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Style and Authorship in a Classic of Popular Culture: Henry Livingston and "The Night Before Christmas".

"The Night Before Christmas" has been called "arguably the best-known poem by an American" (Burrows and Wallace 462-63). A classic of popular culture, it has been endlessly reprinted and illustrated. It has spawned radio, television, film, theatre, and musical adaptations. But it was first published anonymously, under the title "Account of A Visit from St. Nicholas," in a newspaper, the Troy Sentinel, on December 23, 1823, and from time to time controversy has erupted over who was the author. Traditionally it has been credited to the New York professor of Greek and Oriental Literature Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), who included it among his Poems, but the descendants of Henry Livingston (1748-1828), a Dutchess County army major, farmer, surveyor, and justice of the peace, claim that he wrote it and read it to his children around about 1808. Donald Foster's case for Livingston, in a chapter of his Author Unknown (2001), received a great deal of publicity. Foster had gained deserved celebrity for identifying the journalist Joe Klein as the "Anonymous" responsible for Primary Colors, a best-selling novel that satirized Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. But his work on "The Night Before Christmas" was attacked by Seth Kaller, Joe Nickell, and Stephen Nissenbaum, among others.

No experienced reader of poetry who had worked their way through the extant verse of both Livingston and Moore could fail to recognize that their characteristics are dissimilar. Livingston's output is warm-hearted, celebratory, and imaginative. It has verve and humor. The shorter pieces have an easy lyric grace. Livingston's poetic personality is playful and whimsical. Moore, in contrast, is a moralist, pedagogue, and satirist. He is inclined to preach. His poems are often clogged with earnest cogitation. Whereas Livingston's lines trip off the tongue, Moore's trip up the tongue. But of course attribution studies must turn such subjective literary-critical impressions into objectively quantifiable data.

"The Night Before Christmas" deserves its fame. The imagined encounter with an elfin St. Nick, his tiny reindeer, and miniature airborne sleigh is told with verve and considerable narrative skill, riveting attention from beginning to end. Energized by a string of active verbs, the poem is crammed with sensory detail. A substantial article might be devoted to analysis of its organization, as the speaking voice modulates--rising and falling, speeding up and slowing down--through a variety of tones and emotions (expectation, surprise, excitement, wonder, amusement, and joy) and of the range of rhetorical figures and poetic devices employed, right through to the chiasmic structure (abba) of the concluding line, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night." But distinguishing between authors requires a more mundane approach.

In a recent book, I attempted a thorough reassessment of the arguments in favor of Moore's or Livingston's authorship and described statistical tests that distinguish between the acknowledged poetry of the two claimants (Jackson, Who Wrote). When these were applied to "The Night Before Christmas," it turned out to be consistently associated with Livingston, not Moore. The evidence as a whole seemed to warrant the reattribution of the famous poem to Livingston.

Both Moore and Livingston had produced a sufficient amount of verse for the purposes of differentiating between their styles. Since no other candidate had ever been, or was ever likely to be, proposed as author of "The Night Before Christmas," it was necessary only to search for features that in combination discriminated between one man's work and the other's. The results were unequivocal. It might, however, be claimed--though not plausibly, as I tried to show--that they were a consequence of genre, rather than of authorship: Moore aspired to join a poetic mainstream, whereas Livingston belonged to a more popular rhyming tradition, associated at the time with fugitive publication in newspapers and magazines. It has therefore seemed worth conducting a follow-up investigation comparing Livingston's poems with those of a range of his peers and seeing whether "lhe Night Before Christmas" more comfortably fits within the Livingston or Non-Livingston body of verse.

The core corpus of poems incontestably Livingston's is listed by Jackson (Who Wrote 164-68). It consists of manuscript items in the poet's own handwriting, either in a bound collection of his own or inscribed in his daughter Jane's "poetry book"; items attributed and owned by other descendants; and items published under Livingston's pseudonym "R" in newspapers and journals to which he is known to have contributed.

A comparative Non-Livingston corpus--matched as closely as possible with Livingston's for overall size, date, and kinds of subject matter--was compiled by Mary Van Deusen from newspapers and journals of the appropriate period and in most of which Livingston's verse had also been published: the American Magazine, New York Magazine, Northern Whig Poughkeepsie Journal, and Weekly Museum. The verses are mainly fresh compositions, but a small minority, by earlier poets, are reprinted in such places as the Poughkeepsie Journal's "Poets' Corner" as favorites of contemporary readers; these latter have been retained as indicative of some of the models in vogue. A complete list of the titles, the given authors or pen names, and the sources (with journals and dates) is provided in Appendix 1.

