Rejoyce! Rejoyce! St. Nicholas: a textual scandal.
THE ST. NICK SCANDAL
When Clement C. Moore LL.D. died in 1863, he must have known that he would be remembered not for his pedagogy at the Protestant Episcopal Seminary in New York City, or for his scholarship in compiling the monumental Hebrew and English Lexicon, but for the poem popularly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." As if this ironic jape of fate were not enough, we now have an alleged "corrected edition" cobbled together by textual editor Dr. Hartvig Ludendorff and his band of right joily elves at the Spielvogel Archives in Bad Moutheim, West Germany.
Scholars only recently cracked the code of Dr. Moore's "Visit," unlocking a hidden subtext that reveals the poem to be a profound evocation of the dark night of the soul.
The discovery of letters from Moore to his friend Ned Stebbins confirmed that the good cleric had long been plagued by dipsomaniacal demons and that the poem about Santa Claus was an attempt to exorcise them (see Ramsforth, "St. Nick and Old Nick: Clement Moore's Satanic Vision," Susquehannah Review, Winter 1985; and Ramsforth. "Clement Moore: Dionysian Poet," Scholarly Offprints, June 1986). Had the generations of children to whom the poem has been read as a Christmas Eve somnifacient known the latent content of Moore's vinous visions, more than sugar plums would have danced in their heads.
When the true significance of "A Visit From St. Nicholas" was at last recognized and it was inducted into the poetic canon (see Ramsforth, "St. Nicholas Revisited: Moore's Dark Vision," Air Force Academy Quarterly, Winter-Spring 1986), the heavy-footed tread of the textual collators could not be far behind. And indeed, their computerized labors have now given birth to a chubby tome, weighing in at 5 pounds, 7 ounces, including acknowledgments, appendix and footnotes. This "definitive edition," launched by a fulsome, self-serving Festschrift in the Fall 1987 issue of Clement Moore Studies, well recognized as the mouthpiece of the Ludendorff cabal, plumbs new depths of scholarly ineptitude.
In a word, Ludendorff and his drones have concocted an entirely spurious version of the poem, riddled with erroneous emendations. This saturnalia of textual deviation takes as its provenance the controversial holograph indited by Moore on a cocktail napkin from the Fraunces Tavern. ' Considerable scholarly debate has been expended on the authenticity of this paper most foul' (see Ramsforth, "Moore's Happy Hour: The Fraunces Holograph Controversy," Logomachy, Summer 1981). As for my own view, I will say simply that I am of the camp that finds the alleged notes a clever forgery. But even if the material were authentic, it still could not be the authoritative text. Take for instance the lines:
With a little old driver, so lively and
I knew in a moment it must be St.
In the Fraunces version, which Ludendorff et al. have now enshrined as the "final" and "authentic" text, we see:
With a red-suited Jehu, so droll and
I knew at once it must be St. Nicholas.
Never mind that the first line does not scan, and forget the Victorian cliche "Jehu" for driver. Consider instead how the word "ridiculous" alters the point of view of the poem, which is otherwise reverential toward the scarlet-clad saint. Worse, we lose the religious doubleentendre of "St. Nick" (as in Old Nick -Scratch, the devil).
Ludendorff and Co. contend that their rendering is closer to the poet's true intentions (footnote 2007, page 563). Their arguments are too tedious to adumbrate here, but they come down to the simple proposition in vino veritas. Yet in making this claim the editors are compelled to reject the so-called Morning-After Holograph, composed by Moore in the gray, post-Wassail light of Boxing Day, and considered, until Ludendorff and his wrecking crew took up their cudgels, the true text. Ludendorff et Cie. contend that Moore's wife edited this version, which Moore dictated to her after taking to his bed with a severe case of the megrims. The matronly Mme. Moore's reputation undergoes considerable buffeting at the hands of the "restorers." She was, they grumble, the Censor, the Victorian Superego, the Pedantic Poetic Parser, the Circe who combed the authentic tangles of meaning out of her husband's unruly lines. But Moore hungover was Moore twice armed, as I have argued elsewhere (see Ramsforth"The Morning After Christmas: Moore's Revisions of 'A Visit from St. Nicholas,, " Elsewhere, Spring 1983). It was precisely the rigorous sublimation that his taproom reveries underwent in revision that gave the poem its subliminal greatness. . . .
