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History of King's Cove

CHAPTER VIII

 

 

LITERATURE

The fact that King's Cove has shown a pre-eminence in literary activity over the adjacent settlements, was outstanding enough to have elicited a complimentary editorial from the Harbor Grace Standard a few years ago. The late M. A. Devine, his brother P. K. Devine, the late T. Hanrahan and J. T. Lawton were amongst those who had aspirations to see their names in print. There were many factors in King's Cove life which aroused this enthusiasm for letters. Probably the habit of reading which all of them possessed, generated a desire for literary expression. And in the attainment of this habit of reading, there were fostering influences. John Devine -P. K. Devine's father-who, though like the rest of the early settlers did not possess much literary education, had the foresight to recognise the value of reading. Every time he came from St. John's, he brought back thrilling stories of the American war. The war had been over only a few years,-just when the minds of the boys named above were opening up to an appreciation of the doings of the outside world. At this time the St. John's bookstores were flooded with war fiction. "I(ate Sharp," "The Cavalry Scout," "The Girl Spy" were as real' for the readers as the men and girls around King's Cove. Thrilling episodes of a war that was still fresh in the minds of everyone aroused in the minds of their readers a spirit of romance and a thirst for the adventurous and thc heroic. From the moment these books came into their hands, there opened up vistas of gorgeous scenery, glorious moonlit nights, heroic, dashing horsemen, peaceful sunlight days and brave, beautiful girls. These books portrayed life as a glorious adventure, and the readers became heroes on a par with those depicted in the books.

In 1877, Rev. William Veitch who was an educational enthusiast, established at Mrs. George Connolly's a lending library. This library helped to develop the reading habit. It was in charge of Miss Maggie Kelly (who later became Mrs. John Hoskins of Trinity). She was assisted by Miss Mary Finn, organist of the Parish Chapel. The patrons of the library still retain many pleasant recollections of happy evenings spent in the little front parlor, ostensibly selecting books, but in reality enjoying the conversation of the librarians. A library at this time in King's Cove was like manna in a desert, and though it was patronised by the minority, it undoubtedly had the effect of giving its readers a taste for reading and of developing an appreciation of literary expression.

Another earlier factor which stimulated a taste for literature, was the theatrical rehearsals organised every winter by Dan. Murphy, grandfather of the present King's Cove Murphys. He had been educated at St. Bonaventure's College and had spent some years as clerk in the Surveyor General's Department. During his stay in St. John's he had taken part in amateur theatricals and had acquired an enthusiastic taste for these performances. Consequently when he came home to enter his father's business he spent a considerable part of the winter months organising and puffing off plays. The frequent rehearsals were undoubtedly of great cultural value to the young men taking part in them. They necessitated clear elocution, correct pronunciation and a pleasing deportment. They created a liking for correct modes of expression, and the niceties of language. The freedom of impersonal criticism on defective pronunciation had a salutary effect in toning down traditional crudities of expression. On one occasion, several dictionaries were purloined to decide the correct pronunciation of "mausoleum" and "epitaph."

As no girls took part in these theatricals, boys had to don female attire to personate female characters. There was not much trouble in getting smooth-faced youths; but the matter of suitable feminine tresses presented a difficulty. The nearest approach to golden tresses was a piece of marlin picked apart and strung on a piece of twine. The drunkard's daughter in "Ten Nights in a Barroom," Robert Emmets bethrothed- Saran Curran, the female character's in "Turn Him Out," "Richard the Second" and other plays, were the possessors of this tawny headgear.

These rehearsals re-acted for improvement in many directions. The frequent re-unions resulted in discussions on a wide range of subjects. As happens in all more or, less primitive communities, opinions and criticisms were not always expressed with Chesterfieldian politeness, and one can still remember the sarcastic titters which ran around the room one night when one of the troupe, who was recounting the exploits of some historic personage, remarked that "his father was an Irishman by trade."

Chief amongst the aspirants for literary recognition was Maurice Devine. He was the eldest of the above named group. He had been to St. Bonaventure's College, had taught school at Plate Cove, and had held n clerkship at St. John's long before the others were old enough to ga to College. While in St. John's he had formed the acquaintance of a young man who had also formed literary aspirations, Coleman McCarthy. Both of them became admirers of the literary style of writers in the Detroit "Free Press" and in their frequent contributions to the St. John's papers, adopted the same style.