Especially effective discrimination between Livingston and Moore had been achieved through counts of the rates of use of the most commonly occurring words. High-frequency words or "function words"--"the," "to," "with," "for," "of," and the like--belong in almost every modern attribution scholar's armory (Burrows; Juola). They form the framework on which sentences, with their "content" words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs) are built, and so their rates of use register preferences in the deployment of grammar and syntax. A graph showed "The Night Before Christmas" falling outside the range for Moore poems and close to the middle of Livingston's range (Jackson, Who Wrote 133). A similar methodology is here employed in an attempt to distinguish between the Livingston and Non-Livingston corpora.

Paul Kosinski's computer program created inventories of the frequencies of use (number of tokens) of every word (type) in each corpus--Livingston's of 1,893 lines and 13,074 words as tokens and Non-Livingston of 1,872 lines and 13,168 words as tokens--and calculated the rates of use for each type as a percentage of the total number of tokens. In each inventory, word-types were ordered according to frequency and, when of equal frequency, alphabetically. Rates of the one hundred and ten most frequentiy occurring words in either corpus were then compared with the rates of occurrence in the other corpus, and those that occurred at rates at least 1.2 times greater in one or other corpus were selected as "Livingston-favored" or "Non-Livingston favored" words. If the one hundred and tenth greatest frequency was shared by several words, the alphabetical order was used to determine the cut-off point. Since many of Livingston's pieces are restricted to manuscript, such variant spellings as "'tis" or "tis," "oh" or "o," "and" or "&," "though" or "tho"' or "tho," and "every" or "ev'ry" were combined as a single word. Counts amalgamated those for capitalized and non-capitalized words. There were forty-six Livingston-favored words, forty five Non-Livingston favored words. They are listed in Appendix 2. Although function words dominate the lists, a few content words also qualify for inclusion.

In many authorship studies, rates of use in works by Author A and Author B, or by Author A and a comparative group of Authors B-Z, are plotted on two separate axes, vertical and horizontal, but for this study, as for the earlier investigation of Livingston versus Moore, one simple figure was calculated--the number of Livingston-favored words as a percentage of the total of Livingston-favored plus Non-Livingston favored words. Four Livingston poems and four Non-Livingston poems contained fewer than fifteen of the test words and have been discarded from Table 1 (in Appendix 3) and Figure 1, which show the results.

The two corpora clearly form two different populations. Livingston's has a mean of 71.673, a standard deviation of 11.571, and a range of 40.000-95.122, with "Anne" at the lower end an obvious outlier, the next lowest score being 52.632. The Non-Livingston comparative group has a mean of 48.225, a standard deviation of 11.137, and a range of 22.222-78.261, with "Epitaph on a Sailor" at the upper limit an obvious outlier, the next highest score being 71.429. Livingston's "Anne" ("To My Little Niece Anne Duyckinck") is very short, consisting of only twelve lines and sixty-two words altogether. "Epitaph on a Sailor" sustains a series of nautical metaphors for sixteen lines: the dogged ingenuity with which it does so verges on the comic. Livingston used nautical imagery in his epitaphs "On the Late Mr. Gilbert Cortland," "To the Memory of Sarah Livingston," and "Catherine Livingston Breese," but he handles the limited number of such metaphors with tact and without strain. Thirty-four years after the anonymous publication of "Epitaph on a Sailor" in the Poughkeepsie Journal, a garbled version was used on the tombstone of Reuben Chase, a Nantucket naval hero of the Revolutionary War, who served as a midshipman under John Paul Jones on the Ranger and died on July 23, 1824 (Anon, "Reuben Chase," "Epitaph").

This means that only one anomalous Non-Livingston poem, out of fifty eight, scores more highly on its percentage of Livingston-favored words than "The Night Before Christmas," with 75.676. On this test, "The Night Before Christmas" belongs within the Livingston corpus.

In Figure 1 percentages of Livingston-favored words are rounded off to the nearest whole number and the numbers of Livingston and Non-Livingston poems that fall into the various ranges of percentages (20-24, 25-29, 30-34, etc.) are displayed in bar-graph form.

An innovative test of "phoneme pairs" proved efficacious in discriminating between the poetic corpora of Livingston and Moore (Jackson, Who Wrote 49-63). Texts were transcribed into the phonetic code known as Arpabet, which was developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency and designed for General American English ('Arpabet"). It is used in Carnegie Mellon University's CMU Pronouncing Dictionary, available online. A phoneme is a unit of significant sound in a specific language. In Arpabet the word "stockings" consists of the seven phonemes S-T-AA-K-IH-NG-Z. Arpabet thus has the advantage over the International Phonetic Alphabet of employing only familiar letters of the English alphabet, though in its own manner. Phoneme pairs were defined as consisting of the last phoneme of one word and the first phoneme of the next word within a single verse line: a line's final phoneme could not create a phoneme pair with the initial phoneme of the following line. The phrase "not even a mouse," transcribed as N-AA-TIY-V-IH-N AH M-AW-S, yielded the phoneme pairs T/IY, N/AH, and AH/M. Kosinski's computer program counted the frequencies--within individual poems by Moore and Livingston and within their corpora as wholes--of all the different phoneme pairs.

