Book-Origins of Christmas
The Children's Friend
It’s actually entitled “The Children’s Friend: A New-Year’s Present to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve.” It was a booklet containing a poem about Santa Claus along with eight hand colored engravings and its price was 25 cents. The author was Arthur J. Stansbury (a Presbyterian Minister), Isaac Doolittle and William Armand Barnet were the lithographers, and William Gilley was the publisher.
What makes The Children’s Friend important is that it contains the first known visual representation of Santa Claus, his sleigh and reindeer. And it is a reminder that even in 1821 New Years was still a popular date for Santa’s arrival.
“Old Santeclaus with much delight His reindeer drives this frosty night. O’er chimney tops, and tracks of snow, To bring his yearly gifts to you. The steady friend of virtuous youth, The friend of duty, and of truth, Each Christmas eve he joys to come Where love and peace have made their home” Through many houses he has been, And various beds and stockings seen, Some, white as snow, and neatly mended, Others, that seem’d for pigs intended. Where e’er I found good girls or boys, That hated quarrels, strife and noise, Left an apple, or a tart, Or wooden gun, or painted cart; To some I gave a pretty doll, To some a peg-top, or a ball; No crackers, cannons, squibs, or rockets, To blow their eyes up, or their pockets. No drums to stun their Mother’s ear, Nor swords to make their sisters fear; But pretty books to store their mind With knowledge of each various kind. But where I found the children naughty, In manners rude, in temper haughty, Thankless to parents, liars, swearers, Boxers, or cheats, or base tale-bearers, I left a long, black, birchen rod, Such as the dread command of God Directs a Parent’s hand to use When virtue’s path his sons refuse.
The author, Arthur J. Stansbury (1781-1845), graduated Columbia in 1799 and was licensed to preach in 1810. In addition, he was a writer, and a reporter of the debates in Congress for twenty years. He also wrote and illustrated books for children.
The lithographers, William Armand Barnet and Isaac Doolittle, met in France. Barnet was the son of the American consul in Paris and Doolittle was a mechanic with an interest in steamboats. Together they studied lithography and arrived in New York in the fall of 1821 to become New York’s first lithography firm. Among their first efforts was “The Children’s Friend.”
The publisher, William Gilley (1785-1830) was a New York book seller and publisher and a friend and neighbor of Clement C. Moore. A publisher for the Protestant Episcopal Church of New York, (Book of Common Prayer and the Episcopal Psalter), Moore’s favorite novelist, Sir Walter Scott, works by all three of Moore’s favorite poets (Cowper, Montgomery and Southey) and a political satire by Moore’s colleague Gulian Verplanck.