One of the most amusing incidents attending one of these rehearsals was the "hangup" one night for a considerable time over the correct form of an "embrace." The stage directions said: 'The Villian embraces his sweetheart and exits." By some inexplicable primitive tradition, nearly all the troupe had the idea that in an embrace it was necessary for both parties to clasp their arms around each others waists. This was tried but the contemptuous ridicule which greeted its performance was sufficient to prevent its repetition. By a lucky compromise it was decided that the performers could carry out the stage directions with sufficient accuracy by putting their arms around each others shoulders.

The principal characters in the play were taken by Dan Murphy, M. T. Flynn, Rich. Lawton, Jim Costello, and Mike Lawton. In the first play ever acted at King's Cove, Maurice Devine (P. K. Devine's uncle) Kate Lawton and Mary Walsh took part.

M. A. Devine early turned his attention to versifying. His first attempts in this line were humorous parodies on well-known poems and songs. He had a keen sense of humour and saw the humorous side of life first. His descriptions in the "Colonist," on which he was a reporter, for many years-was instrumental in increasing the sale of that paper.

His first pretentious effort was a novel undertaken one winter while he was attending school at his school desk, unobserved by the teacher, Captain Thomas Hanrahan. It was not completed when he left school end I don't think it ever saw the light of publication. The characters in it were real-the prominent young men and girls of King's Cove. It was fairly easy to recognize the originals, for the author's method of giving his characters their fictional names was to reverse the letters of their real names. In this way, Costello became Oletto, Martin became Nitram and so on.

His best work was done whilst he was on the Colonist. His verse struck a reminiscent chord. Here and there in old albums are treasured such of his poems as "The Outport Planter" and "Sliding Down Granny Bates' Hill." The following selections will give an idea of his literary work:

THE OUTHARBOUR PLANTER

"The times baint what they used to be ,'bout fifty yer's or so ago," -And he hooked a coal from the bar-room stove, and set his T.D. pipe aglow-

But deadest of all the burr'ed past is the dead and gon' outharbour planter.

"He's gon' wid gansy and corduroy pants; wid Hamburg boots and ne'er collar;

He's gon' wid cook-room, pork and duff; gon' wid the good old pillar dollar;

Gon' wid his chare at Christmas time; gon' wid his rum in the red decanter;

He's chareful v'ice and breezy song are burr'ed low wid the outport planter.

"'Tis true he was bluff aud somewhat rude, and hadn't a stock of college manners;

His gurls wasn't trained in boardin' schools, and didn't thump on grand piancrs,

But they'd gut a fish, or make a shirt, and at dawn rise at a call instanter;

They were truthful, honest, kind and good, the simple gurls of the outport planter.

"His place supplied by a class o' dude (I've seed the word in the Yankee papers);

Wid standin' collars and shinin' boots; wid cheap segars and sickenin' capers;

Wid shop-made clothes and silver rings, and lamin enough to fool and banter;

You'd drown 'm all wid your nipper's spray, those pale-face sons of the outport planter.

"Ye'r in, ye'r out, he done his work, as best he knew in his position;

The winter seed him mend his nets, the summer seed him go a-fishin';

The priest and parson he always paid (the regular men but not the ranter);

For the latter class no favour found with the orthodox outharbour planter.

"His house the village meetin' place, tho' it nor always wes a mansion;

Its carpet was a sanded floor, with sometimes sawdust on the planchin';

Here song and merry dance went round, the tune supplied by cookroom chanter;

The reel, cotillion (not the waltz) was the dance enjoyed by the outport planter.

"I knew quite well he had his faults, and made men work both night and marnin';

But, then, he didn't spare himself, 8 more than three-hours rest a scarnin';

And he cussed and he swore when the fish was scarce, and drank too deep from the red decanter;

And bad molasses and rotten flour was sometimes sold by the outport planter.

"But when 'counts he squar'd at the final day, and into the ledger the Lord is sarchin',

He'll say: "I find you cussed a sight, and once in a while you stuck the marchin',

But you clode the naked, the hungry fed; so go up fust wid the harps and chanters,

The place reserved for all good men, and honest, square outharbour planters.' "

-M. A. Devine.

