Joseph C. Lincoln

posted Apr 2007
Cap'n Warren's Wards
Joseph C. Lincoln
1911. New York: D. Appleton & Co.

    I reread Cap'n Eri and The Woman-Haters a few days ago. This is different, more serious, although Lincoln never got deep.
    I was expecting that the "wards" of the title would be small children, orphaned on Cape Cod, maybe when their father was lost at sea. And I was expecting that the main setting would be Cape Cod, because that's what we expect of Joe Lincoln. But no -- the orphans are 17 and 20 at the start of the tale, their father was a Wall Street broker (we learn nothing about the mother), and most of the action takes place in Manhattan.
    Of course, the main character is a Cape Codder, retired sea captain Elisha Warren, a respected elder in Denboro. (Despite the "Cap'n" in the book's title, he is called "Captain" throughout -- so the title is probably the publisher's idea of what the public wanted.) He is unexpectedly offered the opportunity of being the ward of his niece Caroline, 20, and nephew Stephen, 17, when his estranged younger brother died. Caroline and Stephen are rich, pampered, and very resentful of being under the thumb of this old hick they'd never heard of. (Why is he referred to as being from Down East? Isn't that only used for Maine?) The brother's financial affairs are a mess, and a team of lawyers are working to sort them out. A gold-digging New York matriarch is trying to match Caroline with her sleazy son, to rescue their own fortune, and they cause complications. The junior hero, Jim Pearson, is a novelist and former financial reporter, grandson of Capt. Warren's role model. Turns out he is the cause of a major setback to the deceased Warren's fortune, because he honestly reported underhanded deals. (Was Joe writing an idealization of himself here?) The lawyers finally calculate that the estate is bankrupt, because it owes more than its net worth to a mysterious investor, who turns out to be Elisha. Elisha had thought his old investment was wasted or embezzled by his brother, and completely worthless, but had held on the paperwork anyway (you never can tell when some old culch will come in handy). As for the wards: Caroline develops that "Yankee spirit," unwilling to accept Elisha's charity. She ends up with Jim Pearson, of course. Stephen requires a stronger hand, but comes around.
    Themes: justified public mistrust of Wall Street; class distinctions of rich, middle class and very poor; urban vs rural perspectives on the other; small-town life as a microcosm of urban life. Lincoln spent his several years in NYC (c1900-1905) working as an editor of a banker's magazine, and he continued to live near it afterwards, so his descriptions of the city and people  were not from imagination. At first it seems that Lincoln will fill his readers' expectations of NYC as a den of iniquity. Instead, he uses Captain Warren to explain how similar some things are in Denboro and NYC--the status symbols and customs are different, the dollars involved are just different orders of magnitude, the layabouts still ogle the girls. Lincoln's poor immigrants have broad Irish accents, but they are honest and hard working, while the rich tend to be clueless parasites. The New Yorkers see Capt. Warren's unfashionable clothes, and expect him to be ignorant and uncultured,  but he's the one who had traveled the world. He notes that the Cape Cod guides make fun of the summer complaints, too.