schoolboy in the April 1789 issue injures himself jumping over a hedge into a ditch and is gently admonished by his teacher, who hopes that “the next time, prior to jumping over a hedge, you will observe well, whether there be a ditch on the other side.” (“To the Editors of the Children’s Magazine.” April 1789: 153) It seems good advice for editors, too: there may be hidden obstacles on the way to success. But, luckily, while there were a lot of ditches in the history of early American periodicals for children, there also were a lot more hedges.

Where to read it: The American Periodicals Series I (18th century) has January, March, and April issues, though the March issue is incomplete. The American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals database reproduces all four issues; January and April are reproduced from originals in the Library of Congress.

 

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Jacob Abbott tells us how to sleep in the hayloft, in this scene from Rainbow’s Journey, wherein two teenagers travel by stagecoach and find no room at the inn (and it’s quite charming that they stagger around in the hay, putting on their nightshirts, because that’s how you sleep; you certainly don’t just flop down in your clothes; that would just be uncivilized); note that you don’t carry around lanterns if the moon is bright enough to keep you from falling down a cliff:

cover for Stories of Rainbow and Lucky“The moon is so bright that you will not need any lantern, I suppose,” said Hitover.

“No,” replied Handie, “it will be light enough.”

The stairs leading to the loft were in an opposite corner of the barn from that in which Hitover’s little compartment had been built, and at the foot of them was a door, which opened out at one side of the barn. This door was open, and Rainbow stopped as he went by to look out. There was a sort of yard there, and a plank walk which led toward the road, and thence to the house. After looking out at this door for a moment to see the moon shining so full upon the trees and upon the roofs of the farm-yard buildings, Rainbow followed Handie up the stairs.

“Now, Rainbow,” said Handie, “we’ll begin our campaign by seeing what sort of a bed we can make out of hay. The hay is nice and fresh, at any rate. It must be new hay, though it is very early for new hay. So, you see, we’re in luck. You must not expect, in knocking about the world, that you will always get fresh hay in the barns that you will have to sleep in.”

In one corner of the barn-chamber there was a small space, open in front, but divided from the rest of the floor, on one side, by a partition. This place had been originally arranged for holding chests of grain, and it was called, accordingly, the grain-bin; but the grain had been removed to the room below, and now it was about half full of hay. The surface of the hay in it was about five feet above the floor. On the other side of the partition which formed the grain-bin was an open space, where the stairs came up. There was a narrow passage-way opening from the head of the stairs to the middle of the barn floor, and beyond the passage-way the floor of the open space was covered with great heaps of loose hay. The grain-bin, the passage-way, and the space covered with heaps of hay, made up the whole of one side of the barn-chamber. The other side was occupied wholly by a great loft, in which the hay was packed close, and piled up high, nearly to the eaves.

In the front part of the barn-chamber was a large square window, which was closed in stormy weather with a shutter and a hasp. This window was now open, and a flood of moonlight poured in through it which illuminated almost the whole interior of the chamber, excepting the grain-bin, which was somewhat in the shade. Still, it was light enough there for Handie and Rainbow to see to make their beds.

So they climbed up upon the top of the hay, which, as has already been said, was about five feet from the floor, and began to make their beds. Handie took his place on the farther side of the bin, next the side of the barn, … and Rainbow went to the other side, next to the partition, … and they both began to make their beds.

“Now, Rainbow,” said Handie, “do just as I do, and you will learn how to make up a bed on the hay.”

So Handie went to work on his side of the bin, Rainbow accompanying and imitating him exactly on his side, through all the successive steps of the process. First they smoothed out the hay for a space long enough for a bed, making it level and equally soft in every part. Then they rolled up good-sized wisps for pillows, and put them in the proper places. Then they spread down the sheets, taking care to use only one half of each sheet as a covering for the bed and for the pillow, reserving the other half to draw over them and cover themselves up with when they had lain down. They opened the blankets too, and placed them at hand on one side, where they could easily reach them, in order to cover themselves up with them after they should have got into bed.

