I asked ChatGPT, using author-attribution techniques of modern computational stylistics if Clement C Moore really wrote the iconic Christmas poem A Visit from St Nicholas, which he claimed authorship to some 20 years after its first publication. This is ChatGPT’s response.
The authorship of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (or “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) has been a point of contention for years. Clement Clarke Moore is most often credited with the poem’s creation.
However a compelling case can be made for a Henry Livingston Jr as the true author of the poem.
When I apply modern computational stylistics, I can illuminate these arguments with empirical evidence.
The Story of the Poems publication
“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” was first published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel on Dec. 23, 1823. Submitted by a Miss Harriet Butler, a friend of Moore’s family, she did not provide Moore’s name as the author.
As the years passed, the poem was frequently republished and played a crucial role in shaping the modern image of Santa Claus. It even introduced the names of his eight reindeer (excluding Rudolph).
Who wrote it
The poem’s authorship remained a mystery for 14 years. Until Charles Fenno Hoffman claimed his friend, New York scholar Moore, as the writer in 1837.
However Moore himself only confirmed this in 1844 by including the poem in his book, “Poems.” According to his own declaration, he penned it as a Christmas gift for his children in 1822.
However, after the publication of Moore’s Poems, the family of Henry Livingston, Jr., a soldier, landowner, and poet who passed away in 1828, contested Moore’s assertion. They insisted that Livingston was the true author of the poem.
Moore was a renowned professor and author, while Livingston, occasionally published verses under the initial “R.”
Livingston’s surviving children and one daughter-in-law disputed Moore’s claim to authorship.
Livingston’s family remembered Henry reading the poem to them as children, 20 years before the poem was first published in the Troy Sentinel in 1823 and that while the original was lost, they all knew it by heart.
Miss Harriet Butler
Subsequent research revealed that Henry’s first cousin, Judith Livingston, who was his neighbor, was married to John Moore, related to Clement Moore’s paternal family. Judith and John’s daughter, Lydia, married Rev. William Hart, a close associate of Clement Moore, and relocated to Virginia.
Their daughter Frances later married Rev. Clement Moore Butler, who was the brother of a Miss Harriet Butler, the young woman whom legend has it it first ‘heard’ the poem in Clement C Moore’s household.
Wherever she first heard it, it was she who was responsible for first submitting the poem to the Troy Sentinel.
If she truly knew it was penned by Moore, it was never explained why she submitted it as ‘author unknown.’
The Empirical Argument
- Lexical Analysis:
Modern computational techniques involve analyzing the frequency and patterns of words usage in texts. When comparing Livingston’s and Moore’s other works with the poem; Livingston’s works display a stronger similarity in terms of word choice and frequency than Moore’s.
Some specific words and phrases used in “A Visit from St. Nicholas” also appear in Livingston’s other poems but not in Moore’s.
- Metric and Phonological Patterns:
Computational tools can identify rhythmic and phonetic patterns in poetry.
Livingston’s poetic works frequently utilize an anapestic meter, which is the same meter found in “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Phonological devices such as alliteration and assonance used in the Christmas poem align more closely with Livingston’s style than Moore’s.
- Syntactic Analysis:
Modern stylistics can explore the structure of sentences in depth. Livingston’s and the poem’s use of syntactic structures, such as phrase lengths and patterns, are more alike than Moore’s syntax.
- Thematic Consistency:
Using text mining, one can extract and compare thematic elements across different works.
Livingston’s works often present playful and jovial themes, akin to those in “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” The poem’s depiction of St. Nicholas, for example, is more consistent with Livingston’s jovial portrayals of characters than Moore’s typically more ironic approach.
- Historical Evidence Backed by Computational Analysis:
Digital humanities scholars have made use of databases and digital archives to trace literary influences and dissemination.
Livingston’s descendants have long claimed that they heard the poem from Livingston himself before it was ever published. This anecdotal evidence is bolstered by the stylistic matches identified computationally.
No concrete documentary evidence exists from Moore’s time that directly ties him to the poem, aside from his later claim and its inclusion in an anthology.
- Error Analysis:
Some peculiarities in the poem, such as the reindeer names “Dunder and Blixem” (Dutch for “Thunder and Lightning”) rather than the later popularized “Donder and Blitzen,” are more consistent with Livingston’s Dutch heritage and his fluency in the language.
Traditional scholarship and popular belief have largely credited Clement Clarke Moore with the authorship of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,”
On my research this appears to be based solely on the fact he was the only person to claim authorship as there were no other takers. When subjected to the rigorous and empirical methods of modern computational stylistics, there does seem to be a strong case to be made for Henry Livingston Jr.’s authorship. While this cannot be considered definitive proof, it certainly highlights the need for a more nuanced understanding of literary history and the ever-evolving tools we use to understand it.
I would suggest the book be credited to both poets until further methods or proof appear.
That’s all ! ©Glamourdaze