Dr. Sebastian Ramsforth
For reasons of space we have omitted the remaining 10,000 words of Dr. Ramsforth's letter. Suffice it to say that he accuses Ludendorff of injecting numerous errors into the poem; of misplacing "no less than thirty-five commas, twentythree semicolons and four periods",- of Plagiarizing extensively from Dr. Ramsforth's scholarly articles,- of misappropriating a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities ("more than half of which went to feed Ludendorffs voracious appetite for gambling'),- of libelous innuendoes designed to destroy Dr. Ramsforth's scholarly reputation; of selling numerous items of Mooreiana to private collectors for personal gain,, and of certain felonies and misdemean or, s "which have been duly reported to the proper authorities.
- The Editors
DR. LUDENDORFF REPLIES
I am shocked that the editors of this once-distinguished journal should have seen fit to lend their pages to the scurrilous insinuations and pseudo-philological maunderings of Dr. (sic) Sebastian Ramsforth. They cannot be unaware of the longstanding and deep-seated malice (there is no other word) that Ramsforth has brought to the study of the work of a man whom all other scholars contend to be "America's Most Beloved Poet" (see Ludendorff, "Longfellow, Moore and Whittier: A Tabulation of Citations in Contemporary Journals," Clement Moore Studies, January-February 1978). Ramsforth's assertion that Moore's St. Nicholas was a "Satanic vision" and his imputations against the Good Doctor's sobriety have been shown to be wholly groundless and without foundation not only by such established Moorean authorities as E. Vandevar Conolly and Colin Evander but even by Hugh O'Connor, who has dismissed Ramsforth's fabrications out of hand in his authoritative study The Literature of Christmas (Kansas Institute of Mining and Science Press, 3 vols., 1984), and even more devastatingly in his contribution to Poseidon, Magus, Elf.- The Evolution of Nicholas of Myra (H. Ludendorff, editor). I should not have thought it would be necessary, after Ramsforth had been so thoroughly discredited, that his aspersions against the Beloved Author should have to be dignified with renewed refutation, but such is the hydra-headed nature of scholarly error (and the perversity of editors).
To begin with, there is the "cocktail napkin" holograph in the Hughes collection, the authenticity of which Ramsforth has tried repeatedly to impugn. He has gone so far as to project his own fevered imagining on the Rorschachlike wine stain on the recto side of the Fraunces Holograph, in which he pretends to see a "wine glass" and "scantily clad females." No doubt it was this disposition to sniff out pornographic implications in the most innocent images that prompted Ramsforth to maintain in his notorious farrago of errors that disgraced the pages of Elsewhere (op. cit.) that Moore's beautiful and chaste lines,
The moon on the crest of the new
fallen snow Lent a semblance of sunlight to th' icy
should "properly" take the form familiar to us from the later, corrupt editions of the work:
The moon on the breast of the new
fallen snow Gave a lustre of midday to objects
Can Ramsforth really suppose that a man of such delicate sensibilities that he always scrupled to speak of "white meat" and "dark meat" when he dined on poultry would have wantonly endowed snow with breasts and rimed the entire landscape of his poem with a lubricious "lustre"? Of course not! Only the Satanic dipsomaniac of "Doc" Ramsforth's obsessed imagination could have conspired to introduce such immodesties into the innocent bowers of American childhood.
