Clement C. Moore


Clement Moore


When Clement Moore wrote his poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, his most profound inspiration came from a keen appreciation of his audience. He wasn’t writing for publication, but to delight his own six children. To that end, he transformed the legendary figure of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, into Santa Claus, a fairy tale character for children.

Moore himself was a dour, straitlaced academician and a professor of classics. The year he wrote the poem, he refused to have it published, despite its enthusiastic reception by everyone who read it. The following Christmas A Visit from St. Nicholas found its way into the mass media when a family member submitted it to an out-of-town newspaper. The poem (also known by the title ’Twas the Night Before Christmas) was an “overnight sensation,” as we would say today, but Moore was not to acknowledge authorship of it until fifteen years later, when he reluctantly included it in a volume of collected works. He called the poem “a mere trifle.”

The irony of this, according to Duncan Emrich (author of Folklore on the American Land), is that for all his protestations, Professor Clement Clarke Moore is now remembered for little else at all.

Biographical Note: 

Clement Clarke Moore was an educator, Hebraist, poet; born in New York City. He graduated from Columbia College (1798), became a Hebrew scholar, wrote A Compendious Lexicon of the Hebrew Language (1809), and was a founder of and professor at the General Theological Seminary, New York City (1823–50). He is generally known for a poem written for his children, A Visit From St. Nicholas (1822), later known as The Night Before Christmas. The work was copied down by a guest at his home and given, without his knowledge or permission, to a newspaper in Troy, N.Y., for publication in 1823, and was copied by other newspapers throughout the country; it was only in 1844 that Moore was acknowledged as the author. His other claim to fame is that in 1807 he discovered Lorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist of three of Mozart’s greatest operas, in a New York City bookstore, and was instrumental in Da Ponte’s new career as a teacher of Italian language and literature.