The rates of occurrence of different phoneme pairs are good indicators of authorship, particularly of poetry, because they register a combination of (a) choice of words and (b) ways of putting them together. A poet's preferences among them are governed by both sound and sense. Livingston's verse is more euphonious and flows more freely than Moore's, so that he uses more phonetic pairs of which one element is a vowel sound than does Moore, whose most favored phoneme pairs tend to have consonants as each element. Again, a graph of results for totals of Livingston-favored phoneme pairs, expressed as a percentage of Livingston-favored plus Moore-favored pairs showed "The Night Before Christmas" falling outside the range for Moore's poems and close to the mean score for Livingston's (Jackson, Who Wrote 132).

For the present study, the incidence of different phoneme pairs is compared in the Livingston and Non-Livingston corpora. The question is again whether the two populations are statistically distinguishable and, if so, to which does "The Night Before Christmas" most naturally belong. Each of the hundred most frequently occurring phoneme pairs in either corpus was checked by chi-square to determine whether it was used at a higher rate within one or other overall corpus. A 5 percent level of significance was adopted (p < 0.05). The following sets of phoneme pairs qualified:

Livingston-favored: AH/N AY/HH AY/L D/AH DH/DH D/N IY/AH IY/K N/ AH T/AH Z/IH

Non-Livingston-favored: AY/DH L/B OW/M S/DH T/DH Z/DH Z/S

Remarkably, Livingston's preference for pairs that include at least one vowel sound distinguishes his verse not only from Moore's, but from that of his fellow contributors to the newspapers and popular journals of the time. Nine of Livingston's eleven pairs in the above list contain a vowel, as do only two of the seven Non-Livingston pairs. Italian is considered a "musical" language largely because words end in vowels, and the statistics support our sense that Livingston's typical poetic style is unusually melodious and nimble.

For every poem the number of instances of Livingston-favored phoneme pairs was computed as a percentage of the total number of instances of all eighteen pairs. In each set, twenty poems contained fewer than ten of the test pairs, and so are eliminated from the results that are given in Table 2 (in Appendix 3) and graphed in Figure 2, which is constructed in the same way as Figure 1. Results for the forty poems that afford so few relevant data vary wildly. Obviously a paucity of data increases the degree of purely random variation. Discarded Livingston poems range from 25% Livingston-favored words for "Catherine Livingston Breese," which has only four test pairs, to 100% for "Without Distinction," which has only one test pair; the four-line "Catherine Breese Livingston" has none. The overall percentage for the twenty discarded Livingston poems combined as a single unit is 63.964. Discarded Non-Livingston poems range from 0% for "Old Man's Advice" (with seven test pairs), "Eulogy on Greene" (with nine), "Fatal Beverage" (with one), and "Sonnet to Hope" (with two) to 83.333 for "Retirement" (with six). The overall percentage for the twenty discarded Non-Livingston poems is 40.152.

Of prime interest, however, are the results for poems with at least ten test pairs. The forty-four Livingston poems that qualify have percentages of Livingston-favored pairs ranging from 50.000 to 92.857, a mean of 69.356, and a standard deviation of 11.602. The forty-two Non-Livingston poems that qualify have percentages ranging from 13.636 to 78.582, a mean of 43.719, and a standard deviation of 11.875. The poem at the top end of the Non-Livingston range, "Wedding Ring" at 78.582, is the only one with a higher score than "The Night Before Christmas" with 77.551. "Wedding Ring" is an outlier among the Non-Livingston poems that qualify, the next highest score being 66.667 for "Philadelphia." Moreover, "Wedding Ring" has only fourteen test pairs, so that if we were to set our cut-off point at fifteen (as for test words), rather than ten, "The Night Before Christmas" (which has forty-nine test pairs) would be well clear of any Non-Livingston poem. The lower cut-off point was adopted because there are far fewer test pairs than test words. But again it is clear that "The Night Before Christmas" belongs with the Livingston poems.

"Wedding Ring" scored below the Non-Livingston mean for its percentage of Livingston-favored words. "Epitaph on a Sailor," which topped the Non-Livingston percentages for Livingston-favored words, had only six test pairs, so was unsuited to the analysis of Phoneme Pairs. In combination the Common Words and the Phoneme Pairs establish "The Night Before Christmas" as more Livingston-like than any of the poems in the Non-Livingston group.

We may conclude with a brief summary and discussion of our findings. The two tests that had, in a previous study, been found to discriminate most effectively between Livingston's poems and Moore's poems were in the present study found to discriminate also between Livingston's poems and a body of Non-Livingston poems by a variety of poets who published in the same or similar journals as did Livingston during the same period. The two tests--of Common Words and Phoneme Pairs--are almost entirely independent of each other. Forty-two Non-Livingston poems qualify for inclusion in both Table 1 (showing each poem's percentage of Livingston-favored common words) and Table 2 (showing each poem's percentage of Livingston-favored phoneme pairs). The rank-order correlation between the two sets of percentages is very low: r = 0.1577,42 d.f., p = 0.3186 (two-tailed). Statistically, this is completely insignificant.