These arrangements having all been made, they undressed themselves, staggering about while they did so on the hay, and, after putting on their night-gowns, each got into his bed. After lying down, they each drew first the spare half of the sheet over them and then the blanket.

“You must put your hand under and shape the hay of your pillow to your head a little,” said Handie, “and that will make it feel soft.”

So Rainbow put his hand under and pushed away the hay a little from the middle of his pillow, so as to make it fit better to his head, and then he said that it felt very soft indeed.

“So, then, you are now pretty comfortable?” said Handie.

“Yes, sir,” said Rainbow; “I am very comfortable indeed.”


Written in 1859 and 1860, “Stories of Rainbow and Lucky” is a series of five books about an African-American teenager living in New England before the Civil War. At age fourteen, Rainbow is hired to help a young man renovate farm buildings; by the end of the series, he’s planning his next career move and thinking about marriage.

The Rainbow and Lucky books were created by Jacob Abbott (1803-1879), an extremely popular 19th-century American writer for children. From 1828 to 1872, he published over 200 books, including dozens of novels for children.

All five books in the “Stories of Rainbow and Lucky” are available in ebook form, with the original illustrations, at amazon.

One of the most popular poems in American culture is/was/possibly always will be “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Its popularity began when it was first penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822: a relative/a friend of the family liked it so well that she or he made a copy. That copy (or a copy of that copy) was sent to the editor of the Troy Sentinel, who published it in 1823. And then it spread: at least 135 reprintings between 1823 and the end of 1872. During the Civil War, it appeared in newspapers north and south.

Reprinters were … creative. Proofreading was spotty—or non-existent. Some editors/typesetters seem to have copied the poem from faulty memory. Some appear to have tried to improve the poem.

My favorite huh? version comes from Historic Tales of Olden Time, Concerning the Early Settlement and Progress of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, by John F. Watson (1833)—a version which probably should be titled “Highlights from ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ ”:

It was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
When what in the air, to my 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 Saint Nick!
Soon, on to the house top, his coursers, they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys and Saint Nicholas too;
As I roll’d on my bed and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint 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;
The stump of a pipe he held fast 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 spoke not a word, but went straight to his work:
Soon 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;
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Moore provided three versions: the anonymous 1823 Sentinel version; an 1837 version when his name was first attached to the poem; and the version in his 1844 collection of poetry. The variations in text lie chiefly in the names of the reindeer and seem to indicate to some readers that Moore didn’t write the poem, since he apparently didn’t know what he’d originally written, but kept changing it. The logic of that argument is tenuous, and the argument that someone else wrote the poem is unconvincing. It may be that Moore simply reworked a poem he’d dashed off so many years earlier.

How did the poem originally read? Good question. The 1822 manuscript appears not to exist. Neither does the copy made by the visitor. Or the copy of the copy made by the visitor; even the 1823 Sentinel version is two or three steps removed from what Moore originally wrote. It may be that one of the later versions is the 1822 version.

When you see the variations glued together in a strange Frankenpoem, it’s easy to understand that this was never a staid and stuffy set of words to be printed only in a certain order, but a living bit of culture that from the beginning existed in sometimes-accidental variations. What seems to have mattered to 19th-century readers wasn’t the wording, but the story and the mental images: the cosy sleeping family, the jolly gift-bringer, the lyrically named reindeer.

Below, I’ve glued together most of the variations. I started with the 1823 version, adding the changed words/lines. Almost all the variations appear in more than one reprint, as a change or mistake in one reprint was repeated by other editors. I’ve ignored variations in punctuation (except for the sugar plums and bowls full of jelly). Some lines are struck through because they vanish in a few versions.

And the blob of a title at the top? Editors/printers seem to have taken titling the poem as a personal challenge. The 18 titles below represent most variations I’ve found so far.