Concerning the influence of Moore's wife, Marianne, I'm afraid Ramsforth entirely misapprehends the significance of the Boxing Day Holograph. Little wonder, since he has never visited the Spielvogel Archives. (Or, if he has, it must have been under an alias, for his name does not appear among the twelve signatures of the Archives' register in as many years!) If he had studied the Boxing Day Holograph, or even read the relevant passages in The New Definitive Synoptic Corrected Edition (pp . 247-334), he would realize that the poem familiar from the corrupt text can scarcely be said to be the work of the Beloved Author at all: At best it is a collaboration with Marianne. Certain feminist critics, such as Brunhilde Dwarfling, have even suggested that the corrupt text continue to be printed in its familiar form but be reascribed to Marianne Moore (see Dwarfling, "Mrs. Santa: Woman's Invention of Christmas," Feminist Yuletide Research Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 3). Dwarfling argues persuasively that the role of Mrs. Santa was much more than that of an amanuensis, that it was she who "corrected" the Beloved Author's stately alexandrines to anapestic doggerel, wrenching his immortal opening lines with their Keatsian echoes
It was the Eve of Christmas, and
throughout the house
No living creature was astir; nay, not a
into the jingling
'Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a
It was she who substituted
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer
for the evocative vision conjured by Moore's original couplet:
When, all amaz'd, I saw upon the snowy road
A wint'ry phaeton with four bays to pull its load.
How much richer an image, almost a Currier & Ives print, with none of the embarrassing whimsy of the distaff version. Here are four horses solidly planted on a snowy road, such as one might have seen out of the Good Doctor's windows on any winter's night, not reindeer flying through the air with a "miniature" sleigh. How, if the sleigh is miniature, could the toys in St. Nicholas's bundle be of a suitable size for the children who will receive them? Are we to believe that reindeer fly? Ramsforth has never addressed himself to these intractable difficulties of the corrupt text. Nor does he acknowledge the appropriateness (one might even say inevitability) of Moore's equine and coaching imagery in a poem honoring one who was not only the patron saint of children, merchants and pawnbrokers but also of highwaymen (see Ludendorff, "Stand and Deliver: The Other Side of Santa," Clement Moore Studies, Spring 1986).
Finally, I must call attention to Ramsforth's erroneous citation of the lines from the Fraunces version as being part of the final, rediscovered text. Their metrical irregularities alone argue against this. What the Fraunces holograph represents is the author's faulty recollection of his original after Marianne's tamperings. What Moore almost certainly meant to write was:
With red-togg'd troll, so droll and so ridiculous
I knew at once that he must be St. Nicholas.
Admittedly, there is no manuscript authority for these reconstructed lines, but no one who has taken the trouble to examine the materials in the Spielvogel Archives has ever called the reconstructed text into question. Only Sebastian Ramsforth! I see no further reason to discuss his scribblings as though they were acts of scholarship, and I apologize to the readers of this journal for the necessity of defending my own work, and Clement Clarke Moore's, against his imputations.
Finally, to those readers, in the spirit of the Yuletide season, and in the immortal words of the Beloved Author:
A Merry Christmas Day to you, and
Dr. Hartvig Ludendorff
Ever since the trial of Socrates in fourth-century B.C. Athens for subverting what George Bush would call "values," courtroom proceedings have provided catharsis, moral instruction and entertainment for a passive p"Trials of the century" seem to come along every few years: In the memory of many still living, the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti, John Scopes, the Scottsboro Boys, Bruno Hauptmann, the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss vie for pride of place at the top of the all-time chart. The 1960s gave Americans, among other things, a string of absolutely first-rate political trials, many of which assumed the character of guerrilla theater: Angela Davis, the Soledad Brothers (featuring George Jackson in subsequent solo roles), the New York Panther 21, the New Haven Panthers (starring Bobby Seale and Erika Huggins), the Boston Five (antidraft advocates), the Chicago Seven (or Eight), the Catonsville Nine and much, much more.