It might be suggested that the performance of "The Night Before Christmas" on this test is, to a significant degree, the result of its having been composed in anapests (ti-ti-turn), as were about one-third of Livingston's poems (those listed by Jackson, Who Wrote 33)--that meter significantly determined the selection of high-frequency words and phoneme pairs. But we can reject this suggestion for the following reasons. Ten Non-Livingston poems in our Tables 1 and 2 (Appendix 3) are anapestic or mainly so. They are identified by asterisks in Appendix 1. Their total percentage of Livingston-favored words is 51.938, slightly above the total for all Non-Livingston poems (46.738) but far short of the total for Livingston poems (73.158) and for "The Night Before Christmas" (76.676). Similarly the total percentage of Livingston-favored phoneme pairs in anapestic Non-Livingston poems (including "Lydia" and "To Miss E.W."--with too few data to qualify for Table 2) is 44.737, slightly above the total for all Non-Livingston poems (43.387), but far short of the total for Livingston poems (69.524) and for "The Night Before Christmas" (77.551). Among the Livingston poems also, we find little difference between the anapestic pieces and the rest. The percentage of Livingston-favored words in his anapestic poems is 75.454, only slightly higher than for all Livingston's poems (73.158), while the percentage of Livingston-favored phoneme pairs in his anapestic poems is 68.506, slightly lower than for all Livingston's poems (69.524).

The evidence that consistently placed "The Night Before Christmas" among Livingston's, rather than Moore's, poems on tests designed to differentiate the works of the two authors seemed impossible to reconcile with Moore's authorship of the famous Christmas poem:

No doubt a writer may have a flash of inspiration that enables him or her to achieve a unique literary success that seems in a sense "out of character." But to postulate that Moore enjoyed such a serendipitous episode will hardly account for the nature of "The Night Before Christmas." We would still have to explain why Moore, on the solitary occasion in which he created something that was to catch the world's imagination, slipped into a style that was not only utterly atypical of his own verse but utterly typical of the verse of the very man who, according to his descendants, was the true author. (Jackson, Who Wrote 134)

The results reported in the present article further strengthen this argument. "The Night Before Christmas," which had proved in an earlier study to be more Livingston-like than any poem by Moore that survives in print or manuscript, also turns out to be more Livingston-like than any poem in a large sample by a wide range of Livingston's contemporaries. The tests producing such an outcome are of elements of composition not readily subject to imitation. The rates of use of high-frequency words and of phoneme pairs are largely outside a writer's conscious control.

A previously overlooked piece of "external evidence" for Moore's claim to "The Night Before Christmas" has, however, recently been discovered by Scott Norsworthy: in correspondence to the New York American of 1 March 1844 Moore, correcting a misattribution of the poem to the artist Joseph Wood, unequivocally asserted his authorship (Norsworthy). This was just before he included the Christmas piece in his Poems of that year. But there are oddities about the timing of Moore's assertion and inaccuracies in his letter, which, taken together, arouse suspicion (Jackson Response), while the documentary evidence crediting Livingston with the poem cannot lightly be dismissed. The internal evidence associating "The Night Before Christmas" with Livingston may not be sufficient to carry the day, but it presents a daunting challenge to Moore's supporters: it cannot easily be explained away.


In the list below, between semi-colons are given the title of the poem (sometimes slightly shortened), the attribution provided in the journal from which the text was taken, an acronym of the journal tide, the date of the relevant issue. The authors' names are mostly pen-names. In some cases the attribution is merely to another journal: poems were often recycled. Asterisks indicate pieces wholly or mainly anapestic. The acronyms identify the following journals: AM American Magazine, NYM New York Magazine, NW Northern Whig PJ Poughkeepsie Journal, and WkM Weekly Museum.

