from The Dearborn Independent
18 December 1926
pp 3, 22
Joseph C. Lincoln Tells of His Cape Cod Years
by MAY B. WHITING
Drawings by DWIGHT C. STURGES
IT IS easy to fancy that Joseph Lincoln stepped out of one of his own stories. It is no trouble at all to imagine him clad in oilskins and sou'wester treading the quarter-deck and in resounding tones shouting, 'Shiver my timbers,' 'hell's bells,' and even more dreadful things. Of course to get the picture you have to look away from facts entirely. Instead of an elegant residence in Chatham on his own Cape Cod, you must imagine a bark plowing through seething waves, and instead of an entourage of charming friends and selfless servants, you must fancy brawny, rough-neck sailors, axes in hand, standing around the mainmast, awaiting the order to 'cut away.' And you must take only the most fleeting glance at Mr. Lincoln himself. For if you really look at him you will see a kindly, unassuming gentleman, rather short and stocky and ruddy, with sandy hair and honest blue eyes inclined to be serious in expression. But the mouth is the telltale. It has a habit of turning upward at the corners unexpectedly in the merriest smile, the eyes answer with a twinkle, and there is a glimpse of the bluff and hearty buccaneer.
It is a fascinating glimpse, but it is gone in an instant. I wanted to call it back so I said something about adventures; probably he had had many adventures, doubtless he doted on adventures, especially adventures at sea.
'No,' a calm, even voice responded in a tone gently surprised and a bit reproachful. 'Life is pretty humdrum and there's lots of work in it. I don't know of any way to get ahead but to work methodically. Every morning I'm at my desk with fifteen pencils sharpened—'
Think of it! The figure in oilskins, legs braced, shouting against the gale and the crackling sails, with fifteen pencils sharpened. I tried to save him from them and hurried on.
'But your father, your grandfather—'
'Oh, yes,' and there was a keener note in the pleasant voice. 'Their life was different. They were both sea captains. And my mother sailed with my father for thirteen years. She visited almost every port in the world. She liked it, too, especially in pleasant weather, and in the harbors. I've often heard her tell what good times they had visiting back and forth with other ships in port. On one voyage they were gone for three years. And I had two uncles who were captains. I can remember as a boy going down Boston Harbor in my uncle's ship on a farewell party and coming back in the tug.'
THAT was a little better. I felt that the shadowy figure with the rolling gait was somewhere in the offing, listening wistfully. I began to feel a bit sorry for him. He seemed to have rather a raw deal of it, never allowed to poke his nose out unless it was in company with a sharpened pencil. I thought I'd do what I could for him, and so continued:
'And doubtless in your boyhood you knew many other captains and talked with them and listened to their yarns.'
'Probably I did. In Brewster, where I spent a good deal of my boyhood, almost every house, except the doctor's and the minister's, belonged to a captain, active or retired. But I took it all as a matter of course and thought nothing of it. I wish I could talk with some of them now.'
'You didn't think, then, that they would play so large a part in your life?'
'I certainly did not. I thought I wanted to draw (save the mark!) and I used to put verses under my drawings to help sell them. They helped a lot; in fact the verses sometimes sold without the drawings. My wife and I were just married then and we took a long chance. We moved to New York and lived for a year in one room in a lodging house. I now get letters, I might say hundreds of them, asking what trick one must learn to become successful. The only trick I know is work and perseverance and some ability.'
I could see that the rover was fading quite away and I sent out a last faint call for him.
'Are Cape Cod scenes and memories of old-time houses with you when you write, wherever you are?'
'Not consciously. But I've seen a good many Cape Cod homes, and boyhood impressions are lasting. I remember in my grandfather's house how dark and gloomy the front hall was. No one ever used it except on Sundays. There was just enough light to make out a half model of grandfather's ship. I used to love that ship. There were sailors in the rigging and sailors in a little boat alongside. I liked it a good deal better than I did the crayon portraits of grandmother's four brothers all in a row on the parlor wall, looking as if they were frozen there.
'Cape Cod parlors were seldom opened except for weddings and funerals. The family used the "setting room." How those parlors smelled! There was nothing very cheerful suggested by the odor. But I did like the collection of curios from abroad that were usually on the whatnot. In our own parlor there was a fascinating collection of shells from tropical beaches and an alabaster Tower of Pisa. You see, it's natural enough for me to write about Cape Cod.'
I asked Mr. Lincoln his opinion of modern tendencies in literature.
