“The Sleigh Bells” and “Sleighing Song”-Presenting the early and final drafts of Charles Fenno Hoffman’s merry poem, accompanied by an article from the New-York American

by Ann Neilson

“The Sleigh Bells,” by Charles Fenno Hoffman, is a timeless poem, which inspires good cheer. Its tinkling melody is reminiscent of that same playful song by our author, entitled “Sparkling and Bright,” and rhythmically whisks the reader into a land of frost and whim.

The poem below is the revised, and perhaps final, version of Hoffman’s poem, found in Love’s Calendar, Lays of the Hudson, and Other Poems. Below this is a transcription of an article, which was originally paired with an earlier version of the poem, as they originally appeared just sixteen years prior in the New-York American. What is curious about this article is that it is marked with an asterisk, which, according to Hoffman biographer Homer Barnes, Charles was apt to use either an asterisk or the initial “H” as a sign off to his articles: [in a letter to his brother George] “when you read the articles marked by an asterisk in the American you may know that I commune with you as lovers have done for some thousand years—through a star” (Barnes 37). Therefore, I will boldly assume that the article accompanying this poem was written by Hoffman.

The Sleigh Bells. 
From Love’s Calendar, Lays of the Hudson, and Other Poems by Charles Fenno Hoffman

MERRILY, merrily sound the bells
As o’er the ground we roll,
And the snow-drift breaks in silvery flakes
Before our cariole.
When wrapp’d in buffalo soft and warm,
With mantle and tippet dight,
We cheerily cleave the fleecy storm,
Or skim in the cold moonlight.
Merrily, merrily! Merrily, merrily!
Merrily sound the bells.

Merrily, merrily sound the bells
Upon the wind without,
When the wine is mull’d and the waffle cull’d,
And the song is passed about.
While rosy lips and dimpled cheeks
The welcome joke inspire,
And mirth in many a bright eye speaks
Around the hickory fire.
Merrily, merrily! Merrily, merrily!
Merrily sound the bells.

[The original article with its early “draft” of the poem.]
From the New-York American, January 21, 1831, pg. 1
“And theirs were happy sleigh-ride winters.”—Halleck
And so do ours bid fair to be, if the sun does not think proper to treat the earth like the man in the fable, and strip the ground of the wintry mantle with which an old-fashioned North Easter has covered it. Our distant readers must know that we have just been blessed with one of those storms which are only “known in the memory of the oldest inhabitants,”—one of those hearty, bouncing fellows which wrap nature in a snowy upper Benjamin that will stand the wear of sun and rain for a month. Mockasons and fur caps must come once more into vogue, if people would keep their feet from going astray, and their ears from chilblanes: our belles too, if the emergency of the occasion can call out originality, may for the nonce, instead of servilely copying the costume of other climes, venture upon something appropriate to their own. Now is the time (as the Journal of Health would say) for colds, coughs and consumptions—the egg, the chrysalis, and the consuming worm of disease. Now, too, is the time to lay up stores of health and bloom that will last a whole six weeks of subsequent dissipation. Can any thing be more invigorating to a system unstrung from breathing the atmosphere of crowded rooms, or reading novels over an anthracite fire, (a source of heat only fit for Pandoemonium,) than the bracing air of a January morning, snatched through the folds of a buffalo robe, and caught when going at the rate of twelve miles an hour? Sleighing is your true panacea for the ills that flesh is heir to—always excepting punning and dyspepsia—complaints which, when chronic, are incurable. Who is there that loves the republic, who does not grieve over the faded glories of sleighing, when he recollects the hospitality which was wont to cheer him at the goal of his winter’s ride, “where Cato gave his little Senate laws,” and remembers the music and merriment which, sweeping fitfully upon the blast, came so pleasantly to his ears, when he had made good his seat by the crackling hickory fire?—Such rides and such fires are no more. Cato indeed survives; but the fortunes of his house are obscured—the sceptre hath departed from his hand. The world “frolic” is not the be found in Pelham, and hickory now is only used for election poles. Surely the world grows colder, though less snow falls to soften our pathway through it.
May we not be forgiven for concluding our remarks upon this moving subject, with the following feeble translation of a spirited Dutch song, by an early and forgotten poet of this province?         *

SLEIGHING SONG—By Hans Van Poeng. [Hoffman]
Merrily, merrily sound the bells
As o’er the ground we roll;*
And the snow-drift breaks in silver flakes
Before our Cariole;
While, muffled in sables rich and warm,
With mantle and beaver dight,
We rive in the teeth of the angry storm,
Or skim in the cold moonlight,
Merrily, merrily, &c.

Merrily, merrily sound the bells
Upon the wind without,
When the wine is mulled, and the waffle culled,
And the joke is pass’d about:
And rosy lips and dimpled cheeks
The flash of wit inspire,
While mirth in many a bright eye speaks,
Around the crackling fire.
Merrily, merrily, &c.

*The term of rolling is not as inappropriate as it seems, for a bond broken through a deep snow forms into what the Canadians call Cahoo’s-waves, which make a light “cutter” dance about like a cockle boat.
So in another poet of the period
“From varied pastry heaped upon the board,
Cull the light kruller when the schnap is poured.”