"Aleon," Ella, NYM, March 1791; "Almeria," Imona, NYM, January 1791; "Ancient Poetry," T. Carew, PJ, 9 April 1794; "Autumn Elegy," Emma, PJ, 11 December 1804; "A Widow Lady," A Customer, PJ, 10 April, 1793; *"Banning Ramsay," Philip Freneau, 6 December 1786; "Belle's Progress," From Norfolk Beacon, PJ, 15 May 1822; "Broken Flute," D, NYM, March 1791; *"Brown Cow," A New-York Farmer, NYM, January 1791; "Cleora," Ann Eliza Bleecker, NYM, May 1791; * "Columbia," S of NJ, PJ, 24 April 1822; "Cornelia Remsen," Author of Juvenis, NYM, February 1791; "Death of Hillard," Ray, PJ, 4 December 1804; "Delia Crusca," Mrs. Morton, NYM, March 1791; "Dutch People," Anon., PJ, 18 December 1804; "Epitaph on a Sailor," Anon., PJ, 24 January 1787; "Epithalamium," Philo, PJ, 9 May 1787; "Eulogy on Greene," William Hillhouse, PJ, 6 December 1786; "Fatal Beverage," Julian Prefect of Egypt, PJ, 19 March 1794; *"Fox and Cat," John Cunningham, WkM, 12 July 1794; "Friendship," From Repertory, PJ, 2 December 1806; "Full Blown Rose," P, PJ, 3 April 1822; "Galley Slave," Author of Johnson, PJ, 22 December 1785; "General Knox," From Boston Gazette, PJ, 16 December 1806; "Hail Boreas," A Refugee, PJ, 20 December 1803; "Happiness," Anne Steele, PJ, 27 June 1787; "Indian Eclogue," From Chronicle of Freedom, PJ, 16 May 1787; "Juliet," Strephon, NYM, May 1791; "Laura," Peter Pindar, NYM, June 1791; "Logan's Triumphs," W.D., NYM, January 1791; *"Lover's Vows," From Literary Gazette, PJ, 6 February 1822; *"Lydia," Leander, AM, December 1787; "Major Wyllys," A Friend, NYM, February 1791; "Mercy," Selleck Osborn, PJ, 30 December 1807; "Miniature Profile," Julia, NYM, February 1791; "Miranda's Birthday," Ferdinand, NYM, March 1791; "Miss Anna D-nd-s," Ella, NYM, April 1791; "Mr. Brakenridge," From Chronicle of Freedom, PJ, 18 April 1787; "Ode to Learning," M.D., PJ, 17 April 1793; "Old Man's Advice," Nestor, PJ, 18 July 1787; "On Dr. Trapp," Dr. Trapp, PJ, 17 October 1785; "On the President," S.L., NYM, January 1791; "Philadelphia," From Chronicle of Freedom, PJ, 6 June 1787; "Present Hour," John Trumbull, PJ, 20 September 1786; "Rebus," Corydon, NYM, March 1791; "Retirement," Dr. Brooks, PJ, 20 June 1787; *"Rich and Ambitious," L, PJ, 9 February 1786; "Sailor Boy," From New York Daily Advertiser, PJ, 10 December 1805; "Serenade," Professor Frisbie, PJ, 29 May 1822; "Setting Sun," Mrs. Pearson, NYM, April 1791; "Situation in France," Mareia, NYM, January 1791; "Sonnet to Hope," Helen Maria Williams, NYM, January 1791; "Striking a Fly," Damon, AM, December 1787; *"Sylph," Florio, NW, 27 April 1819; *"To Cymon," Ella, NYM, January 1791; "To Florio," Hortentius, NW, 7 December 1819; *"To Miss E.W.," J.B.C., NYM, January 1791; "Troubled Ocean's Face," Eliza, PJ, 13 December 1786; "Vision of Franklin," From Vision of Columbus, PJ, 2 May 1787; "Wedding Ring," George Doane, PJ, 4 July 1827; "Winter's Walk," Dr. S. Johnson, NYM, January 1791; "Year Grows Old," From Middlesex Gazette, PJ, 13 December 1786


Livingston-favored words: a, all, and/&, around, at, could, day, dear, do, down, each, ever, found, good, had, happy, have, high, I, if, its, lay, little, lovely, man, meet, name, new, on, or, our, peace, plain, rose, than, till, upon, was, we, what, where, who, whose, will, would, you. (46 words)

Non-Livingston-favored words: are, away, be, before, bosom, breast, bright, care, come, death, fair, fame, fly, for, form, heart, her, here, how, let, like, men, mind, must, no, o/oh, round, see, shall, she, sing, some, soul, still, sweet, thee, they, this, those, thou, thy, tis/'tis, were, yet, your. (45 words)

Table 1: Common words more favored in Livingston
or Non-Livingston corpus

                            (a) Number of    (b) Number of
                             Livingston-    Non-Livingston-
                            Favored Words    Favored Words
                             (as tokens)      (as tokens)