'Well, I have my aversions,' he admitted. "Not all of them will bear telling. Some present-day drama bothers me. I can't see the use of a thing like What Price Glory? And much of modern biography had better never been written. We all know that Byron was no Sunday school scholar, as for Shelley, my sympathies are with Mrs. Shelley, and it really isn't any of my business how Stevenson kept his finger nails. But I have an idea that the influence of those things isn't so great as we imagine when we let them irritate us. For myself, I enjoy reading Locke, Sabatini, and Tarkington. It may be childish, but I take pleasure in a good story.'
Most people have a hobby and I wondered what Mr. Lincoln's would be.
'I'm afraid I must confess to one,' he said. 'I don't say that I've been collecting, but I've been buying things I like for a good many years. These half models of ships and ship pictures, for instance. I am especially fond of this of my father's ship, The Mist. And here are night lamps of rare color. And these peach-bloom lily vases have a story. The man who secured this color by heat would never divulge his secret. He died at ninety and the process died with him. And I like this Bennington speckled cow. If you will step out on the porch I'll show you my latest purchase. I just bought it today.'
We had been moving about the room, admiring the really beautiful pieces, and on the porch there was an equally alluring collection of lacy Sandwich glass and Staffordshire china and some excellent old furniture. In the center, on a table, stood an enormous bottle of pale green glass, at least three feet tall and of generous girth. Doubtless it was a treasure, but both Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln stood somewhat aghast before its size.
'I really don't know what I wanted of it,' reflected Mr. Lincoln in the plaintive litany of collectors the world over, 'and I ought not to have bought it, but I did.' Then he brightened up. 'Antiques don't fit this house so well as they did our place in Hackensack. Now we've taken an apartment in Merion, just out of Philadelphia. It's pleasant to be near our son Freeman, who is on the staff of the Ladies' Home Journal, And I like to be fairly handy to New York. I should hate to miss the luncheons of the Dutch Treat Club. In the future I think that Mrs. Lincoln and I will travel more and make our stays here longer, too.'
Home of Joseph Lincoln at Chatham, Massachusetts
I asked Mr. Lincoln about his philosophy of life.
'Well,' he replied slowly, 'I think that the ordinary person is a pretty decent sort.
I think that the average man, considering his inheritance, his disappointments, his knocks in life, puts up a pretty plucky fight of it.'
At that moment the haunting figure with the salt gale rustling his oilskins stepped out of the shadows. I had forgotten him, but he looked me straight in the eye until I had the two confused. He followed us out on the lawn and stood near as we watched the long white line of surf gleaming in the darkness as it broke on Chatham bars.
'This is a wicked shore,' remarked Mr. Lincoln, 'although it looks so peaceful. There have been more wrecks in this vicinity than in any other spot in New England. They used to call it the "graveyard of ships." There are three coast guard stations in the neighborhood, Old Harbor that you see across the bay, Chatham and Monomoy Point.'
'That is the jumping-off place of the world, isn't it?' I asked.
'It's pretty dreary,' admitted Mr. Lincoln. 'I used to walk out there sometimes. I knew Old Nat who lived as a hermit more than halfway there. When I was a boy he was town fiddler and in all the merrymakings. Then for some reason he withdrew to that forsaken place to live. One evening I met him going home with his wheelbarrow and we stopped to chat and got to talking about the high cost of living. ' "Cost me nearly thirty-five dollars so far this year to live," complained Nat, "but I made some easy money. I got out two gallons of scallops, swelled 'em in water (which is against the law) and at Chatham Station I got seven dollars and a half for them."
'He hadn't minded pushing a wheelbarrow fourteen miles through the sand for his easy money! Cape Cod was his home and he loved it as I do. And I love the old folks on it.'
Mr. Lincoln returned to the library and I went out to the boulevard. Pausing after a moment and looking back, I could see him take up a book from the table. But the Other One, the vague form in shimmering oilskins, was still on the lawn, looking out to where the combers were hissing over Chatham bars.
'I know there are people who can turn out a short story in two or three hours and it will be good enough to sell,' Mr. Lincoln once said, 'but I cannot help feeling that it would have been much better if the writer had devoted more time to it. In my case, doing work that is satisfactory to me in any degree means that I must fairly sweat it out, if I may use the expression.'
Again, he said, 'A man writes what he knows. If he tries anything else it must fall—show hollow. And I find that it is necessary to write to your audience.'
Mr. Lincoln knows his audience, but, better still, he knows the people about whom writes.