|Who Wrote "Night Before Christmas"|
|Ltr Jeanne Denig to WS Thomas|
|Dies in Action|
James Livingston Denig, Jr.
The great majority of people, in fact nearly all those who have read the great Christmas poem, "The
Night Before Christmas," attribute its authorship to Clement C. Moore, LLD. There are some, however, who
do not share in this belief. They are of the Livingston clan, descendants of the Earl of Linlithgow in Scotland.
In recent years there has come to light much evidence which indicates convincingly that Henry Livingston, not
Clement C. Moore, was the originator of the famed ballad. Moore
adherents have the advantage of time in their arguments, but the material which has been discovered discounts to a
great part their claims.
The poem was apparently first published in the Troy, New York "Sentinel" on December 23, 1823. Its first title since shortened, was "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas". The lines were prefac ed by a note written by the Editor of the paper:
"We know not to whom we are indebted for the following description of that unwearied patron of music - that homely and delightful personage of parental kindness, Santa Claus, his costume, and his equipage, as he goes about visiting the firesides of this happy land, laden with Christmas bounties: but from whomsoever it may have come, we give thanks for it....."
Thus the first appearance of the poem is cloaked in a veil of mystery. The lines continued to appear unillustrated in the "Sentinel" until 1830, and on January 1, 1829 it appeared in the New York "Morning Courier." From 1830 to 1844 it evidently was not again printed until it appeared ina little volume entitled "Poems by Clement C. Moore, LLD." In the preface Dr. Moore speaks of an appreciation of the lighter things of life. This point is an important hinge upon which a great deal of the argument seems to hang. The two men, Livingston and Moore, had exactly opposite natures. The former was a humorist at heart and liked to express his good-naturedness in verse. The later, however, was a man of serious nature and was never reputed to be humorist. He had been trained for the church, was the founder of the General Theological Seminary, and served there as professor of Hebrew and Hellenic literature. Surely a man who compiled a "Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language" could not be expected to compose such a merry time as "The Night Before Christmas."
There are many versions as to how the poem reached the press, those advanced by the Livingston family being more plausible. Though varying in details the different versions seem to hang together in the main idea, that Livingston penned the poem for his children on Christmas morning. The story most often heard deals with a young lady who was stopping at the Livingston Manor at Christmas time. The tale states that Henry Livingston came downstairs to breakfast on Christmas day with the poem in his hand and proceeded to read it, adding that he had penned it the preceding night for his children. This first reading, about 1804 or 1805, proved so popular that the young lady went to the home of Dr. Moore to visit where she probably read it to the family. In this manner the piece was most likely inducted into the Moore collection. My grandmother once recounted the story that her grandmother while visiting Locust Grove in 1808 heard Henry Livingston read the balld to the assembled guests as his own. Numerous other similar testimonies bear out the same belief. Such tales have been handedd down through the Livingston family by word of mouth for nearly a hundred years. This fact alone indicates that the legend arose at about the same time as the little book of Moore's poems was published.
Aside from the various stories of the origin of this poem, there are other factors which provide more tangible evidence as to the real author of the ballad. The structure of the piece in question as compared with others written by the two men must be looked into. In this respect Henry Livingston's poetry stands the test better than Moore's.
Of the 44 pieces included in Dr. Moore's collection all but two of them are of iambic meter while "The NIght Before Christmas" is written in anapaestic meter. The two remaining poems of the group are in anapaestic, their titles being "The Night Before Christmas" and "The Pig and the Rooster." The latter is dated some years after the other is purported to have been written and is of much inferior theme than the Christmas ballad. In fact, the author's wit and imagination are laboriously brought out in a none too clever manner. Generally Moore's compositions have a line of moralization running through them which is accentuated by scholarly and eloquent writing.
On the other hand we have Henry Livingston's 45 metrical compositions, all of which are short and the greater majority humorous and jesting. Nineteen of the poems, or one-third, are anapaestic, the meter of the disputed poem. Major Livingston's favorite form of writing was the couplet system which is used through the Christmas ballad. He was also fond of repetition as these two excerpts will indicate, the first being taken from "The Night Before Christmas".
"To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
and the second from a letter in verse form written to his brother Beekman in 1786:
"Such gadding! Such ambling! Such jaunting about!"