J. T. Lawton's first serious attempts at literature began in his college days in Ireland. On dull afternoons, especially on Sundays, his thoughts ran back to King's Cove and his boyhood scenes, and many a lonely hour he spent wandering in spirit along the Stock Cove and Broad Cove roads. The thought frequently came to him that there was ample material in the incidents of his school days and in past events of King's Cove like to make a story. So he sat down one day and began a story which he styled before he had written a line of it, "Await The Issue." The principal scenes were laid in Trinity where he had spent an eventful nine months as schoolteacher. Every now and again, the exile could see the North West Arm of Trinity rise up before him with the evening sunlight turning its shores of spruces and fir into long golden stretches that beckoned one away into their hiding places. He longed to paint the fairy manuscript that would make a 200 page book. But apparently his mind was too immature at that period to do the subject justice. He was never satisfied with it and it was finally consigned to the flames.

J. T. Lawton had always been interested in agriculture. He had a diploma from the Glasnevin Model Farm, Dublin, for teaching agriculture His knowledge of the subject enticed him to publish a small book suitable for Newfoundland schools. In 1895 he published "Soils and Plant Foods." This book was adopted by the Council of Higher Education until the subject of agricutture was omitted from the syllabus.

In 1906 he held a number of interviews on agriculture with prominent farmers over the country. These were published weekly in the Harbour Grace Standard, and subsequently issued in pamphlet form. These interviews were frequently quoted in debates on Newfoundland agriculture in the House of Assembly. Their value had been recognised: but when the compiler asked the Government of the day to expend the insignificant sum of $50 to publish them in book form for distribution to the farmers, his request was met with refusal

It was while studying for degrees in the Royal University of Ireland in 1885 that he was induced to write a pamphlet,-"The Nationalisation of Society." One of the subjects for his degree examination was political economy. For one whole year, he had been wrestling with poverty, wealth, wages, unemployment, all around him were object lessons in the subjects which he was studying. There was occasional wealth side by side with universal poverty, low wages, industrial depressions and the wretchedness which accompanies these conditions. After pondering over these conditions for a year, he thought he had discovered a remedy. The remedy was set forth in "The Nationalistion of Society." It pleaded for complete industrial organisation. The argument was that any community needed only a fixed quantity of any commodity. A man could wear only one hat or one pair of boots at a time. The annual supply of any commodity for any community could therefore be computed pretty approximately. If the factories operating could produce more than was needed, the result would be a surplus which could not be sold,-which meant a close down somewhere and consequent unemployment. Only a certain number of factories were necessary therefore for the production of any given saleable commodity, and the Government should not give licenses for any more. By extending this to all industries they would be held in equilibrium: and there would consequently be no over production' no closedowns and no unemployment.

For many years J. T. Lawton was a constant contributor to the editorial columns of the Harbour Grace Standard. It was his editorials in that paper on behalf of the Liberal Party, that drew Sir Robert Bond's attention to him as a suitable person to fill the editorial chair of the Evening Herald on the resignation of P. T. McGrath from that paper in 1907.

Though he has not dabbled much in magazine writing, a few of his stories and articles have appeared in "Grit" an illustated paper published in Williamsport, Pa.

P. K. Devine had been either directly or indirectly connected with literature for many years. All the Devine family had a leaning towards literary expression; but only Pat and Maurice had had the opportunity to develop this talent. P. K's first literary effort was an effusion entitled "Puss for Bait" published in 1878 in the "Terra Nova Advocate". An unpublished poetic effort was a sarcastic effusion written when locked up in the attic of his house undergoing parental punishment for not helping his sister to write an essay on "Poetry",-a subject given by their teacher-Thomas Hanrahan. His sister had complained to his father that he had refused to help her write her essay while he had helped one of the attractive young ladies of the school of whom he was credited with being deeply enamoured. Father Veitch had offered a prize for the best essay on this subject. It was feared that as a result of P.K.'s help this young lady would carry off the prize. This amorous partiality aroused in his father and mother an indignation which sent him to the attic with pencil and paper and stern orders to write an essay on "Poetry" for his sister,-or starve. No son of Adam takes kindly to compulsion: and so he sulked for an hour till the aroma of cooking mutton came up from the kitchen made him sharpen his pencil and scribble the following:

      "To be a poet I'm not inclined,
      Therefore I'll not distress my mind:
      About the poets I ne'er inquired;
      So you must think I am inspired.
      Your disapproval is emphatic
      To lock me here up in the attic.
      John Bunyan met a similar fate;
      And him you think I'll imitate.
      Now as for helping Maggie K.
      There's only this I have to say:
      That similar aid my tongue would blister,
      Did I impart it to my sister.
      To make this clear and end with "satis"
      Miss Maggie's got Devine efflatus."

