…Literary Sleuth Casts Doubt on the Authorship of an Iconic Christmas Poem, by David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post With Answer Key.
Clement Clarke Moore has always been credited with writing the well known poem, The Night Before Christmas, until his authorship was challenged by English professor Don Foster. The problem was that the person who allegedly wrote the poem, Henry Livingston Jr. has never come forward to claim the piece as his own. This article sheds a little light on the mystery.
“Every Christmas for more than 150 years, children have hung their stockings by the chimney with care and learned to thank Clement Clarke Moore for the tradition. Moore, a wealthy Manhattan biblical scholar, went down in history as the man who in 1823 created the American image of Santa Claus as author of the ”Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” Better known as ”The Night Before Christmas,” it became one of the most widely read poems in the world.
But did Moore really write it? In a new study of the poem’s early history, Don Foster, an English professor at Vassar College and a scholar of authorial attribution, accuses Moore of committing literary fraud. He marshals a battery of circumstantial evidence to conclude that the poem’s spirit and style are starkly at odds with the body of Moore’s other writings.
In a new book, ”Author Unknown,” (Henry Holt & Company) Mr. Foster argues that ”A Visit From St. Nicholas,” first published anonymously in a Troy, N.Y., newspaper in 1823, closely matches the views and verse of Henry Livingston Jr., a gentleman-poet of Dutch descent. Livingston, who lived in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., died before Moore was ever named as the poem’s author… To make his case Mr. Foster has compiled a litany of stylistic quirks common to Livingston’s known works, the texts that influenced them and ”A Visit.’.. The original author of the poem also sprinkled extraneous exclamation points through Santa’s reindeer roll call, another Livingston habit. It is vintage Livingston…Clement Clarke Moore II, a descendant of the famous poet, said he was not concerned about the challenge. ”It is the poem itself that is important, not the authorship,” he said.”
To get the full story read this intriguing article in its entirety.
FROM ESL VOICES: HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
Note: Students will need to access the entire article to complete the activities.
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: reading, writing , speaking and listening.
Time: approximately 2 hours.
Materials: article excerpt, vocabulary, questions for comprehension and discussion,.
Objectives: Students will review the arguments for and against the authorship of the poem The Night Before Christmas and discuss their conclusions. They will also create similar poems, and drawings for this holiday. Students will practice reading, speaking, writing and listening skills.
I. Pre-Reading Tasks
Have students read the title of the post, and analyze the photo(s) to see if they can predict what information the article will discuss.
B. Stimulate background knowledge:
1. Have learners brainstorm to build a list of all of the words they can think of connected to the terms: Christmas, santa claus, poem.
II. While Reading Tasks
1. Word Inference
Infer the meanings of the words in bold (from the article) and use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance.
- children have hung their stockings by the chimney…
- and learned to thank Clement Clarke Moore for the tradition.
- Moore, a wealthy Manhattan biblical scholar
- Don Foster, an English professor…and a scholar of authorial attribution
- accuses Moore of committing literary fraud
- He marshals a battery of circumstantial evidence…
- …the poem’s spirit and style are starkly at odds with…Moore’s other writings.
- Livingston’s seventh-generation descendant and an amateur genealogist…
- Mr. Foster, a well-known literary gumshoe…
- studying the details of a text’s wording and syntax…
- using computerized archives to look for telltale influences…
- Mr. Foster has become the Livingston camp’s ardentpartisan…
- …a poem that has become an American icon.
- The poem helped recast St. Nicholas…
- It first appeared at a time when genteelmen of letters…
B. Reading Comprehension
1. Sentence Fill-ins
Directions: Complete the sentences from the article by selecting the correct words or phrases.
1. Clement Clarke Moore has always been credited with___
- a. writing the National Anthem
- b. writing the poem, The Night Before Christmas
- c. writing a letter to Santa
2. His his authorship was challenged by___
- a. another author.
- b. Santa Claus.
- c. English professor Don Foster.
3. Moore was a wealthy ___biblical scholar.
- a. Brooklyn
- b. Manhattan
- c. Bronx
4. Better known as___ it became one of the most widely read poems in the world.
- a. The Night After Christmas
- b. The Evening Before Christmas
- c. The Night Before Christmas
5. Don Foster, an ___at Vassar College…
- a. English professor
- b. English student
- c. English writer
6. In a new book,___…
- a. A Visit From St. Nicholas
- b. Henry Holt & Company
- c. Author Unknown
7. Mr. Foster argues that ”A Visit From St. Nicholas,” first published anonymously in a Troy, N.Y.,___
- a. newspaper
- b. magazine
- c. book
8. Henry Livingston Jr., was a gentleman-poet of___descent.
- a. German
- b. Dutch
- c. American
9. Livingston, who lived in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., ___before Moore was ever named as the poem’s author.
- a. left
- b. wrote to the newspapers
- c. died
10. But without ___these claims came to naught.
- a. popularity
- b. witnesses
- c. physical evidence
11. Mr. Foster, a well-known literary ___ pioneered the technique of studying the details of a text’s wording and syntax to establish authorship…
- a. expert
- b. gumshoe
- c. scholar
12. Before 1820 Americans typically pictured St. Nicholas, also known as Santa Claus, as___
- a. a skinny, stern bishop
- b. a plump, stern bishop
- c. a fat, stern bishop
13. The poem helped recast St. Nicholas as a ___and turn Christmas into a time for giving gifts to children.
- a. jovial oaf
- b. jovial elf
- c. jovial dolt
14. Clement Clarke Moore II, a descendant of the famous poet, said he was not ___about the challenge.
- a. cornered
- b. coherent
- c. concerned
C. Grammar Focus
Directions: Identify the nouns in the following paragraph taken from the article. After, use the words to write a short paragraph (or poem) about the Christmas holiday.
“Every Christmas for more than 150 years, children have hung their stockings by the chimney with care and learned to thank Clement Clarke Moore for the tradition. Moore, a wealthy Manhattan biblical scholar, went down in history as the man who in 1823 created the American image of Santa Claus as author of the ”Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” Better known as ”The Night Before Christmas,” it became one of the most widely read poems in the world.”
III. Post Reading Tasks
1. KWL chart or Graphic Organizer
Directions: fill in the last column of the KWL chart if you used one in the pre-reading segment.
2. Writing Task
Directions: Take the first line from the poem The Night Before Christmas, and create new verses.
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…”
Here are some humorous examples if you like:
Parodies of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ Spoofs of the Christmas poem also known as ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ by David Emery.
Beautiful and Fun to watch!
A. Oral Practice
1. After listening to the poem read by Lady Michelle, read the poem The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston.
2. Divide parts of the poem among your group members, then have each member present their part to the class.
Please come back again.