Another habit which invariably showed in all his work was the use of the word "mamma" when referring to his wife. Such a usage is in "The Night Before Christmas" when he says:
"And mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap"
That particular line also suggests the fact that he often weaved into his poetry articles of clothing - shoes, gloves, cravats, and ruffles - just as in "The Night Before Christmas" mention is made of kerchiefs, caps, and stockings. Tininess appealed to him, and he wrote in one of his poems of a tiny royal coach made of a nutshell and drawn by two green katydids. Surely this is similar to "a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer" as described in "The Night Before Christmas".
Finally, Livingston was fond of such rhymes as "matter" and "clatter", "elf" and "myself", both of which appear in the Christmas poem. The following stanza taken from a carrier's address written by Livingston in 1787 further accentuates this.
"And now the end of all this clatter
Certainly with seven pieces of reputable evidence which have been proved it would not be wrong to suppose that Henry Livingston penned the poem that begins with the wrods "Twas the night before Christmas." Of course, it must be readily admitted that this wealth of evidence is entirely circumstantial and that the burden of proof rests on the shoulders of the Livingston family. However, the presumptive evidence that Henry Livingston did write the poem seems as conclusive as that which has convicted innocent men and sent them to their deaths on the gibbets.
to William S. Thompson
January 3, 1900
My proof that H.L. wrote the poem is the "say so" of my grandmother Livingston who lived with us until 1878 when she died. She was Eliza Clement Brewer, and lived with her mother & her parents, the Mitchells in the house called "Russ Plass", later bought by Judge Smith Thompson. My grandmother grew up with the Livingston children & was much at Locust Grove. She said that everybody knew that H.L. wrote the poem, & when she was a child she had been invited to spend Christmas with the Livingston children & grandfather had read the poem to them -- as his own. My mother said that her father always told or read the poem as having been written by his father. My mother grew up believing it, and taught us to believe it, and grandmother always said "There is no question about it-- There has simply been a mistake!"
The Sandusky Register, 7 Apr 1943, p1-10
Major Robert Livingston Denig, Jr., U.S.M.C., now serving in the South Pacific, has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel,
it was announced at Un.S. Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The promotion of Lieutenant Colonel Denig follows in family tradition and adds honor to a name already illustrious in the service of its country. His father is Brigadier General Robert L. Denig, Sr., director of public relations division, U.S.M.C., and his grandfather, R.G. Denig, was a Commodore in the Navy. Mrs. R.G. [Jeanne] Denig, his grandmother, lives at 134 E. Adams st. here. His mother's father was Commander Charles King, U.S.N. His brother, James L. Denig, is a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
Lieutenant Colonel Denig is at present on duty with the Fleet Marine Force. He has specialized in tanks and tank warfare, and formerly saw duty in China with the 4th Marines from June 1933 until August 1935, following a short stay in the Philippines. He attained his last rank in May 1942, after concluding a two year cruise in command of the Marine detachment aboard the U.S.S. St. Louis in June 1941, then on maneuvers with the Atlantic fleet.
Born at Annapolis, Maryland, Nov. 11, 1909, Lieutenant Colonel Denig was appointed a second lieutenant in 1932, upon graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.
His wife, Mrs. Mary Drake Livingston Denig lives at 4003 Monument ave, Richmond Va. They have a son, Robert L. Denig, 3rd, four years of age.
The Sandusky Register, 8 Feb 1944, p11
NAMUR, Marshall Islands, Feb. 8 (AP) -|
Marine tankmen got into some of their heaviest fighting in mopping up on Namur island.
Japanese resisted by climbing on the tanks and trying to flip hand grenades into their turrets.
Capt. James L. Denig, son of Brig. Gen. Robert L. Denig, Marine public relations director, was killed a short time after the tank push began.
As tank commander, he was riding in one of three tanks which were to sweet half of the island. His tank became lost.
Fighting grew hot. Six Japanese jumped his tank. One tossed a hand grenade inside, setting the tank afire. Infantrymen following the tank killed all six Japs. But Captain Denig was burned fatally before he was pulled out by Corp. William Taylor. He lived another 15 minutes.
Another member of Denig's tank crew also was burned to death.
The Portsmouth Herald (NH), 24 Feb 1944, p3
Word was received here today of the death of Capt. James L. Denig, 24, son of Brig.Gen. Robert L. Denig, director of the marine corps
division of public relations, Feb. 3. The captain, who was graduated cum laude from the University of New Hampshire in June, 1941, was
killed in a tank charge which helped break final Japanese resistance on the north shore of the Marshall island.
Captain Denig was commissioned a second lieutenant in the marine corps reserve April, 1939, and was called to active duty Sept. 13, 1941. In June, 1942, he was commissioned second lieutant in the regular marine corps. He was promoted to first lieutenant the following September, and then to captain in April, 1943.