Although this was not an essay on "Poetry", it had the effect of ending his imprisonment.

His next effort, published in the "Terra Nova Advocate" in 1878, was entitled "Puss for Bait". The circumstances accompanying this effusion were rather comical. P. K. had been accused by John Holland Sr., of stealing some of his fence layers, and accompanied the accusation with a severe ear-cuffing. About the same time, bait was scarce in King's Cove, while there was abundance of fish on the ground, John Holland, in common with the other fishermen was chafing under the losses which the absence of bait entailed. But John had a spark of genius. He had a large foxey tom-cat whose existence instead of being an asset to the community or its owner, kept sundry people awake at nights. One evening with sharpened pen-knife John Holland slit the windpipe of this useless feline and the next morning before noon he arrived from Fish Point with a punt load of large fish.

"Where did John Holland get the bait?" was the oft-repeated question. But there was no answer to it. But "murder will out"; and in some way it was discovered that the fish in the neighbourhood of Fish Point had been that morning feasting on cat's meat

This was an opportunity for the embryo poet to have his revenge So away flew the following to the "Terra Nova Advocate" at that time edited by Judge Conroy.

Puss for Bait

      In our hamlet dwells a man
      Who is a brother-fisherman,
      And has invented a new plan
      To prosecute the codfish.

      The prospect now was looking bad,
      His countenance was very sad;
      For bait was nowhere to be had
      To prosecute the codfish.

      At last an idea crossed his mind:
      "To-morrow if no squid I'll find,
      Of bait I'll try another kind
      To prosecute the codfish.

      The morrow dawned, he sought his wife:
      "Go, sharpen, dear, the carving knife:
      I'll take our frisky feline's life
      To prosecute the codfish

      He to the fishing ground repaired,
      And with his son (to manhood reared)
      That cat paternally was shared
      To prosecute the codfish.

      And with this poisonous bait, you see,
      (As otherwise it could not be)
      The cat procured him quintals three
      Of beautiful large codfish.

      I always thought the law was flat:
      No man could use a dog or cat
      Or any animal like that
      To prosecute the codfish.-LARK AIRY.

The nom-de-plume "Lark Airy" had the same pronunciation as Lar Carey,-a well-known resident of Broad Cove, who had had a quarrel sometime previously with John Holland. This in creased the animosity between the two men, and was the means of throwing the authorship of the verses to the wrong person.

It is rather remarkable that there is an inclination in all young aspirants for literary expression to use grandiloquent language. He ransacks the dictionary for high sounding phrases, and uses words of five syllables where he could more gracefully use two. P. K. Devine had this tendency too. Father Veitch, who was teaching him Latin and English literature, once asked him to write an essay on "Industry." Though only sixteen years of age he started out with the following:

"Industry is an incomparable acquirement and an obsequious handmaid to Fortune. The habit of industry facilitates the prosecution of a good religious life and makes easy, as far as is compatible with the usages of this mundane sphere, man's journey to eternity. etc."

The essay, though bombastic in style showed a marvellous command of language for one so young. It was so devoid of the usual amateurish defects that Father Veitch firmly believed he had copied it.

"What book did you copy this from," he asked.

"It's not copied, sir: it's all my own."

"Now, don't tell me a lie:' his teacher sternly rebuked; you have never yet lied to me."

"It's not copied, sir; it's all my own," P. K. repeated.

"You could not possibly write that: it's too good, it looks like one of Cardinal Newman's essays. Have you got a copy of his essays?"

P. K. could only repeat he had nobody's essays and had not copied from any one.

It was not till some years afterwards when P. K. took first prize in English Composition at Antigonish College that Father Veitch became convinced that the essay on "Industry" was an original effort.