Livingston poems

Acknowledgement                  47                9

Acrostic                         21               18

Alcmena                          40               14

American Eagle                   115              13

Anne                              8               12

Apollo                           42               17

Arabella                         10                9

Bats (Fable)                     32               16

Beekman                          77               41

Belle                            31               10

Carrier 1787                     75               20

Carrier 1803                     124              58

Carrier 1819                     120              26

Careless                         30                7

Catherine L Breese               13                6

Catherine Sleeping               22               24

Country                          54               10

Crane and Fox                    88               36

Dance                            57               23

Death of Sarah                   17               12

Deity                            30               15

Dialogue                         21               11

Easter                           19               16

Eliza Hughes                      9                6

Fly                              19                9

Frog King                        42               11

Frontier Song                    13                4

Frosts (Habakkuk)                14                5

Gentleman                        53               18

German Spa                       13               10

Gilbert Courtland                19                4

God is Love                      39                2

Henry Welles L                   13                5

Hero                             64               15

Hezekiah                         22                9

Hogs                             45               13

Isaiah                           24               13

Joanna                           17               15

Job                              19                3

Lo from the East                 21                5

Marriage                         19               12

Marriage Tax                     49               11

Midas                            28                3

Monarchs                         22                4

Montgomery                       20               10

Past is the Hours                21               17

Procession                       23               12

Queen                            25                2

Rispah                           25                8

Sages                            46               11

Scots Wha Hae                    17                5

Settlement                       24               16

Sisters                          31                5

Spadille                         37               20

Tappen                           27                9

Timmy                            28               17

To Miss                          24               10

Valentine                        29                8

Vine                             66               28

War                              58               10

Wren                             17               10

Totals:                       L = 2171        Non-L = 798

Mean of percentages
for individual poems:

Non Livingston poems

A Widow Lady                     20               23

Aleon                            20               20

Almeria                          16               29

Ancient Poetry                   24               20

Autumn Elegy                     33               57

Banning Ramsay                   30               16

Belles Progress                  34               24

Broken Flute                     47               73

Brown Cow                        40               37

Cleora                           35               45

Columbia                          8               28

Cornelia Remsen                  29               44

Death of Hillard                 17               13

Delia Crusca                     15               16

Dutch People                     21               31

Epitaph on a Sailor              18                5

Epithalamium                     11               14

Eulogy on Greene                 13               11

Fox and Cat                      34               22

Friendship                       42               49

Full Blown Rose                  32               26

General Knox                      7               10

Hail Boreas                       8               12

Happiness                        14                8

Indian Eclogue                   29               21

Juliet                           22               41

Laura                            11               19

Logan's Triumphs                 30               61

Lover's Vows                     22               11

Lydia                            26               25

Major Wyllys                     47               29

Mercy                            25               10

Miniature Profiles               14               16

Miranda's Brithday               54               76

Miss Anna D-nd-s                 43               51

Mr. Brakenridge                  19               23

Ode to Learning                  17               26

Old Man's Advice                 15               15

On Dr. Trapp                     11                9

On the President                  6               11

Philadelphia                     64               85

Present Hour                     25               24

Retirement                       11               13

Rich and Ambitious               24               21

Sailor Boy                       28               14

Serenade                         34               65

Setting Sun                      13                9

Situation in France              29               44

Sonnet to Hope                    8               20

Striking a Fly                   10               15

Sylph                            26               35

To Cymon                         43               23

To Florio                        15               16

To Miss E.W.                     15               30

Vision of Franklin               10                8

Wedding Ring                     20               26

Winter's Walk                    13               13

Year Grows Old                    H               13

Totals:                       L = 1361       Non-L = 1551

Mean of percentages
for individual poems:

Night Before Christmas

                               L = 112        Non-L = 36

                               Column "a"
                               Figures as
                              Percentage of
                            Columns "a" + "b"

Livingston poems

Acknowledgement                  83.929

Acrostic                         53.846

Alcmena                          74.074

American Eagle                   89.844

Anne                             40.000

Apollo                           71.186

Arabella                         52.632

Bats (Fable)                     66.667

Beekman                          65.254

Belle                            75.610

Carrier 1787                     78.947

Carrier 1803                     68.132

Carrier 1819                     82.192

Careless                         81.081

Catherine L Breese               68.421

Catherine Sleeping               47.826

Country                          84.375

Crane and Fox                    70.968

Dance                            71.250

Death of Sarah                   58.621

Deity                            66.667

Dialogue                         65.625

Easter                           54.286

Eliza Hughes                     60.000

Fly                              67.857

Frog King                        79.245

Frontier Song                    76.471

Frosts (Habakkuk)                73.684

Gentleman                        74.648

German Spa                       56.522

Gilbert Courtland                82.609

God is Love                      95.122

Henry Welles L                   72.222

Hero                             81.013

Hezekiah                         70.968

Hogs                             77.586

Isaiah                           64.865

Joanna                           53.125

Job                              86.364

Lo from the East                 80.769

Marriage                         61.290

Marriage Tax                     81.667

Midas                            90.323

Monarchs                         84.615

Montgomery                       66.667

Past is the Hours                55.263

Procession                       65.714

Queen                            92.593

Rispah                           75.758

Sages                            80.702

Scots Wha Hae                    77.273

Settlement                       60.000

Sisters                          86.111

Spadille                         64.912

Tappen                           75.000

Timmy                            62.222

To Miss                          70.588

Valentine                        78.378

Vine                             70.213

War                              85.294

Wren                             62.963

Totals:                          Percent
                             L-words 73.158

Mean of percentages              71.673
for individual poems:

Non Livingston poems

A Widow Lady                     46.512

Aleon                            50.000

Almeria                          35.556

Ancient Poetry                   54.545

Autumn Elegy                     36.667

Banning Ramsay                   65.217

Belles Progress                  58.621

Broken Flute                     39.167

Brown Cow                        51.948

Cleora                           43.750

Columbia                         22.222

Cornelia Remsen                  39.726

Death of Hillard                 56.667

Delia Crusca                     48.387

Dutch People                     40.385

Epitaph on a Sailor              78.261

Epithalamium                     44.000

Eulogy on Greene                 54.167

Fox and Cat                      60.714

Friendship                       46.154

Full Blown Rose                  55.172

General Knox                     41.176

Hail Boreas                      40.000

Happiness                        63.636

Indian Eclogue                   58.000

Juliet                           34.921

Laura                            36.667

Logan's Triumphs                 32.967

Lover's Vows                     66.667

Lydia                            50.980

Major Wyllys                     61.842

Mercy                            71.429

Miniature Profiles               46.667

Miranda's Brithday               41.538

Miss Anna D-nd-s                 45.745

Mr. Brakenridge                  45.238

Ode to Learning                  39.535

Old Man's Advice                 50.000

On Dr. Trapp                     55.000

On the President                 35.294

Philadelphia                     42.953

Present Hour                     51.020

Retirement                       45.833

Rich and Ambitious               53.333

Sailor Boy                       66.667

Serenade                         34.343

Setting Sun                      59.091

Situation in France              39.726

Sonnet to Hope                   28.571

Striking a Fly                   40.000

Sylph                            42.623

To Cymon                         65.152

To Florio                        48.387

To Miss E.W.                     33.333

Vision of Franklin               55.556

Wedding Ring                     43.478

Winter's Walk                    50.000

Year Grows Old                   51.852

Totals:                          Percent
                             L-words 46.738

Mean of percentages              48.225
for individual poems:

Night Before Christmas

                             L-words 76.676

Table 2: Phoneme pairs more favored in
Livingston or Non-Livingston corpus

                          (a) Number of     (b) Number of
                         Occurrences of    Occurrences of
                           Livingston-     Non-Livingston-
                         Favored Phoneme   Favored Phoneme
                              Pairs             Pairs

Livingston poems

Acknowledgement                15                 3

Alcmena                        11                10

American Eagle                 27                 9

Apollo                         17                10

Bats (Fable)                   14                 8

Beekman                        25                 4

Carrier 1787                   23                 6

Carrier 1803                   35                19

Carrier 1819                   33                21

Careless                        9                 1

Catherine Sleeping              7                 4

Country                        25                 7

Crane and Fox                  17                10

Dance                          24                 8

Deity                           9                 3

Dialogue                       10                 2

Easter                         14                 3

Frog King                      12                 3

Frontier Song                   7                 3

Gentleman                      14                 5

God is Love                    19                 5

Henry Welles L                 13                 5

Hero                           22                 4

Hogs                           15                 5

Isaiah                          7                 6

Joanna                          9                 3

Job                             6                 5

Lo from the East               16                 7

Marriage                        9                 9

Marriage Tax                    9                 6

Midas                          13                 4

Monarchs                       17                 6

Montgomery                      8                 2

Past is the Hour                7                 7

Processions                     6                 6

Queen                           6                 6

Sages                          19                 8

Scots Wha Hae                  13                 1

Settlement                     17                10

Sisters                         8                 8

Spadille                       10                 4

Timmy                           9                 6

Vine                           22                10

War                            21                12

Wren                            8                 4

Totals:                      L = 657         Non-L = 288

Mean of percentages
for individual poems:

Non-Livingston poems

A Widow Lady                    6                 7

Aleon                           6                 6

Almeria                         5                10

Ancient Poetry                  3                 7

Autumn Elegy                    3                19

Banning Ramsay                 10                12

Belle's Progress                5                 8

Broken Flute                   16                32

Brown Cow                      11                12

Cleora                          5                16

Columbia                        7                 9

Cornelia Remsen                16                11

Death of Hillard                3                 7

Delia Crusca                    7                 8

Dutch People                   12                10

Epithalamium                    6                 8

Fox and Cat                    14                14

Friendship                      9                14

Full Blown Rose                16                23

Indian Eclogue                  6                 7

Juliet                          5                11

Laura                           5                 6

Logan's Triumphs               15                15

Lover's Vows                    3                17

Major Wyllys                   16                17

Mercy                           8                 5

Miniature Profile               4                 7

Miranda's Birthday             22                38

Miss Anna D-nd-s               17                20

Mr. Brakenridge                 6                 6

Ode to Learning                 7                10

Philadelphia                   12                 6

Present Hour                    8                 7

Rich and Ambitious              7                 8

Sailor Boy                     11                 6

Serenade                        6                12

Situation in France             8                10

Sylph                          20                17

To Cymon                        8                 6

To Florio                       6                 9

Vision of Franklin              3                12

Wedding Ring                   11                 3

Totals:                      L = 374         Non-L = 488

Mean percentage for
individual poems:

Night Before

                             L = 38          Non-L = 11

                           Column "a"
                           Figures as
                           of Columns
                            "a" + "b"

Livingston poems

Acknowledgement              83.333

Alcmena                      52.381

American Eagle               75.000

Apollo                       62.963

Bats (Fable)                 63.636

Beekman                      86.207

Carrier 1787                 79.310

Carrier 1803                 64.815

Carrier 1819                 61.111

Careless                     90.000

Catherine Sleeping           63.636

Country                      78.125

Crane and Fox                62.963

Dance                        75.000

Deity                        75.000

Dialogue                     83.333

Easter                       82.353

Frog King                    80.000

Frontier Song                70.000

Gentleman                    73.684

God is Love                  79.167

Henry Welles L               72.222

Hero                         84.615

Hogs                         75.000

Isaiah                       53.846

Joanna                       75.000

Job                          54.545

Lo from the East             69.565

Marriage                     50.000

Marriage Tax                 60.000

Midas                        76.471

Monarchs                     73.913

Montgomery                   80.000

Past is the Hour             50.000

Processions                  50.000

Queen                        50.000

Sages                        70.370

Scots Wha Hae                92.857

Settlement                   62.963

Sisters                      50.000

Spadille                     71.429

Timmy                        60.000

Vine                         68.750

War                          63.636

Wren                         66.667

Totals:                  Percent L-pairs

Mean of percentages          69.356
for individual poems:

Non-Livingston poems

A Widow Lady                 46.154

Aleon                        50.000

Almeria                      33.333

Ancient Poetry               30.000

Autumn Elegy                 13.636

Banning Ramsay               45.455

Belle's Progress             38.462

Broken Flute                 33.333

Brown Cow                    47.826

Cleora                       23.810

Columbia                     43.750

Cornelia Remsen              59.259

Death of Hillard             30.000

Delia Crusca                 46.667

Dutch People                 54.545

Epithalamium                 42.857

Fox and Cat                  50.000

Friendship                   39.130

Full Blown Rose              41.026

Indian Eclogue               46.154

Juliet                       31.250

Laura                        45.455

Logan's Triumphs             50.000

Lover's Vows                 15.000

Major Wyllys                 48.485

Mercy                        61.538

Miniature Profile            36.364

Miranda's Birthday           36.667

Miss Anna D-nd-s             45.946

Mr. Brakenridge              50.000

Ode to Learning              41.176

Philadelphia                 66.667

Present Hour                 53.333

Rich and Ambitious           46.667

Sailor Boy                   64.706

Serenade                     33.333

Situation in France          44.444

Sylph                        54.054

To Cymon                     57.143

To Florio                    40.000

Vision of Franklin           20.000

Wedding Ring                 78.571

Totals:                  Percent L-pairs

Mean percentage for          43.719
individual poems:

Night Before

                         Percent L-pairs

MacDonald P. Jackson



I am grateful to Mary Van Deusen for compiling data for analysis, computer programmer Paul Kosinski for creating lists of frequencies, and linguist Lyn Bates for help with transcriptions into Arpabet.

MACDONALD P. JACKSON is professor emeritus of English at the University of Aucldand and a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He was an associate general editor of, and contributor to, the award-winning Oxford Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works (2007) and its companion volume Thomas Middleton and Early Modern Textual Culture (2007). He has coedited three volumes of Cambridge's The Works of John Webster (2003, 2007, in press, 2017). Among his most recent publications are Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas"? (2016) and three essays in The New Oxford Shakespeare Authorship Companion (2017).


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Nickell, Joe. "The Case of the Christmas Poem, Part 1 and Part 2." Manuscript, vol. 54, no. 4, 2002, pp. 293-308, and vol. 55, no.i, 2003, pp. 5-15.

Nissenbaum, Stephen. "There Arose Such a Clatter: Who Really Wrote 'The Night Before Christmas'? (And Why Does It Matter?)". Common-Place, vol. 1, no. 2, 2001, http://

Norsworthy, Scott. "Clement C. Moore's Published Letter on his Authorship of 'Visit from St. Nicholas.'" 2017, Accessed 22 Feb. 2017.

Caption: Figure 1 * Distribution of Livingston and Non-Livingston poems having percentages of Livingston-favored common words falling within various ranges. Position of "The Night Before Christmas" also shown. Relevant figures are listed in Table 1.

Caption: Figure 2 * Distribution of Livingston and Non-Livingston poems having percentages of Livingston-favored phoneme pairs falling within various ranges. Position of "The Night Before Christmas" also shown. Relevant figures are listed in Table 2.
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Article Type:Critical essay
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Date:Dec 22, 2017
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