Those celebrated trials were mainly about politics, broadly speaking, or about mystery. The legitimacy of the left, the validity of rebellion, the role of religion and the authority of the state were on trial. In the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro Boys, Hauptmann, Hiss and the Rosenbergs, the trials -which live on at least partly because of suspected injustice - were also "exercises in discovery, in ascertaining the truth, or a consensual version of it, amid wildly contradictory accounts of the circumstances. In other words, Who dunnit? It says something about the times in which the trials took place that the defendants on the pre-1960s list were all found guilty (and many were executed by the state), while an extraordinary number of the later ones were acquitted. Following the political earthquake of the 1960s came the judicial aftershock of the 1970s: the trials of Watergate, in which the conspirators were prosecuted and all found guilty.
Now another generation has come to trial, but the celebrated cases of this decade have a decidedly different meaning and new public function. The prosecution of Joel Steinberg for the murder of his illegally adopted daughter, Lisa, is the latest in a spectacular series that began with the trial of Jean Harris and continued through John Hinckley, Bernhard Goetz, the fight for Baby M, the Howard Beach gang, Bess Meyerson, and that trial-that-wasn't, the Tawana Brawley episode. These cases were about sex, gender, race and madness-sometimes all together, packaged by the media in extremely personal terms, as if to deny the dictum of the 1960s that personal problems are also political issues. There was no real mystery to be resolved in any of them, and neither did they spring from political urges. Hinckley was no Sacco or Vanzetti; Goetz was not simply a negative of Angela Davis. Baby M's father and adoptive mother, William and Elizabeth Stern, took a baby from its mother but they bore no resemblance to Hauptmann, the kidnapper of the Lindbergh child. The whites who beat and chased a black man to his death in Howard Beach, Queens, were not mirror images of the Scottsboro Boys.
The defendants (and attendant personnel) are now given the roles of lone gunmen, psycho killers, anomalous punks, fools for love or women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Their individual responsibility is at issue, not the larger social forces that give rise to the acts with which they are charged. On occasion, organized groups or commentators with a radical sense of the complexity of social behavior have tried to insert some analysis into the spectacle that attends such trials. Feminists prepared and signed a letter supporting Baby M's biological mother. Antiracist organizations protested against Goetz and the Howard Beach punks. Recently, some women have been trying to make the case that Hedda Nussbaum, Joel Steinberg's brutally abused and pathologically dependent lover, is a living metaphor for millions in less dramatic, psychologically similar conditions. But in these cases spectacle tends to defeat analysis, and the morality of the circus overwhelms the sociological imagination.
Conflicts of identity may be sublimated by the judicial process and presented as spectacles precisely because the political structure cannot mediate them. Prosecution and defense, press and public are all complicit in the reduction of social issues to personal tragedies. And the more tragic the circumstance, the more distant it becomes ftom most people's lives. Women who see the pathetic, semirobotic Nussbaum chronicle her savage existence for the TV cameras may or may not think, "There but for the grace of God go l," but they rarely sense that far more banal relationships also entail dependencies that may wound and limit lives. And men who see Joel Steinberg curl his lips and beetle his brows on the evening news seldom understand that he represents an extreme version of the violent and manipulative personality that has its origins in social as well as individual conditions. For all its postmodernity, television affects a Victorian attitude toward behavior. It equates explanation with justification, and since evil cannot be justified, it must not be explained.
The trials of this generation have a tabloid reality, like the lurid layouts in checkout- counter magazines and the new trash TV series. It is increasingly difficult to tell whether the program pre-empted by the Steinberg trial is the soap opera, or vice versa. Trials are not only mediated, they are media: They are true fictions that convey false truths about our lives and our worlds. In other words, they are docudramas staged by the state and run by the networks and the press for purposes of ideological instruction and social control. At last, there is a perfect marriage of show and trial.
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|Title Annotation:||revision of "A Visit From St. Nicholas"|
|Author:||Lingeman, Richard; Disch, Thomas M.; Ludendorff, Hartvig; Ramsforth, Sebastian|
|Date:||Jan 2, 1989|
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