While P. K. was Principal of the Harbour Grace Academy, he contributed to the "Indicator",-a spicy little paper conducted by Tom Cragg. It became so offensive to some of the leading families that their influence forced its discontinuance within a year or so of its inception. A good deal of the matter in this sheet was political, and P.K's duty in Connection therewith was to interest the people of Harbour Grace by occasional references to the local supporters of the Government. Sir James Winter had gone to Washington to meet Sir Charles Tupper on the Fisheries Question. Mr. Godden was member for Harbour Grace, and as he was chairman of committees and never made a speech in the House, his name appeared to the Harbour Gracians only in connection with his position as chairman. A verse heading one of P. K s articles sized up the then existing situation as follows by bringing in the name of Mr. George Mackinson who had been an ardent supporter of the Government, and had been given a number of contracts, but was criticising it just then because the "pickings" were not coming his way.

      "Is Winter back from Washington?
      Did Tupper treat him fair?
      Have ye no job for Mackinson?
      Is Godden in the chair?"

About 1885 the 'Advocate" ran several installments of a story called "The Bride of Bacalieu". This was from P.K.'s pen and created considerable comment in Trinity, King's Cove and adjacent settlements owing to the characters being fascimiles of well. known Trinity residents. It is regrettable that the story was never completed. P. K. went to Antigonish college in the fall of 1885 and the continuation of the story was in consequence interrupted

Fifteen years as a reporter on the "Evening Telegram" and four years as editor of the Trade Review gave him a great facility in writing. A monthly magazine called "Colonial Commerce" was edited by P. K. and contained a series of articles on folk lore and the old fishery customs of Newfoundland. He put the circulation of the Plain Dealer up to nine thousand and when he dropped out of the paper, it gradually died. The famous Father Clarke article helped to kill it; but P.K., had nothing to do with this particular article, he neither wrote nor inspired it.

The articles, essays and poems, by P.K. in the back fyles of the Colonist, Telegram and Christmas numbers would fill a large volume. He is now compiling a book on the Folk Lore and Word Lore of Newfoundland.

The following selections from his writings give an idea of his style:

THE CHICKADEE-DEE
(By P. K. DEVINE)

      From fragrant depths of fir and pine,
      A thousand odors sweet,
      Co-mingled on the zephyr borne
      The wearied senses greet;
      The sunset clouds have turned to gold
      The shadows deepen down
      The green hillside, while Atra Nox
      Prepares her sable gown.
      Chickadee-dee-dee,
      Chickadee-dee-dee,
      When Night spreads her mantle
      O'er land and on sea,
      From the depths of the grove
      Comes the song that we love,
      'Tis the call of the Chickadee-dee.

      Deep silence in the trembling woods,
      But soon the whispering breeze
      Comes sighing through the alder leaves,
      Then dies among the trees;
      From humble cot in yonder grove
      Blue smoke ascends to heaven,
      An incense to the Throne of God
      For daily mercies given.
      Chickadee-dee-dee,
      Chickadee-dee-dee, etc.

      The air is full of peace and love,
      The birds have nestled low,
      The lumberer seeks his humble cot

      The mill has ceased to go;
      Along the Gambo Valley now
      The night has fallen down,
      And o'er the fir-clad hillside green
      A silence reigns profound.
      Chickadee-dee-dee,
      Chickadee-dee-dee, etc.

      Still lingering by the lakeside calm,
      The angler hears a bird
      Whose name in ornithology
      Perchance was never heard;
      It listeth not what family in
      The learned would thee class,
      We only want to hear thy voice
      Among the river grass.
      Chickadee-dee-dee,
      Chickadee-dee-dee, etc.

      Oft woodland sights and sounds recall
      The feelings of a day
      Merged in the past when youthful hope
      Stood beckoning on the way;
      The odour of a fir is sweet,
      The eve-notes of a bird Give
      throb of pleasure more intense
      Than sweetest music heard.
      Chickadee-dee-dee,
      Chickadee-dee-dee, etc.

      Oft thrill ecstatic fires the pulse
      With hope too glad for earth,
      And tells the soul, in heaven alone
      Such joy can have its birth;
      And memory oft deports the
      Past Into the Present hour,
      And plucking out the hurtful thorn
      She giveth us the flower.
      Chickadee-dee-dee,
      Chickadee-dee-dee,

      When Night spreads her mantle
      O'er land and on sea,
      From the depths of the grove
      Comes the song that we love,
      The sweet notes of the Chickadee-dee.

 

Page transcribed by: Bill Crant June, 2000
Page revised: Sept 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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