In Attics And Archives

Volume 4-Issue 11, page 3

By Lara Maynard

Devine's Book is Devine

In at least one previous column I have mentioned P.K. (Patrick Kevin) Devine (1859-1950). He was a journalist and a teacher, and is also considered one of the first important native Newfoundland folklore enthusiasts. Devine was born in King's Cove, Bonavista Bay, the middle sibling of his family, which included brothers Maurice and John, who were also fairly well-known. Maurice was an editor and writer who penned the first message to be transmitted in Newfoundland via wireless telegraph. John was a businessman and trade commissioner and wrote the song "The Badger Drive."

Each of the Devine Brothers have made their mark on Newfoundland history. And recently the Folklore Department at Memorial University has resurrected one of P.K.'s contribution to Newfoundland history and culture by publishing a facsimle of his original gem of a book Devine's Folk Lore of Newfoundland in Old Words, Phrases and Expressions, Their Origin and Meaning. This book was originally published in 1937 with the help of Devine's cousin, businessman Gerald S. Doyle, who cleverly distributed collections of Newfoundland songs to advertise his medicinal products.

This unassuming little volume is the sort that we like to pick up again and again to browse though with a cup of tea. It includes a mini dictionary of Newfoundland words, a section of proverbs and sayings, superstitions and weather lore. As I am writing this during the Christmas season, a couple of the weather lore items catch my attention: "A fine Christmas, a fat churchyard" and "A warm Christmas, a cold Easter." If there is any merit to these sayings, then it seems that a white Christmas is truly something to wish for!

Apart from the list of interesting things to make any reader smile either with nostalia amusement or in recognition of a favorite expression, this book has two particularly alternative points. First is the valuable and interesting introduction provided by Philip Hiscock, who is the archivist of Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive. Philip is an all-round Newfoundlandia buff who some reader may have heard in his regular spot on CBC Radio or whose column you may have read in The Downhomer. That he should write the introduction to the facsimile of P.K Devine's book is thoroughly fitting, as they both share a love for learning about, documenting, and sharing their knowledge of Newfoundland culture.

The second attractive aspect of the volume is the inclusion of all the advertisements which appeared in the original. Each of the ads is like a little time capsule. One ad for Dr. Chases's Nerve Food diagnoses mother's irritability with children as a case of "the nerves." Other ads are for Dr. Chase's Syrup of Linseed and Turpentine and Scott's Emulsion. Some are for products that are still very common in our households: Camay Soap, Aspirin, and Listerine. And prominently displayed on the back cover there is an ad for Doyle's Newfoundland Cod Liver Oil, the bane of many Newfoundlander's young existences.

This is an inexpensive little book which will appeal to most anyone with even a remote interest in Newfoundland. The style of the print, the flavour of the writing, and the advertisements make it a piece of Newfoundlandia neatly frozen in time.

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