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].)

The Night After Christmas

December 26, 2014

On this day after Christmas, I can’t resist highlighting “The Night After Christmas,” a popular parody of a popular poem.

There are some poems in the American canon (“The Song of Hiawatha” is one) that are just ripe for parody. The hugely popular “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”—also known as “The Night Before Christmas”—sparked the also- (but not quite as-) popular “The Night After Christmas.” Where the “Night Before” celebrates abundance, the “Night After” focuses on the inevitable results of overabundance. And, just as the original exists in variations, so the parody was reprinted with its own variations when the two were paired again in The Souvenir, in 1872.

“The Night After” includes a number of elements that would have disconcerted Moore: “flapdoddle” appears to be a variant of the more-common “flapdoodle;” the doctor’s horse is named for an early purgative. (The doctor’s visit to patients in their home was a “house call”—an experience once common in the U.S., but now as unlikely as an actual visit from St. Nicholas.)

“The Night After Christmas” (from Frank Leslie’s Budget of Fun, March 1864, p. 7.)

’Twas the night after Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Every soul was abed and as still as a mouse—
The stockings, so lately Saint Nicholas’s care,
Were emptied of all that was eatable there;
The darlings had duly been tucked in their beds,
With very full stomachs and pains in their heads.
I was dozing away in my new cotton cap,
And Nancy was rather far gone in a nap,
When out in the nursery arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my sleep, crying, “What is the matter?”
I flew to each bedside, still half in a doze,
Tore open the curtains and threw off the clothes,
While the light of the taper served clearly to show
The piteous plights of those objects below;
For what to the father’s fond eye should appear
But the little pale face of each sick little dear;
For each pet that had crammed itself full as a tick
I knew in a moment now felt like Old Nick.
Their pulses were rapid, their breathings the same—
What their stomachs rejected I’ll mention by name:
Now turkey, now stuffing, plum-pudding, of course,
And custards, and crullers, and cranberry sauce;
Before outraged Nature, all went to the wall—
Yes, lollypops, flapdoddle, dinner and all.
Like pellets which urchins from popguns let fly,
Went figs, nuts and raisins, jams, jelly and pie,
Till each error of diet was brought to my view,
To the shame of mamma and Santa Claus too.
I turned from the sight, to my bedroom stepped back
And brought out a vial marked “Pulv. Ipecac;”
When my Nancy exclaimed, for their sufferings shocked her,
“Don’t you think you had better, love, run for the doctor?”
I ran, and was scarcely back under my roof
When I heard the sharp clatter of old Jalap’s hoof;
I might say that I hardly had turned myself round
When the doctor came into the room with a bound;
He was covered with mud from his head to his foot,
And the suit he had on was his very best suit;
He had hardly had time to put that on his back,
And he looked like a Falstaff half fuddled with sack.
His eyes how they twinkled! Had the doctor got merry?
His cheeks looked like port and his breath smelt of sherry;
He hadn’t been shaved for a fortnight or so,
And the beard on his chin wasn’t white as the snow.
But inspecting their tongues in despite of their teeth,
And drawing his watch from his waistcoat beneath,
He felt of each pulse, saying, “Each little belly
Must get rid”—here he laughed—“of the rest of that jelly.”
I gazed on each chubby, plump, sick little elf,
And groaned when he said so in spite of myself;
But a wink of his eye, when he physicked our Fred,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He didn’t prescribe, but went straightway to his work
And dosed all the rest, gave his trousers a jerk,
And adding directions while blowing his nose,
He buttoned his coat, from his chair he arose,
Then jumped in his gig, gave old Jalap a whistle,
And Jalap dashed off as if pricked by a thistle;
But the doctor exclaimed, ere he drove out of sight,
“They’ll be well by to-morrow—good-night, Jones, good-night.”

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].)