So, because someone plotting on a spreadsheet the variations in 135 copies of one poem must find amusement where she can, I present “The Really Complete First Fifty Years of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ ”:
“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas Times: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Christmas Eve: A Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/A Visit from St. Nicholas/Visit from Santa Claus/Christmas Eve: Santa Claus on his Holiday Visit to his Children/Christmas Times/The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from Saint Nicholas/St. Nicholas’ Visit to All Good Little Girls and Boys/Annual Visit of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus/Visit of St. Nicholas, On the Night Before Christmas/The Visit of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus/Santa Claus’ Annual Visit/Santa Claus’ Visit/The Coming of Santa Claus”

’Twas/It was the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes/In hope/In the hope that St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas soon would be there;
The children were nestled/nested/posted all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums/sugar-plums/sugar-plumbs danc’d in/through/round/o’er their heads,
And Mama/Mamma/Ma’ 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 sprung from/roll’d on the bed/from my bed/from bed to see what was the matter,/I sprang to the window to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash./To open the shutters and throw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen/hard crusted snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day/of day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering/wandering eyes should appear,/When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
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/whisper’d, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher/Danter, now! Dancer/Lancer/Pancer, now! Prancer/Dunner, and Vixen/Nixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder/Donder/Dander and Blixem/Blixen/Blitzen/Blizen;
“To the top of the porch/stoop! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves/the leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys—and St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing/The neighing and prancing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,/He was dressed in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks/lips were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll/queer little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of 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/round little belly/He had a broad face and a little bright eye,
That/They shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full/bowlful of jelly:/That shone on his cheek like a star in the sky.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d 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/naught to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings/his stockings; then turn’d with a jirk/jerk,
And laying his finger/his fingers aside/astride of his nose
And giving a nod/And flying around, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of/off a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere/as he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas/Merry Christmas/Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night.”

(And an annotation: Why does St. Nick put his finger aside of his nose before disappearing up the chimney? Apparently it’s a traditional gesture expressing that what is happening is a secret [see Desmond Morris, Peoplewatching]; by 1915, the gesture implied that the secret is between friends [see Acting in Opera, by George E. Shea; at google books].)

As a not-cook, I’m sometimes boggled by the number of cookbooks out there:  who uses that many?  As someone interested in American social history, I’m fascinated by what cookbooks tell us about what people ate in earlier time periods:  what was available?  How was it prepared?  It’s a given that cookbooks can tell us about the tastes and concerns of the time period.

More entertaining, though, are the recipes that drop out of the culture.  The fondues of my youth turned out not to be the wave of the future.  (I never knew anyone who fondued, anyway.)  And few turtle soups appear in 21st-century cookbooks.  Looking at earlier American cookbooks, I do wonder at some recipes:  did anybody make this?  Did anybody eat it?  Did they like it?

One of those recipes is for oyster ice cream, in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife (1860). Simple recipe:  “Make a rich soup, (see directions for oyster soup,) strain it from the oysters, and freeze it.” *   Did anybody ever do this?  Why?

My favorite what-were-they-thinking? recipe, though, comes from A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, a work by two home-economics teachers that usually is mocked for its title.  It’s a charming book following newlyweds through their first year and offering recipes and advice on frugality.  (It also features the early-20th-century version of the crockpot.)

I enjoy reading the book; it’s like watching someone play house.  But—ouch—the recipes!  “White sauce” on practically everything; vegetables cooked until they surrender.  And the strangest recipe for peanut butter sandwiches:

Peanut Butter Sandwiches
(Twelve sandwiches)

4 T-peanut butter
1/8 t-salt
1 t-butter
1 T-salad dressing
12 slices of bread
12 uniform pieces of lettuce

Cream the peanut butter, add the butter. Cream again, add the salt and salad dressing, mixing well. Cut the bread evenly. Butter one side of the bread very thinly with the peanut butter mixture. Place the lettuce leaf on one slice and place another slice upon it, buttered side down. Press firmly and neatly together. Cut in two crosswise. Arrange attractively in a wicker basket.

And, yes, that “salad dressing” is pretty much mayonnaise. Now, I wonder:  did anybody ever eat one of these things?  Did they enjoy it?  Do you tart up peanut butter with mayonnaise and lettuce to make it palatable for adults?  Was peanut butter a new food that people weren’t sure how to use?  I’d love to know.