Capt. Frank E. Garretson of Seattle, Wash., commander of an infantry company of tanks, described the heroism of the young officier. "The final drive against the enemy north shore positions began this morning around 9:30, led by a section of tanks under command of Captain Denig," he said. "Captain Denig was outstandingly heroic in leading his tanks directly into enemy fire. Then a cat-footed Japanese leaped atop the captain's tank and dropped a hand grenade within it."
Capt. Denig's home was with his father and Mrs. Denig in Washington, D.C.
The graying, dignified brigadier-general approached the soldier's grave with a slow step.
His shoulders were erect - his bearing military. To see him, one would hardly believe that this was a father, paying his last respects to a dead son.
A crowd of soldiers stood behind him, watching the simple ceremony. They were silent, and sympathetic. They knew how much Brigadier-General Robert Denig had loved his son, James.
The small plot of land was marked by a white cross. It was one of many in a Marine cemetery on Namur Island.
Only the grim set of the officer's lips betrayed the emotion he was feeling. In his arms he carried a bundle of Hawaiian leis. At the foot of the grave he knelt, and placed the leis upon the white cross. Through their flowery frolds, he took one last look at the carved inscription: "Captain James L. Denig, United States Marine Corps, killed in action."
Then the general turned and walked away. There were tears in his eyes, now, and he made no attempt to conceal them. He knew that he shared his grief with thousands of other American fathers whose sons had been killed in action.
The general looked around, at the rows of white crosses.
Over there was the grave of Private First Class Stephen Hopkins, a blond, soft-spoken lad, the son of Harry Hopkins. Private Hopkins went ashore on Namur Island on February 1st. That was just about the time Captain Danig arrived. Both were killed in the first 48 hours of the fierce assault.
"There's no distinction here," murmured the general. "Buried on either side of my son are Marine privates. A lieutenant-colonel is buried near-by."
The general paused and added softly, "That's as it should be."
The officer he referred to was red-headed, jovial Lieutenant Colonel A. J. Dyess of Augusta, Georgia. The way Dyess met his death is Marine legend. He insisted on personally leading a charge into a Japanese machine-gun nest. He was wounded severely at the outset, but he continued to attack until the enemy position was wiped out.
The colonel was unconscious when the litter-bearers reached him. He was rushed to a base hospital, but he never recovered.
General Denig paused at the grave of Colonel Dyess as he left the cemetery.
His own son had died a hero, too. He was killed in a tank which led an assault through broken enemy lines shortly after the landing. He was stemaing full speed ahead, when a Jap sniper leaped atop the tank and dropped a grenade inside.
Captain Denig was pulled out and taken to a shell-hole under a cross-fire of Japanese machine guns. There he died.
After visiting the grave, his father, the brigadier-general, returned to general headquarters. He thanked the officer in charge of obtaining the Hawaiian leis. Even in his sorrow, he appreciated the thoughtfulness of that gesture; the leis had been iced in Honolulu. They were fresh and beautiful when General Denig placed them on his son's grave.
Soon the general would be leaving the Island of Namur. As director of public relations for the Marine Corp, he was making an inspection tour of Central Pacific bases. It was his duty to move on to the next Allied base.
Just before Denig left the island, he received a mirror taken from the telescope of his son's tank.
"I'll have it made up so my wife can carry it in her handbag," he said.
Then he lowered his eyes, and for a long while no one spoke. The general was studying the cracks on the floor.
Commanding Officer, Company B, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division "Fighting Fourth", U.S. Marine Corps
Citation: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while attached to the FOURTH Marine Division in action against enemy Japanese forces on Namur Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, on January 31, 1944. Assuming command of eight light tanks immediately upon landing, Captain Denig skillfully directed the vehicles in a closely coordinated attack by tanks and infantry and, laboriously pushing into dense woods and almost impenetrable underbrush, enabled some of the tanks to break through to more open terrain, routing out and destroying numerous Japanese during the hazardous advancement. When he halted his tank to reconnoiter and was fatally wounded as a result of a sudden, vicious enemy attack, his wrecked machine marked the farthest advance of the infantry that day. Captain Denig's great personal valor, inspiring leadership and indomitable fighting spirit contributed in a large measure to the progress of the infantry forces and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country."
Posthumously awarded. For action performed on 1 February 1944 at "Green" Beach, on the island Roi-Namur, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands.
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