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Old February 18th, 2013, 12:06 PM   #1
SirRobertAnderson
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Default Let's Discuss the Openshaw Letter!

As the David Cohen thread has gotten active again thanks to Scott Nelson's article, I reread some posts from five (!!) years ago and was struck by this exchange...Just one of those little Maybrick things that you read and the hairs on the back of your neck tingle.

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Originally Posted by Martin Fido View Post
I'll return to Cohen later (I'm marking final essays this weekend). But in the meantime, I don't know how or whether I can open a new thread: but this non-Cohenesque point might interest people, and I'm sure How will give it a proper home if he deems it worth it.

A student's essay I have just marked quotes from Newbell Puckett's Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro (Montclair NJ: Patterson Smith. 1968) the following verse:

Did you ever see de devil wid his iron handled shovel,
A-scrapin up de san' in his ole tin pan?
He cuts up mighty funny, he steals all yo' money
He blinds you wid his san'. He's tryin' to git you, man.

The metrical and syntactical similarity of the first two lines to the verse ending the Openshaw Letter is striking, not to mention the identical first eight words. It might be just an extraordinary coincidence, but the possibiity that one of the hoax letter writers had heard this American folk rhyme seems to me more probable than that the Openshaw verses travelled to the cotton fields of Mississippi or Louisiana.
Another possibiity is that there was a range of popular doggerel rhymes starting "Did you ever see the devil, with his..." and going on to describing him as "A-doing" something" with something. I'd be interested to know if anyone has heard of any other
Martin Fido
To which Caz responded:

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Originally Posted by Caroline Morris View Post
Hi Martin,

It does seem that there was more than just one source that could have inspired the sender of the funny little Openshaw verse.

Just as well, otherwise some silly person might have taken this letter seriously and imagined that the sender must have had occasion to travel to those cotton fields on business.

Love,

Caz
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Old February 18th, 2013, 12:28 PM   #2
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And from the most learned of Roberts....

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Originally Posted by Robert Linford View Post
That's a striking similarity, Martin.

This is from http://www.ibiblio.org/fiddlers/U.htm :

Did you ever see the devil with his wooden spade or shovel,
Did you ever see the devil with his tail cocked out?
The potatoes were so big that the devil couldn’t dig,
So he ran through the fields with his tail cocked out!


Robert
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Old February 18th, 2013, 01:16 PM   #3
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Hi Robert, Robert L, and Caz

As we know people in Victorian times were much more familiar with poetry than are people today, so no doubt the letter writer was basing their rhyme on a particular old rhyme or poem. The Cornish rhyme that has been mentioned before might have been the basis, or some other rhyme that was familiar to the writer and no doubt others living at the time.

All the best

Chris
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Old February 18th, 2013, 06:54 PM   #4
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We must have followed the same train of thought or search terms because I was also reading that the other day Robert

It did catch my eye that there was reference to south US shanty type songs whereas I think up until now it looked like a Cornish (from Cornwall) ditty (or was it from Devon?) that probably inspired the Openshaw letter
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Old February 19th, 2013, 09:28 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nemo View Post
We must have followed the same train of thought or search terms because I was also reading that the other day Robert

It did catch my eye that there was reference to south US shanty type songs whereas I think up until now it looked like a Cornish (from Cornwall) ditty (or was it from Devon?) that probably inspired the Openshaw letter
Hi Nemo

There's a thread from 2008 over at Casebook to which Martin Fido, Stewart Evans and others contributed and that discusses the rhyme. See

Openshaw Letter

All the best

Chris
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