And I’d also love to know what recipes we rely on that will drop out or will strike later generations with glee.  Cupcakes?  Something with kale (an extremely dull vegetable)?  Anybody got a time machine?


* Randolph’s oyster soup recipe is wonderfully profligate with the oysters; you need three quarts:  “Wash and drain two quarts of oysters, put them on with three quarts of water, three onions chopped up, two or three slices of lean ham, pepper and salt; boil it till reduced one-half, strain it through a sieve, return the liquid into the pot, put in one quart of fresh oysters, boil it till they are sufficiently done, and thicken the soup with four spoonsful of flour, two gills of rich cream, and the yolks of six new laid eggs beaten well; boil it a few minutes after the thickening is put in. Take care it does not curdle, and that the flour is not in lumps; serve it up with the last oysters that were put in. If the flavour of thyme be agreeable, you may put in a little, but take care that it does not boil in it long enough to discolour the soup.”

Still don’t want to come across it unexpectedly as ice cream.

The cover takes a bow

August 22, 2016

cover_smallestAs a newly self-published writer, I hoped not to embarrass myself with my self-designed cover for The House at the Edge of Time. And I knew I was letting myself in for some on-target criticism by submitting the cover to Joel Friedlander‘s monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards. So it was with trepidation that I took a look today at his site; and …

He liked it! Not gold-star worthy, but he liked it! Proof: “Nice job. The restraint shown in the imagery and typesetting really helps create a cover with the promise of an exciting story. In other words, with a good concept you can stand out without a big colorful photo.” (link. It’s waaaay down the page, and you get to see some terrific covers.)

So, several decades of looking at book covers and a little money for some excellent clipart can work together right well!

I like the cover, too. I liked it for the four months between creating the cover and publishing the book. I liked it every time I opened the image to see if it still looked good to me. Which may be a good idea: get the cover done well in advance and keep looking at it, to see if it still works.

(I’m getting a professional to do the next one, though; I’m really no artist.)

If you’re self-publishing, you might enjoy Friedlander’s site.  I’ve gotten a lot of good information there.

You can buy a copy of The House at the Edge of Time at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords; also Kobo, Intera, Scribd, and amazon.  And on iBooks and Overdrive, though I have no links for those.  (And—really—please buy it.  Really.)

I publish a thing

July 8, 2016

cover_smallestYears ago, I had a (very brief) career writing for children. Now I’ve self-published a novel on the same subject as a computer game I created. As a computer game, The House at the Edge of Time is a text adventure in which you assemble a time machine. As a novel for children, The House at the Edge of time is an adventure in which two boys use the time machine to find a treasure-hunter lost somewhere in time.

The novel was written almost 25 years ago and failed to find a publisher. While I had great relationships with my publishers, I realized that I don’t want to play in that sandbox any more and decided to be my own publisher. It was surprisingly fun to revise this: I rearranged and reworked and rewrote and just had an amazingly good time. It was fun to create the cover and to decide how the book would look.

The book is widely available: you can get it via iBooks and Overdrive; and it’s available from
Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo | Amazon | Inktera | Scribd

I hope readers have as much fun reading the book as I had writing and rewriting it. Below is the first chapter, for a little taste. Read the rest of this entry »

Because it’s December, it’s time to dredge up the most complete version of an old favorite:

One of the most popular poems in American culture is/was/possibly always will be “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Its popularity began when it was first penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822: a relative/a friend of the family liked it so well that she or he made a copy. That copy (or a copy of that copy) was sent to the editor of the Troy Sentinel, who published it in 1823. And then it spread: at least 135 reprintings between 1823 and the end of 1872. During the Civil War, it appeared in newspapers north and south.

Reprinters were … creative. Proofreading was spotty—or non-existent. Some editors/typesetters seem to have copied the poem from faulty memory. Some appear to have tried to improve the poem.

My favorite huh? version comes from Historic Tales of Olden Time, Concerning the Early Settlement and Progress of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, by John F. Watson (1833)—a version which probably should be titled “Highlights from ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ ”:

It was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
When what in the air, to my 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 Saint Nick!
Soon, on to the house top, his coursers, they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys and Saint Nicholas too;
As I roll’d on my bed and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint 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;
The stump of a pipe he held fast 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 spoke not a word, but went straight to his work:
Soon 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;
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Moore provided three versions: the anonymous 1823 Sentinel version; an 1837 version when his name was first attached to the poem; and the version in his 1844 collection of poetry. The variations in text lie chiefly in the names of the reindeer and seem to indicate to some readers that Moore didn’t write the poem, since he apparently didn’t know what he’d originally written, but kept changing it. The logic of that argument is tenuous, and the argument that someone else wrote the poem is unconvincing. It may be that Moore simply reworked a poem he’d dashed off so many years earlier.

How did the poem originally read? Good question. The 1822 manuscript appears not to exist. Neither does the copy made by the visitor. Or the copy of the copy made by the visitor; even the 1823 Sentinel version is two or three steps removed from what Moore originally wrote. It may be that one of the later versions is the 1822 version.

When you see the variations glued together in a strange Frankenpoem, it’s easy to understand that this was never a staid and stuffy set of words to be printed only in a certain order, but a living bit of culture that from the beginning existed in sometimes-accidental variations. What seems to have mattered to 19th-century readers wasn’t the wording, but the story and the mental images: the cosy sleeping family, the jolly gift-bringer, the lyrically named reindeer.

Below, I’ve glued together most of the variations. I started with the 1823 version, adding the changed words/lines. Almost all the variations appear in more than one reprint, as a change or mistake in one reprint was repeated by other editors. I’ve ignored variations in punctuation (except for the sugar plums and bowls full of jelly). Some lines are struck through because they vanish in a few versions.

And the blob of a title at the top? Editors/printers seem to have taken titling the poem as a personal challenge. The 18 titles below represent most variations I’ve found so far.

So, because someone plotting on a spreadsheet the variations in 135 copies of one poem must find amusement where she can, I present “The Really Complete First Fifty Years of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ ”:
“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas Times: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Christmas Eve: A Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/A Visit from St. Nicholas/Visit from Santa Claus/Christmas Eve: Santa Claus on his Holiday Visit to his Children/Christmas Times/The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from Saint Nicholas/St. Nicholas’ Visit to All Good Little Girls and Boys/Annual Visit of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus/Visit of St. Nicholas, On the Night Before Christmas/The Visit of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus/Santa Claus’ Annual Visit/Santa Claus’ Visit/The Coming of Santa Claus”

’Twas/It was the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes/In hope/In the hope that St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas soon would be there;
The children were nestled/nested/posted all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums/sugar-plums/sugar-plumbs danc’d in/through/round/o’er their heads,
And Mama/Mamma/Ma’ 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 sprung from/roll’d on the bed/from my bed/from bed to see what was the matter,/I sprang to the window to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash./To open the shutters and throw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen/hard crusted snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day/of day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering/wandering eyes should appear,/When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
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/whisper’d, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher/Danter, now! Dancer/Lancer/Pancer, now! Prancer/Dunner, and Vixen/Nixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder/Donder/Dander and Blixem/Blixen/Blitzen/Blizen;
“To the top of the porch/stoop! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves/the leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys—and St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing/The neighing and prancing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,/He was dressed in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks/lips were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll/queer little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of 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/round little belly/He had a broad face and a little bright eye,
That/They shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full/bowlful of jelly:/That shone on his cheek like a star in the sky.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d 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/naught to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings/his stockings; then turn’d with a jirk/jerk,
And laying his finger/his fingers aside/astride of his nose
And giving a nod/And flying around, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of/off a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere/as he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas/Merry Christmas/Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night.”

(And an annotation: Why does St. Nick put his finger aside of his nose before disappearing up the chimney? Apparently it’s a traditional gesture expressing that what is happening is a secret [see Desmond Morris, Peoplewatching]; by 1915, the gesture implied that the secret is between friends [see Acting in Opera, by George E. Shea; at google books].)